ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap recently shared this statistical observation regarding quarterbacks taken early in the NFL Draft:
In the last 50 NFL drafts, 44 quarterbacks have been selected first, second or third. Exactly two have gone on to win Super Bowls as starters for the teams that drafted them: Aikman and Peyton.— Jeremy Schaap (@JeremySchaap) April 9, 2021
Elway and Eli are asterisks.
Schaap concluded that teams with early picks would be better off avoiding the risk and taking an offensive lineman or linebacker early instead. If we expand his range slightly and focus on quarterbacks taken with a top-five pick, we get 50 draftees and only one additional name (Jim McMahon) added to Schaap’s list. As a purely statistical matter, Schaap is right: an NFL team who takes a quarterback early is highly unlikely to see that QB lift a Lombardi Trophy on their behalf.
Granted, there are some problems with that logic. There are only 33 quarterbacks ever who’ve won a Super Bowl, with the team who brought them into the league or otherwise. And if you include top-five quarterbacks who took their franchise to the Super Bowl but didn’t win it, five more players get added to the list. That’s right: I am the only man on the internet brave enough to suggest that winning a Super Bowl is hard.
There is, however, another line of argument worth considering from Schaap’s numbers. Most teams picking early in the Draft are there because they stunk. Stinking can sometimes be a one year blip, like the 2011 Colts losing Peyton Manning for a season and going 2-14, but it’s usually the result of chronic mismanagement. (It’s not an accident that the Jaguars have had a top-ten pick in 11 of the last 12 Drafts.) And talented quarterbacks drafted by perpetually lost franchises have no real chance of winning a Super Bowl.
How do we give these passers the chance to get drafted early and succeed without destroying competitive balance? We have the NFL take the first five picks of each Draft and auction them off. Here’s how it would work:
1. Take the current order and move everyone down five spots
This is the 2021 selection order for the first round as it presently stands:
1) Jacksonville Jaguars
2) New York Jets
3) San Francisco 49ers (from Houston Texans through Miami Dolphins)
4) Atlanta Falcons
5) Cincinnati Bengals
6) Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia Eagles)
7) Detroit Lions
8) Carolina Panthers
9) Denver Broncos
10) Dallas Cowboys
11) New York Giants
12) Philadelphia Eagles (from San Francisco 49ers through Miami Dolphins)
13) Los Angeles Chargers
14) Minnesota Vikings
15) New England Patriots
16) Arizona Cardinals
17) Las Vegas Raiders
18) Miami Dolphins
19) Washington Football Team
20) Chicago Bears
21) Indianapolis Colts
22) Tennessee Titans
23) New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)
24) Pittsburgh Steelers
25) Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)
26) Cleveland Browns
27) Baltimore Ravens
28) New Orleans Saints
29) Green Bay Packers
30) Buffalo Bills
31) Kansas City Chiefs
32) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
And this is how it would look under the Top Five Auction:
1) To the highest bidder
2) To the highest bidder
3) To the highest bidder
4) To the highest bidder
5) To the highest bidder
6) Jacksonville Jaguars
7) New York Jets
8) San Francisco 49ers (from Houston Texans through Miami Dolphins)
9) Atlanta Falcons
10) Cincinnati Bengals
11) Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia Eagles)
12) Detroit Lions
13) Carolina Panthers
14) Denver Broncos
15) Dallas Cowboys
16) New York Giants
17) Philadelphia Eagles (from San Francisco 49ers through Miami Dolphins)
18) Los Angeles Chargers
19) Minnesota Vikings
20) New England Patriots
21) Arizona Cardinals
22) Las Vegas Raiders
23) Miami Dolphins
24) Washington Football Team
25) Chicago Bears
26) Indianapolis Colts
27) Tennessee Titans
28) New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)
29) Pittsburgh Steelers
30) Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)
31) Cleveland Browns
32) Baltimore Ravens
33) New Orleans Saints
34) Green Bay Packers
35) Buffalo Bills
36) Kansas City Chiefs
37) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bad teams still get rewarded in this system; the Jaguars and Jets have the highest guaranteed picks, in range to pick extremely talented players like Kyle Pitts or Ja’Marr Chase or Rashawn Slater. But the first five picks receive special treatment.
2. The night before the first round, auction the top five draft positions off
First, these picks are incredibly valuable; that’s why teams give up lots of future draft capital just to move up into the earliest spots. Second, the owners of those teams generally have more money than they know what to do with. We can combine those two truths into one ego-fueled auction, with football’s superrich pushing each other into increasingly outlandish bids.
This opens up so many new possibilities. A team that’s a piece or two away but without draft assets can plunk down cash to grab a promising rookie. A champion can decide to invest for the future rather than sit at the bottom of the first round. A struggling team with an early pick can go even further and try to pay for more selections at the top.
Naturally, all of this takes place on television for our collective entertainment and the NFL’s further broadcast enrichment. Millions of people watch the NBA Lottery. I can guarantee you this will have an audience that dwarfs that.
3. The money’s all separate and goes to charity
Forget about the salary cap. Owners bring their own money to this auction, and there is no ceiling on what they can spend. (Well, there probably is for the Chargers. Sorry.) If Jerry Jones wants to shell out $68 million dollars to make sure the Cowboys get picks 1, 2, and 4, who are we to stop him? That’s what the market demanded, and the market is never wrong.
Some owners will participate just to drive the prices up and screw their counterparts, not because they’re trying to acquire picks. This is both acceptable and encouraged.
At the end of the night, the NFL donates all the money it’s acquired in this auction to a worthy charity, because that’s exactly the kind of showy corporate image management the Shield craves.
4. Life’s a little better for the first five Draft picks
They’re either going to a good team that wouldn’t be in the position to take them if not for the auction or to a bad team that has other valuable draft picks to get them some help. They also get a ton of negotiation leverage. No owner wants to spend heavily to win a draft selection only to see the player used with that pick hold out.
Most importantly, they don’t have to spend months pretending to be excited about the teams that stumbled their way to the top of the Draft. How do you feel about playing for Crappy Team, Star Quarterback? Well, we’re just going to wait and see what happens at the auction, NFL Writer.