Michael Vick or Matthew Stafford? Pick One.October 11, 2012

by: Aaron Stern

In the wake of Robert Griffin III’s Redskins-Nation-deflating concussion last weekend, Deadspin’s Drew Magary penned a brilliant deconstruction for Slate of the unwaveringly disappointing career arc of every modern mobile quarterback who was supposedly going to redefine the position. Of course the jury is still out on whether or not RG3 can succeed where others before him have failed, but the evidence suggests that eventually, like all those before him, he too will have to alter his playing style to prolong his career – the RG3 we dream of is quite possibly an impossible reality.

This creates a quandary: Is it better for teams to reach for the ecstatic dream of a mind-bending dual threat quarterback who can throw for 4,000 and run for 1,000 yards every season, or should they instead throw their chips behind the tried-and-true pure pocket passing quarterback. In short, when you’re building a team, do you want Mike Vick, who, until RG3 or Cam Newton build more extensive legacies will continue to be closest thing to that dream we’ve ever come? Or do you want Matt Stafford, a massive statue of a man with a grenade launcher of an arm who definitely isn’t as exciting to watch as Vick, but – provided he stays healthy – will flirt with 5,000 passing yards every year?

There isn’t a ton of empirical or statistical evidence with which to make this decision: Over the last three years (and, to be clear, we’re considering Vick as an Eagle – he wasn’t nearly the dynamic player he is capable of being now when he was in Atlanta) each has about the same record as a starter and each has comparable passer ratings. You could also compare their teams’ won-loss records with them under center against those same records when they are hurt, but those too are about the same.

So, then, another way to look at it is to assess how – as in, the actual ways – that their respective teams play when they are not in the lineup. Generally speaking, the Lions still perform pretty well without Stafford in the lineup. Yes, they have the best wide receiver of this generation, but being built around a pocket quarterback as they are, they are less reliant on the unique skill set of their quarterback and are generally better equipped to succeed when Stafford goes down because they don’t have to change what they do when someone new steps under center (side note: Shaun Hill is sneakily one of the most underrated backups in the league).

The Eagles, on the other hand, aren’t quite as secure when Vick is injured – and he often is. Because they are built to win with him at the helm, they are far more beatable without him: Their smaller receivers who specialize at freelancing when the quarterback leaves the pocket are forced to rely on crisp routes and are more easily knocked off of them; the running game becomes more predictable and in general the offense is forced to assume a different identity.

But such differences in play can also be chalked up to coaching choices and one could just as easily say that the Eagles’ struggles with Vick out of the lineup – and the change in style – are Andy Reid’s fault, not Vick’s.

What makes this even harder to gauge is that both Vick and Stafford have suffered more than their fare share of injuries, but herein lies what may well be the deciding factor – the frequency of injuries. Stafford missed more than half of his team’s games in 2009 and 2010 with a recurring shoulder injury, while Vick missed seven of 31 potential starts in 2010 and 2011. Both of those records are far from ideal for a franchise quarterback, but Stafford’s early injuries suggest a specific ailment that was surgically corrected and one that he should be able to avoid in the future now that he’s learned to get rid of the ball sooner. Vick, on the other hand, has missed games for all sorts of reasons and is routinely battered and bruised; seeing him routinely get trampled and somersaulted is tough to watch even if you despise the Eagles – the human body can only take so much.

And that’s precisely the point: The mobile quarterback arguably offers more upside and is undoubtedly more exciting to watch, so the heart says a team should build around the Vicks and RG IIIs and Cam Newtons of football. But the punishment they take on designed runs, scrambles and on passes that they waited too long to throw because of their overconfidence in their escape artistry means that teams are likely to have them under center for fewer games and, probably, for fewer seasons too.
So, while the heart says Vick, the head says otherwise: Pick that golden-armed QB who can’t run to save his life. Pick Stafford.

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