NFL Europe was a real money loser for the NFL owners who funded it. As ticket sales and interest would steadily wane in many of the foreign markets, owners kept the teams playing even after it made no economic sense to keep them operating. However, owners were encouraged to keep the league operating by general managers who convinced them that the league was a great place to develop Quarterbacks. So for that reason along with the promotion of the sport abroad, owners kept fueling the league that cost them millions per year to keep running in order to keep the talent pool of fresh arms deep and polished.
So why is it that a Matt Cassell, a Matt Flynn, and or an Alex Smith will struggle with one coaching regime and then shine with another? Why do some QBs never reach their potential while others, drafted in mid to late rounds sometimes (Brady, Wilson, Warner), surpass the expectation of their draft slot? Why do some offensive systems and coaching staffs keep producing quality backups while others don’t? Why are there so many inconsistencies in the development of QBs throughout the league? I will tell you why. The league and its current roster, practice and off-season rules aren’t structured to help young QBs develop.
The Rosters: I had one GM tell me recently that, “If I get down to my 3rd QB, the season is most likely over”. That’s the attitude of many NFL organizations. Most teams only carry two active QBs into a game leaving the 3rd inactive. Furthermore, the roster gets so tight as it is on cut day, a lot of times promising QBs get exposed to waivers before being placed on a practice squad and thus have to start fresh all over again while the season is underway. Bouncing around from one team to another, one practice squad to another, young QBs get lost in the shuffle and can fall through the cracks.
Turnover: This season, we had about a one third turnover in either a new head coach or general manager. When this occurs the new leadership makes change without ever getting to see some QBs work in person. In todays must win now atmosphere, very few coaches or GMs have the luxury of patience in developing players, especially if the team is coming off of a losing season the year before. Everyone is in let’s save our job mode and not developing QBs for the future. I have a QB client who saw 3 head coaches, 3 QB coaches and two GMs over a 3-year period. Each year was a new beginning with different offenses. The opportunity to develop within a system didn’t exist for this client, as it doesn’t for many.
A limited offseason: I personally feel the new offseason OTA rules and the number of practices are great for the longevity of older players but a killer for young QBs who need field time with their coaches and receivers. Young players develop and make jumps in the offseason. However the new rules limit organized practices with coaches. I believe an adjustment could be made to the rules to allow more 7 on 7 non-contact drills that QBs need. Many QBs are working out in somewhat structured environments but it’s usually not with a qualified QB coach or their own receivers. Logistics, family obligations and cost can make it difficult for young QBs to organize their own offseason with their own teammates. The CBA rules limit on-field contact with coaches.
I’m sure if you gave QBs, coaches, receivers, tight ends and running backs with 3 years or less experience the option of a 3 week dedicated offseason development program with coaches, they would take it in a heartbeat.
Lack of practice reps: We all know that the loss of a Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers can spell the end for a team’s Super Bowl chances. When Seneca Wallace stepped in for Aaron Rodgers on Monday night he was admittedly not prepared. Practices just aren’t set up where backups can get ample reps to prepare for a game.
The art of developing, preparing and grooming a young QB takes some time and commitment. Unfortunately, the NFL is just not built to incubate and focus their resources on doing so. As we move forward I believe the NFL and the union should carve out some platforms, roster spots and resources for the development of our future stars.
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