That chipping noise across the NFL is star quarterbacks tearing down the wall of feudal power. Aaron Rodgers demands out of Green Bay.
Russell Wilson says he’s not happy in Seattle. Chip.
Deshaun Watson tells Houston he’s played his last down there (before falling into a quagmire of legal problems from sexual assault allegations). Chip.
This has NBA-style ramifications for the NFL as each of these franchise quarterbacks moves onto the open market. Why throw a dart at the board hoping on a young quarterback? Why not making your team instantly relevant since The Untouchables are now The Unhappiest?
Tom Brady showed the way for quarterbacks. Add this to the legacy of his mantel of the greatest player of all time. He didn’t just set up his exit from New England. His absence showed them for what they were — an average team without him — while turning perennial loser Tampa Bay into a winner.
Unhappy quarterbacks aren’t unusual. Terry Bradshaw criticized Rodgers for being so “sensitive” in Green Bay. But Bradshaw didn’t return to Pittsburgh until three decades after his retirement because he was so put off by how Pittsburgh treated him.
Dan Marino, tired of four straight non-playoff seasons and perhaps coach Don Shula’s ways, brokered the idea of a mutually beneficial trade from the Dolphins after the 1989 season. In a world without Twitter, it still caused a seismic outcry. “How dare he,” was the common theme. Players were treated as feudal property at the time.
“With him or with anyone else, if a trade would help the club, I would give it serious consideration,’' Shula said then. “But I’d never trade him and hurt the team.”
Marino’s request went nowhere. It turned out fine for him from the view of decades later. He’s now a quiet adviser inside his one and only team. But would he have won a ring if traded to a veteran Philadelphia team as rumored? Would that itch have been scratched?
The looming question as first posed by Brady is if quarterbacks should have a voice inside the team’s decisions. Answer: It depends on the quarterback. Dolphins GM Chris Grier nearly chuckled at a question about whether Tua Tagovaila stating the offense needed speed played into the team’s decision to get faster at receiver this offseason. Tua played one marginal year. There’s no weight to his voice just yet.
Rodgers and Wilson are different. They’ve won Super Bowls, are perennial Pro Bowl players — Rodgers is a three-time league MVP. They’ve not only won big but made their franchises billions (yes, with a “b.”)
Why wouldn’t Seattle consult Wilson on offensive-line issues? Is it buying the future of 70-year-old Pete Carroll over the 32-year-old Wilson?
Green Bay looks even dumber. No matter Rodgers always sounds like the smartest guy on a “Jeopardy” show. Why wouldn’t you consult with him before hiring a young, unproven coach in Matt LaFleur? Why wouldn’t you simply call him out of respect before drafting a first-round quarterback in Jordan Love?
Watson, meanwhile, was saddled with the dumbest NFL team of late. It traded a top receiver in DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for nothing, traded the future to the Dolphins for tackle Laremy Tunsil and has an owner in Cal McNair who only oversees the mess.
Why stake your future to that? Because you’re paid a lot? The money will be there. The top 15-paid players in the league last year were quarterbacks (and nine starters were on rookie contracts, meaning they can’t be paid top money).
They make that money because the best make their team billions (yes, with a “b.”) These quarterbacks finally are flexing their value like NBA stars. Why trust their careers to people they don’t trust? The clock is ticking on Rodgers, at 37, and Wilson, at 32.
This isn’t to say quarterbacks are the end-all of a team’s success. Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh always said eight organizations were sustained contenders each year. Forget the rest. Those eight were the ones with a good personnel director, a good coach — and a great quarterback.
You need each component. Brady won six Super Bowls in New England. Rodgers has one ring in Green Bay. Is Brady that much better than Rodgers? Or was the organization coach Bill Belichick set up in New England that much better than in Green Bay?
Still, the slow-moving NFL teams are discovering what pro basketball teams did too late. They better work with their top stars. Sometimes even that won’t matter. For the rest of the league the tantalizing issue is this: Who wouldn’t want Aaron Rodgers for four good years?