Christian Ponder will make his third NFL start Monday night, but, as luck would have it, it will be his second against Aaron Rodgers – almost universally regarded as the game's top quarterback.
The Packers are being touted as the blueprint franchises should follow to be successful, due in no small part to Rodgers playing at such a high level coming on the heels of a legend in Brett Favre departing. Successors to Dan Marino, John Elway, Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Jim Kelly can attest that replacing a legend can often take a decade or more. If that is true, there are going to be a lot of teams with concerns.
The NFL is a copycat league and, by its nature, when something works for one or two teams, others jump on. The proliferation of the West Coast Offense and the 3-4 defense aren't flukes. The Wildcat? C'mon! It doesn't get much more blatant than that. Give a lame nickname like, oh, The Blazer Package and watch promising drives take a hard left into the graveyard.
In the spirit of "if it works for them, it will work for us" mentality that permeates the NFL, building a winner seems to be predicated on a quarterback – always the most important position on the field, but, in light of recent trends of protecting offensive players, the quarterback position has become as vital as ever and the NFL has listened. In the current NFL, Steve Young would have never sat behind Joe Montana for two or three years – he would have been traded. In terms of the genesis of a major event, the line in the sand the Packers drew with Rodgers and Brett Favre may well have been the NFL's version of Pearl Harbor – Favre didn't see it coming and it changed the landscape.
Favre has become the historical poster codger of the trend of putting the future of the franchise in the hands of a younger model. He got chased out of Green Bay because Rodgers was ready. After a year in New York, Mark Sanchez and his entourage came to town and Favre came back the Midwest to play two years with the Vikings and see his final team draft a rookie QB in the first round as well. The gunslinger had young punks firing shots right and left.
The trend of investing in a rookie QB and putting him into the fray quickly has been rewarded too often to be denied. The JaMarcus Russell's are the exception, not the norm … and the NFL is catching on.
Of the 32 teams in the NFL, 17 of them have invested in a first-round draft pick of their own as their starting quarterback – Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New York Giants, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Tennessee.
That leaves 15 teams. Three others have invested a second-round pick in the player they believe has what it takes to be a QB of the future – Cincinnati, Cleveland and Miami.
Twenty down, 12 to go. Two teams signed high-profile established starters to free-agent deals to settle their QB questions – New Orleans and Philadelphia. 22 down.
Five teams (six if you count the Vikings) traded for a starting quarterback – Arizona, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City and Oakland (twice, giving up a king's ransom to get Carson Palmer from Cincinnati to replace Jason Campbell, the injured former Redskin). And then there were five.
Three teams have gone dredging for discarded quarterbacks from other teams – Buffalo, Washington and Seattle. While Buffalo has no complaints about Ryan Fitzpatrick, the other two went bargain shopping when they shouldn't have. Despite that, it should be noted that Rex Grossman was a first-round draft pick and Tarvaris Jackson was a second-round pick with an "in" with the offensive coordinator. In the asterisk to these two, the Seahawks traded a second-pick to get Charlie Whitehurst.
Then there were two. Only two teams in the NFL have let some late-round pickup QB – a roster-filler if you will – serve as their teams' starters. Who? Tony Romo in Dallas and some guy named Tom Brady in New England. Brady has three rings. Romo is the closest thing to Favre the NFL has right now.
The days of the Joe Webb-type players becoming a star quarterback have always been a longshot, but, given the current run on quarterbacks – trust us, Andrew Luck isn't coming by himself into next year's draft – it would seem more and more teams are going to lock and load with a young quarterback and hope they strike gold like the Packers have with Rodgers and what the Vikings hope they will with Ponder.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Young quarterbacks the new NFL blueprint
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