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The Franchise Behind Center

Posted Feb 27, 2011

Process to find right quarterback anything but simple

Blaine Gabbert (left), John Skelton (center) and Cam Newton all believe they can be franchise QBs.


INDIANAPOLIS – The term is “franchise quarterback,” and as a truth, it is self-evident.

When an NFL team gets good quarterback play, it generally will be successful. When it doesn’t, it generally will not win. When that piece of the roster is in place, it makes building the rest of the team so much easier. When it’s not in place, it makes finding one imperative.

“It certainly puts significantly more stress on you with the fact you may not have a franchise quarterback like Kurt Warner,” Cardinals director of player personnel Steve Keim said.

But finding that player isn’t easy, and this year, it could be harder – with large questions about whether that “franchise” guy is available and most of the teams drafting in the top 10 still searching for a long-term answer at the position.

The position dictates so much more than just the need of a strong arm or an ability to read defenses.

“If you take one (with the fifth pick), to me, you have to be convinced that is ‘The Guy,’ ” Keim said. “He is ‘The Guy’ for the next 10 years, and you have no questions or concerns on both the ability side as well as the character and passion for the game and fit and intangibles. He has to be that complete player.”

Former NFL general manager and current NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi said the quarterback has to be the hardest working player on the team for the team to be successful, and while that may not be absolute, it makes sense. Warner was legendary for the time he put in preparing, and the same stories follow current greats like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

That’s why the one-on-one interviews are more important for a quarterback than any other position. For teams to be able to look a player in the eye, ask him about mistakes, ask him about leadership, ask him to talk about x’s and o’s, that provides some insight.

“That's so instrumental in drafting a quarterback,” said Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. “You've got to show that you're smart. You've got to be able to show that you're smart on the board. Be able to talk in person.”

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said it’s about finding a player that provides belief in teammates that they can win with that quarterback, adding charisma to work ethic and physical talent. Inevitably, that narrows the list of a “franchise” guy even more.

And then there is the need for patience.

“The NFL takes time,” Lombardi said. “Especially at quarterback, where you’re almost like a fighter pilot. You have to be in the in the plane, you have to train yourself. It’s very difficult. The game moves very fast and your confidence goes down.”

Certainly, teams can find quarterbacks other than the first round. Brady, he of the sixth-round origin, is the ultimate example. Last year, however, 17 of the teams intended to start first-round picks, and that doesn’t count the Eagles – who mostly used former first-rounder Michael Vick after the season began – and the Cardinals – who had former first-rounder Matt Leinart as starter through half of the preseason.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week he remains encouraged by the future of 2010 fifth-round pick John Skelton, who started the final four games for the team. Maybe he could be the long-term answer, although it remains likely the Cards look at drafting another guy.

Whether they like a Gabbert or Cam Newton with that first pick or see if a Jake Locker or Christian Ponder is there in the second round (or another prospect later) is what they have to sort out. NFL draft expert Mike Mayock noted on a conference call earlier this month the first round has had five or six good quarterback picks in a row “which probably means we’re due for a couple of busts.”

That’s something the Cardinals – or any other team – cannot have.

“It's something you have to get comfortable with: Playing under a microscope,” Locker said. “Because it's going to be the same way when you end wherever team you end up with or whatever city you end up in. Expectations are going to be high.”
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