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WHY THROW MEGA-MILLIONS AT QBS WHEN BROCK PURDY IS OUT THERE?
Not that NFL franchises still don’t crave a Mahomes or Allen, but too many extravagant investments are going bad, proving that a QB whisperer like Kyle Shanahan can save a season with the 262nd pick
So there goes Kyler Murray, towel over his head, carted off with a torn ACL that jeopardizes his $230 million deal in Arizona. And there goes Russell Wilson, already verging on all-time bustdom, limping away with a concussion and available to all trade comers after Denver relinquished five draft picks and three players and gave him $245 million. And there goes Aaron Rodgers, to the bench and maybe the trading block once the Packers are eliminated and decide to ponder their future, regardless of his $50 million average wage.
And there goes Deshaun Watson, throwing another incompletion for the Browns, who owe him $46 million ($2.7 million a game) in each of the next four seasons after trading six picks and ignoring 29 women accusing him of sexual assault or harassment. And there goes Tom Brady, a G.O.A.T. who sometimes looks like a real goat, so disgusted after an ugly performance in his native Bay Area that he didn’t shower before the flight back to Tampa. “Some things, I don’t give a f— about, at this point,” he told a familiar face from the San Francisco Chronicle. “F— that. I’m going home.”
And here comes Mr. Irrelevant, the 262nd and final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, stealing the season for his year’s salary of $934,252, which includes a $77,008 signing bonus.
The fairy-tale success of Brock Purdy — all 6 feet and 5/8 of an inch of him — should prompt every owner, general manager, personnel evaluator and fan to reconsider his/her long view of the quarterback position. A self-slap upside the head might help, too. Why invest mega-millions when one trick to the QB conundrum is having an in-house whisperer who can identify and develop talent, regardless of pedigree and hype and place on the depth chart? The 49ers have such a whisperer in Kyle Shanahan, who has twisted himself into knots for six years trying to find the right man. Let’s see: The head coach and his GM, John Lynch, parted ways with Colin Kaepernick in full-blown activism mode, traded for Jimmy Garoppolo, lost a Super Bowl with Garoppolo, drafted Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick last year, named Lance the starter before this season, tried to trade Garoppolo, had to keep him when Lance broke his right ankle, then lost Garoppolo for the season with a broken foot. Most coaches would have given up. Most coaches would have driven to the Golden Gate Bridge and thought about jumping.
Not Shanahan. He just summoned Purdy, told him to put down the tablet and pointed him to the field, where he not only has saved a season but might lead a Super Bowl drive for a team with a monstrous defense and offensive weapons galore, such as midseason steal Christian McCaffrey. Sunday, with Brady making his homecoming amid talk of a potential 49ers future, Purdy ignored the hullabaloo and realized he was five months old when the G.O.A.T. was drafted in 2000. Didn’t they, in that sense, have much in common? Brady was taken 199th, a slight that has fueled his rise to sports immortality. Purdy, out of Iowa State and assumed too short and weak-armed for the big time, spent his months before the draft working with trainers who increased his arm speed by 5 mph. That was enough for Shanahan, who already knew of Purdy’s emotional intelligence and college experience as a pocket passer.
The result has been two victories, extending the 49ers’ win streak to six and putting them in command of the NFC West. Suddenly, the entire think-tank process of finding a quarterback — and showering him with obscene riches — had been toppled. Not that any shlub can be pulled off the street and win games, but if the organization is smart and prepared, the loss of a star QB needn’t shut down a mission. Viewed forever as the most important position in sports, it can serve as a place-setting if the surrounding parts are title-worthy. Such is the lesson of Purdy, who is spawning bad puns — “He’s Purdy, Purdy good,” a sports talker said — and mostly drawing raves after his punking of Brady. He gets rid of the ball quickly, which explains why he went 16 of 21 for 185 yards and two touchdowns and a 35-0 lead over the dismal Buccaneers just after halftime.
“We got a quarterback,” said Nick Bosa, a candidate for league Defensive Player of the Year, smiling devilishly about the prospects ahead.
“He’s an impressive guy,” McCaffrey said. “He’s very poised but plays with energy at the same time.”
This is exactly what the NFL needed — a feel-good interval — in a season dominated by concussions, sluggish football and old-white-men politics, in the form of a league office covering up Daniel Snyder’s toxic workplace in Washington. Who wasn’t moved when Purdy’s father, Shawn, was shown crying in the Levi’s Stadium stands after his son ran two yards for a score? You can have Watson, Wilson and Murray. You can have Brady and Rodgers. Has the league noticed that Geno Smith, heretofore maligned and mocked, has replaced Wilson and positioned the Seahawks for a playoff berth? Why spend $230 million and deplete your draft pool for an accused serial sex offender when Taylor Heinicke, an undrafted free agent in 2015, is winning games for the scandal-clouded Commanders? Who needs Zach Wilson and his drama when the Jets are better off with unheralded Mike White?
It took the Brock Purdy story to activate common sense. Wouldn’t we rather give his father a hug than listen to one more nanosecond of Aaron Rodgers on the Pat McAfee Show?
“Just, you know, the emotions on their faces, the way they looked down from up on the railing,” Purdy said of his father and family members. “It just means a lot, because throughout my whole life, the ups and downs of playing quarterback in high school and college, there are people at home that just believe in you. They always see the best in you. They believed in me, being the last draft pick and they’ve always been telling me you’re good enough. You can do it. So, to see them after that performance, it meant a lot to me, and I feel very blessed to have them.”
For now, Shanahan will treat Purdy as a project, continuing Thursday night in a louder-than-usual Seattle sound chamber. “I was really eager to see it and real happy for him,” the QB whisperer said. “He’s showing all of us a bunch. It’s not just in the games but just how he’s been since he’s been here. He’s been extremely consistent. He hasn’t had too many ups and downs. In the preseason he had to fight just to get more reps every day. … I’m just happy that he was able to go out there and perform at the level a lot of us thought he was capable of. I know the players felt that way, the coaches felt that way. Guys played really good around him, too.”
Of course, no NFL breakthrough is more substantial than when a franchise locates a shape-shifting superstar quarterback. The AFC playoffs will feature Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow — all future Hall of Famers, all atop the current elite. But the NFC is the domain of the Philadelphia Eagles, who drafted their QB, Jalen Hurts, with the 53rd pick in 2020 and hired the right whisperer in Nick Sirianni to elevate him to MVP consideration. Hurts has caused such a commotion that ESPN analyst Robert Griffin III apologized for a racial slur, dropped in a furious defense of Hurts: “People said that Jalen Hurts couldn’t get it done, he could not break from the pocket, he’s not the quarterback of the future. I think he proved all those jigaboos wrong.”
Naysayers be damned, the Eagles won’t reach the Super Bowl without conference challenges. Mr. Irrelevant, as the final pick has been called for decades, might pose one of them. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Brock Purdy played college ball in Ames, Iowa. Kurt Warner, who was stocking shelves in a grocery store before a Hall of Fame career, is celebrated in a movie called “American Underdog.”
He played college ball in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
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Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.