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By Joe Giglio
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With the hiring of Bruce Arians in Arizona, every head-coaching vacancy in the NFL has been filled. Three weeks after Black Monday changed the landscape of the coaching business and shook up front offices around the league, stability has been found at the most important position in sports.
As the NFL changed from a ground-and-pound, defense-wins-championships league to a pass-happy, air-it-out aerial attack, quarterbacks have ruled the sport. Over the last decade, six quarterbacks have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. If New England can get past Baltimore in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, Brady will be favored in New Orleans to capture another ring for the big six.
Yet, you can see a shift happening in the way NFL teams are thinking and constructing their approach to defeating these six championship signal callers. While it’s silly to dismiss the importance of the quarterback position — regardless of the era — it’s also not unrealistic to think that NFL owners are planning to put more stock in the men calling the plays rather than the ones running them.
The reasons for this shift are wide-ranging, but stark.
First, consider the changes to the most recent collective bargaining agreement that severely halted how much draft picks could make in their rookie contracts. Even dynamic talents like Cam Newton aren’t slated to make much more than a top-tier NFL coach when entering the league. Power structures are shifting away from young, impressionable quarterbacks to the coaches tutoring them.
Secondly, the growing number of ways that offenses attack has changed the way we look at “NFL quarterbacks” and what skills they are supposed to posses.
Colin Kaepernick, SI cover man and the newest NFL darling, might have been converted to a wide receiver a decade ago. Now? He’s the starting quarterback on the first road favorite in NFC Title Game history. The read-option has introduced an entirely new skill set from the quarterback position and changed the way teams draft.
And it isn’t likely to fade away anytime soon.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, NFL teams have begun to realize that many quarterbacks are interchangeable within the right scheme. To be fair, the six championship quarterbacks listed above aren’t interchangeable. Their respective franchises wouldn’t swap them or change the scheme regardless of the circumstances.
But what about the 15-20 teams without franchise quarterbacks? In the past, you could expect half of them to either sign a free agent in the hopes of watching that player become a star or trade up in the draft to find that player. Now, there might be a more efficient route.
Interchangeable schemes, led by smart, forward-thinking coaches, are on the verge of changing what we think about how teams draft, run an offense and make decisions to the starting lineup. If you’re looking for a tipping point on this subject, look to what Jim Harbaugh did in San Francisco this November. Alex Smith out, Kaepernick in. Neither were thought to be franchise quarterbacks, but they didn’t have to be. They had a franchise coach pushing the right buttons on the sideline.
Every offseason in recent NFL memory has been about the teams on the bottom looking to find their Peyton Manning or Brady. Times are changing. The hirings of Chip Kelly in Philadelphia and Marc Trestman in Chicago are the latest instances of teams looking for the next Bill Belichick or Jim Harbaugh.
NFL owners have realized that finding the right guy on the sideline is cheaper, more stable and maybe even more impactful than the right guy under center.
Which NFL team do you think made the best hire this offseason? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments section below…