NFL Free Agency: The QB Security Dilemma


This is not a political article. This is not a political science article. But in order to provide a roadmap for this post, let me start with a a political science concept, the security dilemma.

This term was coined in 1951 by John Herz in his book Political Realism and Political Idealism. Herz describes the security dilemma as

a structural notion in which the self-help attempts of states to look after their security needs tend, regardless of intention, to lead to rising insecurity for others as each interprets its own measures as defensive and measures of others as potentially threatening.

In short, the security dilemma characterizes a spiral of insecurity. Keep this in mind as we advance now to NFL free agency.

The first day of NFL free agency saw the Chicago Bears sign Mike Glennon to a contract worth $43.5 million over three years. Mike Glennon, who has started a total of 18 games in his NFL career, not one since 2014. Mike Glennon, who has attempted 11 regular season passes since 2014. Mike Glennon, who when given a chance to start in 2014 was average at best.

On its face, this contract would appear to be a classic case of a team overpaying in free agency out of sheer desperation, bidding against themselves. Never mind that the contract only provides $19 million in guaranteed money, $16.5 million of which is in 2017. Or that the deal provides Glennon is only the 23rd highest-paid quarterback for 2017 and is less than 10 percent of the salary cap.

Bears General Manager Ryan Pace also made it clear that Glennon was signed to be the team’s starting quarterback.

To be fair, amidst the overriding criticism, some have pointed out that given the short-term obligation, the abysmal QB class in the 2017 NFL Draft, and the simple fact that the Bears need a quarterback, the signing really isn’t that bad.

But even if the Glennon signing isn’t bad, it’s symptomatic of a larger problem.

QB play in the NFL is bad. The numbers actually say QB is as good as it has ever been, but just watch the games. Name more than a dozen quarterbacks you would feel confident having as the starter for your favorite team. Mike Glennon certainly does not rank among them.

While there are historically-good QBs currently playing the the NFL (Brady, Brees, Rodgers), the heights achieved by these few are seemingly dragged down by the mediocrity of others. While some point to an overall lack of QB talent, others argue talent is not the culprit but rather a failure to develop talent.

This failure to develop QB talent is rooted in a vicious cycle of expectations.

Returning to political science for a moment, think way back to the beginning of this post. The security dilemma results when the attempts of one state to increase its security leads another state to feel threatened. As a result, this state takes measures to increase its own security. This causes the first state to once again feel threatened, leading to further efforts to increase security. And so on and so on.

Insecurity rooted in an expectation of security.

The NFL is a QB-driven league. It is the most important position on the field. If a team wants to win the Super Bowl, they need an elite quarterback. This point has been argued, and there are exceptions, but what is most important is that NFL teams believe it to be so.

Teams routinely reach for QBs in the draft. They overpay for QBs in free agency. This hurts teams and the quarterbacks.

Teams which draft a quarterback with an early pick feel pressure to play that quarterback right away, whether or not he is actually ready to play. And those teams are usually bad. There is little talent surrounding the inexperienced quarterback, providing little assistance to a player which needs it. Assistance which may have been had if the team hadn’t overdrafted the quarterback.

This has ruined many young quarterbacks.

The team remains bad. They overpay to sign a quarterback in free agency. This comes with expectations. And an inability to spend that money on other players. Even if Mike Glennon is a slightly above-average QB next year, despite playing with inferior talent surrounding him, making $16.5 million creates anticipation for better among fans, perhaps even the team. If Glennon does not meet those expectations, do the Bears cut bait and try again with a different quarterback in 2018? What would this do for team continuity and development?

The Bears need a quarterback. Many NFL teams need a quarterback, and that’s the problem. If the Bears didn’t sign Mike Glennon some other team would have given him a chance to start. If the Browns or 49ers don’t reach for a quarterback in the Draft, someone else will. It’s the nature of the NFL. There is a dearth of quality quarterbacks in the NFL. NFL front offices are chasing after the bad decisions of other teams. A vicious cycle.

Will the Bears still need a quarterback in 2018? Maybe. But Glennon is worth a shot at $19 million. Just hope Ryan Pace holds himself to his own standards.

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