Football Team

Trading for veteran QBs is rarely a Super Bowl-winning formula

Football Team

This NFL offseason is shaping up to be a quarterback carousel, possibly to an unprecedented degree. The Super Bowl hasn't even been played, yet already there was a blockbuster deal that sent Matthew Stafford to the Rams and Jared Goff to the Lions. Detroit also got two first round picks and another in the third round.

Even the Washington Football Team was reportedly interested in Stafford, another sign they are looking to swing big for a new signal-caller. There has generally been so much talk about trading for a veteran quarterback around here that the fanbase may be disappointed if they don’t. 

But there is an uncomfortable fact through all of these rumors which should be noted and that is history shows trading for a veteran quarterback is rarely a successful formula for winning the Super Bowl. In fact, it hasn't happened since the 1990s with Brett Favre and the Packers, who won the Super Bowl in 1997.

Before that, the Niners won in 1995 after trading for Steve Young. Before that, you would have to go all the way back to 1983 when Washington won with Joe Theismann. Those are the only three examples in the 54-year history of the Super Bowl where a team traded for a veteran quarterback and then won it all.


The last 24 Super Bowl-winning teams have followed one of two formulas to acquire their quarterback: either they got them on draft night (either by picking them or trading for the pick) or in free agency. That includes this year, as the same will apply to either Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady.

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But really, it is much more specific than that. Of the last 17 Super Bowls, 14 of the quarterbacks who won were developed by their team out of the draft. The only three exceptions were Nick Foles (Eagles), Peyton Manning (Broncos) and Drew Brees (Saints). Foles was a flash in the pan and Manning and Brees are all-time greats that happened to be available in free agency, albeit at different stages of their careers.

Plenty of teams have tried trading for veteran quarterbacks, like the Bears with Jay Cutler or Washington with Alex Smith (and Donovan McNabb). It just hasn't worked well enough to lead to a title.

Here are some theories why teams that trade for veteran quarterbacks essentially never win Super Bowls. For one, good quarterbacks are rarely on the market, as teams almost never let them go. Secondly, they generally carry big contracts and affect how many other players can fit under the salary cap.

And, perhaps most noteworthy in the case of Stafford and also Deshaun Watson, if he too gets traded, is it takes a ton of draft capital to acquire them. If it took two first round picks, a third round pick and a starting-caliber quarterback (albeit an expensive one) to get Stafford, what will the Texans ask for in a deal for Watson?

Consider all the needs the Washington Football Team still has. In addition to quarterback, they could use upgrades at left tackle, middle linebacker, safety, wide receiver and tight end. Those are important positions.

Watson's salary would also preclude them from adding that help through free agency. Though he makes a modest $15.9 million in 2021, that number will skyrocket to $40.4 million in 2022, per Spotrac. That's more than Jonathan Allen ($10.5M), Chase Young ($7.9M), Matt Ioannidis ($6.9M), Da'Ron Payne ($4.6M), Montez Sweat ($3.2M), Jon Bostic ($3M) and Tim Settle ($1M) will make next year... combined. In other words, all the best players in their front seven.

So, say you trade a bunch of picks for Watson and his salary forces you to let a few players go that you would otherwise like to re-sign. You still have an elite quarterback, right? And that is fairly objectively the most important asset to have in football.

But without the proper supporting cast, there is no guarantee even a quarterback like Watson could ensure success. You could end up being a team kind of like the 2020 Houston Texans, who despite having Watson throw 33 touchdowns and only seven picks, went 4-12.


Add it all up, and the most reasonable path for Washington to find their quarterback is by drafting and developing them. Keep the picks and build a structure that is conducive to quarterback success. Then, if you find and develop the right one, you get them on a rookie contract while still being able to add high-end talent around them through the draft.

It may be easier said than done, but it's the best way to win a Super Bowl. Just look at how other teams have done it.