SEATTLE – Monday night, the Vikings will try to control Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who is one of two quarterbacks in NFL history with a passer rating of 100 or more, and who won more games in his first seven seasons than any quarterback in history.
Sunday afternoon, Lamar Jackson beat the 49ers while becoming the first quarterback ever to rush for 100 yards four times in one season. The Ravens quarterback appears to be the Most Valuable Player in the NFL this year, and since Oct. 20 he has beaten the Seahawks, Patriots, Rams and 49ers.
Entering Week 14, the top five starting quarterbacks in ESPN’s QBR, which attempts to assess the overall value of a quarterback, were Jackson, reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Wilson and DeShaun Watson. The top free-agent quarterback this spring likely will be Teddy Bridgewater.
What do those six have in common? All are black.
Time for a history lesson. Did you know that there was a point in NFL history when executives shied away from drafting, signing or developing black quarterbacks?
That point was 2018.
Jackson was a spectacular player at Louisville. The Ravens made him the 32nd pick in the 2018 draft, meaning anyone else could have had him. Esteemed former General Manager Bill Polian thought Jackson should play receiver, and it appears that a number of teams agreed.
Fun fact about Jackson, Wilson, Mahomes, Prescott, Watson and Bridgewater: None was selected in the top nine picks of his draft. Wilson lasted until the third round, Prescott until the fourth.
This is a league in which teams constantly “over-draft” quarterbacks, meaning they let their desperation to fill the position lead to overly optimistic draft ratings. That’s what happened with the Vikings and Christian Ponder, an average-at-best prospect they took with the 12th pick in the 2011 draft.
When he was the Vikings’ defensive coordinator in the 1990s and trying to become a head coach, Tony Dungy used to say that he didn’t think NFL owners were racist; they were merely used to seeing a certain kind of face on the sideline.
One charitable explanation of the NFL’s frequent undervaluing of black quarterbacks is that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady dominated the position for years while rarely running or scrambling. NFL teams have drafted a hundred Ponders and Bortleses while searching for the next great quarterbacking statue.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh uttered the smartest sentence of the season when he said that because he isn’t an offensive guru, he had no system to protect, and no prototype to seek. So instead of seeing Jackson as someone who might not get to the fifth read in a West Coast offense, he looked at Jackson as a great athlete with passing skills. He and Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman devised an option-oriented offense that has allowed Jackson to flourish as a passer and runner.
The Ravens have won eight straight and may have the best team in the NFL.
It would be unconscionable to survey the excellence of black quarterbacks in the NFL without offering a reminder that Colin Kaepernick, who came within one pass of winning a Super Bowl in a Greg Roman offense, has been blackballed by the NFL.
Kaepernick’s body type and athletic profile most closely resemble Jackson’s, among current NFL quarterbacks. Kaepernick beat out Alex Smith — chosen first in the draft by one team and signed to a mega contract by another — in a head-to-head competition.
What seems to have been forgotten about Kaepernick’s banishment is that he was not the only player to protest police violence against black people, yet he is the only one who has been blackballed.
Eric Reid, Kenny Stills, Michael Bennett, Mike Evans, Devin McCourty are among the dozens of other players who protested during the national anthem.
In accepting the advice of a Green Beret to protest respectfully while kneeling during the anthem, Kaepernick became uniquely toxic to owners.
If only he were willing to play wide receiver …
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org