Rebuilding: The Impending Mass Quarterback Exodus
In an era where Brock Osweiler commands top dollar in free agency and Johnny Manziel is a first-round draft pick in spite of glaring personality concerns, it is abundantly evident that that quarterback position is a difficult one to fill in the NFL. As defensive schemes become increasingly complex and the NFL gravitates further from being a run-first league, finding a signal-caller who can “make all the throws” and conceive quick, decisive, and effective decisions is akin to finding an original copy of the Declaration of Independence behind an old painting.
With this in mind, it appears that storm clouds are gathering on the horizon of the NFL, and front offices across the league had better start sounding the alarm: At least 9 veteran starting quarterbacks are nearing their finish lines.
One could argue that the league is always in a flux period, and finding new quarterbacks has been the way that business has been done since 1920. However, the quarterback position has never been more important than it is at our current stage, and seeing so many veterans approach retirement within such a succinct time period is the NFL equivalent of a natural disaster.
Further examination of each veteran’s impact on their team reveals the severity of the approaching situation.
Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers:
I thought I would start with this one because it is sure to get some groans and eye rolls. Before you mentally check-out on this article, consider this: While Rodgers may play like a he’s 22, the fact is that he has been in the league for twelve years, and any quarterback with the propensity for getting out of the pocket that Rodgers has is playing on borrowed time. Certainly the fact that Aaron had plenty of time on the bench behind Favre has played into his longevity, but that does not change the fact that he is playing with a 33-year-old body on a team which leans heavily on his talents. The window is likely still open for Rodgers until around 2020, so while Green Bay doesn’t need to have a meltdown just yet, it may be time to start acknowledging the elephant in the room.
Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints:
I would be willing to bet that as each year passes and Brees comes closer to retirement, fans have begun to wake up in cold sweats from nightmares of Aaron Brooks and Jim Everett hiding in their closets. Unquestionably, Brees has meant absolutely everything to his franchise, and his gaudy numbers over the years have only reinforced the notion that he cannot be replaced. Filling his shoes will be no easy task, and the Saints would be wise to begin drafting accordingly.
Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers:
While Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell provide the Steelers with a potent, youthful one-two-punch, the offense would be rendered useless without the expertise of Big Ben (see Landry Jones). Not only is his skill rare, but his size provides the Steelers with a hard-nosed, blue collar type presence which other teams envy and try to replicate yearly. Ben hinted toward retirement following the Steelers’ disappointing playoffs, but the feel around the Pittsburgh area is that he will reprise his role for the team for at least one more year. Roethlisberger is a great fit, not just for the team, but for the city of Pittsburgh, and has provided the consistency that the Steelers were desperate for back in the days of Slash, Tommy Gun, and (shudder) Neil O’Donnell. Fans hope not to revisit those days.
Eli Manning – New York Giants:
Emerging from the shadows of his brother in the 2004 draft, Eli has carved out his own niche in New York despite regular season inconsistencies and blunders. He has proven to be effective in the clutch and is winding down what I feel is a Hall of Fame career. Some of his head-scratching decisions have contributed to ramped up talk of picking up a successor to learn the offense from the bench, and with a dangerous receiving group and straight up scary defense, some New York fans are optimistic about a smooth transition. Make no mistake, however, Eli Manning is a game-changer for the Giants and offensive growth would be stunted without him.
Carson Palmer – Arizona Cardinals:
Arguably, no quarterback has meant as much to his team since 2013 as Carson Palmer has to the Cardinals. One needs only to look at the stats: In the four years prior to the Palmer trade, the Cardinals had a record of 28-36. Since picking up Palmer from the Raiders in 2013, the Cardinals have gone for an impressive 41-22-1. Coming off a 2015 season in which Palmer posted career and franchise records and lead the Cardinals to the NFC Championship, Super Bowl 51 aspirations were at a fever pitch in Arizona. Unfortunately, the Cardinals did not meet expectations and had their first losing season since the start of the Palmer era due to a slow start for the quarterback, wide receiver miscues (and arrests), and a particularly nasty visit from the injury bug. Carson hinted toward retirement in much the same way Big Ben did, but Palmer has since announced his return alongside Larry Fitzgerald in 2017. Finding someone to learn under Palmer is important, not only because he and Larry Legend are approaching their ride off into the sunset, but also because of the complexity of Bruce Arians’ system.
Philip Rivers – Los Angeles Chargers:
There was plenty to be upset about in San Diego before the Chargers packed up and moved to La La Land. Finding a franchise quarterback is generally considered the hard part for a team, and the Chargers have been lucky enough to enjoy that perk since Rivers was drafted in 2004. Unfortunately, that has been about all that has gone right for the franchise, and after years of swirling around the toilet bowl, Dean Spanos finally just flushed. Compounding issues for the Chargers faithful, rumors have been swirling that the aging Rivers is displeased enough with the move that he is interested in making a move, possibly to the flailing 49ers. Regardless, Spanos would be wise to begin considering the gravity of his decisions, and start looking toward the future. A panic move like picking up one of the many unprepared quarterbacks in the draft is ill-advised, but free agency could certainly be an option.
Alex Smith – Kansas City Chiefs:
Plenty of blame was being thrown around following the AFC Divisional Playoff between the Chiefs and the Steelers. The Chiefs defense managed to hold the Steelers to no touchdowns, and when the Chiefs lost anyways, blame was being assigned to the offense, specifically Alex Smith. Despite these views, the importance of Smith to the Chiefs offense cannot be overstated. Football fans tend to have a short memory, especially after a playoff loss, but impartial minds could argue that Alex has largely been a difference-maker for his offense. Following a 2012 season which saw the Chiefs post a nauseating 2-14 record under Matt Cassell, the team picked up Andy Reid and Alex Smith and immediately made the playoffs. Since then, they have continued to be largely successful and Smith has provided consistent gameplay at the quarterback position. So, while I don’t subscribe to the negativity which is surrounding Smith following the playoffs, you would have to be an idiot not to begin considering his football mortality. Perhaps a quarterback could be picked up in the draft to hold a clipboard and learn, but the notion that Smith is washed-up is completely unfounded.
Tom Brady – New England Patriots:
No, Tom Brady is not ageless. He may look like there is a picture of him aging in an attic somewhere (read some Oscar Wilde), but he is closing in on 40 rapidly. Brady has made no indication that he is prepared for retirement any time soon, but with his advanced age, you know damn well that the cerebral Belichick has got the gears turning on the matter. Which begs the question: Why is Belichick willing to deal Garroppolo if he is a “sure-fire franchise guy”? I think maybe Bill is playing up the abilities of the inexperienced youngster for a little trade value. But I digress. It’s time to start looking toward the future whether Patriots fans like it or not. Brady may not be looking toward retirement, but as Steve Young can attest, sometimes retirement comes looking for you.
Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys:
I toyed with the idea of listing Romo above as a free agent, but for the sake of clarity, we will stick with the facts. Yes, he is a Dallas Cowboy for the moment, be he is undoubtedly on his way out as Uncle Jerry looks to get his friend in a starting position while simultaneously cashing in on him. I think it’s safe to say that Tony Romo has usurped Kirk Cousins as the quarterback to talk about in the offseason, and it seems there are already some teams who are willing to trade some goods for at least a year of Super Bowl hope. Among these teams, I would say that the only one well-suited for picking up Tony would be the Broncos. Why not the Texans, you ask? Because Tony is old (in football terms) and injury prone. If he were to go down in preseason as he did last year, at least the Broncos could muddle by with Paxton Lynch. If he makes it the entire season, the Broncos could position themselves for another opportunity at a ring and Lynch could learn a thing or two from the veteran. Whoever picks him up, they had better consider the fact that Romo’s career is likely coming to a close within a season or two. Enjoy the ride, but prepare for the finale.