NFL teams are always in search of that magic elixir to bring them victory in the elusive Super Bowl. Each season, winning it all is the ultimate goal regardless of whether a team like the Denver Broncos have endured long playoff droughts or losing seasons.
The composition of this elixir is not a secret. It has become blatantly obvious. Obtaining an elite-level quarterback is the key to ultimate success. Winning a championship is a difficult task and without an elite quarterback leading the offense, it's nearly impossible.
To clear up just how important this rare, elite skill-set really is, talk a look at these Super Bowl facts.
Of the 55 Super Bowls since 1966, 45 have been won by a team that was led by a future or possible future Hall-of-Fame quarterback. 15 of those quarterbacks are already inducted into Canton.
Others are still playing, but are on pace to get in: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rogers, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, and Patrick Mahomes. Eli Manning has retired, but has a solid case for induction when he becomes eligible.
One other had a career that may someday get him into the Hall: Jim Plunkett. He is the biggest long shot, but it is not out of the realm of possibility.
The 10 teams that won without a Hall-of-Famer are the 1982 Washington Football Team, 1985 Chicago Bears, 1986 New York Giants, 1987 Washington Football Team, 1990 New York Giants, 1991 Washington Football Team, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2012 Baltimore Ravens, and 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.
The ’85 Bears, ’00 Ravens, and ’02 Bucs won with all-time great defenses. The old adage that 'defenses win championships' is not completely true as it is a very rare occurrence that a great defense alone can win it all.
The ’12 Ravens won the Lombardi Trophy with a quarterback who had a playoff run that was as good as any Hall-of-Famer. Joe Flacco will not get into the Hall of Fame, but his play during that four-game stretch to win the championship was extraordinary.
It can be argued that winning the Super Bowl is a precursor for getting into Canton. Frankly, that can be debated in a similar manner as the 'chicken or egg' argument. However, getting to a Super Bowl but not coming out victorious also happens through quarterback prowess.
Of the 55 losing teams, 38 were quarterbacked by Hall-of-Famers or guys for whom Canton is still a possibility. Again, some of these players are already in the Hall and others have solid cases to get in at some point in the future, such as Daryl Lamonica, Ken Anderson, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, and Matt Ryan. The respective careers of these QBs is on the cusp of recognition in those hallowed halls.
In all, more than 75% of Super Bowl participants have HoF-caliber quarterbacks.
Does having a HoF-caliber quarterback ensure a Super Bowl victory?
No, it does not — as evidenced by the careers of Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly. Furthermore, even with a Hall-of-Famer leading the offense, it's extremely difficult to capture that Lombardi Trophy.
The Dolphins have had 31 seasons with a Hall-of-Famer at the helm and have only two trophies. The Colts have had 20 seasons and found pay dirt only twice. The Chargers also have 20 seasons with a Hall-of-Fame QB and have zip in the big dance win column.
See the graph below for a visual representation (forgive the crudeness of the graphic).
The burning question becomes this: If team has a quarterback who's proven to be elite and still has 10-12 years left to play in the league, why would that team let him go?
It's incredibly unintelligent. It actually boggles the mind that there is a chance of this occurring, which is why there is tremendous doubt that the Houston Texans will actually put Deshaun Watson on the trading block.
Equivalently as moronic is a team that has been in search of quarterback greatness, but refuses to bring enough capital to the table to obtain him. Especially if said team holds out hope of hitting on a Hall-of-Fame QB by luck alone.
There have been over 1,000 quarterbacks drafted in the history of the NFL. Very few are in the Hall of Fame. Even former first-round quarterbacks have a very ‘hit or miss’ record. Leaving it to chance instead of taking a known commodity is a fool’s errand.
There does seem to be an argument that the cost to obtain a quarterback in this unprecedented situation is just too high. The prevailing thought is that giving up the amount of draft capital it will take to get him will paralyze a team, like the Denver Broncos, for a long time.
This is simply untrue. First of all, the NFL has rules that limit how far into the future a team can trade draft picks. Meaning, a team cannot ask for the next five first-round picks in return for a player.
Realistically, three first-rounders and three second-rounders is going to be the limit on draft pick giveaways for the elite QB on the block. A team may throw in a couple of players, but this probably is going to be the most a team would be able to relinquish.
There have been some significant trades in NFL history that can be used as a proxy to understand whether trading away picks can be debilitating to a franchise. The fact is, it isn’t a death knell for a team.
The Eli Manning draft-day trade is an example. The Giants essentially gave up two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and a fifth-round pick and were rewarded with two Super Bowl victories.
The Khalil Mack trade is much more recent. The Bears gave up two firsts, a third-round pick, and a sixth-rounder for a non-quarterback player. Chicago has made the playoffs in two of the last three seasons since the trade.
The closest proxy to a prospective Watson trade in today's league may be the Jay Cutler trade. A quarterback in his prime (although not elite) cost the Bears two firsts, a third, and a player. They were in the playoffs the following season.
The Buccaneers traded for head coach John Gruden back in 2002 — a coach, not a player who can be on the field playing. Tampa Bay gave up two firsts and two seconds and won the Super Bowl the following season, going to the playoffs twice more in the next five seasons.
The final example is probably the biggest trade in NFL history — the Hershel Walker trade. The Minnesota Vikings gave up a massive haul of draft picks and players that catapulted the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships.
Even this notorious fleecing of the Vikings organization did not leave the team dead for years to come. The Vikings went on to reach the playoffs in five of the following six seasons and had their full bevy of draft picks again in three years.
These examples show that a team can give up a lot for a player and still be competitive. The teams in each gave up significant capital for players that are not as valuable as what Watson would bring to the team.
Again, a blockbuster trade for a young elite quarterback would be unprecedented, but teams giving up a massive haul of draft picks and players to acquire a single player is not. Doing so does not cripple a team. It's clear that acquiring the right piece in a trade for a significant price actually does the opposite.
The Texans would be absolute fools to put Watson on the trading block no matter how disgruntled he is at the present time. The Broncos would be equally foolish to not try to acquire him, if Houston capitulates and puts him on the trade block.
It would take a massive haul to get Watson, but he would lead the team with proven, elite quarterbacking skills for the next 10-plus seasons. The NFL is now geared to keep the precious commodity (QB) healthy to play for many years. Even if Watson plays until he is 37, which is starting to appear young for the position, he will give the Broncos over a decade of play.
This potential trade makes sense even if the Broncos have hopes that Drew Lock could develop into an elite player. Hope is all it is at this point, though.
Lock has shown flashes and the work ethic to develop, but it has not translated that into consistent high-level play on the gridiron yet. He has not had the best circumstances with the injury in his rookie season and the lack of training camp this past year, so thinking that he can make a leap is an understandable position.
The wise move, however, is to get the proven, elite quarterback Watson, even at the massive cost.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.
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