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Who has excelled at finding franchise quarterbacks?

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We dig into the talent evaluators who have found franchise quarterbacks, and see who rises to the top.

Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

I wrote a few months ago, that until the Denver Broncos find the ever elusive long-term replacement for Peyton Manning, we’ll be here talking about quarterbacks in Broncos Country year after year.

Today we’ll pick back up on that conversation. We left off last time with a look at teams who had recently found guys they hoped would be their franchise quarterback. Additionally, there has been a lot of buzz this offseason around John Elway and his inability to find a franchise quarterback.

I have held all offseason that while certainly some of that criticism is warranted, finding a franchise quarterback is not an easy task and most teams either luck into their guy, or wander in the wilderness of journeymen and whiffed draft picks until finally landing that elusive franchise player.

However, every time (at least in my experience) we have these conversations about which teams are “good at finding quarterbacks” and which ones aren’t, it’s typically done at the team level, and not the evaluator/drafter level.

For instance, the classic example of the Packers going from Hall of Famer to future Hall of Famer with Favre and Rodgers, were singular events chosen by different staffs (albeit there was a little bit of continuity there with those staffs).

With all this in mind, I wanted to take a look at not what teams have been successful at the quarterback position, but what general managers, or team decision makers have shown a knack for finding quarterbacks, and which ones have whiffed in their career.

The subtext to this, obviously, is that John Elway (right or wrong) has been pegged as a bad QB evaluator, and criticized for not finding a franchise QB to replace Manning in the three years since he retired. The overarching question in my mind when these come up is “relative to what”, which spurred my interest in doing this piece.

The goal today, however, is not to compare to see how Elway matches up, although we’ll do that, nor is it with any particular goal in mind in terms of deflecting or incurring blame on Elway. I merely wanted to make an attempt at establishing a baseline across the league and see which team executives have been successful at finding franchise quarterbacks for their teams, and if any rose to the top.

Methodology

The first thing I had to do was set some parameters to work within. This is just what I chose and is a mix of objective and subjective selection of “franchise quarterbacks”. It isn’t by any means a perfect methodology.

The objective portion was to look at who has posted a 100 quarterback rating for at least one season over the last ten years, and then the subjective portion was to open the gates a little bit and let in a few guys that have had multiple 90+ year ratings that I felt fit the franchise quarterback bill, especially recent draft picks.

Note: the purpose of this exercise isn’t to rank the quarterbacks, although I’m sure there will be a sub-section of commenters/Twitterers who will do only that, and isn’t meant to be an evaluation of which quarterbacks should or shouldn’t make the list - I just had to draw a line somewhere, and any time you do that someone inevitably gets left off or makes it on that other disagree with. So be it.

I merely wanted to capture as many of the players over the last ten years that I would consider a franchise quarterback, and then look at who drafted them.

That’s the other caveat. In order to avoid going too far down the rabbit hole, I set the cutoff at ten years, so the executives that made this list have drafted, traded for, or signed a QB who has functioned as a "franchise quarterback” at some point over the last ten years (doesn't necessarily mean they were acquired in that ten year window).

Clear as mud? Let’s dive in.

Franchise Quarterbacks and Who Drafted Them

Acquirer Franchise Quarterback* Acquired Via Other QBs Drafted
Acquirer Franchise Quarterback* Acquired Via Other QBs Drafted
A.J. Smith (John Butler) Drew Brees 2-32
Philip Rivers* 1-4*
Ernie Accorsi Eli Manning* 1-1* John Elway (1st)
Bernie Kosar (1st supplemental)
Bill Polian Peyton Manning 1-1 Kerry Collins (1st)
Ted Thompson Aaron Rodgers 1-24
John Dorsey Aaron Rodgers* 1-24
Alex Smith Trade
Patrick Mahomes 1-10
Baker Mayfield 1-1
Kevin Colbert Ben Roethlisberger 1-11
Bill Belichick (Scott Pioli) Tom Brady 6-199 Jacoby Brissett (3rd)
Jimmy Garapolo 2-62
Thomas Dimitroff Matt Ryan 1-3
Scot Mcloughlan Alex Smith 1-1
Russell Wilson*
John Schneider Russell Wilson 3-75
Aaron Rodgers*
Ryan Grigson Andrew Luck 1-1
Bruce Allen (Mike Shanahan) Kirk Cousins 4-102 Marques Tuiasosopo (2nd)
Rich Gannon (Free agent)
Robert Griffin III (1st)
Rick Spielman Kirk Cousins FA Tavaris Jackson (2nd)
Brett Favre FA Christian Ponder (1st)
Teddy Bridgewater (1st)
Jerry Jones Tony Romo UDFA Troy Aikman (1st)
Dak Prescott 4-135 Quincy Carter (2nd)
Howie Roseman Carson Wentz 1-2
Nick Foles 3-88
Les Snead Jared Goff 1-1
Matt Ryan*
Rick Smith DeShaun Watson 1-12
Matt Schaub Trade
Ozzie Newsome Joe Flacco 1-18 Lamar Jackson (1st)
Marty Hurney Cam Newton 1-1 Jimmy Clausen (2nd)
Mark Dominik Jameis Winston 1-1 Josh Freeman (1st)
Reggie McKenzie Derek Carr 2-36
Aaron Rodgers*
Trent Baalke Colin Kaepernick 2-36
Martin Mayhew Matthew Stafford 1-1
Jimmy Garapolo* Trade
Ryan Pace Mitch Trubisky 1-2
Ruston Webster Marcus Mariota 1-2 Jake Locker (1st)
John Lynch Jimmy Garapolo Trade
John Elway Peyton Manning FA Brock Osweiler (2nd)
Paxton Lynch (1st)
Drew Lock (2nd)

If the table above is difficult to see on mobile, here is my color coded original version.

Right Place, Right Time

Indianapolis Colts Rookie Minicamp Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The inherently difficult thing about evaluating GMs or personnel guys for their quarterback picking skills is that if they do it right (or get lucky) they only pick one QB over the course of perhaps a decade, or even their whole career as an executive.

With these guys, it is often difficult to separate skill, from being in the right place at the right time, to just downright lucky.

Ryan Grigson is the poster child for this. He strolled into his first General Manager role in Indianapolis and stumbled upon the best QB prospect to come out since the last time a Colts GM stumbled into a generational quarterback.

Speaking of Bill Polian, he made it into the Hall of Fame on the back of an inherited Jim Kelly in his prime, and the most no-brainer of a quarterback pick in NFL history in Peyton Manning. In between that, at his stop in Carolina, Polian again was handed a favorable situation as he inherited the 3rd overall pick, which he used to select Kerry Collins. This is the only QB pick he even remotely gets credit for in my book.

Ernie Accorsi, also lucked into a few super stars, although the best one refused to play for his team. Accorsi was the Baltimore Colts GM and drafted none other than John Elway in 1983, who then forced Accorsi to trade him to the Denver Broncos and the rest, as they say, is history.

Accorsi actually did have a few solid moves as he selected Bernie Kosar in the supplemental draft, and then nearly two decades later was on the other end of a draft pick refusing to play for a team when Eli Manning forced the San Diego Chargers to trade him. Accorsi would end up selecting Rivers, and trading him plus several draft picks for Eli Manning, which in turn got the Giants two Super Bowls, so I’d say it worked out pretty well for him (Side note: the only reason we’re going back this far is because of Eli Manning qualifying for the criteria within the last ten years).

Mark Dominik was in the right place at the right time, but it didn’t turn out very well for him. His selection of Jameis Winston #1 overall has not paid the dividends that you expect from a #1 overall pick. A few years before he lucked into a top draft pick, Dominik also selected Josh Freeman in the first round. Two first round picks on the quarterback position, and ten years later, the Bucs still haven’t made the playoffs and may be back in the hunt for another quarterback soon.

After learning under Bill Belichick for years as their director of college scouting, Thomas Dimitroff, lucked into a #3 overall draft pick in his first year as a General Manager with the Falcons. He again got lucky when the first two teams didn’t take a quarterback (and that Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens weren’t able to trade above him), leaving Matt Ryan on the board, who has been an absolute home run, and allowed Dimitroff to focus his energy on building the team around him.

Marty Hurney, is also one that fits this category and bridges us into our next one. As the current GM of the Carolina Panthers, Hurney had the 1st overall pick in a talent stacked 2011 draft, and picked the only franchise QB to come from that class. However, he earned that 1st overall pick with his decision the previous year to select Jimmy Clausen in the second round. Clausen failed miserably his rookie year, was supplanted by Newton the next, and was waived from the team in 2013.

One and Dones

NFL: Green Bay Packers OTA Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

In this case, being one and done is a good thing. These guys got it right and now have the luxury of not having to worry about a franchise QB for years.

Ted Thompson hit an absolute home run with his first draft pick as a General Manager selecting Aaron Rodgers after his infamous fall down the boards in the 2005 draft. Thompson never drafted another quarterback in his time with Green Bay, and had never drafted one in his stops previously.

Thompson was on the Packers staff when they acquired Brett Favre from the Falcons, but while he was likely consulted, as the assistant director of pro personnel, he wasn’t in the decision making role for that move.

This is an important clarification to that often gets missed when discussing quarterback drafting records and the Green Bay Packers. They are the holy grail/unicorn of the NFL, being able to transition from one Hall of Fame QB to the next with no drop off or long wilderness wandering period.

However, while Thompson was responsible for Rodgers, and that was an incredible pick, he was not the one responsible for Favre, so the Packers really just got lucky that Ted Thompson came along and made the pick he did, as opposed to it speaking to the Green Bay Packers having some innate ability to collect franchise quarterbacks.

As is the nature of the “one and dones”, it’s hard to pin down if this group of execs just caught lightning in a bottle, or whether their success at finding quarterbacks is replicable because there just isn’t any additional evidence to go off of.

John Schneider, however, begins to give reason to believe that there was something to Ted Thompson’s staff in Green Bay around that time. Schneider was a “personnel analyst to the general manager” from 2002 - 2007 in Green Bay and then moved up to be the director of football operations before taking his current role as EVP/GM of the Seattle Seahawks.

Aside from Tom Brady, Schneider probably pulled off the biggest steal on this entire list grabbing Russell Wilson in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. While I’m giving Schneider partial credit for the Aaron Rodgers pick in Green Bay, Wilson has been his only true draft pick of note at the quarterback position, and he absolutely knocked it out of the park.

(this is an important time to note, I am only counting executives’ additional QB picks if they gave up more than a 3rd rounder for them. Anything below that shouldn’t be counted against GMs as realistically, organizations aren’t counting on those guys to actually pan out.)

Martin Mayhew could honestly fall into either camp. He was gifted the #1 overall pick during his time with the Lions, which he turned into Matthew Stafford, and that was also his only quarterback draft pick of note in his career. I am giving him partial credit for the acquisition of Jimmy Garappolo in San Fransisco as he was a senior personnel executive for the 49ers at the time, and the young GM, John Lynch likely relied on Mayhew’s experience during that move.

Reggie Mckenzie is another ex-Packer who was on the staff during the Ted Thompson/Aaron Rodgers days. Mckenzie’s only QB pick of note was as the GM for the Oakland Raiders with the selection of Derek Carr. While Carr has been a middle of the road quarterback statistically, getting a franchise quarterback out of the second round is still pretty good. Like Mayhew, Mckenzie gets partial credit for the Josh Rosen trade (although he may not want it if it goes south), as he is now serving as a senior personnel executive for the Miami Dolphins.

While he didn’t hold the official GM title since it didn’t exist in the organization, Kevin Colbert as director of football operations with the Steelers was the decision maker behind drafting Ben Roethlisberger 11th overall in 2004. Colbert is still the GM of the Steelers, and hasn’t had to draft another franchise QB, yet.

Wheelers and Dealers

NFL: Los Angeles Rams Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Les Snead is another current GM who has only drafted one franchise quarterback, and it’s working out pretty well so far, but Snead also represents the new wave of GMs who acquired their franchise QB by trading up.

Howie Roseman traded up for Carson Wentz in 2016, and also drafted Nick Foles out of the 2012 class. While Wentz is the definition of franchise QB (especially given his new contract) and Foles has been a bit of a journeyman, having your 3rd round pick quarterback lead you to a Super Bowl victory is a pretty rare accomplishment, and Roseman deserves credit for the Foles pick.

Rick Smith looks to have found his franchise QB in DeShaun Watson, if he’s able to stay healthy, and he was also responsible for bringing in Matt Schaub via trade. While Schaub isn’t exactly your classic franchise guy, he was a multi-year starter and was the best QB the franchise has ever had (which isn’t saying much) before Watson.

Ryan Pace picking Mitch Trubisky for the Bears, and John Dorsey trading up for Patrick Mahomes with the Chiefs round out the rest of the recent trade ups for franchise guys.

(noticeably absent is the ‘18 and ‘19 quarterback classes outside of Baker Mayfield as it’s too early too say if any of those guys will be franchise guys, in my opinion)

Duds

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

While there aren’t any just down-right bad picks on the main portion of this list, given that it’s “franchise QBs” these are what I would consider the bottom tier of picks, or where I’m putting guys who have shown evidence of making bad QB choices.

Ozzie Newsome almost made it into the One and Done category, but he went and drafted Lamar Jackson in the first round, and then played Tebow football with him after Joe Flacco got hurt. Flacco is an interesting one because it shielded Newsome from the dreaded franchise QB search, but aside from the 2012 Super Bowl run and a few playoff appearances, Flacco has been a mediocre as a franchise quarterback.

After whiffing on Jake Locker in the first round, Ruston Webster almost turned around his and the Titans’ fortunes with the Marcus Mariota pick, but his health and the Titans supporting cast have landed his picks solidly in the “meh” category.

Scot Mcloughlan gets some partial credit for being a senior personnel exec with the Seahawks for the Wilson pick, but his selection of Alex Smith #1 overall puts him here.

I was really debating on if Trent Baalke belonged here for the Colin Kaepernick pick because getting a Super Bowl trip from a second round pick is pretty good, but between injuries and a drop in performance, the 49ers quickly went back on the QB carousel. So consider this one solidly in the middle between the categories.

Studs

NFL: Cleveland Browns-OTA Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

This category is for those who have acquired or drafted more than one franchise quarterback.

As hard as it is to start this off with Bill Belichick, he deserves credit for not only finding Tom Brady (in conjunction with Scott Pioli at the time), but also for the 2nd round pick of Jimmy Garappolo, who, while unproven, showed enough to net the Patriots a 2nd in a trade, and received a big contract from the 49ers. Garappolo, when healthy looked the part and proved that he wasn’t just a product of the Patriots system, although jumping from Belichick to Kyle Shanahan isn’t much of a drop off.

The only questionable pick at QB was Jacoby Brissett, but was just a 3rd rounder and actually came in and played good enough in spot duty to keep the Patriots winning.

The next big test for Belichick will come when Brady retires (if that ever happens). If Belichick doesn’t retire with him, he’ll be on the hunt for a franchise QB for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Bruce Allen is an interesting one on this list because his picks haven’t been just great knock out picks, and he made these moves in tandem with head coach Mike Shanahan who had more say on the personnel side than a typical head coach. Still, Allen should get credit for finding Kirk Cousins in the 4th round, and while RG3’s career was derailed by injuries, I still think it was a really good pick at the time and would’ve had a different trajectory had he not gotten hurt.

Additionally, in his time with the Raiders, he brought in Rich Gannon at quarterback, who had a really solid run and took them to a Super Bowl. His one failed pick was Marques Tuiasosopo in the second round.

A.J. Smith is no longer in the league, but his quarterback selections while with the Chargers are still two of the top QBs in the game. Smith and John Butler selected Drew Brees in the 2nd round of the 2001 draft, eventually letting him go due to injury and because they had another draft pick in Philip Rivers who they acquired along with several other draft picks on the other end of the Eli Manning draft and trade in 2004.

Jerry Jones is hard to attribute full credit to because his role isn’t always clear as an Owner/GM, especially in more recent years where he’s ceded more of the personnel side to his son, Stephen Jones who is EVP and director of player personnel.

However, while often maligned for some of his moves, Jones has been pretty successful at finding franchise QBs. After drafting Troy Aikman in the first round and winning three Super Bowls in an historic run in the ‘90s, the team floundered a bit for a period after Aikman’s retirement. Second round pick Quincy Carter didn’t pan out as the Cowboys cycled through him and several other QB options before undrafted free agent Tony Romo emerged and took the reins for the next several years.

The Cowboys then did their best Green Bay impression and shifted seamlessly from Romo as he retired to discovering Dak Prescott is the 4th round. Now, Dallas will likely make Prescott the highest paid quarterback once his rookie deal expires, at least until the next QB on a rookie deal gets paid.

Saving the best for last. John Dorsey was what led me to digging into this topic in the first place. Dorsey is the third Green Bay/Ted Thompson spin off to land on this list. He, like the others will get partial credit for the Aaron Rodgers pick, as Dorsey was likely the closest to the pick other than Thompson, as the director of college scouting.

During his time in Kansas City, Dorsey promptly acquired Alex Smith to stabilize the quarterback position. While Smith is not the exact definition of a franchise QB, he was statistically on par or better than guys like Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford during his time in KC, and was a vast improvement over the quartet of Matt Cassell, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton, and Brady Quinn the team had trotted out in the two years prior.

Dorsey then traded up for last year’s league MVP, Patrick Mahomes in 2017. He wasn’t done there, however, as he moved on to Cleveland and inherited the #1 overall pick. The decision to draft Baker Mayfield #1 overall may seem like a no-brainer now, but even days before the draft most people were pegging the Browns as taking Sam Darnold, and the Mayfield pick was met with some criticism. It’s obviously early, but Mayfield looks like the real deal, and Dorsey once again nailed a QB acquisition.

Even without the partial credit for Rodgers, Dorsey was responsible for acquiring three good/great QBs for his team in just a six year time-frame.

Non-Traditional Methods

I’m adding John Lynch here since he doesn’t really fit anywhere else as he hasn’t attempted to draft a QB yet as a new GM, and brought in Garappolo via trade, which is rare to see a franchise QB acquired that way. We’ll see how it shakes out, but it looks like a solid move for a great price right now.

The two guys left on this list are really interesting mirrors of each other, and I don’t think I have seen anyone really talk about this.

Rick Spielman and John Elway are both long-time (at least in NFL GM years) executives for their respective teams who have been on the hunt for franchise QBs for several years. Both GMs brought in an aging Hall of Fame quarterback who made a successful run with their team (Favre’s albeit was much shorter than Manning’s).

After those veterans retired, both executives struggled to get off the QB carousel. Spielman is hoping the Kirk Cousins signing will take them off of it for the foreseeable future, while Elway is still on it. I dug deeper into the QB mess that the Vikings went through after Favre in this piece, so I won’t go into all of it here, but Spielman has had as much luck drafting his franchise guy as Elway.

Together, both GMs have spent three first rounders and three second rounders on quarterbacks, with none of them panning out (Drew Lock is obviously still a wild card).

Regardless of their drafting misses at the position, both have successfully brought in QBs through free agency that have landed them on this list. The similarities continue with Spielman turning to a hard nose, defensive minded head coach in Mike Zimmer to right their ship, much like John Elway has done with Vic Fangio, while the rest of the league have largely chased young offensive gurus to fill their vacancies.

Elway is hoping either the Flacco signing or the Lock pick become another success story, and in Lock’s case, potentially break the cycle of failed quarterback picks.

Wrap-up

If you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks for indulging my curiosity as we explored the decision makers responsible for the franchise QBs we’ve seen over the last decade.

What are your thoughts and takeaways after seeing this list? Who have I forgotten or left off?

I’m intentionally leaving this somewhat open ended because there is so much here, and I don’t think it necessarily points to any one specific conclusion (except reiterating how much luck and picking in the top 15 of draft help your chances).

Guys like Belichick and Dorsey would top the rankings if we were doing a power ranking of them, but after that it gets a little muddy. If I had to pick a few more to round out a top five guys who I would want picking my team’s next quarterback, I would probably go with Schneider, Roseman, Snead.

Lastly, this is a topic for another piece, but picking the “right guy” is only the beginning and a small part of the equation for finding success at the quarterback position. Coaching, scheme, and surrounding the QB with talent is what will ultimately make or break an acquisition. But it all starts with getting them in the door, and each of these guys have been the ones to have at least some success doing that.