The National Football League is tough. On the field? Absolutely. The MASH Unit after Sunday was epic considering the amount of very good players deemed out for the year.

But guess what? It’s as tough, if not tougher, off the field, too.

Ask any starting quarterback, in his third season, that isn’t deemed a star just yet.

By “star,” we mean franchise-like quarterback, with franchise-like qualities.

For example, Arizona’s Kylar Murray, is in the second game of his second year. And he has franchise QB-like qualities. He’s a great athlete and possibly is the quickest player in the NFL. He’s got a very good arm (he played baseball!). And he does not cower, mentally, on Sundays.

We’re not 100 percent sure, but we can say, with very little reservation, that Murray has that “It” factor. The Cardinals are 2-0 and look legitimate in this weakened, non-practicing NFL.

But there are three other dudes, all drafted in the first round the year before Murray, that aren’t as accomplished or showing really any qualities of a future $30 million-plus-per-year quarterback.

Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, chosen first and third overall respectively in 2018 by the Browns and Jets, are, at best, below average.

The No. 7 overall pick, Josh Allen, is good. The Bills love him. He is an asset. And he can make plays with his arm as much as his legs.

Allen might be a star. Might.

But the guy chosen three picks after Allen, at No. 10, Josh Rosen, is so down in the dumps that the Cardinals gave up on him after his first year and chose Murray first overall. And since then, he has been dealt to the Miami Dolphins and currently resides with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Mayfield is 13-18 as a starter. That would be considered acceptable if there was light at the end of the tunnel.

But there is no light.

It’s even worse for Darnold at 11-23.

In 2019, which was supposed to be their “big progress” year, out of the 32 starting quarterbacks with at least eight starts, Mayfield ranked 31st in QB Rating with 78.3. Darnold was a tad better at 84.3, ranking 27th.

Through two games in 2020, the bosom buddies are 25th (Darnold) and 26th (Mayfield).

The point is they are not franchise quarterbacks now and the odds are it will never happen.

Not to throw Tom Brady’s run at these guys, but through three years as a starter Brady won two Super Bowls.

Remember, he took over a team that had gone 5-13 its previous 18 games with Drew Bledsoe.

Even taking away the “progress” part, which could be blamed on coaching, player personnel, etc., Mayfield and Darnold have had very few highlight reel moments.

Mayfield had three or four per game his last year, a Heisman Trophy season. His creativity was incredible.

As a pro, we’re realizing it’s harder to improvise when the physical talents increase exponentially against NFL defenses. Even his “mental” talent – reading defenses – leaves a lot to be desired.

The irony is last Sunday we saw a rookie quarterback, drafted seventh overall, Justin Herbert, open a lot of eyes. He ended up making the error – forcing a throw downfield instead of getting the easy first down by running it – that cost the Chargers the ball and eventually the game to the Chiefs.

But Hebert, in just one game, looked the part. He just looked like a bona fide NFL quarterback, unlike Mayfield, Darnold and Rosen. Statistically, Hebert was pretty good — 22 for 33, 311 yards, 1 TD, 1 int. — but he looked like someone who was not intimidated by what was in front of him, namely the defending Super Bowl champs.

When teams blow their early first round picks on a quarterback, it usually spells doom for the head coach, general manager and, in the end, the fans.

Three years is all you get. Even that might be considered too long. And then it’s time for everyone to move on.

Bill Burt is executive sports editor for The Eagle-Tribune. You can email him at bburt@eagletribune.com.

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