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Best-Case Rookie QB Scenario (A Fact Based Theory)

San Francisco 49ers Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

What do Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman---the top 4 winningest QBs in Super Bowl history---all have in common?

1. They were selected and developed by the head coaches who drafted them.

2. They became starters earlier than expected.

3. They were given the autonomy, instruction and encouragement to be innovators on offense.

4. They played with Hall of Fame receivers.

5. 3 of the 4 were the first QBs to win a Super Bowl in their franchise’s history. (Cowboys---Roger Staubach in 1971)

6. They were the first QBs in their franchise’s history to win multiple Super Bowls.

Tom Brady---New England Patriots (6 Rings: 2001*, 2003*, 2004, 2014*, 2016*, 2018, * denotes MVP)

* Drafted in 2000 as the #200 pick (6th Round)

* Head Coach: Bill Belichick (48 years old in 2000)

* Became starter in 2001

* First Super Bowl Win: 2001

* Played with HOF WR Randy Moss and likely HOF TE Rob Gronkowski

Joe Montana---San Francisco 49ers (4 Rings: 1981*, 1984*, 1988, 1989)

* Drafted in 1979 as the #82 pick (3rd Round)

* Head Coach: Bill Walsh (48 years old in 1979)

* Became starter in 1980.

* First Super Bowl Win: 1981

* Played with HOF WR Jerry Rice

Terry Bradshaw---Pittsburgh Steelers (4 Rings: 1974, 1975, 1978*, 1979*)

* Drafted in 1970 as the #1 pick (1st Round).

* Head Coach: Chuck Noll (38 years old in 1970)

* Became starter in 1970.

* First Super Bowl Win: 1974

* Played with HOF WRs Lynn Swann and John Stallworth

Troy Aikman---Dallas Cowboys (3 Rings: 1992*, 1993, 1995)

* Drafted in 1989 as the #1 pick (1st Round)

* Head Coach: Jimmy Johnson (46 years old in 1989)

* Became starter in 1989.

* First Super Bowl Win: 1992

* Played with HOF WR Michael Irvin

Key Conditions:

Head Coach & QB Relationship:

Young QBs who are drafted by their head coaches have a greater chance to succeed because they are hand selected and not inherited by another coach who might have different ideas about the type of QB he wants. As rookies they can be trained and groomed in the fashion and style of play that the head coach prefers.


All 4 of these QB won their Super Bowls under their original head coaches, except for Troy Aikman who won his 1st and 2nd with Jimmy Johnson and won his 3rd with Barry Switzer.

Early on, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Troy Aikman had their fair share of struggles. Bradshaw was 8-13 in his first 21 starts, Montana was 2-6 in his first 8 starts, and Aikman was 0-11 as a rookie and 7-19 in his first 26 starts.

Clearly, the teams’ mutual commitment to the head coach and the young QB was of paramount importance.

Pulling their teams out of the doldrums:

* In the three years prior to Terry Bradshaw’s arrival in Pittsburgh, the Steelers were 7-33-2.

* In the three years prior to Joe Montana’s arrival in San Francisco, the 49ers were 15-29.

* in the three years prior to Troy Aikman’s arrival in Dallas, the Cowboys were 17-30.

* The anomaly here is the Patriots who went 27-21 and 1-2 in the playoffs in Pete Carroll’s 3 seasons as head coach.

* But in 2000, Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft fired Pete Carroll coming off an 8-8 season and traded 1st, 4th and 5th round picks to the Jets to acquire Bill Belichick as head coach. Had Robert Kraft stayed with Pete Carroll another year, it’s possible that they would have never drafted Tom Brady.


* Credit the Steelers’ head coach Chuck Noll for allowing Terry Bradshaw to open up the offense. Noll, popularly known as “Ground Chuck,” was a very conservative “ground and pound “ kind of coach, which he loved to do with the likes of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. But, Noll saved some of his most liberal play calling for the biggest games, as he did having Terry Bradshaw throw repeatedly downfield to acrobatic WR Lynn Swann for 161 yards in the Steeler’s 21-17 win over the Cowboys in Super Bowl X.

* Bill Walsh was one of the all-time great offensive innovators in the history of the NFL. Walsh did as much to modernize and popularize diverse, multi-nuanced passing attacks as any coach ever did. Joe Montana was the first QB Walsh drafted as head coach of the 49ers. Clearly, Walsh knew the kind of QB he was looking for to run his West Coast offense.

* Jimmy Johnson was a gutsy and often unpredictable play caller. He loved running a balanced offense that could establish the run and use play action to exploit open areas of the field. Johnson hit the jackpot by drafting QB Troy Aikman and RB Emmitt Smith to form the legendary “Triplets” with WR Michael Irvin.

* Bill Belichick is much more of an offensive genius than he ever gets credit for. One of the main reasons why Belichick has been so effective over the years as a defense coach is that he studies offenses all the time---and he, as much as any NFL head coach, has tried to stay ahead of the current offensive trends---which today is the incorporation of college type spread offenses into the NFL. For years now Belichick has been bringing in college offensive gurus like Chip Kelly and Kliff Kingsbury for x’s and o’s visits to Foxboro.

In fact, in 2015, with the Patriots down 14 points to the Ravens, Belichick called a unique play right out of Mike Leach’s playbook, by lining up with 4 offensive lineman and a RB as the 5th ineligible receiver---which caused John Harbaugh to incur a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty after he tried to stop the play by running on the field. This clever “never before tried” play in an NFL game, changed the entire tenor of the game.


Super Bowl caliber QBs and creative play callers tend to give their surrounding talent an edge in devising ways to distribute the ball to the playmakers.

It is not by coincidence that the top 5 winningest QBs in the history of the Super Bowl all threw to Hall of Fame receivers.

But they key is---in order to give a HOF caliber receiver as many touches as possible---the offense needs to be balanced. In other words, when defenses have the task of trying to stop multiple threats on offense chances are they cannot afford to double team the best WR or TE for most of the game.

In Pittsburgh, Terry Bradshaw was surrounded by playmakers---WR Lynn Swann, WR John Stallworth, RB Franco Harris, TE Randy Grossman and RB/FB Rocky Bleier.

In San Francisco, Joe Montana was surrounded by WR Jerry Rice, RB/FB Roger Craig, WR Dwight Clark, WR Freddie Solomon and RB Wendell Tyler.

In Dallas, Troy Aikman was surrounded by RB Emmitt Smith, WR Michael Irvin, TE Jay Novacek, WR Alvin Harper and FB Daryl Johnston.

In New England, thanks to Tom Brady and the Patriots’ balance scheme, the following players have shined: WRs Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, TEs Rob Gronkwski, Aaron Hernandez, Martellus Bennett, RBs Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, James White, Dion Lewis, Sony Michel and FB James Develin.

Recent QBs (since 2000) who also have won a Super Bowl with the head coach who drafted them:

2005---Ben Roethlisberger (Bill Cowher)

2012---Joe Flacco (John Harbaugh)

2013---Russell Wilson (Pete Carroll)

Recent home drafted QBs (since 2000) who have won a Super Bowl with their 2nd head coach:

2006---Peyton Manning (Tony Dungy)

2007, 2011---Eli Manning (Tom Coughlin)

2008---Ben Roethlisberger (Mike Tomlin)

2010---Aaron Rodgers (Mike McCarthy)

Anomalies (since 2000)---Super Bowl winning QBs who played for multiple teams and head coaches:

2000---Trent Dilfer (Brian Billick)---2nd team and 3rd head coach

2002---Brad Johnson (Jon Gruden)---Johnson’s 3rd NFL team and 4th head coach

2009---Drew Brees (Sean Payton)---Brees’ 2nd team and 3rd head coach

2015---Peyton Manning (Gary Kubiak)---Manning’s 2nd team and 5th head coach

2017---Nick Foles (Doug Pederson)---Foles’ 3rd team and 4th head coach, although Doug Pederson was the Eagles’ QB coach when the Eagles drafted Nick Foles in 2012.

Since 2000:

15---Super Bowls won by QBs who were drafted by the team.

4---Super Bowls won by QBs who were drafted by another team.

How the theory applies to the Arizona Cardinals:

This year is the first time the Cardinals have hired a new head coach and have drafted a QB in the first round with the express purpose of creating a dynamic matching of head coach and starting QB.

It looks like that in year 1, the Cardinals are well on their way to checking the 1st 4 boxes.

1. They were selected and developed by the head coaches who drafted them.

2. They became starters earlier than expected.

3. They were given the autonomy, instruction and encouragement to be innovators on offense.

4. They played with Hall of Fame receivers.

5. 3 of the 4 were the first QBs to win a Super Bowl in their franchise’s history. (Cowboys---Roger Staubach in 1971)

6. They were the first QBs in their franchise’s history to win multiple Super Bowls.

With patience, continuity, the right surrounding talent and a sustained commitment to Kingsbury and Murray, the Cardinals may have a fighting chance to check boxes number 5 and 6.

The Cardinals have for the first time ever a basic blueprint of what has worked for the best Super Bowl QBs in NFL history---now the Cardinals need to keep refining the drafting of it. This year is for laying down the foundation.

At this point, do you think the construction crew is behind, right on or ahead of schedule?

Beer Mug Challenge:

The 4 Finalists are: (the most cogent responses we saw---too close to call thus far)


Red C



Write a response to this article’s question and the poster with the most recs by 12 PM on Thursday wins the beer mug.