January 2nd, 2011 marked the end of yet another disappointing season for the Miami Dolphins and its fan base. For the better part of a decade, this franchise has been mired in mediocrity. What was once a proud franchise and perennial contender has become a mere afterthought when the season ends.
There are numerous reasons for this decline, but one that sticks out is the lack of a franchise quarterback. Since Marino retired, the Dolphins have sought to fill the void at the quarterback position with a number of players and up to this point, haven’t had much success. The 2010 season was filled with promise as the Dolphins had a young up and coming quarterback, destined to finally fill the role of franchise quarterback. Yet, as the 2010 season ended as others have in the recent past, fraught with disappointment, questions still abound regarding the quarterback position.
First of all, let me make this perfectly clear: THIS IS NOT A POST ABOUT CHAD HENNE! I am well aware of how divisive that topic is and I do not want to add more fuel to that fire. This post is not about Henne or any particular player per se. This post is about the quarterback position in general. Allow me to explain.
We are inundated with so much information about quarterbacks these days, and for good reason. The NFL is a quarterback driven league. The quarterback is undoubtedly the most scrutinized position because it’s the most visible. Everyone, from top NFL brass to the average fan understands the importance of the quarterback position. And within this flood of information, we hear and read terms like "elite quarterback" and "franchise quarterback". These terms are tossed around by talking heads on TV, writers, bloggers, fans, and even players. But unfortunately, no one ever defines what these terms actually mean.
So what IS a franchise quarterback? The unfortunate truth is that there is no clear definition. Definitions vary from pundit to pundit, from writer to writer, from fan to fan. Some people change their definition seemingly week to week. And until there is a concrete definition of what exactly a franchise quarterback is, then we are left dangling by our own thoughts on the matter. That leaves us as fans at a disadvantage when discussing it.
This brings me to the main point of this post. I want the Phinsider community to discuss what they think a franchise quarterback should be. What do you, Dolphins fans, expect from a franchise quarterback? I’m going to give my take on what I think a franchise quarterback should be. Then I would like those who take the time to read this post to respond with what their definition of a franchise quarterback. My intended hope with this post is to generate discussion about what Dolphins fans expect at the quarterback position. Perhaps we can reach a consensus on the definition so that when we watch the Dolphins play again, we have a general set of expectations for the quarterback that are appropriate.
One quick note: This is my idea on what a franchise quarterback should be. I’m sure others will give their ideas about it as well. There will be disagreements on this. But remember, there is no "right" or "wrong" definition. So please try not to attack someone for their opinion on this topic, even if their idea is "Madden-level" absurd.
My Expectations for a Franchise Quarterback
Most fans can agree on the tangibles of a franchise quarterback. Those expectations are easy: strong arm, good accuracy, proper footwork, height, weight, etc. But not everyone who fits the tangibles criteria will make a good quarterback. And that’s because of the intangibles. I almost dread using the word "intangibles" because it’s overused. We will hear it countless times as the draft approaches. But while we may tire of hearing that word, we all know that there are certain qualities that some quarterbacks possess that can’t be measured by stats or by physical means. Here are the four most important intangibles that I believe a franchise quarterback needs to possess.
Leadership is by far, the most important intangible quality that any player can have. It’s not just limited to quarterbacks, but it is essential that a quarterback have good leadership ability. A franchise quarterback needs to be able to lead the offense. He needs to command the huddle and inspire confidence in his teammates. When he steps out onto the field, he needs to be in complete control of the offense. I am of the opinion that some are born leaders and others are born followers. Leadership "skills" can be taught, but that doesn’t always make someone a leader. It is something you are born with. A franchise quarterback needs to be a born leader.
Work ethic is almost equal in importance to leadership ability. I think it is something that can be developed, but mostly comes natural. A good player can get by with talent and athleticism at lower levels of football. But in the NFL, you cannot get by on talent and athleticism alone. The great quarterbacks are usually renowned not just for their talent, but their incredible work ethic. At the NFL level, you must work hard to achieve and prosper. And the leader, the franchise quarterback, must have the drive to outwork his opponents to get the upper hand.
A franchise quarterback needs to be smart. He doesn’t have to be a member of MENSA, but he needs to have a good understanding of the game. Football IQ is something that a player can develop if they work at it. Quarterbacks especially need to have great football intelligence because it’s their job to control the offense. Franchise quarterbacks need to have a high football IQ so they can properly read defenses, improve and develop good pocket awareness, call audibles, and dictate protection. A smart quarterback will know what to do, when to do it, and how to get it done.
A franchise quarterback needs to make the players around him better. There is a "chicken/egg" debate about whether quarterbacks make the players around him better or whether the players around the quarterback make him better. Well the truth is that football is a team game and all the players work together in harmony. But ideally a franchise quarterback will make the players around him better. His talent will elevate the play of lesser talented players around him. He will make his teammates look better and play better.
I have certain statistical expectations for a franchise quarterback. While stats are not the end-all criteria, they do offer a level of visible production that we can measure. There are certain stats that I feel are important to define and measure the production of a quarterback. These stats are yardage, touchdowns, interceptions,touchdown to interception ratio, passer rating, and completion percentage. Yards per attempt is an important stat, but it is held within the confines of the offensive scheme. For example: Philip Rivers averages nearly two yards more per pass attempt than Peyton Manning. They play with different offensive schemes however, so you can’t really compare the two based on that stat. In order to use YPA, you have to base the quarterback’s YPA against what should be expected in that offensive scheme. So Manning would likely have a higher YPA average if he played in River’s offensive scheme and Rivers would likely have a lower YPA average if he played in Manning’s scheme. This is not a truism of course. But I don’t think that YPA average is a great indicator of what a franchise quarterback should be simply because its scheme dependent.
My expectations for yardage are fairly low. I think a franchise quarterback should average at least 200 yards per game. That equates to a 3200 yard total for the season. I think that is manageable for any quarterback, even in a run heavy scheme. Yardage total could be higher of course, but 200 yards per game is the threshold. If your coach can’t rely on you to get at least 200 yards a game, then you probably aren’t a franchise quarterback.
In terms of touchdowns, my expectations are for no less than 25 touchdowns per season. That’s an average of just over 1.5 TDs a game. In 2010, that would have put you in the top 15. I think that 25 TDs is not an overly high expectation for a quarterback. Of course, some quarterbacks play in run first schemes that can limit their TD production to a degree, especially in goal-to-go situations. But as we’ve seen this season, you need to be able to score TDs and the quarterback needs to be able to accomplish that, in any offensive scheme.
I expect a franchise quarterback to throw no more than 12 interceptions in a season. That’s less than one INT per game. Protecting the ball is important. Turnovers crush drives and momentum. And while all INTs aren’t the quarterback’s fault, most will be. A quarterback that throws too many INTs shows that he’s making questionable decisions.
However, the numbers are important as a baseline figure. What is more important is the ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. The ratio I have listed is roughly 2:1. As long as a quarterback maintains that ratio, then I would still consider his stats worthy of a franchise quarterback. This accounts for pass heavy offenses where a quarterback might throw 18 interceptions, but could maintain the ratio with 36 TDs.
I expect a franchise quarterback to maintain a passer rating of no less than 90. Maintaining a season long rating of 90 or higher will put you into the top 15 in the league. I’m not really going to get into the complex calculations that derive a passer rating. But you can safely bet that if you have a passer rating above 90, then you are playing well.
Completion percentage is decent stat for determining the accuracy of the quarterback. It’s not perfect, but it is a good indicator. A low completion percentage usually means that the quarterback struggles staying on target. My expectation for completion percentage is no lower than 62%. If you start dropping below 62%, then you start questioning the quarterback’s accuracy and decision making.
Unfortunately, there is no set definition of what makes a franchise quarterback. I hope this post can generate some discussion so we fans can develop a better idea of what a franchise quarterback is. I've given my thoughts on it, so what's yours?