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Young quarterbacks struggle to turn around bad teams, and that’s okay

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The league's most successful young quarterbacks were drafted by teams who were already winners. The Bengals aren’t bringing Joe Burrow into an ideal situation, but that doesn’t mean they can go in another direction.

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Quick! Think about the best young quarterbacks in the league.

I’ll wait...

Okay, do you have a few guys in your mind?

Great! Most of you probably thought about Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Deshaun Watson. That may not have been your top three, but they were likely at least in your top five.

Now do the opposite.

Think about guys who are a few years out, but still on their rookie contracts and seem to be total busts.

Great! Now look at the tweet below.

Notice a trend?

With all of the talk about “Tanking for Tua” and “Bleauxing for Burrow”, we forgot that the rest of the team matters too.

If given this list of quarterbacks and asked to put them in order from best to worst, most fans would list them in a similar order. The obvious exception would be Josh Rosen, who is middle of the pack on this list, but has yet to do anything in the NFL. Your personal opinion on Jared Goff, Baker Mayfield, and Mitch Trubisky would come in to play, but overall it would be pretty close.

First round quarterbacks do better with better teams. That is to say, teams that were already good before they got there.

In 2017, the Bears selected Trubisky with the second pick in the NFL draft after winning three games the previous season. Later in the first round, the Chiefs and Texans traded up to take Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, respectively. Both teams were coming off of playoff appearances and division titles.

The Texans won nine games and an AFC South Championship with Brock Osweiler starting the majority of their games at quarterback. The Chiefs went 12-4 with Alex Smith at quarterback the previous year. Mahomes sat on the bench for most of his rookie season, playing only in Week 17 when the team rested Smith for the playoffs. That year Smith went 9-6 as the starter and led them to another AFC West championship.

In 2018, five quarterbacks went in the first round. The Ravens did not make the playoffs the previous year, but were a respectable 9-7 before drafting Lamar Jackson.

With a little help from Tyler Boyd, the Bills did make the playoffs, ending what was at the time the longest playoff drought in American professional sports. They selected Josh Allen, who to this point is second only to Jackson in the class.

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on Baker Mayfield, who went to the 0-16 Browns; Sam Darnold, who went to the 5-11 Jets, and Josh Rosen who went to the 8-8 Cardinals (a team that won three games with a new coach the following season).

Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were drafted first and second overall in 2016. Both ended up signing contract extensions. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were drafted first and second overall in 2015 and both are potential free agents this season. The difference? The Buccaneers and Titans were both two-win teams the year before drafting Winston and Mariota, while the Rams and Eagles were each 7-9 and traded up.

So what does this mean?

In my mind there are two possible conclusions.

1.) Better teams set quarterbacks up better.

They already have the ability to win without him (talent, coaching, culture, etc.), so the young quarterback can focus on doing his job rather than having the weight of the team on his shoulders.

The team is already good, the young quarterback makes them great.

2.) Better teams are better talent evaluators.

Since they have drafted well in the past, the team is already good. When they decide to draft a quarterback in Round 1, they are more likely than other teams to select the right quarterback because their scouting department is on fleak.

Both are probably true to some extent.

What does it not mean?

It does NOT mean that the Bengals should pass on Joe Burrow with the first-overall pick.

Yes, conclusion #1 supports the idea of building the team first, then getting the quarterback, but the quarterback is such a hard piece to find and often cost a pretty penny to acquire, (trading multiple first-round picks or writing a big fat check) so when one falls in your lap you need to take him.

The Bengals need to select Burrow. It would be great if the team was an established winner who somehow ended up in the position to pick Burrow, but that is not where they are.

The Bills had already made that shift and broke their playoff drought before drafting Allen. Which means that the Bengals are behind the curve. The Chiefs and the Texans paid a hefty price to get their quarterback. The 49ers and Vikings had to pay in a different way for Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins respectively. The Bengals don’t have to worry about that.

They do, however, have a lot of work to do.

They need to use all of their resources to collect talented players to put around Burrow, but most importantly Zac Taylor and his staff need to create a winning culture where players expect to win and do the little things right all of the time. That is where Cleveland went wrong last year.

The Rams had a good team when they selected Goff, but not the right coach. They brought in Sean McVay the following year and changed the culture (and the playbook).

In that way the Bengals are ahead of the curve. Taylor is already here and hard at work on fixing the team’s problems. Burrow will be working with Taylor, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt from day one.

Burrow is a talented quarterback who could do great things in the NFL, but he is not this franchise's savior because that doesn’t exist. They must surround him with the right people and ideas.

Taylor needs to get this thing going right now, to help Burrow achieve his potential.