Why the Washington Commanders should trade for a quarterback

Now that they have a new name, the Washington Commanders need a new quarterback. Yes, I know – it’s not a short message. You already knew that. Your mother knew. Even your Montreal cousin, who insists that Yvan Cournoyer was the greatest professional athlete to ever wear the number 12, knows it.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the strategy I would use to secure Washington’s new QB. I just want to take a minute to elaborate on that. Because, as I mentioned last week, my attitude has completely changed.

I used to think that minor upgrades across the board were essential to building a championship-caliber football team. Hitting a home run on an Aaron Donald or Travis Kelce is great. But if you don’t bolster these stars with quality across the board, you won’t get where you want to go. That’s the beauty of football. More than any other great team sport, it really takes a great team to win.

Quarterback position has been more important than any other since Clark Shaughnessy taught the Chicago Bears how to execute the T-Formation in the late 1930s, but rule changes that hamper a defense’s ability to stop the forward pass have changed the game and the relative value of the position. The quarterback is more dominant today than ever, and all indications are that this number will continue to increase.

The NFL won’t start by passing fewer offenses.

The Rams-49ers game last weekend was a clear example. San Francisco has the top 21 players in the league. It’s not even close. They have elite players or players who are well above average in virtually every position.

But not at quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo is a legitimate starter in the NFL, but he‘s a middle-class player. I realize he only made it to a Super Bowl a few years ago, as did Jared Goff. And check out what their coaches — two of the brightest minds in football today — did after those trips to the Super Bowl. Sean McVay traded Goff for a much better quarterback in Matthew Stafford. Kyle Shanahan traded multiple number one draft picks for a chance to pick Trey Lance in the 2021 draft.

We don’t yet know how good Lance will be. There’s a dark draft story when you pick a QB in third place. Names like Darnold and Bortles and Harrington. Names like…dare I say…Shuler. On the other hand, Steve McNair and Matt Ryan came in third and both were at the Super Bowl.

Of course, if Lance proves to be a mediocre QB, San Fran’s move will be considered a failure. But I still applaud them for doing it. Because — and this is where I changed my mind — marginal upgrades at QB are largely worthless in today’s NFL.

If you want to win championships you have to try to get an elite quarterback and if you swing and miss you have to reload and try again. I’m not saying it’s the only way to win (the fact that the Eagles caught Nick Foles’ miracle ride a few years ago is proof of that.) I’m just saying it’s the best way to do it .

There are two parts to it. The first part is the obvious one. Elite QBs win Super Bowls. Of the 33 men who have led their team to Super Bowl glory, 11 of them aren’t in the Hall of Fame (or won’t be after they retire). But of those 11, seven won their rings 30 years or more ago. I suspect one of the reasons it took me so long to come to this point of view is that I’m a fan of the one team that has won three Super Bowls without a Hall of Famer quarterback in any of them starts. In Washington, under Joe Gibbs, we’ve all seen that a great franchise with solid play can win gold from a QB. It didn’t have to be elitist.

This is less true today than it was in the days of Gibbs 1.

But here’s the other part of it. Draft picks – as I’ve written many times before – are not overrated. But the first-round draft picks are. They are the most overrated commodity in all sports.

You want proof? How many starters on the Cincinnati Bengal team that will play in Super Bowl 2022 were drafted by the Bengals in the first round? I’ll wait while you think about it. (SPOILER ALERT: I’m about to ask the same question about the Rams.)

The answer is three. Three out of 22. Of course, these three are some of the most important players on the team—Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and left tackle Jonah Williams. They are also the last three Bengal No. 1s, meaning no No. 1 before 2019 makes a big contribution to either Super Bowl team. There are plenty of runners-up and third-place finishers, as well as a number of free agents, but that’s about it for the top picks.

For the Rams, the answer is one. Aaron Donald. That’s it. They have a lot of other former first-rounders, but none were actually drafted by the Rams. They were acquired through trade or free agency. Some of those trades required the Rams to trade future first-round picks, which they obviously did. And now they’re in the Super Bowl.

Even if you trade in several first-round draft picks to nab a great QB, and even if that QB doesn’t perform as expected, you’re not necessarily as weakened as you might think.

You need draft picks. In the salary cap era, filling your roster with young, cheap talent is crucial. But you don’t always need first-round draft picks. I’d like to trade several first-rounders for a quarterback that I believe has the pedigree of being elite. At the same time, I would try to fill up my draft stash with lower round picks.

I might miss my quarterback. It happens. But in today’s NFL, the smart money is trading whatever it takes to at least get the shot.

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