Carson Wentz was taken right after Jared Goff as the quarterbacks went 1-2 in the 2016 NFL Draft. They both got big second contracts from the teams that selected them, the Eagles and the Rams.
Despite both QBs at one point helping their now-former teams reach Super Bowls, they will be starting for two different teams in 2021. Wentz was traded to the Colts on Thursday, following up Goff being dealt to the Lions two weeks ago.
Goff and Wentz, lasting that long as starters for their original teams, matched the tenures of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who went 1-2 to the Buccaneers and Titans in the 2015 draft. At least Goff and Wentz got extensions before their five-year rookie deals expired.
With Matthew Stafford going to the Rams for Goff, every first-round QB draft pick since 2009 is now no longer playing for the team that selected them.
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Looking at the list of those 22 quarterbacks, they included several total busts. It’s just as interesting then to look at the first rounds of the last four drafts from 2017-2020:
Related to that, in 2021, there’s the strong potential of five QBs going in the first round: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones.
So what do we make of this trend and what do NFL teams take away from this? Unless a team has a truly elite option who puts it in prime position to compete for the Super Bowl, it will keep looking to upgrade to the highest ceiling at the game’s most important position. On the flip side, even if a team ends up extending a first-round quarterback, it will do whatever it can to move on from that QB if he doesn’t live up to lucrative expectations.
Throw out Watson as an anomaly based on the dysfunction in Houston, because it is delusion for wanting to move a top-five QB after paying him well in relation to the market. The reasonable rest of the league wouldn’t mind being restless about QB as needed now, if there’s reasonable means to acquire an upgrade with upside.
MORE: SN’s latest mock draft | Big board of top 50 prospects
Finally, teams aren’t thinking that rolling with an average veteran bridge QB or sticking too long with an underachieving draft pick is a smart strategy. And one can thank the two teams that just played in Super Bowl 55 — the Chiefs and the Buccaneers.
Kansas City was a strong playoff team with Alex Smith, but Andy Reid got a ring because of his work raising the bar a few notches to Mahomes. Tampa Bay had signs of a breakout offense backed by an underrated defense with Winston, but it needed a big QB push up to Tom Brady to blow past being a sleeper playoff contender and go straight into becoming a reigning champion.
The Rams lost faith that Goff was a Super Bowl-caliber QB but saw that Matthew Stafford is an upgrade in a much better team environment. The Eagles were teased by the immense passing and running skills of Jalen Hurts to become the league’s next dazzling dual threat QB to go in that direction, for now, instead of Wentz.
From the Lions’ perspective, Goff isn’t seen as much of a dropoff from Stafford, and is talented enough to be supported back up near the ceiling. For the Colts, they think the MVP-level Wentz from Year 2 can return in a reunion with Frank Reich instead of going for a free-agent stopgap like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tyrod Taylor to replace Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett as the latest bridge from Andrew Luck.
The Lions got a bonus of a draft haul that can further boost Goff soon. The Colts didn’t have to give up too much in draft compensation to make sure they are built up correctly around Wentz. As with any pair of NFL trades, the four teams involved are looking at it as a win-win-win-win situation at QB.
That’s why just about every team that doesn’t have Mahomes, Brady, Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers — or a dynamic young, mobile QB from one of the three most recent drafts — wants to do everything it can to acquire Watson. If not, those teams will desperately somehow hope the Cowboys botch keeping Dak Prescott, the QB taken much later than Goff and Wentz in ’16.
As a Plan B, reclamation projects can work at a high level, too, and you can bet the Rams, Lions and Colts are all hoping they experience what the Titans did with Ryan Tannehill.
This is why the Jets can’t settle for Darnold. This is why the Panthers can’t rest on Teddy Bridgewater. This is why the Falcons can entertain some thoughts of replacing Matt Ryan, only four years removed from his MVP status. This is why the Steelers can give Ben Roethlisberger an unofficial ultimatum after a shaky season that saw his arm decline, making him no longer worth his current price, even as a future Hall of Famer.
Lawrence already looks like that potential elite QB for the Jaguars with his arm and athleticism, but now Wilson is being talked about in the same light. Whoever considers Fields or Lance has to think about their ceilings more than anything else. Some might say Jones’ best asset is his high floor, but that’s discounting he just lit up the SEC like Burrow leading a college team to a national championship.
Since the current, more reasonable rookie salary structure was put in place in 2011, there’s more flexibility to cut bait on a first-round QB who isn’t cutting it in relation to expectations. The faster teams recognize someone is or isn’t the QB answer, the better. That’s been fully embraced through the ’16 draft picks.
By trading Goff and Wentz, the Rams and the Eagles admitted their mistakes in reading the situations wrong early. At the same time, despite the disappointments, they had willing dealing partners who think they can get the most of their new passers’ significant physical skills.
Not too long ago in the NFL, it was more “case closed” once there was above-average play or flashes of greatness from a first-round QB. Now the copycat league is all into the better “always be closing” philosophy at quarterback. In a league full of passing greatness and offensive explosion, every team is wisely looking to get a little closer to the top of the position.
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