Every year, some teams selecting at the top of the draft go through the same thing. They take a talented, yet raw, rookie signalcaller early in the draft. Then they bring in, or in some cases keep, a veteran quarterback to show him the ropes.
The veteran is supposed to play two roles: win today and mentor the young quarterback for tomorrow. Keep us in contention for this season, while teaching a hotshot rookie how to prepare, practice and be a professional.
It has become an annual rite of the NFL spring. Call it the quarterback circle of life.
Now every situation is different. Sometimes the veteran wants no part of helping the young guy (Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers). Sometimes, the veteran is playing well and has the team in the hunt for the playoffs, but the organization wants to get the young guy some seasoning (Kurt Warner and Eli Manning in 2004). Sometimes the veteran just holds the job for a year and then hands it over (Jon Kitna and Carson Palmer in 2003). Sometimes the veteran is benched because things haven't gone well individually or with the team (Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder). Sometimes, teams completely avoid the veteran and throw the rookie right into the fire (Cam Newton and Andy Dalton are the latest to take this route).
This season, the "bridge quarterback" scenario came to fruition twice: McNabb and Ponder, as stated above, and Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker with the Titans.
What makes the situation so interesting is the variety of factors that go into the relationship. There's the locker-room perception of the situation, how the coaches and front office want to balance the present with the future, the quality of play of the veteran who starts initially, and the relationship between the quarterbacks.
Warner, now an analyst with NFL Network, found himself in the situation twice, with the Giants in 2004 when they traded for Manning at the top of the draft and with the Cardinals from 2006-09 after the team drafted Matt Leinart with its 2006 first-round pick. He says the situation will go according to the way the veteran guy dictates.
"The biggest thing for me is unselfishness," Warner said. "I think too often when people get into situations like that, they're worried about the guy behind them coming and taking their jobs, so they worry more about themselves."
And those sentiments help to create the difficult dynamic that sometimes develops between the young guy and the veteran. The veteran is still competing for a starting job and sometimes he can lose sight of trying to help the youngster in pursuit of that job.
"I want to prove that I'm better," Warner said of the competition between veteran and rookie. "But that didn't mean go in there and don't share anything with the young guy, just so I could be better."
To read the rest of this feature on bridge quarterbacks, order a copy of the current issue of Pro Football Weekly. In the latest edition of PFW you will also get a feature on the three "Smiths" who are largely responsible for San Francisco's terrific start — Alex Smith, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. And don't miss the Way We Hear It, fantasy football analysis and much more.