Your typical starting NFL quarterback never has a real offseason. Once his season ends, he immidiately begins preparing for next season. He is watching film, evaluating himself, studying defenses, having workouts with his recievers during minicamps, OTAs, and more than likely clandestine ones outside of these authorized voluntary sessions to maintain chemistry and synchronization with them (because they can never get enough reps together).
Once training camp starts, the madness ensues where endless hours are spent executing plays over and over to perfect the timing of their receivers' routes in conjunction with their throws. Just as much as the QB needs to to be familiar with his recievers, the receivers need to be familiar with their QB. They need to be on the same page when reading defenses to determine what slight adjustments in the routes they should make, be able to interpret tacit signals by the QB indicating alterations to the play, anticipate how quickly the ball will be coming after he makes a cut, and have developed the precise muscle memory in actually catching his QB's incoming pass (velocity, angle, rotational speed).
During the preseason, the starting QB will often play the majority of the first half for the first three games, averaging about 20 snaps per game with his starting offense, then play maybe half a quarter during the fourth just to stay in rhythm. Throughout the season, they are obviously playing every snap, along with getting an extensive amount of reps, primarily with the starting corps of receivers during practice. After every game, the QB will sit down with his coaches and watch its film to further evaluate himself and correct his flaws.
Some of these guys, after spending 2-3 years in this routine will eventually develop into "successful" QB's. Many will not. Of those who are supposedly successful, many of them will "regress" when their offensive line deteriorates or they lose some of their key recievers. Of those who aren't successful, some will "improve" drastically with another team farther down the road.
Contrast all of that with your typical backup quarterback. He ends the season with no real experience or film to reflect on or evaluate. He is not spending much time, if any, with the receivers prior to training camp. During training camp, he is usually battling other backup QB's while sharing reps predominantly with backup receivers. If lucky, he will get a full quarter of action during each preseason game - with of course the second and third string offensive players (many of whom will be cut). Throughout the regular season, he might get a limited number of reps during practice each week with the starting unit to keep him somewhat "in tune".
Suddenly during the regular season, the starting QB goes down and it's his time to shine. He is thrust into the middle of a game and expected to perform. Not only does he have an imposing defense to run the offense against, he has the added pressure of knowing this is possibly his one shot to prove himself while the third stringer gears up on the sideline waiting for him to fail and get pulled.
Very rarely, this backup QB will achieve instant success and be dubbed the starting QB over his predecessor. More than likely though, he will either perfom with "mediocrity" or "failure", not convince the coach he is worthy of unseating the starter, return to his backup role, and eventually get replaced by a younger prospect. If he is lucky, he'll get a shot with another team as a journeyman backup, but probably end up out of the league within 4-5 years.
Now, when I talk about the "starting QB", I am mostly referring to high round draft picks (top two rounds). This is because most teams want to provide the best possible candidate they can to the most important position. And not only that, but the owners want a high profile player performing at the most visible and attractive position to the fans. Thus, they are force-fed into that position with all the aforementioned privileges. Whereas your low rounder QB's are drafted to become the backups and set up for anything but success. But there are exceptions to this trend....
Take Mike Holmgren for example. In 17 seasons as a head coach in Green Bay and Seattle, he never drafted a QB in the first or second round. And since becoming the president of the Browns, has continued that streak.
"We were [always] drafting later," Holmgren said. "Usually if it's a franchise quarterback, you're going to have to make that decision in the first 10 picks, probably, to get the guy you really covet. Once you're not drafting up in there, unless you're willing to trade to get up in there, you have to kind of look at it differently. What we did was say, 'OK, we're going to draft later. Let's do our homework and if we see a guy we like and we think we can develop, take him.' And it worked pretty well."
Three of the six quarterbacks Wolf and Holmgren drafted went on to be long-time starters with other teams -- Ty Detmer (ninth round), Mark Brunell (fifth) and Matt Hasselback (sixth).
When Holmgren left Green Bay to be Seattle's coach and general manager, he later traded for Hasselbeck.
Coupling Mike Holmgren's middle-late round QB success (now working with a third rounder at QB) with Bill Belichick who has spent the last ten years dominating with a sixth rounder (Tom Brady) and a seventh rounder (Matt Cassel) may lead one to believe they are onto something....
At this point, I am tempted to validate my argument by providing examples and a bunch of stats & charts to prove there are low round QB's who eventually succeed. Instead (because I'm lazy, don't feel like disputing the legitimacy or context of them, nor debating the arbitary terms "exception" vs "example"), I'm going to point out one fact about our low-round poster boy, Tom Brady, that most people don't know. He actually started off as the 4th string QB on NE's roster. Imagine if Billichick had decided to only keep three QB's... Would Brady have even been picked up by anyone else? And had he gone to another team and had the rare opportunity to get onto the field, how would he have performed if his offensive line was horrible and let him get destroyed as he struggled to put up subpar stats?
Up until now though, I have only discussed quarterbacks who made it to the NFL. Imagine all the QB's who never got a shot to begin with. Unfortunately I can't talk about them because they, well... never had the opportunity to become a house-hold name. But I can talk about someone who did tread along this category: Kurt Warner.
Now, I'm not going to insult your intelligence by reiterating the Kurt Warner story we all know. But, I will point out a tidbit about him that you may not know...
Following his college career, Warner went undrafted in the 1994 NFL Draft. He was invited to try out for the Green Bay Packer's training camp in 1994, but was released before the regular season began; Warner was competing for a spot against Brett Favre, Mark Brunell and former Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer. While Kurt was with the Green Bay Packers, the head coach was Mike Holmgren and the quarterbacks coach was Steve Mariucci the San Francisco 49ers head coach in 1999. After Warner was released, Mariucci had told him that he knew Warner had enormous potential but was not ready to be an NFL quarterback yet.
Imagine that. Kurt Warner competing against three other QB's Mike Holmgren had either picked up as a considered failure or drafted in the 5th & 9th rounds - all of whom would go on to achieve exceptional success in the NFL.
I tell you all that to tell you this. Let's not waste a high round draft pick on one of the many, less than stellar, QB's entering this year's draft. The worst thing we can do is invest a ton of money into a bust of a high-profile QB at the expense of other positions. I'd prefer to see us pick one or two mid-late rounder(s) and possibly a young FA, let them compete with Lefevour (send Jordan home with his brother), and rely on Gruden to develop them and pick out our future starter. If Holmgren went 4 for 4 with a discarded QB and three low round/undrafted ones, maybe Gruden can go 1 for 4. And I hope this provides a good basis of support for my arguments, as stated and debated in my last post, "Build for 2012 (and beyond)".