"Once you make the pick," said one NFC executive in an interview with Around The NFL, "the clock starts ticking."
Added an NFC head coach: "Everyone is fearful. When they draft one, what if they make a mistake? It's not going to work out too well. The GM, the coach and the quarterback are tied together."
Ken Whisenhunt found that out less than half a season into Mariota's tenure and last night, Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith was fired after Winston's first season. And the crazy part is, they didn't make a mistake in the evaluation process. Winston and Mariota both seem to possess the skillsets necessary to become franchise quarterbacks. They were both excellent during long stretches of their rookie season.
Which means just one thing: Drafting a quarterback grants you zero security anymore.
Smith found that out Wednesday night, and if the rumblings that offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is taking over are true, head coaches and high-powered coordinators around the league had better take notice. There is an obsession with the franchise quarterback in today's game, and the ability to build a team like the 2000 Baltimore Ravens or 2002 Buccaneers has gone by the wayside. Owners in particular have decided that this group, after showing any signs of progress, need to be coddled and managed in a way that doesn't allow for the entire coaching staff to grow alongside the player. If the quarterback is bad, they just fire everyone anyway.
Not so long ago, drafting a potential franchise quarterback used to be a free pass of sorts, especially in the top five. But with the advent of players like Sam Bradford, patience seems to be wearing thin. Maybe it was the five seasons Jim Schwartz got with the drafting of Matt Stafford, or the seven Mike Smith got with Matt Ryan that are scaring everyone away -- but in relative terms, especially with Smith, was sticking by the head coach a bad thing in those circumstances?
There was a time when the Raiders -- fired their coach less than two years after drafting JaMarcus Russell -- and 49ers after selecting Alex Smith were looked at as the model for how not to operate a franchise with a highly-drafted rookie quarterback. Now, even if the Buccaneers keep the offensive coordinator and the Titans retain Mike Mularkey, what will it do to the team around the quarterback?
Coaches with quarterbacks have now been fired for not showing enough progress quickly, or showing progress with the quarterback while not winning enough games. They have also been fired for disciplining franchise quarterbacks, who have overtaken many coaches on the organizational totem pole. They have had injured wideouts and bad offensive lines that need rebuilding, which is why teams are often in the position to draft a franchise quarterback in the top five.
What most owners fail to realize is that good coaches are good coaches, but great quarterbacks possess an individual effort and drive that will propel them to succeed in most situations, unless the scheme is detrimental to their strongest attributes. Winston and Mariota are probably smart enough to handle a head coaching change -- but there are 52 other players in the locker room with attachments and feelings and needs of their own. Good quarterbacks elevate an already talented -- and happy -- team, and judging from the reaction of Buccaneers Twitter following Wednesday's move, there aren't many happy players in Tampa.