Or, shall I say, “Do black quarterbacks have who it takes to succeed?”
This is not an Al Campanis-type deliberation of personal capacity. It is a conversation, instead, about whether or not Black quarterbacks in the National Football League are supported by ownership and personnel managers charged with finding solid pass catching talent. Simply, are black QBs playing with subpar receivers and if so, why? The truth is, this isn’t a simple question.
The poster boy for being saddled with inferior wide receivers is Philadelphia Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb. I have argued previously that the Eagles may have a curiously philosophy about the types of wide receivers they tend to draft, but they have tried to place some talented players in supporting roles. That list includes Terrell Owens, Donte Stallworth, Kevin Curtis, and two highly-regarded players drafted from PAC-10 schools: Freddie Mitchell (UCLA) and DeSean Jackson (Cal). These receivers, for varying reasons, have not had a long-term impact on the team. In fact, only DeSean Jackson is likely to make a lasting statistical imprint. The Eagles, as a general rule, have never been particularly good at drafting, signing or retaining wide receivers. The franchise’s greatest players at the position are Harold Carmichael, Mike Quick and Cris Carter. Carter was more prolific as a Minnesota Viking. Carmichael played in the 1970’s, long before ubiquitous highlights and primadonna newsmen. I am willing to accept that McNabb, for one, has not had the benefit of playing with elite wide receivers. Nonetheless, I believe the potential for such pairings did exist. Certainly the signings of Donte Stallworth and Kevin Curtis (both coming off career years, albeit with teams playing on turf) could have yielded better results save for the intrusion of injuries.
The Eagles case is instructive because it highlights some pitfalls that may snag people seeking answers to this question. I know many folks have already made up their minds and closed the door. I have not. I’m still open to whatever the “evidence” reveals. So, where can we look to analyze this question? I think there are some helpful guideposts to follow.
- To what degree is the franchise committed to winning?
- What is the franchise’s approach to building the team? Draft, trades, free agency?
- How stable is the franchise overall? On offense? On defense?
- Does the franchise have a history of excellence at the position?
- How established is the QB? What degree of investment has the franchise made?
- What offensive system does the team run?
My Method (My madness, my method)
- What are we looking for? Elite wide receivers in the NFL.
- Where to Look. Let’s take a look at each franchise with respect to the position of wide receiver. After all, this is a comparative analysis. It won’t be particularly helpful to only look at teams with Black quarterbacks. We can look back over the last 10-20 years (as needed) to identify some of the critical factors in making a final judgment.
First up – the AFC East.
New England Patriots.
Commitment to Winning: Excellent.
The Patriots have a clear commitment to winning. V Troy Brown, David Givens, David Patten, Deion Branch, Bethel Johnson, Donte Stallworth. Remember them? Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell, Chad Jackson (Florida A, B and C). Yep. There are no “world-beaters” in this group. The first time that Tom Brady-led Patriots signed an elite receiver, it was Randy Moss. The team also has Wes Welker in the fold. His greatness, though, is a function of Moss being on the field. LSU’s Rohan Davey was on the roster during the Super Bowl, but decisions concerning receivers were not made with Davey in mind. He had a great college career. He earned a ring (or 2? — not sure) and has the satisfaction of knowing that his diligence was sufficient to merit a place on one of the great teams in history.
New York Jets. The Jets have a minimal commitment to winning. They had a Quincy Carter moment (see Dallas, below) and a Ray Lucas moment which looks alot like their Brad Smith moment. Nothing to see here.
Buffalo Bills. Even less to see here than with Gang Green.
Miami Dolphins. Aside from the Daunte Culpepper Experiment and the Cleo Lemon Drop, there is nothing to see here either. Culpepper started a handful of games, but was never a big investment for the franchise. The same can be said of Lemon. He started all of 13 games, but spent most of his time holding clip boards and sending in play calls.
Next, the NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys. The conversation here really begins and ends with Quincy Carter. The Cowboys had high hopes for Carter. Quincy was high on something other than franchise hopes. Overwhelming job, hot chicks and drug use aside, he did have an opportunity to play with accomplished and rising receivers in the person of Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, Darnay Scott (post-Cincinnati) and Antonio Bryant. With hindsight, we can see how none of this worked out well, but there was talent on the field. The Cowboys also had pass catching backs like Richie Anderson and tight ends Tony McGee and Dan Campbell. By and large, every decent Cowboy quarterback has had very good receiving targets. That’s been true for about 40 years.
New York Giants. Call me if Eli gets hurt and Andre Woodson gets the gig. Until then, there is absolutely nothing to see here. Woodson should be hopeful because in 2007 Plaxico Burress demonstrated the value of a great receiver. In 2008, however, he demonstrated the dangers of wearing sweatpants in New York City nightclubs. As long as whomever the team drafts can be kept away from Plax’s stylist, they should be fine.
Philadelphia Eagles. Donovan McNabb has been discussed at length. However, I find it hard to kill the Eagles for many of the reasons stated in the link above. Moreover, take it back to the early 90’s when the Eagles signed Cris Carter (4th round, Supplemental Draft). Cris Carter was just announced as a nominee for the NFL Hall of Fame. He played three subpar seasons in Philadelphia, but was born again in Minnesota. Carter did not have a 1,000 yard season until his SEVENTH SEASON in the league. You must be tremendously talented for teams to wait that long for even modest production. It simply isn’t fair to blame the Eagles for missing on Carter or some of their other picks — but be sure to click the link, because this is not a wholesale defense of their admittedly cheap ownership.
Washington Redskins. There is a great deal to talk about here. The Redskins won a Super Bowl with Doug Williams and a very talented corps of wide receivers that included Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders. Williams wasn’t the only QB in the picture for the ‘Skins. Jay Schroeder logged most of the reps in 1987. The real Doug Williams story, though, is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers story but it should be mentioned here because his departure from the Bucs (followed by a brief stint in the USFL) led him to Washington and the offensive system of Joe Gibbs. His time in Tampa ended badly and he sat out the entire 1982 season.
However, during his tenure in Tampa, Williams was only paid $120,000 a year–far and away the lowest salary for a starting quarterback in the league, and behind 12 backups. After the 1982 season, Williams asked for a $600,000 contract. Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse refused to budge from his initial offer of $400,000 despite protests from coach John McKay. While Culverhouse’s offer was still more than triple Williams’ previous salary, he would have still been among the lowest-paid starters in the league. Feeling that Culverhouse wasn’t paying him what a starter should earn, Williams bolted to the upstart United States Football League. The Bucs would not make the playoffs again until after the 1997 season, and lost ten games in every season but one in that stretch. Many Bucs fans blame Culverhouse’s refusal to bend in the negotiations with Williams as a major factor. Culverhouse’s willingness to let Williams get away over such a relatively small amount of money was seen as particularly insensitive, coming only months after Williams’ wife Janice died of a brain tumor.
Doug Williams would eventually have his big pay day – and he would lead his team to a record-setting victory in the Super Bowl over John Elway and the Denver Broncos. (I’m sure Marlon Briscoe was rooting for Doug.) In the years after Doug’s departure from Washington, the ‘Skins made another climb to the top with Mark Rypien in 1991. The team tended to make significant investments in receivers through the draft. By the time Tony Banks (by then a journeyman with his 3rd team) came along, Washington had completed the Desmond Howard Experiment, but was still looking for answers with Michael Westbrook (First Round, #4 overall) and Rod Gardner (First Round, 15th overall). None of that panned out. By the time 2002 rolled around, Marty was out; Banks was out; Westbrook was out. Steve Spurrier was in and the Redskins were in trouble. Howard’s claim to fame was that Heisman pose at Michigan (check the video below) ; Westbrook’s claim to fame was that catch in the endzone at Michigan (I don’t have the heart to show it. I used to live with the DB that got beat on that play); and Gardner’s was that he didn’t go to or ever play against Michigan.
In 2005, the Redskins selected Jason Campbell of Auburn in the first round. Campbell didn’t log many starts during his tutelage under Joe Gibbs and Mark Brunell. He was handed the reins of the team in ’07 and began to blossom for a time under Jim Zorn in 2008. Campbell is known for his church-going ways, his quiet demeanor, and his penchant for avoiding interceptions (and big plays — if you listen to the faithful in DC). Campbell didn’t throw an interception last season until Week 9. Washington features Santana Moss and Antwan Randle-El at wide receiver. The top pass catching option is tight end Chris Cooley. A few years ago, Moss was one of the top receivers in the league. Randle-El, a former quarterback, was signed from the Steelers fresh off his Super Bowl touchdown pass in 2005. He was the only player other than Campbell to throw a pass last season.
Campbell has no one looking over his back. It’s his job. He has receivers who may lack size, but they are still quick, solid route runners and possessed of good hands. The franchise went out and drafted speed in ’07 and ’08 — Devin Thomas (2nd round) and Malcolm Kelly (2nd round). That’s a heavy investment for a team that could always stand to get younger in the running game; along the defensive line and in its linebacking corps. Washington has bought in — again. The city will have to wait to see if it pays off.
It’s a big league. I don’t want to cover the everyone right away — especially when there is so much to talk about in the NFC South and NFC North. That’s Part II.