From Savior to Backup Plan

Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn each got two teams to buy into them as a QB of the future. Neither found success on the field, but that didn't stop each from cashing in off it

By
Andrew Brandt
· More from Andrew·
Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn both brought promise to franchises, only to realize disappointment.
Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn both brought promise to franchises, only to realize disappointment. (Tom Gannam/AP :: Steven Bisig/US Presswire)

As the season kicked off last weekend, two quarterbacks who were each once designated as the future of two different NFL franchises did not play. Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn present curious cases of well-paid and well-liked players each twice handed the keys to a franchise, yet were unable to keep their grip on the position. Let’s examine.

Kolb Korner

Although secure at quarterback at the time with Donovan McNabb, the Eagles used the 36th pick in the 2007 draft on Kolb, who waited patiently to play during a three-year apprenticeship. When I worked with the Eagles as a consultant in 2009, Kolb asked a few times about Aaron Rodgers at the Packers, seeing that as a similar situation. I told him that Aaron had frustrations and desperately wanted to play for three years but used every rep, practice, workout session and meeting to establish a quiet presence for future leadership. I knew that, like Aaron, team management felt very strongly about Kevin and that his time would come. And, like Aaron, it came when the team moved on from their signature player of over a decade.

2010

McNabb was traded; Kolb was anointed the starter and given a one-year contract extension—he was entering the final year of his rookie deal – with a $10.7 million signing bonus.

Kolb suffered a concussion in the Eagles’ opening game against the Packers. Michael Vick replaced him and, with play reminiscent of his scintillating days in Atlanta, became the team’s present and future starter. Following the season, the Eagles placed the franchise tag on Vick and put Kolb, their quarterback of the future six months earlier, up for sale.

2011

The Cardinals, desperately seeking a quarterback since Kurt Warner’s retirement, surrendered a second-round pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kolb. And, for the second consecutive year, before taking a snap as the team’s starting quarterback, Kolb was given a lucrative contract extension: a five-year, $63 million deal with a signing bonus of $10 million. Kolb played in nine games for the 8-8 Cardinals, as a foot injury and separate concussion allowed John Skelton to get on the field.

2012

When the Colts released Peyton Manning (it is still strange to write that) the Cardinals courted him aggressively. When it became clear Manning would choose Denver, the Cardinals had little choice other than to pay Kolb a $7 million option bonus required to retain him. Kolb played in six games for the 5-11 Cardinals, actually starting the season as the backup to Skelton, who won a preseason competition. A Week 1 injury to Skelton thrust Kolb back into the lineup, but Kolb’s own season was ended with a rib injury.

2013

Set to receive another $2 million bonus payment this past March, the Cardinals ended their two-year relationship with Kolb and acquired Carson Palmer from the Raiders. Kolb signed with the Bills for two years, with a $1 million signing bonus and $1.65 million salary this season.

Kolb suffered what was described as a “severe” concussion in the preseason. Kolb’s concussion, one of several in his career, ended his season with the Bills, who placed him on injured reserve on August 30th. One now wonders if this could be the end of Kolb’s career.

If so, as the NFL settles concussion litigation with thousands of former players, the first and last games of Kolb’s career as an NFL starting quarterback would have ended with a concussion. Let us hope Kolb’s situation reminds us that this issue should not wane from the spotlight with litigation resolved.

Kolb made approximately $14.4 million from the Eagles, $30 million from the Cardinals and will make $2.65 million from the Bills for total earnings of over $47 million. In a league where teams usually dictate earnings to players, Kolb is the rare player without Pro Bowl credentials who tilted the leverage his way, taking full advantage of typically bleak landscapes of available quarterbacks. While his success on the field was mixed, he is a clear winner off it.

The Mighty Flynn

Week 1 Thoughts

1. I think any team in the league could have had Anquan Boldin, who had an epic performance against the Packers Sunday in a game of league heavyweights. All teams were aware of his staredown with the Ravens over a pay cut. Unless the Harbaugh brothers excluded other teams from getting in the game—which would have been bad business for the Ravens—Boldin was there for the taking for any team willing to offer more than a low sixth-round pick.


2. I think watching Jordy Nelson consistently beat Nnamdi Asomugha was interesting. Asomugha is making more money from the Eagles this year (a $4 million leftover guarantee) than Nelson is making from the Packers ($2.7 million).


3. I think, as I have said often, Chip Kelly was the biggest acquisition in the NFL this offseason. He is a change agent in a profession that often does things because, well, "that’s how they’ve always been done." Of course, it’s only one game, but his success to me is hardly surprising. More than anything else, Kelly is exceedingly smart, and intellectual horsepower is a powerful force.


4.  I think the petulance shown by Mike Wallace over only catching one ball is all too predictable. High-priced free agent wide receivers thrown into new offensive systems are risky propositions that can enable players with any propensity to whine. It will be interesting to track the progress of players such as Wallace and Greg Jennings, especially compared to homegrown products such as Brian Hartline and Nelson.


5.  I think it is interesting for Jerry Jones to accuse the Giants of faking injuries. There has been seething under the surface by Jones and Redskins owner Dan Snyder toward Giants owner John Mara, whom they feel led the charge toward severe cap penalties imposed on the Redskins and Cowboys last year for issues in the uncapped year. Jones and Snyder grudgingly accepted the penalties, but they will not easily let go of this issue with the Commissioner and with Mara.

Matt Flynn had a New Year’s to remember in 2012. With playoff position secured, the Packers rested Aaron Rodgers—among several starters—in a final regular season game against the Lions and Flynn, with an expiring contract, took full advantage: 480 yards passing and six touchdowns, both eclipsing longstanding team records.

Although the Packers briefly considered placing the franchise tag on Flynn—which would have seen Flynn making $14 million to Rodgers’ $8 million—they wisely decided against that, and Flynn entered the market.

2012

Flynn had friends in high places: both John Schneider, general manager of the Seahawks, and Joe Philbin, the new head coach of the Dolphins, liked Flynn from their time in Green Bay. And, after both tried and failed to woo Manning, Flynn became the consolation prize. He chose the Seahawks, signing a deal worth up to $26 million with $10 million guaranteed, and prepared to lead the team into the future.

Or not. Russell Wilson beat out Flynn and has become the signature player of a reborn franchise. Flynn, the splashy free agent acquisition months before, assumed the backup role he had with the Packers, although this time for $8 million.

2013

With the Seahawks’ future secure in Wilson, Schneider dealt Flynn to former Packer colleague and Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie. McKenzie promptly renegotiated Flynn’s deal to increase this year’s salary from $5.25 million to a guaranteed $6.5 million (while reducing next year’s number by a similar amount) to more accurately reflect a starting quarterback’s compensation this year.

Or not. After being an $8 million backup last year, Flynn is now a $6.5 million backup, benched in favor of another recent third-round pick, Terrelle Pryor.

Like Kolb, for two consecutive seasons, Flynn was handed the keys to two different NFL teams.  And like Kolb, the teams took those keys back.  Flynn will make $14.5 million in two years: that 2012 New Year’s Day game against the Lions proved quite lucrative.

***

Kolb and Flynn—solid people and consummate teammates with good work ethic—both did not live up to heralded arrivals with two different franchises. They are winners, however, in the business of football, something few NFL players are able to achieve in a financial landscape that typically favors franchises.

The recent chapters written on Kolb and Flynn serve as cautionary tales for NFL teams giving up valuable currency—trade consideration and contract compensation—for quarterbacks showing even modest signs of ascension. With unfavorable results from trades or contract upgrades for players with limited sample sizes such Kolb, Flynn or the BIlls’ Ryan Fitzpatrick—given a hefty contract extension after a few successful games in 2011—there will now be increased hesitation by teams on players such as these.

The other factor that will steer general managers in a different direction is the recent CBA’s reduced financial commitment to rookies, allowing teams to draft and develop quarterbacks without hamstringing the team’s future if the player does not produce. An increasing number of teams are—rightly, in my opinion—resisting the urge to acquire second- or third-tier veteran quarterbacks. Rather, they are trusting their scouts and are willing to grow with young and unproven players, even at quarterback.

The days of grasping for players like Kolb and Flynn may be over.

48 comments
RayHuggyBearYoung
RayHuggyBearYoung

And those days are not over.  The Cardinals had NO ONE at QB.  The fans demanded the team do something, anything.  They did.  And it did not work.  But what were they to do? They could not sit back and do nothing, per the usual.

RayHuggyBearYoung
RayHuggyBearYoung

Kolb at least played.  Has anyone ever gone to two different teams as the savior and not even get to start the first game of the season even though they were healthy like Flynn?

raput76
raput76

Both European-American QBs who lost out to black guys

JimRingelstetter
JimRingelstetter

Every Wi Badger fan knew, if Russell Wilson was given a shot, he would win the competition to be a franchises  starting QB. Here in Madison, all the "he is too small" talk was laughable. The Badgers O line is bigger than most NFL's  teams. Magically he was able to find passing lanes behind those big guys. 

When Philbin passed on Flynn, it was puzzling at best.

YZLee
YZLee

Id say Flynn comes out the winner.  Getting paid that much money to hold a clip board and he doesn't have to worry about getting hit.  When his backup career is over he can do something else with the best of health.

Ciscos
Ciscos

What Kolb and Flynn actually prove is that you don't go "goo-goo, gaa-gaa" over a backup that played or may have played a few games without doing your homework.  What I mean by homework before this post gets frags grenades thrown at it is reviewing a players film with an objective eye, not lust.  NFL coaches are no different from anyone else.  They see what they want to see, even after being told they were probably making a mistake.  Enter Kolb and Flynn.

Kolb ~ When Kolb was with the Eagles, Ken Whisenhunt went the "Lady Gaga" for Kevin.  He moved heaven and earth to get him and when he did - Kolb in an effort to prove his critics wrong, that he was a tough and could stand in the weakened Cardinals pocket, took hit after hit to his tender frame.  Basically he took too many hits and developed Jim Everett syndrome.  To Kolbs credit, when he was good, he was good, but more often than not, when he was bad, he was atrocious. 


Flynn ~ The perennial hot girl in the club, Pete Carroll jumped all over him at first blush.  I don't necessarily blame Coach ComPete because he needed a solution to his QB problem  Charlie Whitehurst was a wash and since that was the biggest most glaring hole he had, he jumped on the hot one everyone was raving about.  Seriously, how could he have known that drafting Russell Wilson would have paid off the way it did.  No one did.  But to Pete's credit, when he realized there was a HUGE difference between the two, Pete went into Professional Poker mode and found a sucker in the Raiders.  The Raiders and all of their recent buffoonery jumped as well.  But once they looked under the hood, they realized that Porsche was actually a Pinto with a body kit.  Now they're stuck (momentarily).


The lesson learned is take the rose glasses off for backups who play well for a few games, or even half a season.  Be objective in the eval and you just might save yourself from explaining to the media why you traded for or signed a duck. (no pun intended Oregon fans).

johnny_pizzle
johnny_pizzle

It should be noted that Joe Philbin passed on Matt Flynn.  He knew he was a fraud from his days in Green Bay.

Darrell1
Darrell1

A little different situation between the two. Kolb's career was decimated by injuries. Flynn just flat out hasn't been good enough to win a starting job.

j7apple
j7apple

Flynn would be the starter in Miami had he chose them. 

drwherley
drwherley

 If the Chargers don't show any improvement this year, I'm curious to see what (or if) teams in need of a QB might offer in a trade for Rivers -- a classic top starter on the apparent downside of his career.  Bledsoe, McNabb, Favre, and Palmer all got nice deals in similar situations but maybe the CBA has changed that sort of approach.  But the need for a viable QB is always strong and QBs have been known to have late-career renaissances after being tossed off by their original teams (Cunningham, Gannon, Warner, Favre, Brees and Manning come immediately to mind). 

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

"The days of grasping for players like Kolb and Flynn may be over."

Ha! The next time a team is in a bind, especially one that has not had a lot of recent success, the grasping will begin again. If NFL history teaches us anything it is that franchises will spend millions if they believe they have even the slightest chance to win.  The stories of Kolb and Flynn won't change that a jot or tittle.

JackCollens
JackCollens

You can't possibly compare Flynn and Kolb. Kolb was given every chance on the field to make a mark - Flynn hasn't started for either the Seahawks or the Raiders. In both cases, young QBs with high upsides came in and the coaches were willing to take a risk with them. We haven't seen what Flynn can do as *the* starting QB for a franchise. He's had the worst luck. Kolb had his chance to be the guy with the Cardinals and blew it badly. Can't compare.

I'm not saying Flynn would be an amazing starter, but he needs the chance before we start saying he's on the same level as Kolb.

riverotter1968
riverotter1968

agree. The last backup QB that was traded or signed as a FA that actually went on to do something special was Brett Favre. How long ago was that?

JesusBuiltMyHotRod
JesusBuiltMyHotRod

You undermine your argument by throwing Ryan Fitzpatrick in there at the last minute. Contrary to Kolb and Flynn, Fitz was a four year starter for the Bills who threw 24 touchdowns in three out of those four seasons. Kolb and Flynn have 34 total in both of their careers combined. He was given a "hefty contract extension" making him the 19th highest paid QB in the league at the time. Then posted the 19th highest QB rating, and passed for the 19th most yards. In other words, he got exactly the contract he deserved, unlike Kolb, who did nothing other than collect paychecks.

MichaelLouro
MichaelLouro

Unlucky as they may feel, my back-ups here in the office aren't being paid so handsomely

jack22
jack22

@OffshoreInsiders.com At least Scott had more than one good game on HIS resume. What you couldn't really see on film proved his undoing. Hit him and he rattles. Hit him again and the rattling gets louder. Repeat until he's a bundle of fast-twotch fibers with nowhere to run.

jack22
jack22

@Ciscos As an object of lust, Matt Flynn was and is an odd choice. He's small, slow, and the possessor of a noodle arm. Every time I look at the guy, I'm even more convinced that these buyers were more focused on their man's physical resemblance to a certain A-list Hollywood actor. He does look like a jacked up Matt Damon, especially with the beard.

IdDoHannahStorm
IdDoHannahStorm

@CiscosWisenhunt needed a QB with Warner gone and Linart a bust.  He never did find one and it ultimately cost him his job.   As I heard a GM say, If you don't have a franchise QB, you're biggest worry is finding one.  If you do have a franchise QB, you're biggest worry is keeping him healthy.  There are only so many good QBs out there and demand exceeds supply.  Teams will continue to reach when it comes to the position.

CMFJ
CMFJ

@Ciscos 


I would add that a QBs performance has to be put context.  While there are some QBs that can perform well with any supporting cast and in any system (Brady, Rogers, Manning, Brees), most QBs can only be great in the context of some combination of superior skill players, strong OL, and ideal system/great OC.   With regard to hot FA QBs, the best example is Matt Cassel.  Cassel put up good numbers in NE for 1 year with a very solid OL, two of the best WRs in the league, and a great offensive system.  Lost in the W-L record was that, although the performances were usually good and sometimes great, Brady was putting up historic numbers in the same context.  Of course, no one was expecting Cassel to be Brady or even close.  But it should have created some skepticism for bad teams in search of a savior QB.  Indeed, Cassel was not disastrous in KC, but his only good season was when their running game was fearsome (Jone over 800 yds and Charles over 1400), allowing the QB to be a game manager.  In short, it would have been cheaper to go with a game manager vet for $3-5 mill than hand Cassel a $64 million dollar contract.  The same could be applied to the early years of Cutler in Chicago.  He did not perform up to his Pro Bowl year in Denver because the Bears OL was terrible, they had bad skill players, and the first year the OC was marginal, whereas Denver had a solid OL, good skill players at receiver, and Shanahan had a great system.  Cutler is more talented than Cassel, so he still played OK, but certainly not up to the standard of his time in Denver.  

Kaultar
Kaultar

@Ciscos 

Kolb has shown many times he can be a starting QB in the NFL if a team can keep him upright.  The problem is that the teams needing a QB rarely have a good team to put around them.  Flynn I thought was going to win the job in Seattle but DangeRuss shocked us all except for Schneider.  He really hasn't gotten a chance to lead a team in the regular season, but that may say more about him than his talents.

jack22
jack22

@johnny_pizzle I'm going to withhold any praise for the managerial abilities of Philbin until this mess with Ebony and Ivory works itself out.

ThinkerT
ThinkerT

@Darrell1 Exactly. The Cards were 4-1 with Kolb last year and he looked pretty good until he went down. Would have been a decent QB, just too injury-prone.

Ciscos
Ciscos

@j7apple ~ I don't think so. I think Sherman, having been Tannie's coach at TAMU sold Philbin on him for two reasons. 1. Tannie is decent and 2. Tannie knows Sherman's offense.

jack22
jack22

@drwherley This class of college QBs may be the greatest EVER. Rivers may be the old wine that finds no new bottle. Have a seat and wait for someone on a contender to go down mid-season? Or, take a job riding the pine? Third choice is to start for one of the mediocre teams that J-U-S-T missed on a franchise guy.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

@drwherley I still wonder what would have happened with Rivers if he had a coach more suited to his style, or just better able to deal with him. A terrific talent that really hasn't lived up to his potential, in my opinion.

Ciscos
Ciscos

@JackCollens ~ Flynn did get opportunities.  He got opportunities during the Seahawks OTA's, and in preseason.  He got chances again in Oakland and has played horribly.  Enough so that a QB that "just learned how to throw a pass" beat him out for the job. 

No my friend opportunity has knocked on his door several times and he's failed to answer.  :-)

ThinkerT
ThinkerT

@JackCollens Kolb was 4-1 last year until he went down with injury. Talent isn't Kolb's problem, injuries are.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@JackCollens   Jack.  There are many ways to compare, people, players and things.  What you wrote about is NOT what the author's point was.  He wasn't comparing their stats or what they did for their teams.  This is what he was comparing:

"As the season kicked off last weekend, two quarterbacks who were each once designated as the future of two different NFL franchises did not play. Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn present curious cases of well-paid and well-liked players each twice handed the keys to a franchise, yet were unable to keep their grip on the position."

He also pointed out that each of these two men did very well in terms of compensation as they each earned much more money than their play warranted.  The author stated that this is rarely the case in the NFL and that is true because players are cut/released in a heart beat if they are not producing in almost all instances.

Yes, one played some and dealt with injuries and the other one did not ever get to be the starter and has barely seen the field.  But they ARE similar and may be compared in that each has been paid very well for very little return.  Each was paid very well with the expectation that each would be the starter for their respective teams.  Kolb was one yr but he lost the starting position the next yr to Skelton.  

Flynn was the de facto starter each of the past two off seasons and going into the preseason.  The Raiders G.M. even said that Flynn was the starter shortly after acquiring him via trade.  

You're correct in that Flynn hasn't played and we don't know how he would do, but that wasn't the point of this article by the author.

markhbertling
markhbertling

@JackCollens Agreed, Flynn needs a chance to lead a team to truly show his value, and before a "Kolb comparrison" can be halfway accurately made.  I'm confident that if Flynn had had the same opportunities Kolb has had, it would be an insult to Flynn to ever do an article mentioning Kolbs' name even in the same chapter as Matt Flynn.

ericwkillian
ericwkillian

I think Jacksonville was pretty happy with Mark Brunell and Houston is pretty happy with Schuab. There are two examples just off the top of my head

jack22
jack22

@marino13 @JimRingelstetter Forgive him. Badgers fans are loyal to a fault. Even now, they can't understand why several of their recent running backs aren't on their way to the HOF. (Rumor in Wisconsin is that it's all a grand conspiracy.)

jack22
jack22

@CMFJ @Ciscos If you think that Peyton Manning isn't utterly dependent on his line, then you're willfully blind. He was a rumor of the myth when he was getting regularly knocked on his backside during his first years with Indy. Tom Brady or Terry Bradshaw, he's not. There've been plenty of playoff games that've driven that point home since his early days, too. If you can get to him early and often, then he'll stay got. Everybody in the league knows that to be a fact.

MajorMcneal
MajorMcneal

@Ciscos @j7apple exactly tanny was the choice because philbin trusted sherman's judgement , but if tannehill doesnt make the big jump this year sherman may get the boot


chidavidi
chidavidi

@Rickapolis @drwherley Norv Turner was a coach perfect for Rivers. What happened last year, and to a lesser extent two years ago, is not a coaching issue. 

jack22
jack22

@Ciscos @Rickapolis WTH, they've got to spend it anyway. It's not as if they stand ANY chance whatsoever of winning the trophy without "the guy". 

Darren1
Darren1

@to91320 @riverotter1968 Actually Brees was the Chargers' starter until he went down in Game 16 with a throwing-shoulder injury. Had that not happened, it's likely the Bolts would have moved Rivers instead of Brees but they decided to go with superior size, youth, and health.

Darren1
Darren1

@chidavidi @Rickapolis @drwherley You're right, very much a GM issue letting top players get away and replacing them with underperforming draft picks. If the Chargers' O-line is indeed improved this year, we'll see much more productive seasons from Rivers and Mathews.

David2
David2

@Darren1  No, the prevailing opinion in Sand Diego was that Rivers was the future and Brees would be allowed to walk.  The injury merely removed any remaining hesitation.  

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