The NFL draft is done, and the league’s grand quarterback reshuffling that began in free agency seems pretty much done. Prominent veterans changed teams. Prized rookies came off the board early and often on draft night. Some teams double-dipped, adding both a quarterback of the present and a quarterback of the future. For roughly one-quarter of the league, things have changed dramatically at the most important position.
It undoubtedly won’t work out as planned for everyone. But for now, there is reason for everyone with a reworked quarterback situation to hope. There were, for a change, enough quarterbacks to go around.
Actually, there were more than enough quarterbacks to go around. Each of the four quarterbacks selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft Thursday night went to a team that already had made arrangements this offseason to have a veteran in place who could, if needed, serve as a temporary caretaker of the starting job.
The Cleveland Browns, who made Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma the top overall pick, had traded for former Buffalo Bills starter Tyrod Taylor. The New York Jets, who took Southern California’s Sam Darnold with the third choice, had re-signed Josh McCown and signed Teddy Bridgewater. The Bills, who traded up to No. 7 to get Wyoming’s Josh Allen, had added AJ McCarron. The Arizona Cardinals, who moved up to 10th for UCLA’s Josh Rosen, had signed Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon.
That creates the curious possibility that, while this highly celebrated class produced the first occasion that four quarterbacks were drafted in the top 10, all four of those would-be franchise saviors could begin their NFL careers as backups.
“We’re not going to rush him,” Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said of Allen at a post-draft news conference. “But if he somehow wins the job, then he wins it. There’s other players out there. There will be 52 other players out there and if they see that he’s clearly the best, I don’t think we could do that [keep Allen on the bench]. We wouldn’t do that at any other position. We’ll let it go. But he’s got a lot of catching up to do.”
Allen and Darnold probably have the best chances to be Opening Day starters. Allen would have to overtake McCarron, who is well regarded but was a backup with the Cincinnati Bengals before moving to Buffalo in free agency. Darnold’s competition consists of McCown, who is respected but has been a backup for most of his career, and Bridgewater, who has not demonstrated whether he can make a successful return from the serious leg injury that ended his tenure as the Minnesota Vikings‘ starter.
In Cleveland, Mayfield probably will have to wait his turn behind Taylor, who had some success as a starter in Buffalo and cost the Browns a third-round draft choice in their trade with the Bills. In Arizona, Rosen likely will have to bide his time behind Bradford, the oft-injured but competent-when-healthy former starter for the St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles.
It was the rare offseason in which quarterback-deprived franchises could give themselves more than one possibility for filling that void.
“I would say I think really when you look at it, ideally you’d probably attack it from both angles in a perfect world,” Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan said when asked at the NFL scouting combine whether he wanted a veteran or a rookie to address the team’s quarterback need.
A fifth quarterback went in the first round Thursday, as the Baltimore Ravens traded up to No. 32 to take Lamar Jackson, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Louisville. He becomes the heir apparent to Joe Flacco in Baltimore.
Other teams passed up opportunities to put eventual successors in place behind veteran starters. The New York Giants could have gone with Darnold, Allen or Rosen with the No. 2 overall selection. Instead, they chose tailback Saquon Barkley, trying to make the most of what’s left of quarterback Eli Manning‘s career. The Denver Broncos, at No. 5, opted to fortify their defense with N.C. State pass rusher Bradley Chubb, putting them all-in on free agent addition Case Keenum at quarterback.
The Giants did use a fourth-round pick on Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta. Whether he could develop into a viable post-Manning starter remains to be seen. Similarly, the Pittsburgh Steelers added Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round, taking only a tentative step toward a succession plan for whenever Ben Roethlisberger steps aside.
The maneuverings during the draft came after the Vikings bid farewell to Keenum, Bradford and Bridgewater and signed Kirk Cousins, the coveted free agent coming off three straight 4,000-yard passing seasons for the Washington Redskins, to a guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal in March. The Redskins had gotten an early start during Super Bowl week in lining up Cousins’s successor by arranging to trade for Kansas City’s Alex Smith, who had been ousted as the Chiefs‘ starter when they decided to go with Patrick Mahomes in his upcoming second NFL season.
For now, all those teams with new quarterbacks can envision Pro Bowl seasons and Super Bowl titles. In truth, there are only so many Pro Bowl spots and championship trophies to go around. But in this unusual offseason of quarterback availability, all that counts at this point is being able to dream big.