When Should The Cowboys Draft Romo's Heir?

If I were to work for a football team, I'd be in the front office, a personnel man. I find ssacquiring and evaluating players to be the funnest part of being an armchair GM type of fan. So, continuing in that theme of mine, we'll look at when you should draft an heir for your franchise quarterback.

This is the 2nd post in a little quarterback series I've got planned, all about how to handle the quarterback position for the Dallas Cowboys. In the first post, I looked at how long Tony Romo's new and final contract should be. If you missed it, you can find it here. To summarize, I found that Romo most likely has a window of continued good quarterback play of between 5 and 7 years left. Today, I want to look at what the window is for a new quarterback taking over for a team, how long they developed to become a good starter.

For the purposes of this exercise, I'm going to look at 21 quarterbacks of recent history, split into two categories: Those that started as rookies, and those who started out on the bench. What we want to figure out here is how long does it take a quarterback to become a good starter for your team? This will tell you the ideal time to draft that quarterback so that your team doesn't take a step back when a new quarterback is under center full time.

Disclaimer: I am only interested in taking a look at good quarterbacks. Busts and mediocre QBs are not what we're after for the future, and I'll talk about them in a future post. For now we'll just have to look at this group of 21. Also, I've got a loose interpretation of 'good starter', which is based on at least about 3000 passing yards and 15 touchdowns or so. If we can accept all these criteria, lets get at it. (I'm also not going to include QBs who were injured early on, take Stafford for example, he had a mediocre rookie year, followed by a injured year, followed by a really good year. Because of his injured year, you can't say for sure he would have been good in that year or that he definitively wouldn't have been good until his 3rd year anyway)

How long did QB replacements practice before becoming good starters?

  • Rogers: 3 years on the bench (24th overall)
  • Romo: 2 years on the bench (UDFA)
  • Rivers: 2 years on the bench (4th overall)
  • Brees: 1 year on the bench (32nd overall)
  • Warner: 1 year on the bench (UDFA)
  • Brady: 1 year on the bench (199th overall)
  • Schaub: 3 years on the bench (90th overall)
  • Favre: 1 year on the bench (33rd overall)

Average: ~1.75 years (24th overall - UDFA)

So, what we see here is that quarterbacks drafted to wait in the wings practiced with the team for between 1 to 3 years. Half of these quarterbacks started after 1 year of practicing, and the rest no later than after 3 years. The average of these 14 tells you to plan to lean towards counting on at least 2 years of practice. What I'm not going to explain here is the various reasons for them practicing on the bench and at what time they were called up. This is just to show what has happened, not why it happened. Also, pay attention to the draft position of these players relative to QBs who started in their rookie year (Rivers is clearly an outlier).

When do rookie QBs start to be good?

Bradford: good in his 1st year (1st overall)

Newton: good in his 1st year (1st overall)

Eli: good in his 2nd year (1st overall)

Big Ben: good in his 1st year (11th overall)

Peyton: good in his 1st year (1st overall)

Matt Ryan: good in his 1st year (3rd overall)

Alex Smith: good in 2nd year (1st overall)

Average: 1st year starter (1st - 11th overall)

Naturally, some quarterbacks are drafted to be immediate starters, for various reasons. So, for those that did, were they good in their first year? Or did they need more time? Perhaps benefiting from a first year of practice. What we see out of this group of 7 is that a majority of them performed quite well in their rookie season, 2 of them could have benefited from a year of riding the bench. The important thing to notice here is their draft positions. None of them were draft any later than 11th overall, a majority of them were the top pick.

While this may be a somewhat small sample size, what can we learn from this? The important thing in my mind is where you get your quarterback. If you aren't picking in the top ten, you can expect to be drafting a quarterback that needs time to practice. It may just be one example, but can anyone say for sure that Tony would have been as good in his first year than in his third? On the other hand, if the Cowboys have a 'Suck for Luck' kind of year, you can expect to have a rookie starter at quarterback, for a myriad of reasons.

So, this all largely depends on how long they extend Tony's contract, then you can accurately plan out the drafting the next franchise quarterback. But, what we can work with here is windows. This information coupled with Romo's window of play can give us a pretty accurate idea of when to draft that quarterback.

As we found out in my last post, Tony has a window of good play of 5 to 7 years left (barring the unforeseeable). Assuming the 'Boys don't draft in the ~top 5 anytime soon, we can expect that player to practice behind Romo for between 1 to 3 years. Well isn't that convenient? Romo has a 3 year window of retirement and newly drafted quarterbacks have a 3 year window of practice.

So, whats the verdict? My interpretation is that the ideal time to draft Romo's replacement is during the 2016 draft, giving that new quarterback at least 1 year of practice behind Romo before having to start. If Romo is still here and plays well in the year or two beyond that, we can see it is still a beneficial window of practice.

What do you think? Do you think thats the perfect time to draft a QB? Or do you believe it should be no later than 2015? The more important discussion is finding out which quarterback to draft, which I will hopefully be able to find out and share with you all in the future.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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