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Original Issue



IT MAY SEEM weird now, but when Aaron Rodgers—a Cal QB some had touted to be the first pick in 2015—ended up sitting his first three years behind Brett Favre (below), it wasn't that odd at all. It was how a QB was supposed to be developed: Draft him early, let him learn from the bench. Of the 22 QBs taken in the first round between '00 and '07, only two started in Week 1 of their first seasons. But things have changed. In the next 10 years, 14 of 27 first-round QBs started immediately. So why the uptick? The stock answer—increasing media and fan pressure—tells only half the story.

In 2004, following an AFC championship game in which Patriots defenders mugged Colts receivers, the NFL tightened restrictions on defender contact downfield and it became easier for teams to throw. College aerial schemes melded into pro offenses, making it easier for QBs to adjust to the NFL. And in '11 a new CBA reduced the amount of time players could practice. Teams were unwilling to cut their first unit's reps; if they wanted to develop a rookie QB, it made sense to throw him in with the starters.

That 2011 CBA also implemented a rookie wage scale, slashing the cost of a first-round QB by more than 50%, and those cheaper contracts have become critical in salary-cap management. Today, the Rams, Eagles and Bears have built around young QBs with price-controlled contracts, splurging instead on veteran stars.

Barring major changes to the CBA, which expires in 2021, there's no reason to think teams will stop putting rookie QBs on the field. For every Patrick Mahomes, there figure to be more Sam Darnolds and Josh Allens.