The New Orleans Saints could probably have their choice of Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler or Vince Young with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft at the end of April.
One pick later, Tennessee will have at least one of the three to pick from. That’s assured.
So why is it that New Orleans and Tennessee both spent the opening weekend of NFL free agency pursuing veteran quarterbacks who may not be able to play this season? In the case of the Saints, they entertained quarterback Drew Brees on Saturday and Sunday, even though Brees won’t be able to throw until May, at the earliest, because of a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery in January.
As for Tennessee, it called Minnesota late last week to inquire about a trade for Culpepper as word seeped out that the Vikings were finally done dealing with his antics. The Titans even had a deal in place to get Culpepper, who is recovering from a traumatic knee injury last season, before he told them he wasn’t interested in playing for them.
Culpepper, who pulled the same act with Oakland, is waiting for Miami to make a call on its future at quarterback. The Dolphins are trying to get Brees also, and the fallback plan is to trade for Culpepper.
But what’s of greater curiosity is why two teams who have a chance to take young passers who some have called “franchise quarterbacks” are so interested in damaged goods. There are a bunch of sound strategic reasons, such as that Brees and Culpepper are potentially relative bargains at this point because of the injuries. In the case of New Orleans, the Saints also need to attract a big-time player to develop momentum to get other players to come there.Still, there is this troublesome, underlying point, particularly when you consider the injury factor. Why not take a young, healthy player over an injured veteran?
The answer is simple: This year’s quarterback class may really not be all that good.
With Young, there are already plenty of odd issues. His offseason workout regimen has been sporadic. His Wonderlic score made people wonder what’s going on. His run-heavy style of play may not be suited for the pro game.
As for Leinart, most coaches, scouts and executives fall into a well-developed pack of thinking. He doesn’t have the greatest arm, but he’s exceptionally accurate and he has all the intangibles.
That said, there was one offensive coordinator who said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
“I’m different than most people on a lot of this stuff, but I see Leinart as a third- or fourth-round pick,” the coach said. “He’s an OK player, but he doesn’t move all that well and his throwing is just so-so. He’s not all that accurate … He just doesn’t excite me. He’s going to be a top five pick and all that, but you won’t see my team take him.”Cutler is the one quarterback in the group who escapes most of the scrutiny. Coaches love his arm and his competitiveness. He’s a little short at 6-foot-2, but not enough to be of great concern. His footwork is a little unorthodox and he’s throws off his back foot a lot, but much of that has to do with the way he had to play at Vanderbilt.
Still, even with Cutler, the majority opinion is that he’s good, but perhaps overrated. Going into the season, most NFL folk didn’t consider him a first-round pick. Now, there’s talk he’ll be a top 3 pick.
All of that brings us back to what New Orleans and Tennessee must be thinking about.
In the case of the No. 2 and 3 picks in the draft, the players drafted there are both likely to get in excess of $20 million in guaranteed money.
Perhaps as much as $25 million. That’s not just a lot of money, that’s a lot of money to spend on an unproven quarterback who could as easily be Ryan Leaf as he is Peyton Manning.
Thus, why not spend a lot less in terms of guaranteed money to get someone like Brees or Culpepper, who have proven that they can play at this level. Sure, the injuries are significant, but the risk isn’t as high.
Particularly when you consider that the top three quarterbacks may not be as good as what everybody thought a month ago.