Arizona Cardinals fumble the Kyler Murray contract extension

Kyler Murray contract press conference

What a mess.

We knew that the Deshaun Watson contract with the Browns would reset the quarterback market. In the new NFL, with all the rules protecting quarterbacks, it’s now a quarterback league. Some may argue it has been for a long time, but the trend has accelerated dramatically with the new rules. Barring some serious luck, you need an elite quarterback to win.

Combine that with the growing salary cap and you’re going to see more and more monster contracts for NFL quarterbacks. This provides massive leverage to players, and we’re going to start seeing more NBA-style holdouts and trade demands. Quarterbacks are the stars.

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Deshaun Watson contract with Browns resets the quarterback market

Deshaun Watson after Browns trade

The Deshaun Watson trade has rocked the NFL in many ways. After a grand jury in Texas decided against indicting Watson, the Browns won a bidding war to acquire the talented quarterback, and secured the deal with a fully-guaranteed contract for $230 million.

There was already plenty of controversy around any trade for Watson with 22 pending civil lawsuits, but the guaranteed money made the move even more controversial. NFL teams avoid large guarantees, and this contract blew away the guarantees given to other top quarterbacks. The fact that Watson, with all his legal troubles, was the recipient of this contract made it even worse for many. People will have different reactions to the Browns trading for someone saddled with these allegations, but the monetary award made it worse for many fans who felt that the Browns and the NFL were rewarding bad behavior.

But other NFL owners have also been complaining. They know that the Browns have turned the market upside down and that they will ultimately need to consider similar deals if they’re fortunate to land a top-tier quarterback. Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was vocal in his displeasure, not that the Browns or their fans give a damn what the owner of the Ravens thinks about this. The Ravens will have to pay Lamar Jackson, and Browns fans will be happy to see that franchise also saddled with a monster, guaranteed contract, as most Browns fans see Jackson as a more limited quarterback than Watson.

And that leads us to the real issue here. The game in the NFL has been changing as the rules make it easier and easier for elite quarterbacks to dominate the game. Sure, defenses can still make a difference, but a team’s chances of winning a Super Bowl are very low without one of the 8 – 10 elite quarterbacks in the game.

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Joe Montana explains the quarterback position

Here’s a quote from Joe Montana:

“The game is changing. Nobody wants to throw with pressure anymore. But the guys who can win in this league are the ones who can make throws from the pocket.”

You can read the article for more context, as Montana is discussing how he likes the game of Colin Kaepernick but sees room for improvement. Kapernick is part of the new wave of mobile quarterbacks, but give him and head coach Jim Harbaugh credit as they have tried to limit how often Kaepernick takes off and runs. He’s starting to look more like a young John Elway as opposed to a “running quarterback” like year one RG3.

But as Montana points out, the most important part of a quarterback’s game involves throwing in the pocket, and particularly the ability to make the right throw accurately under pressure. This is where many young quarterbacks struggle, but it can be even more difficult to develop this skill for mobile quarterbacks who take off running when the pressure gets too hot, as opposed to shifting in the pocket and making the big throw. Relying on scrambling will cause a quarterback to leave some big throws on the field, limiting some big plays.

We’ll see if Kaepernick or Russell Wilson can actually win a Super Bowl. One of them will be matched up against a classic pocket passer in either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. And yes, the game is changing and we’re seeing more mobile quarterbacks. But Montana is pointing out a critical element for ultimate success in the NFL, and this gives us some perspective as we enjoy the rest of the NFL playoff season.

RG3 and his speed

Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor University looks for a receiver during the team’s NCAA football game against the Washington Huskies at the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, December 29, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Jason Whitlock has an interesting take on Robert Griffin III and the impressive 40-time he displayed at the combine.

In my opinion, Griffin’s speed doesn’t enhance his draft stock. It damages it.

I am not a Robert Griffin hater. I love RG3. In all likelihood, he will be my favorite NFL player next season. He could quickly become my favorite active athlete, ahead of Tiger Woods, Ray Lewis and Jeff George (has yet to file his retirement paperwork).

But I’m worried about Griffin. He’s blessed with too many tools. Oftentimes, the greatest athletes are physically limited, which strengthens their focus. Bill Russell could never match Wilt Chamberlain’s size and limitless athleticism. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson weren’t the greatest leapers or the quickest on their feet.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are relatively immobile. They play from the pocket because they have no choice. They mastered the art of playing from the pocket because they had no other choice.

NFL games are won most consistently by quarterbacks who play from the pocket. If a quarterback leaves the pocket, he’s going to get hit. If a quarterback gets hit regularly, he’s going to get hurt. If a franchise quarterback gets injured, his team has little chance of winning the Super Bowl.

NFL teams are looking for the next Manning or Brady. Or the next Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. A little mobility is good, especially if the quarterback moves in the pocket in an effort to throw downfield. Rodgers and Big Ben are terrific at moving to throw. Is that how Griffin will use his athleticism?

Or does Griffin have so much speed that he’ll channel Michael Vick?

Whitlock goes on to recount Vick’s early problems as he relied too much on his speed and athleticism. Athletes like Steve Young had to learn how to stay in the pocket.

Whitlock basically sums up the primary reason why Andrew Luck is rated higher than RG3, even as some think RG3 has more upside. It’s a risk/reward analysis. Luck has shown that he can win strictly as a pocket passer, using his athleticism only when needed.

Can RG3 learn to play that way? Of course he can. But just because he has the aptitude and temperament to learn doesn’t guarantee success. Luck isn’t guaranteed success either, but we’ve seen him operate consistently from the pocket, so there’s less risk.

Where will Peyton Manning go next?

Injured Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning watches from the sidelines before their NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts December 4, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

It now seems obvious that the Colts will be parting ways with Peyton Manning. Anything can happen at this point, but Peyton’s recent interview made it pretty clear that he wasn’t a part of the new direction in Indianapolis. You can’t blame them, as they will have Andrew Luck and they would need to pay Peyton a king’s ransom to stick around. The team needs to be rebuilt, and keeping Peyton just delays the process.

The NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora makes a pretty good case that Arizona and Seattle are the two most likely spots.

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