It’s the most important decision an NFL team will make. Who will be our quarterback, and how are we going to find him?
If you have one, you’re on the hunt for the next one. If you need one, you’re in a free-fall until you find one.
“With the quarterback position, you’re always looking,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said at the NFL combine earlier this offseason.
That search can take you almost anywhere.
It’ll have you poring over footage of Richmond’s three-point win against Colgate. It’ll have you asking players about their time powder-coating fences in rural South Carolina. It’ll have you wondering if the anti-Trump hat a prospect wore in an Instagram post is a red flag or not.
Regardless of your roster situation, you do the homework.
“There’s been an emphasis every year, certainly since I’ve got to the Chargers,” Telesco said of scouting quarterbacks. “You never know when that opportunity is going to be there for that next quarterback. And we’re in a great position because Philip [Rivers] is playing so well right now, and we feel really good about him. But we’re also realistic to know that we have some work to do to plan for the future.
“The work we do and the resources we put in scouting that quarterback position is really no different than in past years.”
But with traditional homework, you usually end up learning something at the end. When it comes to evaluating and drafting a quarterback, the mysteries seem to reset every year.
Looking at the current crop, the clearest pathway to finding a franchise quarterback is by looking to the top of the draft.
Before the draft, which will only add to these numbers, eight different teams will have a former No. 1 overall pick playing quarterback in 2018 — assuming Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck is healthy enough to play and no other injuries occur. Six other teams will use quarterbacks selected either No. 2 or No. 3, meaning nearly half of the league has a top-three pick behind center.
Another six teams will have former first-rounders at the helm and three more have starters that were taken very early in the second round.
But just because you take a quarterback early, there are no guarantees for success.
In the three drafts between 2012 and 2014, seven quarterbacks were taken in the first round — and just two made starts last season: Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles and Oakland’s E.J. Manuel, a backup.
While there’s optimism about this year’s crop of quarterbacks, with five or six likely to be picked in the first round, not everyone is a believer.
Earlier this week, New Orleans coach Sean Payton, himself a former quarterback, issued a damning assessment of the 2018 class to MMQB’s Peter King.
“I don’t see Luck in this draft, and I don’t see Carson Wentz, who I liked a lot coming into the draft,” Payton told King. “I’d feel a little bit uneasy if I were at the top of this draft and I decided I had to have a quarterback. The pressure to get a quarterback is so great in this league, I get that.
“But we can’t create ’em. I wouldn’t be surprised if only one of these guys is left standing in four or five years, and if so, I’d guess it would be Sam Darnold.”
“Guess” might be the key word here.
While teams do their best evaluating quarterbacks, there are no guarantees that UCLA’s Josh Rosen, for example, will be the right choice. There are only probabilities.
Teams with established quarterbacks like the Chargers can afford to take a slower approach when trying to find the right player for their system.
Case Keenum went undrafted but he was signed this offseason for $36 million over two years by the Broncos. Kirk Cousins, a former fourth-round pick, got $84 million to be the Vikings’ quarterback for the next three seasons.
Dallas found a diamond during the fourth round in 2016 in Dak Prescott. Then there’s Tom Brady, a sixth-round selection in 2000.
It’s why teams like the Chargers will look at former fence-worker Riley Ferguson, who was good enough to be recruited by Alabama before bouncing his way through odd jobs and junior college to end up in Memphis. It’s why Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, MVP of the Senior Bowl, is considered a real prospect despite playing lesser competition.
“I wouldn’t take any options off the table,” Telesco said.
Because when it comes to quarterbacks, you can’t.