The first step in building a championship team is to have the right quarterback, and the Raiders seem committed to drafting one with the No. 1 overall pick.
One indication: After saying he’d like to play in Oakland and then interviewing with the Raiders, Jeff Garcia quickly signed with Tampa Bay instead. Garcia was undoubtedly told by the Raiders that they would draft a quarterback, so Garcia’s time as a starter would be short.
Another indication: The Raiders have stayed out of the market for high-profile free agents, which is not their style. Some analysts have theorized that owner Al Davis has finally seen that the high-profile free-agent signings have seldom worked for the Raiders. I think it’s more likely that the cash-strapped Raiders are holding back because they know how expensive a quarterback who is drafted No. 1 overall will be.
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There is little question that a team has to have the right quarterback to win a championship. Those who think otherwise point to the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer. But the Ravens had a suffocating defense that some NFL observers thought might have been the best in NFL history. Not an easy model to follow.
It’s more typical that a team wins the Super Bowl with an outstanding quarterback. A quarterback has been the Super Bowl MVP in 21 of the 41 games.
Not all of those quarterbacks have been high draft picks. Joe Montana, picked in the third round by the 49ers, and Tom Brady, who lasted until the sixth round before being picked by the New England Patriots, are outstanding examples of that.
But again, your chances are better with a quarterback who has been picked high. Quarterbacks picked in the first round have won 21 Super Bowls: Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, John Elway (2), Steve Young (USFL first-rounder), Troy Aikman (3), Doug Williams, Phil Simms, Jim McMahon, Jim Plunkett (2), Terry Bradshaw (4), Bob Griese (2), Len Dawson and Joe Namath (AFL). In addition, Roger Staubach would certainly have been picked in the first round but dropped because he had five years of Naval service ahead.
The Cowboys picked him lower and got a bargain. Staubach, the best quarterback of his generation, led the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl wins.
Once the Raiders draft a quarterback — JaMarcus Russell seems the likely choice — they have to get him into the starting lineup quickly. Yes, he’ll make mistakes, but what’s the alternative? Andrew Walter? Even allowing for the very difficult situation in which he played last season, Walter showed that he is not what the Raiders need.
Years ago in the NFL, quarterbacks were brought along slowly, mostly watching from the sideline for the first couple of years.
That’s not feasible any longer, especially for a first-round pick. Because they don’t call plays, quarterbacks don’t have to worry as much about reading defenses. And because free agency comes up so quickly, it makes no economic sense for a team to slowly develop a quarterback who was a high draft pick and then see him leave as a free agent when he’s developed.
The Raiders have a number of holes to fix, but they have to start with the quarterback and live with his growing pains. It’s their only hope.