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The NFL’s Quarterback Deficiency and Mike Glennon

On Thursday, March 9th, hours before the NFL’s free agency period officially began, the Chicago Bears and quarterback Mike Glennon agreed to terms on a three year, $45 million contract ($19 million guaranteed), giving Glennon a $15 million salary, and rightfully making a lot of people think that they chose the wrong profession. In any case, the deal has sparked some outrage, as many people can’t wrap their minds around how a quarterback who has thrown a whopping 11 passes in the last two seasons could make so much money. Some of you have probably never even heard of Mike Glennon, which is precisely why the deal has gotten a lot of flak.ct-mike-glennon-bears-free-agency-haugh-spt-0308-20170307

There is, however, a good deal of people who think Glennon has the chance to be a decent NFL QB, citing his performance in 2013-2014, a stretch in which Glennon threw for a respectable 29 TD vs 15 INT. That’s a competent ratio. But surface statistics often do not paint the picture accurately, and Mike Glennon falls into this category.

Here’s a look at Glennon’s 2014 season, the last season in which he started a football game (he played 6 games). Specifically, it’s a look at Glennon’s quarter splits:

Quarter Comp-Att Comp. Pct. Yards Yards/att TD-INT Passer rtg.
1 13-39 33.3% 164 4.2 1-3 23.9
2 27-47 57.5% 301 6.4 2-2 73.1
3 34-46 73.9% 417 9.1 2-1 106.9
4 42-70 60% 525 7.5 5-0 107.1
Total 116-202 57.4% 1,407 7.0 10-6


The table shows a pretty big 1st half-2nd half discrepancy, doesn’t it? That difference in performance is troubling. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that Glennon is a clutch, 4th quarter QB who can win it for you when it matters most. Take a look at this table, which shows Glennon’s performance in two different game situations:

Game Situation Comp-Att Comp. Pct. Yards Yards/Att TD-INT Passer rtg.
Leading or tied 20-43 46.5% 211 4.9 2-2 57.4
Trailing 97-160 60.6% 1,206 7.5 8-4 90.3
Total 117-203 57.6% 1,417 7.0 10-6 83.3

Note: The table above differs from the previous table because the previous table omits one overtime pass

Looking at this table, some things should stick out at you: First, that when the game is competitive, i.e. when the Buccaneers (Glennon’s 2014 team) were winning or tied with the opponent, Glennon was incompetent. Second, that those instances are clearly less common than instances in which the Buccaneers were trailing.

What these two tables tell you is this: Glennon is an incompetent quarterback, but only when the game is competitive. In the first half of games, when it is naturally competitive because both teams start with 0 points, he is putrid, but when the game gets out of hand, he takes advantage of more cautious defensive coverages to pad his numbers. The overall numbers do have the appearance of a decent QB, and you would never know how bad Glennon was if you didn’t watch his games, or look at his stat splits.

The game that tells the story perfectly is the Buccaneers’ matchup against the Baltimore Ravens on October 12th, 2014. With 10:50 left in the 3rd quarter, the Ravens led 38-3. The game was clearly over. But Glennon threw two second-half passes and the Buccaneers ended up losing 48-17. See, when games get out of hand, the team that is leading by a heavy margin will often switch to more cautious coverage schemes on defense to simply avoid giving up any big plays that might let the other team back into the game. These coverages allow for easy underneath passes, perfect for padding stats. That’s where Glennon masked his real performance.

Glennon finished that game completing 24 of 44 passes for 314 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT. The average football fan would look at 314 yards and a 2-1 TD-INT ratio and think, “That’s pretty good.” But clearly, as we have just seen, that doesn’t tell the full story.

The point to be made from all this is that Mike Glennon is probably not a good quarterback, and so the Bears spent $45 million on a liability. But who cares? It’s only three years and Glennon may well fade into obscurity afterward. But there are other implications at hand.

Mike Glennon’s contract is symbolic. Not symbolic of front office incompetence, though you could certainly argue that, citing many of the points in this article. No, Mike Glennon’s contract symbolizes something more troubling than that: it symbolizes a glaring deficiency at the quarterback position in the NFL. There is a surplus of teams needing quarterbacks and not enough quarterbacks to fill that need, at least not adequately. With how overpaid the position is, given supply and demand, Glennon’s contract may seem ill-advised, but, even after all of what this article has said, it actually makes sense.

Wrap your mind around this: in 2016, there were 23 quarterbacks who made at least $16 million (and 13 made at least $20 million). For comparison, the second-highest paid position based on average salary, the left tackle, had only 11 players make north of $10 million and the highest paid player made $13.6 million. Most people would consider some of those 23 quarterbacks unworthy of their payday, and for good reasons. However, in today’s league, NFL franchises have shown a willingness to overpay for quarterbacks with the hopes of even average play.

When the Houston Texans broke the bank to the tune of 4 years and $72 million to acquire Brock Osweiler, they certainly weren’t hoping to get a quarterback that would play up to $72 million. They were hoping to get a league average quarterback, which would have elevated Houston to a top AFC contender, given just how good the rest of their team was. However, they got arguably the worst quarterback in the league that started double-digit games (and they still made the playoffs). If they would have gotten average QB play out of Osweiler, that could’ve been worth even $72 million. Osweiler was only tied for the NFL’s 17th highest paid quarterback at $18 million in 2016. In hindsight, the contract was a terrible one, and it’s now nothing more than a sunk cost, so long as Osweiler doesn’t make a huge leap forward in the next 3 years. But, crazy as it seems, it was worth the gamble.

All things considered, this is shaping up to be a wild offseason at the quarterback position; Mike Glennon was merely the first name to move. Jay Cutler has hit free agency and could be looking at some pretty big money. Tony Romo will either get released or traded by the Cowboys. I wouldn’t doubt that both QBs Deshaun Watson and Mitch Trubisky will go in the top 10 in the 2017 NFL draft, or at least one of them, despite neither being as good of pro prospects as many others on the board. Some team might make a play at New England’s backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo, though the team has expressed a desire to keep him. As it stands, 21 quarterbacks will make more money than Mike Glennon in 2017, a number that could easily increase.

So buckle in, and prepare to see some big moves by some desperate teams; and most of all, don’t be surprised. The NFL’s most grossly overpaid position hasn’t lost any of its luster.

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