Fantasy Football Is Killing The NFL

Paul FulwilerCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2008

USA Today, February 10, 2010: Oakland Raiders' owner, Al Davis, has hired Ronald Lowenstein to be his next General Manager and Director of Player Personnel.  Lowenstein, 27, has no prior NFL experience, however, he was won his highly competitive Fantasy Football League on three out of the last five years.

Far-fetched?  Perhaps.  But if you consider the success that the "Moneyball" players are having in Major League Baseball, you have to wonder if this is what's next for the National Football League.

But killing the league?  How can you say that?

I know.  I know.  I'm in several fantasy leagues myself.  And being more of a college football fan, it's primarily the reason why I keep track of the NFL at all.

And over the past several years it has become increasingly difficult to keep up with all the quarterback swaps and roster moves.

Comparing the rosters from today to thirty years ago (before Fantasy Football got its hooks into all of us) there are far fewer "Franchise Quarterbacks" in the league.

First, we need to define "Franchise QB."  It's not simply a quarterback that was a high draft pick or who went to the Pro Bowl - or even one that led their team to the playoffs.  It's the consistent face of the franchise, for at least five years.  Why five?  It's longer than the four they had in college and it's enough time to establish yourself.

In 1978, of the 28 starting QB's in the NFL, 25 were or became Franchise QB's.

The three exceptions being: the New York Giants dumping Joe Pisarcik (he of the infamous "Miracle at the Meadowlands" fumble) for Phil Simms; the San Francisco 49'ers' Steve Deberg giving way to Joe Montana; and the Chicago Bears simply doing what they've done for pretty much their franchise's entire history - play quarterback roulette. 

In fact, in the last 40 years, the Bears have given only one quarterback more than four years at the helm - Jim McMahon - and he gave them their only Super Bowl win.

In 2008, of the 32 starting QB's in the NFL, only 8 are legitimate Franchise QB's, with the potential for another 7 or 8 - assuming the likes of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Jacksonville's David Garrard can hang on.

What does all this mean?  To me, when I looked around my room as a kid and saw the mini-SI poster covered walls, with the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Dan Fouts and Fran Tarkenton, I felt like I knew them.  And when I thought of their team, their franchise, I thought of them.  The two were interchangeable.

Today?  Well, you may know Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but ask the average young NFL fan who the quarterback is in Jacksonville, or Cleveland, or Detroit, or Minnesota and you sure to get a lot of blank stares.

In the era of Fantasy Football, especially in regards to the quarterback position, it's win now or we'll get someone else in there.  The backup quarterback is king.

In 1973, Dan Fouts took over for Johnny Unitas in San Diego.  In the next five seasons he threw 34 touchdowns and 57 interceptions.  His quarterback passer rating never reached higher than the 75.4 he posted in 1976.  Do you think he would have been given the slightest chance to even compete for a job today after just two or three of those seasons?  Answer: Never.  And yet he was allowed to continue on as the Chargers starting quarterback...all the way to the Hall of Fame.

And would Peyton and Eli Manning have ever been given their chance had dad, Archie, been dumped by the Saints after his first six seasons produced 55 touchdowns and 87 interceptions (with a high passer rating of just 68.8 in 1977)?

Would Miami's Bob Griese have been given his job back after his first four seasons of 58 touchdowns and 67 interceptions, combined with missing most of the Dolphins' miraculous undefeated 1972 season?  Answer: No.  Next!

Terry Bradshaw threw just 6 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in his rookie season of 1970.  Bust!

Today's coaches have to win now so they have to move quick.  The easiest way for the Steve Mariuccis of the world to try and eke out a contract extension is to toss their young quarterbacks under the proverbial team bus.

I'm not saying that former Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington is or was destined for the Hall of Fame, however, had he been given the Franchise QB tag, and the actual support and confidence that should accompany it, I sincerely doubt the Lions would be staring at a historic 0-16 season.

The media, of course, plays its part.  They propped up Harrington (as well as David Carr and others) just as they currently prop up Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco - waiting for the inevitable decline and inconsistency that happens to every young quarterback not named Peyton Manning, so they can paint them as massive failures - or "busts" - and feast upon the next one.

Does this mean that every NFL franchise needs to select a quarterback and vow never to replace him?  Absolutely not.  However, this Fantasy Football mentality of looking for the next big thing and the need to win now - right now! - might need to be tempered a bit.  And some quarterbacks may need a little more time to mature than others.  I say you give them that chance.