In the first Age of Accountability I looked at the average age and starting time most quarterbacks needed to start. Most great quarterbacks don't start till they are around 28 and have about 4 seasons of starting experience to reach their potential. After a comment by BShrout about taking into account time spent with the team, I decided this post needed a part 2.
As I was doing research for this, I went back to my very first post Deserving Dynasties, which I did a short while back. It talked about two teams, the Chargers and the Eagles, and how they were either at the stage where they could be called a "Dynasty" or were just about there. As I was writing that post, I found one thing stands out among almost every team that could have that title, and it was stability at key positions, quarterback, running back, a defensive leader, and the coach. As I began researching this new post, I went into my work with that in mind, does playing in the same system make a quarterback better?
My initial reaction was, of course it does, but before we talk about that, review of last season.
2010: A Quick Look
This past season, of those quarterbacks who were an active part of the offense, throwing at least 15 passes, there were eight players who were new to their team. Of those eight, three were rookies.
Rookies: Matthew Stafford, Detroit
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay
Veterans: Brett Favre, Minnesota
Kyle Orton, Denver
Jay Cutler, Chicago
Matt Cassel, Kansas City
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo
Of these, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Freeman started mid-way through the season because of poor play by their predecessor. Cassel was benched during a number of games, but remained the starter. Of these eight, only Favre and Orton are in the top 15 in every major passing criteria, touchdowns, completion percentage, yards, and rating. Cutler is in the top 15 for touchdowns and yards, but was also the league leader in interceptions.
Of the 32 quarterbacks I studied, of those in the top 10, only one was new to his team, Favre, of the middle 11, two were new, Orton and Cutler, of the bottom 11, five were new, Cassel, Fitzpatrick, Freeman, Sanchez and Stafford.
Quality of Player:
Top Tier: Favre
Mid Tier: Orton, Cutler
Bottom Tier or unknown: Stafford, Sanchez, Freeman, Fitzpatrick, Cassel
Quality of New Team:
While I'm sure there are a few who would argue how I rate these players, I want to make the point that these are gray areas, some weeks some players slip up and down the ratings, but overall, this is the level they showed they played at. As for the team rankings, I don't think anyone will argue those.
Okay at this point, it gets a bit more difficult to handle this, because it is a two part problem, the first is the quality of team that the quarterback plays for, and the second part is the quality of the team that surrounds him. Matt Cassel and Daunte Culpepper were surrounded by some of the best talent of their times, I guess Randy Moss can make anyone look good, but once a player leaves that security he can run into trouble. Many decent, average NFL quarterbacks have been labeled "bad" quarterbacks because of their team. Look at David Carr, by no means a great quarterback but if someone was to actually give him an offensive line and maybe one wide receiver, he'd actually surprise most people. On the other hand, Matt Cassel surprised most people, and landed a huge contract based on his play when surrounded by one of the most talented teams of all time. Yet when he arrived at the Chiefs, he was more then underwhelming. Both part of his success and his failure were his fault, but both were also attributed to his team play.
Out of the eight, only Favre had a season worth mentioning, but to bring Favre into this you must take another note about players entering a new team. As has been talked about on MHR, learning a new system is different for each team, but since some coaches come from the same "Coaching Tree" they use similar systems, or the player could come into a completely new style of coaching. For Favre, he was entering a system similar to the one he had played under in Green Bay, through a very long and tiring story Childress is connected to Andy Reid who worked with Holmgren, Favre's old coach. Childress's coaching is similar to what Favre was used to, plus the fact that he could tell the coach what to do, it helped him run the offense how ever he wanted. Players like Orton and Cutler are more experienced in the NFL, but are still limited in their knowledge and haven't played in many systems yet, so while they have the chance to pick it up more quickly then a rookie, they aren't completely comfortable in the system right from the get go.
Learning, it's Magical:
So, after looking at last season, I realized there are a lot of factors at play here, since each case of each player is unique depending on their own ability, the talent around them, and their coaching, it is key to try and maintain stability on a team. If the player has even just basic skill, the team doesn't loose key players, and the coaching staff isn't man handled by Al Davis, then a player generally improves from season to season with a team, or at least maintains a steady level of play. If you lose talent, your coaching staff struggles to help you or your offensive improve, then it is hard to blame the player. Unfortunately that makes it hard to gauge if a player is improving in a system is things are constantly being changed. Teams like Cleveland and Washington are good examples, the constant coaching and system changes have either stunted or ruined many a young quarterback. While it's hard to look at every player, I will just take a look at teams that play at a high level, the Super Bowl. In the past ten years, 14 teams have played in the Super Bowl, of those 14, we had seven different teams win it, with the Steeler's and the Patriots winning it multiple times. Here's a quick recap:
|2009||New Orleans Saints (NFC,13-3) defeated Indianapolis Colts (AFC,14-2), Score: 31-17|
|2008||Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC,12-4) defeated Arizona Cardinals (NFC,9-7), Score: 27-23|
|2007||New York Giants (NFC,10-6) defeated New England Patriots (AFC,16-0), Score: 17-14|
|2006||Indianapolis Colts (AFC,12-4) defeated Chicago Bears (NFC,13-3), Score: 29-17|
|2005||Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC,11-5) defeated Seattle Seahawks (NFC,13-3), Score: 21-10|
|2004||New England Patriots (AFC,14-2) defeated Philadelphia Eagles (NFC,13-3), Score: 24-21|
|2003||New England Patriots (AFC,14-2) defeated Carolina Panthers (NFC,11-5), Score: 32-29|
|2002||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC,12-4) defeated Oakland Raiders (AFC,11-5), Score: 48-21|
|2001||New England Patriots (AFC,11-5) defeated St. Louis Rams (NFC,14-2), Score: 20-17|
|2000||Baltimore Ravens (AFC,12-4) defeated New York Giants (NFC,12-4), Score: 34-7|
Out of the seven teams to win the Super Bowl in the past ten years, five have quarterbacks who have either been with the team for previous seasons, or stayed on for future ones. The two that didn't, the Ravens and Bucs, had Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson, not bad quarterbacks, but ones who weren't kept around long. Of the five that kept their quarterbacks, we have these players: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees. With Roethlisberger, thee Steeler's have won two Super Bowls, the Patriots with Brady have been to four and won three, while Peyton has won one and lost one. Teams like the Bears and Raider didn't keep their quarterbacks around long after they lost their respective Super Bowls, and since then they haven't been back. But this is another tricky spot. Teams like Seattle was competitive with the same quarterback for a few season, but trailed off due to injury and lose of talent, others like the Giants and Eagles have made multiple playoff appearances this past decade. Teams that succeed year in and year out are stable. The Panthers of the mid-2000's are a good example, between seasons, few things changed, just a few tweaks here and there and they were pretty sure they'd do well. Jake was playing good football, and was surrounded by solid players, but as seasons passed, a lot of key pieces were let go, and now the Panthers aren't too much of big deal. Another example, during the 2000's only two teams made it to the playoffs 8 out 10 times, let me give you a hint, one was the Colts, and the other wasn't the Pats, it was the Eagles. Finding key players at positions like quarterback, running back, a defensive leader as well as good lineman is where long term success lies.
For this reason, many average teams switch out quarterbacks like socks, hoping to find the next great player, but hardly give the last guy time to even grow. This constant change up in leadership and key players is one reason why many bad teams stay bad, they don't allow their players to develop before they ship them off. Few quarterbacks are Pro Bowlers their first year in the system, since 2000 only 5 players have achieved this:
2002 Season Drew Bledsoe
2006 Season Drew Brees and Vince Young
2007 Season Jeff Garcia
2009 Season Brett Favre
And looking at the season Vince Young had, I really wonder how he made it at all. Out of these 5, only Drew Brees was ever listed as the starter.
Summing this up:
Okay, this article is going to be shorter then either you or I would like because of how hard it is to find any cohesiveness to this data. After typing another seven or eight pages, I realized that this topic has so many variables, that I wasn't going to be able to cover it all, let alone present all the data. I have worked on this article for weeks, have about 7 different spread sheets and pages more worth of information on player growth in their careers. But the reality is, while logic says a player gets better with each season under similar circumstances, there is just some much data on both sides, it is impossible to find any real conclusion. As I sought to figure this out, to be fair I just said "I'll only use players who kept the same head coach, similar offensive weapons and wasn't injured so that way the only variable will be the experience the player has in his system." But even doing that yielded mixed results, some players grow from year to year in a system, then plateau, others stay the same their second season, other growth is an up and down, some seasons good, some bad, and some just get worse their second season. This post could be 20 to 30 pages if I put all the players info on display, but let me just say this, while I want to say players get better with time, and I used to believe that, it is impossible to say. There are too many examples of players who regressed, stayed stagnant, or grew with each passing season to make any final conclusion. There are just too many things in play, too many variables to come to any kind of reasonable explanation.
Here is my reaction:
After finding that out about two weeks ago I did everything I could to try and present the data without being biased by outside factors such as team quality, coaches ability as well as the player's own quality to find any sane way to present it. After worrying about that for the past two weeks, I realize that this needs to be said, but there is just no good way to say it, for each player it is different, you can't predict what will happen, a player may grow greatly, play well, but the team suffer, or the opposite, the player may regress but the team play better, there is no way of know what will happen in the second or third year of a player being in a system. Almost everyone will argue against this, but believe me, I was as thorough as I could be, looked at countless players as well as their team make-ups, and for every example you give, I got a counter one, on both sides, there is just so much data to support either conclusion, it's really a toss up. My last wish is that someone with far more skill in writing and data, such as a staffer, would try and figure this out, cause wow, after all the work I did just to find out I was wrong, that it is almost just as likely to not improve as a player is to improve was pretty disheartening. Sorry to report this conclusion, but really, that's just what it is.