Kevin Kolb Wants to Start, and Teams Needing a Starter Should Consider a First Round Pick

Kevin Kolb Wants to Start, and Teams Needing a Starter Should Consider a First Round Pick

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Kevin Kolb Wants to Start, and Teams Needing a Starter Should Consider a First Round Pick

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With the Eagles season now over, the talk in Philadelphia has turned to the Eagles’ quarterback situation for the future.  The Eagles are likely to re-sign Michael Vick to be the starter, meaning that Kevin Kolb would be left serving as the backup and replacement if Vick gets hurt.  As a quarterback who has one more year left on his contract and will turn 27 before next season, that can’t be an appealing option.  Kolb has already stated that he wants to be a starter next year.

The Eagles may look to trade him, depending on what kind of offers they get, and Dan Pompei of National Football Post thinks they should do it if they get a first round pick.  The Eagles would love to keep Kolb as insurance against missed time by Vick, but the market may be strong enough with several teams looking for a new quarterback, that the demand will get them a price they can’t refuse.

The following teams could be looking to make a move at the top of the depth chart at the quarterback position in the offseason, either through free agency, trade, or the draft: Arizona, Carolina, Cleveland, Miami, Minnesota, Oakland, San Francisco, Tennessee, and Washington.

To assess what Kolb’s value could be, I thought I would take a look at players that could be similar to Kolb by getting their first big chance to start at age 27.  To come up with this list, I found all quarterbacks who threw 224+ passes (league qualifying minimum) for the first time at age 27, and had fewer than 500 career pass attempts before that season.  Seventeen names appear with those criteria since 1970 (asterisk means they moved to different team at age 27):

Year First Last Team
2004 AJ Feeley MIA*
2004 Tim Rattay SF
2000 Rob Johnson BUF
1999 Jon Kitna SEA
1999 Ray Lucas NYJ
1997 Elvis Grbac KC*
1992 Stan Humphries SD*
1991 Erik Kramer DET*
1990 Jim Harbaugh CHI
1989 Mark Rypien WAS
1987 Bobby Hebert NO
1978 Gary Danielson DET
1978 Bill Troup BAL
1976 Lynn Dickey GB*
1976 Brian Sipe CLE
1974 Steve Ramsey DEN
1972 Steve Spurrier SF

That’s an interesting list.  No Hall of Famers appear above.  Four of them were acquired by a new team to start at age 27 (plus Kramer, who was a free agent who only had prior experience during the player strike of 1987).  The others all either took over as injury replacements or became the starter for the franchise that already owned their rights.  Most of them were late round guys or free agents who sat the bench and played as backups for several years, though Harbaugh, Spurrier, and Dickey were taken in the first two rounds of a draft like Kolb.

Take a look at that list and answer this question: what kind of draft pick would you give up if the career expectation over the next five years was some combination of those careers?

My gut is that your answer would be a much lower draft pick than I am going to say, because I think we need to get to the core issue of what a starting quarterback, even an average one, is worth.  The group above may not be a sexy compilation of names, but from ages 27-31, they were reasonably productive.  Brian Sipe won a MVP award, Dickey (when healthy) would have some good years, Danielson was decent for some Lions teams that managed winning seasons, Hebert had some good years, Humphrey and Rypien both made several playoff appearances and played in a Super Bowl, Harbaugh made a championship game appearance and is the best coach ever.

The thing about acquiring a player like Kolb is that you are getting a likely NFL ready player at age 27, entering the prime years of a typical quarterback’s career.  It may not be exciting or sexy, and a player who wasn’t good enough to push into the lineup before then is probably not destined for eternal greatness.  But if you answered that you would give up something like a third round pick, let’s make a quick comparison to quarterbacks drafted in the top 5 picks of a draft.

Before this season, I evaluated the worth of Sam Bradford versus Tom Brady, given their respective ages and Bradford’s draft status.  I can use that same data here.  This chart presents a comparison of the top 5 picks in a NFL draft from 1970-2004 in their first five seasons, versus the five years that we might expect from Kolb from age 27 to 31.  For the Kolb comps, I kicked out those who were clearly injury replacements with no prior experience (Lucas, Troup, Kramer) and looked at guys like Kolb who had thrown at least 100 passes, but had never been the full time starter.  I look at percentage of seasons during that five year stretch as a primary starter, as an above average starter (as measured by adjusted net yards per attempt versus league average), and as an elite starter (more than one standard deviation better than league average).

Category Top 5 Pick Kolb Comps
Starting Seasons 0.735 0.686
Starting Seasons Above Average 0.284 0.371
Starting Seasons Elite 0.103 0.071

You could look long and hard at those numbers and argue which is better.  The Top 5 picks started slightly more, but had a lot more bad seasons.  The “Kolb comps” actually lead in percentage of seasons as above average starters, while the top picks did have more elite seasons.

I would take the top 5 picks on balance, because the age difference at the end, the marginal value of elite seasons, and the upside possibilities.  But it’s not a runaway.  When you throw in the salary differences, it’s certainly not a no-brainer that you use a first round pick on someone like Mallett or Gabbert rather than trading that same pick for Kolb.  I wouldn’t give up a top 5 pick for him, but I think a pick in the 10-20 range (where the success numbers are even lower than the above for top 5 picks), for a team that thinks it has good supporting pieces and is ready to win with solid quarterback play, is reasonable.

Several teams could be in play.  San Francisco (at #7 and with a new coach in Jim Harbaugh) could look to trade that pick as part of a package where they get something back in return along with Kolb.  Minnesota is sitting at #12 and clearly on the market for a quarterback–the rest of the offense is built for now with Peterson and Harvin, Rice and Shiancoe, and Kolb may be a more attractive option than taking a risk on a rookie with that pick.  Miami is down at #15, and is probably ready to move on from the Chad Henne era, but has to decide if they want to trade the first for a quarterback.

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