In football, there is no position more coveted than that of the starting quarterback. The quarterback is the leader, the facilitator, the field general for an offense. He is the engine that makes the team go. It is on his shoulders — literally — to determine the production and success of a football franchise. Since starts were officially tracked as a stat in 1950, there have been 669 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Of those, 104 have been Black. That’s 15 percent.
At the beginning of the 2020 season, 10 of the 32 starting quarterbacks across the NFL were Black, prompting some to call this the “age of the Black quarterback.” I’m thrilled to see that the league is (somewhat) embracing Black quarterbacks, but explain to me how having roughly one-third of a position represented by a Black person justifies that title. Is this good enough? Is one-third representation the standard? Is that enough to say “congrats, NFL. You’ve done it. We’re in the age of the Black quarterback” because ten teams were willing to give the starting nod to a Black man?
Of those 10 quarterbacks that started the year: Dwayne Haskins lost his job for not wearing a mask. Tyrod Taylor was benched (justifiably, as Justin Herbert is a stud). Cam Newton probably won’t be back with the Patriots next season. Dak Prescott is coming off a major injury and has contract questions. Deshaun Watson is boiling over daily and could be traded. Teddy Bridgewater apparently could be replaced, and questions are percolating about whether or not Lamar Jackson’s contract should be extended after the Ravens’ playoff loss to the Bills.
Of the 10 Black quarterbacks to start the 2020 season, only three have true job security. Three.
Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Kyler Murray.
Black quarterbacks are consistently given a raw deal and a short leash in the NFL. Dwayne Haskins was the 15th overall pick 2019 — less than two years ago — and now people are debating whether he deserves a second chance after being cut by the Washington Football Team. Let’s draw a comparison between Haskins and Drew Lock, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, taken 42nd overall in 2019. Here are their rookie numbers:
Drew Lock: 2nd round pick. 5 games started. 1,020 yards, 7 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 64.1% completions
Dwayne Haskins: 1st round pick. 7 games started. 1,225 yards, 7 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 71.07% completions
Going into the 2020 season, Denver saw Lock as promising and decided to “build the nest” around him. They drafted wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler with their first two picks, as well as Lock’s former University of Missouri teammate, tight end Albert Okweugbunam, in the fourth round. They also signed free agent running back Melvin Gordon. All of this to invest in their young QB.
Washington, meanwhile, selected running back Antonio Gibson in the third round (who had a very nice rookie season), and wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden in the fourth round. While Washington had a ton of holes on their roster at skill positions, they hardly addressed those issues in the offseason. Haskins got the start this season and was benched after four games. Then, a week after footage surfaced of Haskins partying maskless with strippers, Haskins was cut by the team. A year and a half after he was taken 15th overall in the NFL Draft (which many people thought was too low for him), Haskins is out of a job.
Fortunately for Haskins, there are two Black head coaches in the NFL, and one of them is willing to give the former college star a second chance. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was reportedly high on Haskins during the draft process, and after a meeting today, Haskins is expected to sign with the Steelers.
Lamar Jackson broke the record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season just last year, with 1,206. He won league MVP. He led the Ravens to the playoffs. He ran for over 1,000 yards again this year, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000+ yards in back-to-back seasons. He has a career record of 30-7, with a 64 percent completion rate, all without a real threat at the wide receiver position. Then the Ravens lose a playoff game (a game he was knocked out of) and suddenly there are questions about whether or not he should get the big extension.
Why have the Dallas Cowboys still not reached an agreement on an extension for Dak Prescott? The longer they wait, the more his price tag goes up. Two years ago, they likely could have had him for $30 million per year. Before the 2020 season, they offered him $35 million, which he declined. He deserved an extension two years ago. The Los Angeles Rams were quick to hand out a large paycheck to Jared Goff when — fun fact — Goff and Prescott have exactly the same record in the NFL at 42-27. Dak has a better completion percentage (66 percent to 63.4 percent), has thrown one less touchdown than Goff (107 to 106) despite missing 11 games this year, has fewer interceptions (55 to 40), and has more rushing touchdowns (24 to 10). One was paid like a franchise quarterback. The other was franchise tagged.
In February of 2018, Jimmy Garoppolo signed what was at the time the largest per-year contract in NFL history after seven career starts. Clearly, his sterling smile and rugged jawline were enough to meet the qualifications of a franchise quarterback after serving as Tom Brady’s backup for three seasons. The 2019 season was Garoppolo’s high water mark, as he threw for 3,978 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. While Jimmy G was posting those numbers on a fat $137.5 million contract, Dak put up 4,902 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He did so having earned a total of $4,903,172 over his first four seasons.
Black quarterbacks in the NFL must be flawless simply to keep a job. If they aren’t truly elite, if they aren’t game-changing pioneers in a game that’s slow to change, if they aren’t winning Super Bowls, or if they aren’t producing the second they step on the field, they immediately face an uphill battle that is designed for them to fail.