It seems like every year the NFL implements a new rule to help offenses. The goal is simple -- more offense equals more points equals more exciting games. Yet every week there are teams that struggle to put points on the board. I don't have a problem with a good defensive battle, but more than a few teams this year are making average defenses look like the 1985 Bears. The biggest problem in the NFL today is a lack of quality quarterbacks.
A quick glance at the NFL standings reveals just how important it is to have a top quarterback. It should come as no surprise that the top five teams in the NFL also have five of the best quarterbacks in the league –- Tom Brady (Patriots), Tony Romo (Cowboys), Brett Favre (Packers), Peyton Manning (Colts) and Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers). The teams at the bottom of the league seem to have the biggest issues at quarterback. One of the few exceptions to this rule is the Bengals, who have struggled despite having Carson Palmer at quarterback.
When the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000, they ushered in an era where quarterbacks were mere caretakers. Teams would just try to run the ball and play good defense. But the reality is that you have to have a good quarterback to survive in the league. Look no further than the Carolina Panthers who started out strong, but have gone 2-4 since Jake Delhomme was injured. Or the Minnesota Vikings, who have one of the most exciting running backs in the league in Adrian Peterson, but can't win games because of the play of their quarterbacks.
The most pressing question is this: How do you develop quarterbacks? Former Packers GM Ron Wolf had a knack for finding quarterbacks, from Mark Brunell to Kurt Warner to Matt Hasselbeck. When you include Aaron Brooks and Ty Detmer, Wolf was able to draft or sign five NFL quarterbacks that the draft experts missed. But with NFL Europe gone, how do you develop young quarterbacks? NFL Europe had its flaws, but it was the only place that a young quarterback could get playing time. Brad Johnson, Warner, Delhomme and Jon Kitna all spent time honing their skills overseas.
The second-string quarterback gets the least experience of any player on an NFL roster. They don't get a few snaps every game like other young players. They don't play special teams. They don't even run the scout team, as that usually falls to the third-string quarterback. Any experience that they get is usually in the preseason, when defenses aren't blitzing or disguising coverages.
The Raiders and Dolphins are sitting on high draft picks, JaMarcus Russell and John Beck, respectively. If I were the coach of the Raiders or Dolphins, I would treat the rest of the season like an extended training camp and let these guys play. Will it be painful? Absolutely. I was playing for the Bengals when we transitioned from Ken Anderson to Boomer Esiason. I was good friends with Boomer and he must have thrown me the ball 20 times in his first game. I caught 10 or 12 and couldn't get out of bed the next day.
Another factor in all of this is the salary cap and the money teams are paying these guys. Take a look at the situation in San Diego. The Chargers developed Drew Brees into a pretty good quarterback, but because the team had invested a first-round draft pick and all of that money in Philip Rivers, they let Brees walk away. Of course, the existing power struggle between general manager A.J. Smith (who drafted Rivers) and then-coach Marty Schottenheimer (who preferred Brees) didn't help.
The Browns could find themselves in a similar situation with Derek Anderson, who was a backup when they spent a first-round pick on Brady Quinn. Since replacing Charlie Frye in Week 1, Anderson has turned into one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league. Anderson will be a restricted free agent after this year, and the Browns have a decision to make. Do they pay two quarterbacks, or do they dump Anderson for the untested Quinn? The Browns have been searching for a quarterback since Bernie Kosar left town and, now that they've found one, they can't just let him walk away. They need to keep them both.
If I was a general manager, the quarterback would be my highest-paid player, and his backup would be among the highest-paid as well. Because as this season has shown, if you don't have a quarterback, you're not going to win.