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Column - Bob Gretz

GRETZ: DRAFT WEEK - The Quarterback Myth

Apr 27, 2006, 5:10:19 AM by Bob Gretz - FAQ


I first heard the words spoken in association with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1981. That also happened to be the point where I started paying much attention to the Chiefs, having just moved to the Midwest to cover Lamar Hunt’s football team for the daily fish wrap.

“The Chiefs need to draft and develop a quarterback,” was the refrain.

The organization was six years after the end of the Len Dawson Era and they had used a first-round draft choice – in fact had traded up into the later parts of the round to make it happen – in 1979 when they grabbed quarterback Steve Fuller out of Clemson.

Two years later, Fuller had shown he was a mediocre quarterback, more legs than arm, more guts than talent. By the end of that ‘81 season, another quarterback draft choice from two years before would lead his team to the Super Bowl. He was a third-round quarterback, went by the name of Montana, Joe.

The same words were spouted again in 1983, when the Chiefs passed on Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino and grabbed Hall of Fame good guy Todd Blackledge with their first-round selection.

Let’s get this said right up front: over the life of the franchise, the Chiefs have tried to draft and develop a quarterback. They’ve drafted 30 of them since the team was born. They may very well draft another one this weekend in the 2006 NFL Draft.

But, they do not need to draft a quarterback to develop a good one. Not this year, not next, or the year after. That they must draft and develop a quarterback is one of the great myths that rolls around the Chiefs Nation, especially at this time of the year.

Since inception in 1960, the franchise has had two quarterbacks of note for their on-field performance and production: Len Dawson and Trent Green. Neither one was drafted by the Dallas Texans-Kansas City Chiefs. Both failed to earn the No. 1 quarterbacks job with multiple NFL teams before they pulled on the red and gold jersey (Dawson with Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Green with San Diego, Washington and St. Louis.)

Dawson and Green were not drafted by the Chiefs, but they were developed by the franchise. Hank Stram saved Dawson’s career by signing him in 1962, after five seasons of inactivity with the Steelers and Browns. Dick Vermeil brought Green from St. Louis where after his devastating pre-season knee injury in 1999, he was stuck behind Kurt Warner on the Rams depth chart.

Dawson was headed for oblivion before he joined the Texans-Chiefs. Now, he’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Green was a career backup with a questionable knee before he came to Kansas City. Now, he’s become one of the most proficient and efficient passers in the league over the last five years.

Yes, some teams hit the jackpot, drafting and developing Hall of Fame-Super Bowl winning quarterbacks like Terry Bradshaw (first player taken in the ‘70 draft), John Elway (first player taken in the ‘83 draft by Baltimore, then traded to Denver) and Troy Aikman (first player taken in the ‘89 draft.)

But the price to get an opportunity to draft those types of talents is painful: the Steelers were 1-13 in 1969, Baltimore was 0-8-1 in strike shortened 1982 season and Dallas finished 3-13 in 1988. In the last 20 drafts, a quarterback has been the first player taken 11 times, including the last five. The average record of those 11 teams was right around 3-13 (two of those No. 1 quarterbacks were taken by expansion teams in 1999 and 2002.)

Even if a team is bad enough to have the chance to draft the best QB that year, sometimes that QB doesn’t measure up. Here are those 11 quarterbacks and you judge who was worth the first pick: Vinny Testaverde in 1987, Aikman in 1989, Jeff George in 1990, Drew Bledsoe in 1993, Peyton Manning in 1998, Tim Couch in 1999, Michael Vick in 2001, David Carr in 2002, Carson Palmer in 2003, Eli Manning in 2004 and Alex Smith last year.

Among the 12 teams that made the NFL playoffs in 2005, half of those starting quarterbacks were first round picks (P. Manning, E. Manning, Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich and Rex Grossman.) The other half came from the second round (Jake Plummer), third round (Chris Simms), fifth round (Mark Brunell), a pair of sixth rounders (Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck) and an undrafted college free agent (Jake Delhomme.) Brady, Hasselbeck and Delhomme have all started in the Super Bowl the last two years. Plummer, Brunell, Hasselbeck and Delhomme were leading teams that were different than the one that was their entry into the NFL.

Of the last five Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, one did it with the team that drafted him in the first round: Roethlisberger. As a sixth-round pick, Brady was drafted and developed by the Patriots. Brad Johnson was a ninth-round pick, but not by Tampa Bay. Trent Dilfer was a first-round pick, but not by Baltimore and Warner was never drafted, starting his pro career as a college free agent with Green Bay.

Quarterbacks can come from many different avenues, whether free agency, trades, the draft, college free agents, Canada, the Arena League. It’s really no different than any other position when it comes to finding and developing talent. Where it does differ is when a team drafts a quarterback, especially in the first round. Then, the pressure never ceases on that young man. It’s a process that cripples many a quarterback, ending their careers before they really begin. For every success story, there’s a story of despair. For Peyton Manning, there’s Ryan Leaf (second player drafted in ‘98.) For Drew Bledsoe, there’s Rick Mirer (second player drafted in ‘93.)

Over the years, the Chiefs have drafted 30 quarterbacks. In fact, the franchise’s first choice of any kind was a quarterback: Don Meredith, in the AFL’s initial draft that was held in November of 1959. When Meredith decided to sign with the then yet to be official Dallas franchise in the NFL, it may have hexed the position for Lamar Hunt’s team when it comes to the draft. Along with Meredith, Fuller and Blackledge, the only other first round quarterback taken by the team was Pete Beathard in 1964. He had a nice, but undistinguished career in pro football.

Consider this:

  • The Texans-Chiefs have played 712 games in the regular and post-season.
  • A quarterback drafted by the Texans-Chiefs started in 142 of those games, or only 20 percent.
  • Overall, the Texans-Chiefs have won 374 games.
  • A starting quarterback drafted by the franchise led the team to victory just 57 times, or 15 percent.

Trade, free agency, Canada, undrafted college players, the scrap heap … quarterbacks can be found and developed from other avenues than the draft.

(Coming Friday: the Chiefs roster, their weaknesses and what they are going to be looking for in this weekend’s NFL Draft.)

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.


A former beat reporter who covered the Pittsburgh Steelers during their glory years, Gretz covered the Chiefs for the Kansas City Star for nine years before heading up KCFX-FM's sports department. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Board of Selectors. His column appears three times a week during the season.