In today’s NFL, the first step when building a championship team usually involves finding a franchise quarterback. The problem is there are very few good quarterbacks that enter free agency or are made available via trade so the most likely way of acquiring one is through the draft. Unfortunately for NFL teams, players like Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson don’t come around too often, so what are teams to do? Their best option is to build a strong team around a mediocre quarterback.
The three teams that come to mind are the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. The Cardinals came the closest last season when they made it to the playoffs with their third-string quarterback. Coming from the tough NFC West, the Cardinals were one of the better teams, but even at their peak, it wasn’t because of their quarterback play. Carson Palmer is clearly past his prime, but the defense was the star as they were fifth in the league in turnover differential. The team has a good young secondary anchored with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu and it’s getting better every year.
The Buffalo Bills may have one of the best defenses in the entire league. The club has the best defensive line in the game anchored by three Pro Bowlers and they should get a boost from defensive genius Rex Ryan. The team led the NFL in sacks last year with 54 and 39.5 of them came from the quartet of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes and Marcell Dareus. At quarterback, the team has Matt Cassel who has shown some promise, but was ultimately average with Kansas City and Minnesota.
The final team is the New York Jets who could challenge Seattle for the best overall defense in the NFL. They took their biggest weakness on the team (secondary) and made it a strength with the addition of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. The defensive line was a strong with Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson accounting for 13.5 combined sacks as 3-4 defensive ends with Leonard Williams now entering the mix. Even though the team lost Ryan as their head coach, they found a solid replacement in Todd Bowles who was the defensive coordinator for the Cardinals.
A good example of a team doing this was the Seattle Seahawks as a team that won without an established quarterback. The club liked what Russell Wilson did, but he was taken in the third round and wasn’t guaranteed to start the season. Instead, they focused on building up their defense and they got a solid rusher in Marshawn Lynch. It just so happened that Wilson fit the Seahawks’ system and it was a perfect match. If Wilson had lost the starting job to Matt Flynn, or if he was on a different team, it is unlikely that Wilson would be as successful. He is a great quarterback, but it is clear that the defense was the main strength of the team.
One team that is looking for a strong surrounding cast is the Denver Broncos who have one of the league’s greatest quarterbacks but he is at the end of his career. Towards the end of last season, it was clear that Manning was struggling to play, throwing four touchdowns and six interceptions in the last four regular season and one playoff game. Many thought that Manning might call it a career, but he wants to prove that he still has fuel left in the tank.
Surrounding Manning is a strong defense anchored by linebacker Von Miller and the team picked up a steal in the draft with Shane Ray. In the defensive backfield, the cornerback duo of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr is one of the better combinations in the NFL. The Broncos should benefit from playing in a weak division and don’t have the toughest schedule this season.
If a team can win a Super Bowl without a Pro Bowl quarterback, that might be one of the best things for the league as it would give hope to some of the teams that don’t have the typical franchise quarterback. The one thing that the NFL wants is parity, but there simply aren’t enough great quarterbacks for every team to have one. This puts a lot of stress on the general manager to build a solid team, but it is slightly easier to build a solid team around a serviceable player than to luck into a star quarterback.