Replacing a franchise quarterback isn’t as simple as drafting his successor. It’s more like choosing the heir to the throne of an ancient empire: full of drama, intrigue, cautious diplomacy, and the constant threat of open rebellion.
The teams that have chosen possible successors to the quarterbacks established in the 2021 NFL Draft must all proceed with some caution, knowing that one wrong move could plunge their kingdoms into a dark age.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted a potential heir from Tom Brady, 43, to Kyle Trask of the University of Florida with the final pick of the second round. Brady doesn’t like being surrounded by reminders of his mortality, but Trask’s credentials are modest enough that the Buccaneers can pass him off as a modest intern for the next few months, sparing him from the maze ban under the TB12 compound.
The New England Patriots wisely waited until Brady was gone for a year before drafting his likely successor: 15th overall pick Mac Jones, who led Alabama to the national championship last season. Cam Newton has led the Patriots in the meantime as a distant noble cousin (the 11th Earl of Ascots) recovered from the backcountry to keep the throne warm.
The Minnesota Vikings drafted Kellen Mond of Texas A&M as a possible replacement for Kirk Cousins with the second pick in the third round. Cousins has not faced a challenger for his starting position in many years. Instead of trying to replace Cousins, employers typically face his ordinary but overpriced gaming brand by paying him more and lowering their expectations.
General manager Rick Spielman played down Mond’s role as Cousins’ challenger after the selection. Quarter succession ceremonies often begin with this type of ritualized, ego-calming denial of the obvious.
The Houston Texans used a third-round pick (their highest draft selection) over Stanford’s Davis Mills, a possible replacement for Deshaun Watson, who faces 22 civil lawsuits alleging obscene and coercive sexual behavior, including two also accuse him of sexual assault. . He denied the allegations. Before those lawsuits were filed, Watson was seeking a trade-off from the mismanaged and heated Texans, who signed Tyrod Taylor in case Watson resists.
In these tumultuous circumstances, Mills faces more of a potential crisis to start than an opportunity to start.
Terrible teams usually don’t have to worry about delicate transfers of power. The top two picks in the draft, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson, are now the undisputed starting quarterbacks for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jets. Trey Lance (State of North Dakota) only has to supplant Jimmy Garoppolo, who likely updated his LinkedIn profile in March when the San Francisco 49ers traded two future first-round picks for the third overall pick. The Chicago Bears selected Ohio State’s Justin Fields with the 11th pick, leaving companions Andy Dalton and Nick Foles to fight for the role of overpaid mentor.
For a successful franchise, however, a failed succession plan can spell disaster. The Green Bay Packers prematurely recruited Jordan Love from Utah State as a possible Aaron Rodgers heir last year, as Rodgers expected to add a much-needed wide receiver. The rift between Rodgers, who will likely be a future Hall of Famer, and the organization now seems irreconcilable. The Packers appear unwilling to trade Rodgers, although they drafted Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers in the third round, which appears to be a belated excuse: “See, we got you what you wanted, and we even had it burned!
Aaron Rodgers’ situation illustrates why so many teams procrastinate instead of looking for an apparent heir for a distinguished veteran. The New Orleans Saints are in deep denial of Drew Brees’ recent retreat; The team’s fourth-round pick Ian Book of Notre Dame is less of a successor than a non-threatening option that will make dueling underqualified contenders Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston in comparison.
Instead of a challenger to Matt Ryan, 35, the Atlanta Falcons drafted Florida tight winger Kyle Pitts in their latest effort to resurrect a Super Bowl opportunity that died on February 5, 2017. The Pittsburgh Steelers await. that Ben Roethlisberger crashed before having the speech about the surrender of his driver’s license.
Even the most successful succession plans rarely go smoothly: Joe Montana and Steve Young faced off for six years in San Francisco, and Rodgers learned the art of epic melodrama at the feet of Brett Favre. Most quarterback estates are more like Cousins-to-Mond than Montana-to-Young: It’s not worth it until it’s needed.
The Giants were lucky when the transition from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones went relatively smoothly – at least in public – in 2019. With the succession rites behind them, the Giants focused on adding Potential impact players like wide receiver Kadarius Toney, defensive end Azeez Ojulari and cornerback Aaron Robinson instead in this year’s draft.
And if those newcomers can’t help the Giants return to the playoffs, the team will start looking for Jones’ replacement next year.