Wait Or Not To Wait? That's The Hard Question

Aaron Rodgers and Kevin Kolb are following similar career paths, with both watching behind a legend for three seasons. Rodgers has been an overwhelming success. Will Kolb? And is the watch-and-learn approach the right approach? We provide the insight.

In 2005, Aaron Rodgers fell into the Green Bay Packers' laps at No. 24 of the first round. After three years on the bench, the Packers made the agonizing decision to part ways with Brett Favre and hand the job to Rodgers.

In 2007, the Philadelphia Eagles wanted safety Brandon Meriweather at No. 26 of the first round. When Meriweather went to New England at No. 24, the Eagles traded out of the first round and grabbed Kevin Kolb at No. 36. After three years on the bench, the Eagles made the difficult decision to part ways with Donovan McNabb and hand the job to Kolb.

Playing the waiting game couldn't have worked out any better for the Packers, with Rodgers setting records and placing the team among the NFL's title contenders. Eagles coach Andy Reid can only hope for similar success from Kolb.

"I didn't let Donovan play much his first year, so I kind of went this route," Eagles coach Andy Reid, recalling the 1999 season when McNabb didn't start until Week 10, said during a conference call on Wednesday. "Doug Pederson was the guy his first year for most of the season. I think that's a good thing, just a little bit of a grace period. If you can afford to do that, that's a good thing. It depends on who else you have there to play that position."

In retrospect, while Rodgers didn't want to wait his turn early in his career, he says the time on the sideline was in his best interests.

"I think it added years to my career," Rodgers said last week. "Physically, I got in really good shape and mentally I got in real good shape. Just figuring out our scheme. I think the process is, you've got to become an expert in your offense first and then you've got to start trying to figure out defenses. We run similar offenses, I know, I don't know if they use the same terminology we do any more, but it takes a while to understand what we're trying to do. Once you do, it's all about reacting to what you see out there, and the quicker your reactions are, the faster you'll play and better you'll play."

The wait-your-turn school of quarterback development was the traditional way until recently, when win-now pressure and escalating signing bonuses began to force the hand of coaches.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been on both ends of the spectrum. In 2005, when he was offensive coordinator for San Francisco, the 49ers drafted Alex Smith — rather than Rodgers — at No. 1 overall. Smith started seven games as a rookie and was about as bad any quarterback in NFL history, with one touchdown against 11 interceptions. It wasn't until last year, when Smith had 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a career-best 60.5 completion percentage, that Smith started to look like a respectable NFL starter.

Rodgers is wiser after three years of watching.
Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images
From there, the drumbeat this week will be that McCarthy and Reid did it the "right" way with Rodgers and Kolb.

And that argument will gain a little traction when looking at the 12 quarterbacks who finished last season with a passer rating of at least 90.0. Topping the charts was Drew Brees, followed by Brett Favre, Philip Rivers, Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Eli Manning and McNabb.

Here is when those quarterbacks became full-time starters: Brees (second season), Favre (second season), Rivers (third season), Rodgers (fourth season), Roethlisberger (rookie season), Peyton Manning (rookie season), Schaub (fourth season), Romo (fourth season), Brady (second season), Warner (second season but sixth out of college), Eli Manning (second season) and McNabb (second season).

Only Roethlisberger (because of injury) and Peyton Manning started immediately, though Eli Manning and McNabb were given a handful of starts as rookies. Then again, Rodgers' three-year wait was more the exception than the rule.

If there were a foolproof way to groom a quarterback, coaches would have stumbled upon it long ago. Four years after being the 10th pick of the draft, Matt Leinart is unemployed. Watching behind Warner didn't do him any good.

In the end, this might be the biggest factor. Football is considered the ultimate team sport for a reason. While quarterbacks get all the credit and while you can't win big without a good one, a quarterback can't win without a good team.

So, why was Rodgers a success while Smith was not? Talent, mental makeup and the chance to develop on the bench certainly play a role. But the big thing is Rodgers stepped into the lineup of a superb offense — an offense that has only gotten better with tight end Jermichael Finley's emergence. Smith stepped immediately into an awful situation in San Francisco, which held the No. 1 for a reason.

What does that mean for Kolb? To say he'll continue to parallel Rodgers' career might be asking a bit much. One NFL insider we talked to this week predicted that Rodgers will wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Yes, the Hall of Fame. Kolb, however, is walking into a great situation in Philly, with DeSean Jackson leading a group of three standout receivers and Brent Celek ranking among the top tight ends.

"It's the best way to go, in my opinion," McCarthy said of a quarterback starting on the bench. "I've had the opportunity to have the rookie play right away, and had an opportunity to train a young quarterback for three years before he's ready to play. And I've said it time and time again: I think anytime you play a young quarterback, it's not as much is he ready, it's is the football team ready."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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