The QB Coddle
High-priced, high-valued quarterbacks are drafted every year, and this past spring was no exception, with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota going Nos 1 and 2 in the 2015 NFL Draft.
But it's not breaking news that being a college chucking sensation is one thing, and doing it in the pros is another.
We’ve seen enough failures to know.
But that doesn’t stop NFL general managers from taking a chance. After all, there are enough Peyton Mannings and Andrew Lucks to defend the practice of aiming high.
It’s worth noting, however, that the picks following Manning and Luck were Ryan Leaf (the bustedest of the busts) and Robert Griffin III (on the verge of joining the Bust Club).
So how can you safeguard against failure? This is a serious topic of conversation in war rooms around the league leading up to this spring's draft. Front office staff, head coaches, assistant coaches, ball boys, WAGs ... anyone with a thoughtful premise is welcome.
The Old School solution offered and practiced is the apprentice program. Let the rookie watch and learn from an experienced NFL quarterback.
These days, though, instant returns seem to be the mode du jour. After drafting Mr Sensation in the first round and giving the dude a huge signing bonus, teams immediately start selling a ton of his jerseys, offering him up as the future and de facto present face of the franchise. Asking him to stand on the sideline, wearing a ball cap and holding a clipboard is a bit of a bait-&-switch.
So play them!
OK, that’s the easy decision. But play them equates to throw them into the lion’s den with a raw gazelle strapped to their torso. Unless, of course, you're actually playing the Detroit Lions.
The game in the NFL is fast and harsh compared to the college game. That’s been well documented.
So what they’ve come up with after all these years is the Quarterback Coddle.
This is the NFL’s version of the nice Jewish grandmother. It’s a reassurance that everything’s going to be OK, and no one’s going to hurt him. But it’s more than just about telling a player he’s a good boy.
It’s actually manifested in the design of the playbook. Don’t bombard him with too much information. Avoid fancy multi-pattern reads. Have him focus on a specific area of the field or two specific players to read. If things get too hot or too confusing, check down to a safety net that will always be available.
It’s not sexy, and big stats won’t accumulate. But it’s a solid middle-of-the-road option and allows your high-priced commodity to grow and develop over time.
But wait. There’s a problem with the QB Coddle.
It’s not sexy. It’s passive. Where are the big numbers? Playing safe, middle-of-the-road conservative doesn’t win big and doesn’t win often. The Coddle runs diametrically opposed to how much these quarterbacks are getting paid as well as fans’ expectations. You’re aiming for 6-10, not 12-4! A lot of very key supporters are likely to get upset and rescind their support. And one of them is the quarterback himself!
Young, brash, successful slingers are at no loss for confidence. They were the kings in college. They have every reason to expect to be the kings in the NFL, especially when you give them so much money. They know they’re not going to be Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell.
Well, confidence is nice, but it rarely aligns with reality. The Coddle is that perfect balance between success and the likelihood of failure. And the first person to the success side is the first person who embraces the Coddle.
Marcus Mariota may have a world of talent. He may have a brain sharper than the Scarecrow’s.
But true sharpness of mind comes when you accept the Coddle and live within its limitations of the Coddle, even if you’re sure you can handle more.
Don’t worry, young buck. Success will come. But first, enjoy a warm blanket and some chicken soup.