GM Scenario No.5: Change Horses in the Middle of the Stream?

Your QB is the most frustrating quarterback in the world and only Saturday Night Live would pair him as a spokesman for a brewer. Photo by Andy Callahan.
Your QB is the most frustrating quarterback in the world and only Saturday Night Live would pair him as a spokesman for a brewer. Photo by Andy Callahan.

You’ve inherited a QB capable of one-of-a-kind moments–great and terrible and the staff is divided on what to do with him.

What is 2014’s Writer’s Project?

This year’s RSPWP is a different take on team building. I will have 15-20 written scenarios based on true NFL stories provided to me from current and former NFL employees (scouts, players, and consultants). In each scenario, the participating writer is the general manager of an NFL team has a decision to make. Each scenario will have at least two different writers. I will post the writers’ responses and the actual outcome of the case study (if applicable).

Find out more about RSPWP3 and see other GM Scenarios.

GM Scenario No.5: Change Horses in the Middle of the Stream?

You were hired last June for a big-market team after its GM passed away. The team has had a 7-9 record for three straight seasons, but despite the same season-ending record it is the model of inconsistency. In 2011, the team started the year 6-0 and blanked the eventual Super Bowl Champion 31-0 only to lose eight of its next nine.  In 2012, they started 0-6 and won eight of its final nine games. Last year, the team won its first four, lost its next six, and then ended the year 3-3.

In a fitting touch of symmetry to this organizational profile, the team’s best player might also be its worst: A starting quarterback with athleticism and passing skills capable of transcending the ordinary and lapses in decision-making and judgment that could make Troy Polamalu bald by midseason. The media and fans are mesmerized with his highlights and he’s a huge reason that this organization has great season ticket and merchandise sales.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say their party line is to give the quarterback a pass and blame the surrounding talent. Much to your chagrin, you’ve seen incredible amounts of backlash to valid criticism of the quarterback’s game from football minds you respect that are now in the media. There are a lot of interesting factors that you think is the cause for his favoritism of your quarterback that could branch off into sociology, journalism, and analytics, but it’s a discussion you might get to have as a panelist when you retire.

Right now, there’s three months until the NFL Draft and your coaches have a decision to make about your starting quarterback, your offense, and the future of the franchise.

There’s no doubt that this quarterback is an incredible talent—as a 5’10”, 211-lb. passer he has to be. Blessed with 4.31-second speed in the 40, your offensive leader also has shuttle and three-cone times that puts scat backs to shame. Oh by the way, he sports a rocket arm and incredible accuracy.

Imagine if a mad scientist with a radical new method of gene splicing discovered how to take John Elway’s arm and accuracy, Michael Vick’s speed, and combine them with Marshall Faulk’s frame and agility only to discover that the recessive gene it activated was Jake Plummer’s on-field judgment. When your quarterback gets hot and understands what the defense is doing, he looks like a Hall of Famer. When the defense makes the right adjustment and confuses him, your quarterback loses feel for when to stay in the structure of the play and when to use his athleticism to improvise.

He once threw for 68 yards in a game while rushing for 211 yards on 17 carries and scored four touchdowns—in an improbable comeback win where the meaningful plays came from the defense and special teams. In another game, he went 31-for-36 for 422 yards and 5 touchdowns and completed 17 and 13 passes in a row—in a last-minute loss where he threw the game-sealing pick-six. He has broken the record for interceptions thrown in a game—twice.

He is the only player who could have his own NFL Films episode that features both the greatest plays and dumbest moments in the history of the game. He is the most frustrating quarterback in the world and only Saturday Night Live would pair him as a spokesman for a brewer.

Your quarterback lacks field smarts and leadership. He likes to characterize his leadership style as “leading by example,” but he’s too nice and rarely shows the assertiveness he needs to keep his teammates focused—especially when his decision-making has crazy-erratic moments.

The staff has done its best to work with him. The last GM brought in a veteran receiver and tight end two years ago to aid the development plan. The receiver was so frustrated with the quarterback’s on-field swings  that he retired with a year left on his contract despite the fact that your staff believes he has another 2-3 years of starter play left. You were at least appreciative that the receiver—a real pro—kept his concerns in-house.

The coaches are now split on the quarterback’s ability to develop. He’s in his fifth year and both the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator have presented a case supported by film that he’s learning to recognize defenses that bedeviled him. But the head coach and defensive coordinator have countered that the passer’s issues have lasted longer than most teams would have patience for this mercurial passer has cost the team 11 wins during the past three seasons—enough for three playoff appearances.

The offensive coordinator and quarterback coach believe that change to a spread system with read-option plays would simplify many of the defensive looks and allow them to keep the passer’s decisions focused. The fact that the quarterback’s moments have come a west coast offense that utilized a lot of three and five-step drops from center encourages these offensive minds that there’s still gains to be made.

However, the defensive coordinator—a respected football mind across the league, who is normally deferential about not overstepping his bounds has been unusual vocal about the quarterback. He believes this passer lacks the “IT” quality and he has some psychological/emotional block that often takes over in critical situations.

The head coach—one of the best in the game—is ambivalent about his quarterback. The defensive coordinator has been “his guy,” with two different organizations—including a Super Bowl win and two Super Bowl appearances so he’s paying close attention to this unusual outspoken stance on an offensive player. Still, he seems willing to entertain the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach’s solution.

One thing you know about this head coach is that he has no qualms about allowing the best player to start. He had a knock-down, drag-out with the last GM who wanted to force a committee with two running backs—one, a second-round rookie speedster with questionable vision and the other a free agent bruiser with excellent feel between the tackles. The coach conceded a committee to start the season. It lasted seven quarters before he benched the second-round pick and the UDFA became the conference leader in touchdowns and went to the Pro Bowl.

It’s indication that if you draft a quarterback and that quarterback shows enough, the coaching staff won’t play favorites. And you have your eye on a prospect. He’s not the all-world athletic talent of your starter, but he’s the consummate pocket passer with size, grit, and enough physical skill to operate a west coast system.

In fact, he ran a west coast system in college. It was a small school program, but they did play Division-I talent and he performed well. There was a game against the No.2 team in country two years ago where he hung 35 points on this unit that had eight of its players drafted in the first two rounds last year and five of them started and played well as rookies. He only took four sacks in this contest and his skill at changing plays and tricking the secondary kept his team in the game until the final drive.

It wasn’t the only game against top competition where he excelled. However, his arm strength is average and to describe him as “nifty” in the pocket is a compliment of his awareness, not his mobility beyond the line of scrimmage. Your scouts love him and the coaches agree that he has the potential to fit well in the current offense. In fact, they were shocked by his maturity, leadership, and ability to pick up concepts fast and apply them on the field. You wondered if this had more to do with the long-term frustrations with the current starter than what they saw on the field.

You have a feeling this rookie prospect could provide the steadiness and production to elevate this team in ways your veteran hasn’t shown. At the same time, there’s also a lot of love for a game-breaking wide receiver with size, speed, and great hands who could make it very difficult for opponents to load the box. This could make your current quarterback’s job easier.

The team has the 15th pick in the draft and there’s little chance that the receiver makes it past the 20th pick and without trading veterans you need plus a high enough draft pick next year that you don’t really have, there’s no shot of acquiring a second, first-round pick this year. Unless, of course, you trade your current starting quarterback and put most of you chips into the quick development of this small school rookie.

It’s either stay the course with Mr. Excitement, who sells tickets and maybe with the right scheme adjustments can still take you to a Super Bowl, or a steadier presence who won’t do anything special as an athlete, but he has the personality to push this team to be better and the smarts to execute in situations where your current starter has failed. Still, there’s no guarantee what you see with his college tape will translate to the NFL.

What do you do? Trade Mr. Excitement and have a solid shot at the receiver and quarterback? Draft the rookie quarterback and hold a competition with Mr. Excitement for the job? Draft the rookie QB and force him to sit for a couple of years? Or do you not draft the QB and take the receiver?

The two writers assigned to this scenario last night will send me their response by next week. Interested in sharing your thoughts? Comment below.

3 responses to “GM Scenario No.5: Change Horses in the Middle of the Stream?”

  1. Am I missing something, or is there no mention of the rookie QB’s draft prospects? It seems possible that the GM could pick him up somewhere in the second round without sacrificing significant resources and still be able to draft the wide receiver.

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