Franchise quarterbacks are the NFL’s most valuable commodity. Teams that have one routinely compete for the playoffs and a Super Bowl. Teams that don’t have one endlessly search for their guy. It’s the most important position in all of sports, which is why Detroit Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell’s comments about the position last week were so curious.
If you missed it, Campbell told the Detroit Free Press that having an elite quarterback isn’t a prerequisite for success in the league.
“No, I don’t think you need that,” Campbell said Thursday. “I think that those guys like that are obviously, they’re special. And they certainly can give you a better chance. But no, I don’t believe you have to have one of those guys to have sustained success.”
Sustained success has become something of a mantra in the NFC North. Chicago Bears General Manager Ryan Poles is fixated on the term as he rebuilds the Bears’ roster and Campbell suggests that a franchise quarterback isn’t needed to achieve it. It’s a strange philosophy to share, considering even the most novice football fan knows that the team with an elite quarterback is usually better than the team without one.
Perhaps, this is Campbell’s way of sending a message to his Lions team that they can still win games with quarterback Jared Goff in the starting lineup. Maybe he knows Detroit isn’t going to draft Malik Willis at No. 2 overall and that Goff will have at least one more year with the first team. And with ‘elite’ being the last word any football analyst would use to describe Goff’s game, it’s within reason to think Campbell has no choice but to say it isn’t needed to be successful.
It’s a tough sell. A really tough sell. The Lions suffered through a three-win season in the first year of the Goff-era (if that’s even a thing). This, despite Detroit playing a better brand of football under Campbell. They lost six games by one score, and an argument can realistically be made that if the Lions had an elite quarterback, they might have been a .500 team. Sure, that isn’t an earth-shattering or overly exciting season, but it would’ve been incredibly impressive in the first year of a rebuild under Campbell. Now, entering his second season, Willis is a popular mock draft target for Detroit. Why? Because the Lions won’t advance to the next tier of NFL teams if they don’t have – you guessed it – a franchise quarterback.
I give Campbell a lot of credit. He’s a player’s coach and has had some fun soundbites in his brief tenure with the Lions. Detroit bit kneecaps in 2021 and are a sleeper pick to potentially double their win total (or more) in 2022. But if they stay the course with Goff (or someone like him) at quarterback, they’ll remain the same old Lions: a team that might enjoy a better-than-expected regular season that no one will take seriously as the playoffs inch closer.