"We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself." -- Lloyd Alexander.
The recent trade of Peyton Hillis to the Cleveland Browns for quarterback Brady Quinn, along with all of the speculation regarding the future of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb that resulted in his trade to Washington, the releases of Jake Delhomme from Carolina, Marc Bulger from St. Louis, and Derek Anderson from Cleveland have once again brought to the forefront of many discussions the nature of a "franchise" quarterback. What makes this kind of discussion so intriguing is the fact that there is no official, nor even a consensus definition of what constitutes a "franchise" quarterback. There is not even a consensus as to whether or not the phrase carries any inherent value or validity. It could be technically argued that since every NFL team is, by definition a franchise, then any quarterback playing for any NFL team is a franchise quarterback. But this would seem to beg the question. It should also be pointed out that the term "franchise" quarterback should not be confused with the contractual term of "franchise" used in the NFL to tag a player that the team does not wish to lose.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been polling a variety of people, as well as researching the ways in which the term has been used in recent history. I have polled a number of MHR staff and MHR members. I have been looking for common threads and differences of opinion. What I have found is both intriguing and startling. There are just about as many views of the meaning of "franchise" quarterback as there are sources to cite, yet there are also a number of common threads which seem to run through those viewpoints. After the fold, we will look at what I've found.
Franchise Quarterback: A Variety of Views
The first thing that can be noticed is that the term is often used widely and in such diverse ways that it appears to be almost meaningless. When doing a Google-search using "list of franchise quarterbacks" I was able to find a half-dozen or so different lists, which did not necessarily contain the same list of names. Some of our MHR folks noted:
The definition of a "franchise quarterback" is not universal. -- Tim Lynch
Quarterbacks that eat at McDonalds???? But seriously now . . . Franchise QB is a term bandied around WAY too much! -- Ben Boyd
Sayre Bedinger offered this: "The definition of Franchise Quarterback is John Elway. One who can single-handedly win games. One who is instinctive, athletic, and cerebral. One who sticks with a franchise through thick and thin. One who is synonymous with his number. One who is a leader of men. One who is a mentor. One who sets an example. One who players want to play with. One who bleeds one team's colors." Dennis Clifford offered a similar perspective with this: "I think a franchise QB is one with enough skill that you can assemble a team around them that will be successful. It also implies longevity, preferably a decade of work with superior performance. And obviously with the same team."
Kirk Davis added a rather colorful image to the discussion:
It could be said that a franchise QB is a quarterback in the NFL that basically can lead a team to a Super bowl, on more than one occasion. A Franchise QB is a player you build a team around. He is an anchor behind center, a quarterback who can lead a team not only with his play but his personality. A franchise quarterback is a player that can make chicken salad out of chicken excrement.
The following three-part response to the question appeared in an article on Bleacher Report (the citation is at the end of this article) by Olav Smith:
(numbers added by me)
1)He's that once-in-a-generation quarterback who takes a team on his back and lifts it to glory. In some cases, the team needs someone to step into a situation where winning has become the tradition, and he just needs to keep it going. That's what happened when Steve Young took over for Joe Montana.
2)In some cases, the team needs someone to return the team to the glory of years past. That's what Peyton Manning and Eli Manning did for their teams recently.
3)In some cases, the team needs someone to take them to the promised land for the first time. Joe Theismann will always be remembered for leading the 'Skins to their first Super Bowl victory.
Mostly likely soon-to-be NFL quarterback Sam Bradford had this to say in an interview on NFL Radio: "There are a lot of different definitions of a franchise quarterback, but I think of it as a quarterback who just can't be replaced. It's someone who is so vital that if they were to get rid of him, it would change the entire complexion of their offense."
The next two quotes come from members of the Denver Broncos: "I don't know what the definition of that is, because there are a lot of quarterbacks who have had great success in this league that, I don't know how you define them as franchise quarterbacks," Josh McDaniels said. "What's a guy who is not a franchise quarterback? I don't know. I just want our guy to win." Kyle Orton believes that the term "franchise quarterback" arises only when the "franchise" feels a certain way about its "quarterback."
Bradley Johnson offered a rather humorous response to the question:
It's like the Supreme Court says about pornography: You can't define it, but you know it when you see it.
Finally, EJ Ruiz offered this rather tongue-in-cheek definition:
Main Entry: fran·chise quar·ter·back
Etymology: Disputed - Claytonese (NFL) and Kiperish (Draft)
Date: Information Age, Post 24-Hour News Cycle
1 : a subset of quarterbacks selected subjectively by the punditry in the mainstream sports media, believed to be the only players capable of leading an NFL franchise to a Super Bowl championship. The only discernible common trait of this group is plentiful highlight reels (heavy on style and light on substance), from which enormous contracts and untenable reputations flow.
He went on to say that he believes the term is artificial, subjective and useless, and "Give me a QB that can make all the usual throws and doesn't make mistakes; if your team can't win with him, then your TEAM isn't very good . . ."
Franchise Quarterback: More Dependent Upon the Definer More Than the Player?
As one may see from the variety of views offered above: there are just about as many definitions of the term as there are people to offer those definitions.
Each team/person/fan has their own conceived notion of a franchise quarterback. To the Broncos, Cutler was not a franchise QB, to the Bears he was/is. To the Patriots, Cassel was not a franchise QB, to the Chiefs he was(for a minute). To the Chargers, Drew Brees was not a franchise QB, to the Saints he was/is. -- Tim Johnson
Tim's statement was expanded upon by Andrew Thornberry:
I think it [the phrase "franchise quarterback] is a fallacy. If it truly exists, its the rarely gifted player that could thrive in any system because of transcendent physical tools combined with great instincts/moxy. John Elway was clearly one. He won despite the talent around him-- sometimes dragging a kicking and screaming supporting cast to victory. These days, the league has become as much about complex systems and schemes as it is about a single guy lifting a team to the promised land. Find the right fit for the system, and almost any reasonably talented player can rise to the 'franchise' status. I don't think it works the other way around anymore.
IMO, guys like Drew Brees, Kurt Warner and Jay Cutler have-- through their recent successes and failures-- completely blown the myth straight out of the water. Just as Brees and Warner were ordinary or flat out awful, respectively, in poorly matched systems or situations, Cutler, who drips of physical talent, made no difference at all in Chicago without the proper supporting personnel.
Andrew Segedin explains it this way:
I happen to think the term "Franchise QB" is far less spectacular than we often say it is. I liken it to what the "Narrator" says about couches in "Fight Club". He was obsessed with furniture because after that - whatever happens - at least he has the couch situation figured out. A team with a franchise QB simply has the QB situation figured out. Do you need a Tom Brady or a Drew Brees? No. Would it be nice? Yes, but they are beyond franchise QB's, they're superstar, MVP-caliber quarterbacks. Would you normally, off the top of your head think that Chad Henne is a franchise quarterback? Probably not, but he's a promising young quarterback and the Dolphins aren't currently looking around for a starting quarterback - so technically he is. Franchise quarterback - at its base - is a quarterback a team has committed to to the point where they don't seek another player to take his job. Does that take some of the shine off of "Franchise QB"? Maybe, but as you can see, every year there's at least 8-12 teams that have some sort of volatility at the position, so it's all relative.
Kirk Davis offers us this observation: "Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, like so many other young quarterbacks drafted by terrible franchise, don’t get a fair shake. They are looked upon, drafted, and automatically labeled "Franchise," somewhat unfairly, IMO. Jay Cutler is currently in this boat, and it is time for him to sink or swim. Some, like Quinn and Kyle Orton, receive a second chance to at least quell the murmurs that they don't have what it takes."
The simple fact of the matter is that as you research this term, you must first discern the assumptions from which the definer is working. Having said that, though, there are some quarterbacks who seem to stand well above their peers, whether in terms of talent, leadership, success, public acclaim, etc.
Franchise Quarterback: Some That Stand Above the Rest
When asked to name quarterbacks who stand above their peers, and/or to name those quarterbacks that should be considered "franchise" quarterbacks a number of names recur quite frequently. One such is Peyton Manning. Another is John Elway. Kirk Davis reminds us that the "NFL has always been quarterback-driven in some ways, but it seems to have only increased over the years. The best teams usually have the best quarterback play – this year, the Saints have Drew Brees, the Vikings have Brett Favre, the Chargers have Philip Rivers, the Colts have Peyton Manning."
Typically, Peyton Manning heads nearly every list of "franchise" quarterbacks. Tom Brady is often a close second, though the perception of him as a "franchise" quarterback has taken some hits of late -- due to a growing perception that his success is as much due to the system in which he has played as his own native talent. Other names that often grace lists of those who are among the best of the best are: Ben Roethlisberger (two Super Bowl wins), Eli Manning (for beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl), and Kurt Warner (for appearances in the Super Bowl with two different teams).
Sam Snyder, a writer for Bleacher Report, in his article "What is a Franchise Quarterback Exactly?" offers up a rather interesting categorization of a number of NFL quarterbacks. He breaks them into four categories: "Failed" Franchise Quarterbacks, "Potential" Franchise Quarterbacks, "Up and Coming" Franchise Quarterbacks and "Current" Franchise Quarterbacks.
|Failed Franchise QBs
||Potential Franchise QBs
||Up and Coming Franchise QBs
||Current Franchise QBs
|Alex Smith (San Francisco)
||JaMarcus Russell (Oakland)
||Matt Ryan (Atlanta)
||Drew Brees (New Orleans)
|Marc Bulger (St. Louis)
Matthew Stafford (Detroit)
Joe Flacco (Baltimore)
||Phillip Rivers (San Diego)
|Derek Anderson (Cleveland)
Mark Sanchez (New York Jets)
Matt Cassel (Kansas City)
||Tom Brady (New England)
Tyler Thigpen (Kansas City)
||Brady Quinn (Cleveland *)
||Jay Cutler (Chicago)
||Eli Manning (New York Giants)
Kyle Boller (Baltimore)
Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay)
Kyle Orton (Denver)
||Peyton Manning (Indianapolis)
|Luke McCown (Tampa Bay)
Carson Palmer (Cincinnati)
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)
|Byron Leftwitch (Tampa Bay)
||Trent Edwards (Buffalo)
Tony Romo (Dallas)
Shaun Hill (San Francisco)
Jason Campbell (Washington)
||Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia)
Vince Young (Tennessee)
||David Garrard (Jacksonville)
||Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh)
|Sage Rosenfels (Minnesota)
Matt Schaub (Houston)
||Kurt Warner (Arizona)
Tarvaris Jackson (Minnesota)
||Kerry Collins (Tennessee)
||Jake Delhomme (Carolina)
Troy Smith (Baltimore)
Matt Hasselbeck (Seattle)
||Chad Pennington (Miami)
Matt Leinart (Arizona)
Now, you can accept, reject or modify this list as you may choose. It is simply offered up as one person's listing of which quarterbacks have achieved status as a "franchise" quarterback, which ones are close, and which ones are likely to, and which ones have had their shot and missed the mark. It is interesting to note, that with the exception of the last two names, all of those listed in the "Current" category appear on more than one person's list of "franchise" quarterbacks. Just as there is no consensus regarding what makes a franchise quarterback, there is not complete agreement as to which players should be given that label. However, are there some common characteristics which can be used as criteria for determining why these players are esteemed above their peers?
Franchise Quarterback: Why Some Stand Above the Rest
In trying to refine our perception of what constitutes a "franchise" quarterback, it can be helpful to look at the characteristics that some people ascribe to such a player.
"In simple terms, I see it as a QB with runs on the board that a franchise builds a team around, including the defense (see Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and what Phillip Rivers is morphing into," writes Ben Boyd.
Steve Nichols says it this way, "In my estimation, a 'franchise QB' is a QB that is good enough for the team that he couldn't reasonably face a credible threat of being deposed by another QB."
The following list of characteristics was offered up by Sayre Bedinger:
One who can single-handedly win games. One who is instinctive, athletic, and cerebral. One who sticks with a franchise through thick and thin. One who is synonymous with his number. One who is a leader of men. One who is a mentor. One who sets an example. One who players want to play with. One who bleeds one team's colors.
Kirk Davis suggests that there "is no question that Peyton Manning is the very definition of a Franchise Quarterback. Manning was the Colts' No. 1 overall draft pick in 1998 and he has played in every game for the Colts since. He's thrown for more than 49,000 yards, been named to nine Pro Bowls, won three NFL MVP awards and was the Super Bowl MVP." Kirk also observed this about the Patriots' Tom Brady: "When he got hurt 2 years ago, the Pat's didn't do so well. In fact, they turned from a 'great' team to a 'better than average team."
Emmett Smith offered up this list of "franchise QB" characteristics:
1. He arrives before the janitors and leaves when they throw him out.
2. He works harder than any other play on the team and is harder on himself than on them.
3. When they need to go 95 yards to win a game, he smiles and tells them that it's a good thing they don't need 98 - then goes and gets them.
4. When he's hit high and low by two guys, he jumps up, claps his hands and jogs back to the huddle.
5. Every player on the team considers him its leader.
6. When a question comes up in the film room, he can answer it because he's already studied that week's opponent.
7. He's not afraid to tell a player when he's wrong, missing assignments or blocks - any player, including himself.
8. Everyone on the team believes that they can score when they have to.
9.Whether he has the arm of Hulk Hogan or Pee Wee Herman, everyone believes that they can win because of him.
10. He treats everyone from the office girls to the owner the same way - respectfully and as equals.
Anything less than that isn't a franchise QB - it's just someone that the media calls that.
Sam Snyder, who was mentioned above, offers up four criteria which he believes should be used to define whether or not a player qualifies for the label "franchise" quarterback: (1)Consistency, (2)Talent, (3)Leadership/Maturity, and (4)Football intelligence.
Consistency refers to the quarterback's ability to perform at the same level game in and game out. Snyder does not require that the quarterback play at an elite level, but rather that he not be great one game while playing poorly the next. Ben Boyd refers to it as "having runs on the board." Emmett Smith suggests that it begins with practice: "His practice habits are nearly perfect. It shows when he steps on the field on game day." He is the player who is the first into the facility in the mornings and the last to leave at night.
Talent refers the physical and mental attributes the player brings to the game. Snyder suggests that a quarterback who is perceived as a game manager is acceptable, so long as he can step up and make big plays when they are needed. Such a quarterback can be considered a "franchise" quarterback. He used the examples of Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger who are not asked to throw a tremendous amount, but who can rise to the occasion when needed. This also has to do with the quarterback's footwork and throwing mechanics. Each player comes into the NFL with varying degrees of expertise in these things. Some can improve these basics through good coaching and constant/consistent practice.
Leadership/Maturity refers to the player that all of the other players on the team look to for guidance. He is the player who rallies his teammates when adversity strikes. As Emmett Smith mentioned above, this is the player who: arrives early, leaves late; is harder on himself than anyone else; is considered the leader by his teammates; exudes confidence that his teammates can get the job done; treats everyone with respect and as equals. He demonstrates this by being less worried about his personal stats than the win/loss record of his team. The leader/mature player is the one who accepts responsibility rather than blaming others for his failures.
[block quote: When they need to go 95 yards to win the game, he smiles and tells them that it's good they don't need to go 98 - then goes and gets them. ]
Football Intelligence refers to what Emmett Smith calls Information Processing Speed. This is not a measure of a player's IQ, nor does it have anything to do with the NFL's Wonderlic test. It has to do with the quarterback's awareness of what is going on on the field, and the decisions he makes both before and during the play. This information processing includes, but is not limited to, the following concepts:
[block quote: The ability to run a huddle, function accurately and instinctively at the line under center, call the adjustments and prepare the team pre-snap is far more complex than most fans are aware . . . [the quarterback] is as hardworking as any player in the game, studying every nuance of his position and how it relates to every other player on the field. His practice habits are nearly perfect. --Emmett Smith]
Even with these four criteria in place for a quarterback, there is a side of the "franchise" quarterback concept that is not often acknowledged by fans -- the need for the team to know precisely what it is that they expect their quarterback to do. As has been mentioned above, a quarterback that is a perfect fit in one organization, may be less successful in a different one. A pure pocket passer, such as Manning or Brady, may not be as successful in an offense that requires the quarterback to use mostly roll outs and even rush a fair amount of the time, ala Michael Vick when he was in Atlanta. Each team, more than likely, has a detailed plan regarding what their quarterback is going to be required to do. It is the front office's responsibility to provide the coaching staff with players who can be developed into that type of player. The coaches need to be able to define the strengths and weaknesses of a particular quarterback and determine whether or not he will meet the criteria they have established for the offense. The coaches are charged with developing an understanding of what they will need to do to get the quarterback ready to be successful in their system. They are also responsible for tweaking the offense, when appropriate, to better fit the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of the quarterback.
As an aside: most fans do not realize that there is a fine balance between the system and the player. Both are equally important, and setting one over against the other can be a recipe for undermining the effectiveness of the offense.
Another organizational aspect is the requirement that the team provide the quarterback with the supporting cast he will need to be successful. This starts with the offensive line. Witness the example of David Carr: drafted with the first overall pick in the 2002 draft by the Houston Texans, Carr never had much of a chance given the porous nature of his offensive line. In his five years in Houston, Carr was sacked an average of 49.8 times per season, twice breaking 60 sacks, and once breaking 70. The quarterback also needs a reasonably effective running game, in order to avoid having the offense become one-dimensional. Matt Schaub of the Texans has thrown for over 10,000 yards during the last 3 seasons. At the same time, the team has ranked 22nd, 13th and 30th in rushing. Is it any wonder that the Texans have posted 8-8, 8-8, and 9-7 records during those three years? It is also important that the team provide the quarterback with receivers who can execute the routes effectively and catch the ball.
Finally, the quarterback needs effective coaching. Emmett Smith offered this insight:
Players like Kyle Orton and Chris Simms came from environments where they were drafted with clear scouting reports noting that they shouldn't start for a considerable time and they needed proper coaching to become solid backups or starting quarterbacks. In both cases, that information was ignored. In Orton's case, some of it was necessity -- Chicago lost one QB and had to bench another. The option of bringing in a veteran to fill in while each of these two developed wasn't chosen. Both lost ground and valuable development time by being put in a situation where they were far more likely to fail than to succeed. In Orton's case, he's now making major strides, but his ceiling is unclear. In Simms' case, he seems incapable of starting, and his injury may or may not come into that. Either way, he has not shown the ability to perform . . . Sometimes quality coaching isn't enough, but it always has to be central to the situation.
Franchise Quarterback: An Overused Phrase with No Consensus Definition but a Kernel of Truth
So, what do we do with all of this? Is the term "franchise" quarterback a meaningful one or not? Jeremy Bolander, when asked to define the term responded in this way:
What you are asking for is a definition of value, Brian, which is why no one has ever agreed on a definition. While "QB" is a relatively objective term, "Franchise" is essentially a synonym for "valuable". Unless you define what Franchise means in this context, you could get contradictory definitions, which aren't definitions at all but subjective opinions . . . It implies that "Franchise" means "valuable to the team". To further try and distill it to essentials, you might rephrase it as: "A QB who is more valuable to their team than any other available QB."
The key in this definition is that you need a solid base definition for "valuable to their team" and "available".
Valuable to their team: "team" has a nature here, and refers specifically to a particular NFL football team. Different teams have different requirements for their QBs, an extension of ownership and coaching. But all NFL teams have at least a basic overlap of some key definitions for the QB, notably that he lines up behind center and is the point man for the offense. I think that perhaps the best way to define "valuable to their team" would be to say "can run the teams offense"
Available QB: by available, one would need to consider salary, trade compensation, etc. Rather than list out every qualifying situation, i would just add "reasonably" as a modifier.
The new definition looks something like this:
A QB who can run their team's offense better than any other reasonably available QB.
Given the fact that there is no other single player who is on the field for more offensive plays than the quarterback, it must be acknowledged that the quarterback has much to do with the success or failure of an offense. Teams that lack confidence in the guy under center usually struggle. Change the quarterback, and you can change the complexion of the entire team. Brian Urlacher was quoted this past season as saying (and I'm paraphrasing here) that the Bears lost their identity (as a run-first, manage the game offense which relied on its defense to win the game) following the trade which landed them Jay Cutler. It remains to be seen how they will fare with Mike Martz retooling the offense into a more Cutler-friendly one.
At the same time, it remains to be seen how Denver will fare as McDaniels/McCoy continue their retooling of Denver's offense. Emmett Smith offers this assessment of the type of quarterback sought by McDaniels:
6'4+, must show the ability to read coverages and blitzes pre-snap, must show the ability to routinely check down through his receiving progressions post snap, must show above-average accuracy and, more importantly, timing on short and intermediate routes - the routes his offense is based around. Arm strength is a must but more so regarding velocity on the short and intermediate throws - not so much with the deep ball. Athleticism in terms of speed and quickness are unnecessary . . . you can teach a guy through improved mechanics and in the weight room . . . how to drive the deep ball better. Through drills and practice you can get a guy who runs the 40 in 5+ seconds to feel pressure well and maneuver in the pocket . . . What you can't do (or at least what's harder to do) is change how a guy thinks and processes information . . . Guys who can run around and make plays, throw the ball 70 yards like it's nothing - they get drafted early because coaches think they can teach them the mental aspects of the game. McDaniels grabs the smarter, less athletic guys in the later rounds and builds an offense around the ability to be accurate and make good reads.
Smith quotes Michael Holley's book Patriot Reign, pages 153-154 regarding the intangibles needed by a quarterback:
1. Be the mentally toughest and hardest working player on the team
2. Be able to take a big hit and then walk back to the huddle and call the next play (Note: this may eliminate Tony Pike in 2010)
3. Have his head screwed on straight enough to handle the pressure and scrutiny to which all NFL QBs are subjected (i.e., have a strong ego)
4. If you want to know who the good quarterbacks are, watch the passes they complete under a heavy rush. Watch the first downs they get on third and long, passing into heavy coverage. Listen to what their teammates say about them.
To which he adds a quote from McDaniels' mentor, Bill Belichick: "Don't be a celebrity quarterback. We don't need any of those. We need battlefield commanders that are willing to fight it out everyday, every week, and every season, and lead their team to win after win after win."
An article from Liveballsports.com added these thoughts to the discussion:
It would not be an incorrect statement to say that the Bears got a franchise quarterback in Cutler.
But that’s just it. They acquired someone elses franchise quarterback, and they paid a premium for it. The assumption that all franchise QBs are the same would be ludicrous.
Marc Bulger was once thought to be a franchise quarterback. Kurt Warner was one, then he wasn’t, now he is again. It’s a tag that Jake Delhomme and Daunte Culpepper once wore. Right now, Brett Favre is offering the Vikings better play than most "franchise" quarterbacks are offering their teams . . . That franchise designation isn’t yours, and you can’t take it with you.
What it boils down to is a series of common characteristics (best stated by Emmett Smith, and paraphrased by me):
1)Quarterbacks have to be self-starters; the first into the building, the last out every day.
2)They have to be able to withstand hard hits without losing their focus.
3)They don't have to be huge (see Drew Brees), but they do have to be smart and accurate.
Smith suggests that when we study history, we find that "that there have been heroic and remarkable quarterbacks in every decade. Choosing one as 'the best' is relative at best - the game has changed tremendously. Many modern QBs would not have long survived the forms of the game that have come before. Many from the past would be lost in the modern game. It's apples and oranges . . ."
So where does this leave us? We must begin by acknowledging that a universal or consensus definition of the term "franchise" quarterback simply does not exist. Most often the term is used to describe that player that an owner, coach or fan deems to be desirable for his/her franchise. Thus, as it is most often used, the term says more about the person using it than it does about the player being described. But is the term, then, useless? No, not really. For nearly every definition that I found had some common elements: self-starting, hard-working, a player that teammates will rally around, a player than can rally his teammates, smart, etc. etc.
As I considered the various views and descriptions, I found myself returning again and again to the perspective offered up by Jeremy Bolander, who was able to refine his description down to this single sentence: A QB who can run their team's offense better than any other reasonably available QB.
There is a wealth of insight in that single, simple statement. All NFL franchises aspire to a single goal: to win the Super Bowl. Everything they do, every choice that they make is an attempt to bring their team closer to achieving that goal. Every team has a philosophy that defines their offense and defense. Every team has criteria that defines the players that are needed to run that offense. Every team has an image of the type of player that they need in charge of the offense -- the quarterback. However, what works for one team, does not necessarily work for another. Over the years NFL teams have used a wide variety of offenses -- the Smash Mouth/Run-oriented, Run-to-Daylight, Pro Set, Air Coryell, West Coast, Run and Shoot, the Spread, the Pistol, the Wildcat, the Erhardt-Perkins -- each of these had/has a different skill set that it asks its quarterback to master. A quarterback who is asked to do minimal passing in a run-heavy offense may well struggle in an Air Coryell approach. Likewise, a quarterback who thinks pass-first may well struggle in a run-heavy one. This is why I find Bolander's definition so attractive.
If your team has a quarterback that is able to run the offense of the team better than any other reasonably available quarterback, you may say that you have a "franchise" quarterback. I would further suggest that using Sam Snyder's criteria can help in determining whether or not your quarterback measures up to that label. I would also advocate that the term is not an absolute given. It takes time for a quarterback to demonstrate that he can perform consistently. It takes time for the organization to insure that the quarterback has the correct supporting cast around him. It is even conceivable that a quarterback could grow into the label, only to lose later in his career. It is also a label which does not automatically follow a player from team to team. As was mentioned above: one team's franchise quarterback is not necessarily another's. So there you have it, at the end of the day, in this writer's opinion:
A franchise quarterback is the quarterback that is able to run his team's offense better than any other reasonably available quarterback.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
Some of the above quotations came from the following sources:
Tim Lynch, Ben Boyd, Sayre Bedinger, Kirk Davis, Sam Bradford, Josh McDaniels, Kyle Orton, Bradley Johnson, EJ Ruiz, Andrew Thornberry, Andrew Segedin, Steve Nichols, Emmett Smith, and Jeremy Bolander
"Manning Sets the Standard as Franchise Quarterback; Denver's Envy -- Broncos Still Looking for the Next Elway"
by Lindsay H. Jones, The Denver Post, 12/12/2009
"The Great Sanchez Debate in Washington"
by Olav Smith, approximately 1 year ago
"What is A Franchise Quarterback Exactly"
by Sam Snyder, approximately 8 months ago
"The Importance of a Franchise Quarterback in the NFL"
author and date unknown
"The Biggest Quarterback Busts of All Time"
author and date unknown
"Understanding Drafting the Quarterback Position"
by Emmett Smith for Mile High Report, 3-6-2010
"Jay Cutler and the 'Franchise Quarterback' Fallacy"
author unknown, 11-14-2009