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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5

I’ve been studying NFL history throughout my life. It’s a journey that began the first time I watched my dad’s copy of NFL’s Greatest Hits on VHS, accelerating when I read Total Football II, and continuing when I began sportswriting over a decade ago.

Something I’ve never done is publish my list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. I’m finally stepping into the ring. But because I’ve done so much research over the years, this is not a simple list. Instead, I’ll present my choices as a series of articles, highlighting about 10 players per list, and counting down to number one. We began last week, with quarterbacks who preceded the Modern Era, like Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman.

This week, I’m profiling the players who rank about 50th on my list, as well as recognizing some other fine QBs who missed the cut. I wanted to do these articles in groups of 10: 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, and so on. But I found that the way I rate players doesn’t always fit neatly into groups of 10, so instead, we’ll begin with the QBs I ranked 49-52.

Here are the 49 Modern-Era players who fill out my top 101, in alphabetical order: Frankie Albert, George Blanda, Drew Bledsoe, Ed Brown, Kerry Collins, Daunte Culpepper, Steve DeBerg, Joe Ferguson, Jeff George, Steve Grogan, Matt Hasselbeck, Ron Jaworski, Brad Johnson, Charley Johnson, Billy Kilmer, Bernie Kosar, Tommy Kramer, Dave Krieg, Greg Landry, Neil Lomax, Andrew Luck, Johnny Lujack, Archie Manning, Eli Manning, Jim McMahon, Don Meredith, Earl Morrall, Craig Morton, Cam Newton, Ken O’Brien, Carson Palmer, Chad Pennington, Milt Plum, Jake Plummer, Jim Plunkett, Tobin Rote, Frank Ryan, Matt Ryan, Mark Rypien, Matt Schaub, Brian Sipe, Norm Snead, Tommy Thompson, Michael Vick, Billy Wade, Danny White, Doug Williams, Russell Wilson, Jim Zorn.

George Blanda is in the Hall of Fame, but as much for his kicking as his passing. Blanda retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in scoring — and interceptions. He only started about 100 games at QB. Three young players made the list: Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and Russell Wilson. Luck and Wilson are stars, their talent unmistakable. They’ve reached the playoffs a combined six times in six seasons, including two Super Bowl appearances for Wilson. Luck has improved every year, and I’d love to see what Wilson could do on a team with legit receivers. Both of them look like future Hall of Famers. Newton is on the list because Luck and Wilson are. He’s got one more year of experience, and he’s done some heroic things on a team without many other weapons. Newton is one of those rare players who can create offense on his own.

Many fans rank the Mannings, Archie and Eli, in the top 50. Both Mannings would make my top 75, and Eli is in the top 60. Eli Manning played great in his two Super Bowl appearances, but the other 170 games of his career are pretty close to average. He’s not accurate, he’s inconsistent, and his turnover rate is unacceptable in modern football. Over the past 10 seasons, Eli committed 213 turnovers, by far the most in the NFL. Drew Brees is next (184), and no one else is within 50 of Eli. Manning brought his A-game in the two most important games of his career, and that’s something we should consider when ranking him, but I don’t believe he has a special clutch “ability” other players lack. Despite his “winner” reputation, Manning’s Giants have made the playoffs in only five of his 11 seasons, and they’ve lost their first playoff game more often than they’ve won (2-3). Eli is a good player, but he’s not Bart Starr.

Archie was stuck on terrible teams, running for his life. But I’m not convinced he was a great pro quarterback. The argument for Archie is a what-if scenario. His stats are terrible, and they would have been better on a different team, but they’d need to be a lot better to get Arch anywhere near the top 50. He made 2 Pro Bowls, which is good, but not really top-50 territory. Every team he played for immediately improved when he left. Manning didn’t actually do enough to rank among the best of all time. There are several Archie Manning-type players, good QBs stuck on bad teams, whom I think have a stronger argument:

Drew Bledsoe
New England Patriots, 1993-2001; Buffalo Bills, 2002-04; Dallas Cowboys, 2005-06
44,611 yards, 251 TD, 206 INT, 77.1 rating

The Patriots were a trainwreck in the early ’90s. They went 1-15, 6-10, 2-14. That’s worse (.188) than any three-year stretch in Saints history. Then New England hired Bill Parcells and drafted Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots made the playoffs in Bledsoe’s second season, and the Super Bowl in his fourth season.

In that first playoff season (1994), Bledsoe was 22, playing quarterback for a team that was 19-61 over the previous five years. The only meaningful additions were Bledsoe and a rookie linebacker named Willie McGinest. New England’s leading rusher in ’94 was Marion Butts, who gained 703 yards with a 2.9 average. The top WRs were Michael Timpson and Vincent Brisby. Fortunately, tight end Ben Coates, a non-factor his first two years, clicked with Bledsoe; Coates wasn’t a game-breaker, but he was the go-to receiver. The offensive line was shaky: only two of the starting offensive linemen were still with the team two years later (the others were backups on other teams, or out of the league entirely). The defense produced no Pro Bowlers, though it was close to average. In this talent-starved environment, Bledsoe led the NFL in passing yardage and the Patriots went 10-6. Yes, Bledsoe led the league in passing yards with Michael Timpson and Vincent Brisby as his top wide receivers.

Bledsoe was a four-time Pro Bowler. Other than a couple years with Curtis Martin, he never really had a running game, and opposing defenses knew he was going to pass. He faced aggressive blitzes and nickel defenses on first down, even in two-receiver sets. He was the engine that drove the Patriots’ offense, and he produced points on teams without a lot of weapons in the receiving corps.1 He was the youngest QB to reach 10,000 passing yards, and he still ranks among the all-time top 10 in passing yardage.

Tobin Rote
Green Bay Packers, 1950-56; Detroit Lions, 1957-59; San Diego Chargers, 1963-64; Denver Broncos, 1966
18,850 yards, 148 TD, 191 INT, 56.8 rating

Tobin Rote was the Archie Manning of the 1950s, mired on a hopeless Packers team stuck between its dynasties of the early ’40s and the 1960s. The Packers of that era routinely had the worst defense in the NFL, and the running game was so weak that during his seven years in Green Bay, Rote himself led the team in rushing yards three times and rushing touchdowns five times. Rote did have one great season with the Packers, 1956, when he led the NFL in passing yards and TDs, and rushed for 11 TDs (in 12 games). Following the season, Detroit traded four players to obtain Rote from Green Bay.

It was a prescient move. With Bobby Layne injured, Rote led the Lions to an NFL Championship. In the title game, he passed for four touchdowns and ran for another. The Lions traded Layne a year later, making Rote the starter, but the championship core of the early ’50s was aging or retired, and the team’s success didn’t last. Rote played poorly in 1959 and was cut after the season. He played three years for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, setting multiple CFL records, before Sid Gillman brought Rote to the AFL’s Chargers. Rote was named AFL MVP, and led the Chargers to their first and only championship, a 51-10 win in which Rote passed for two TDs and ran for a third. Norm Van Brocklin and Rote are the only quarterbacks to win a major league championship with two different teams.2

Rote’s career had a strange shape, with a stint in the CFL and his prime years on the NFL’s worst team. Rote made a lot of negative plays, but he was playing in desperate, must-pass situations. He was top-10 in career passing yards upon his retirement, and he was a brilliant runner, perhaps the best running quarterback before Randall Cunningham. Rote led all QBs in rushing six times, and retired with the most rushing yards of any quarterback in history. He was genuinely outstanding in 1956, and he quarterbacked multiple championship wins, plus he played great in both title games (combined 6 pass TD, 2 rush TD, teams scored 110 pts).

Norm Snead
Washington, 1961-63; Philadelphia Eagles, 1964-70; Minnesota Vikings, 1971; New York Giants, 1972-74, 1976; San Francisco 49ers, 1974-75
30,797 yards, 196 TD, 257 INT, 65.5 rating

History has not remembered Norm Snead kindly, but he was an above-average QB for a long time, and he did have several standout seasons. Snead’s reputation suffers because he played mostly on bad teams, and he was traded for future Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen. That’s a tough comparison to overcome.

Snead threw an appalling number of interceptions, but partly made up for it with stats that don’t show up in the rating formula: he scored 23 rushing touchdowns, and he didn’t fumble a lot. Snead distinguished himself as a volume passer who threw for a lot of yardage, every year for a decade. Upon retirement, he ranked in the all-time top 10 in pass completions, yards, and TDs.

Snead was a four-time Pro Bowler, and he was good enough to spend 14 years as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Compare Snead to Earl Morrall: most analysts rate Morrall ahead, but throughout their careers, teams consistently viewed Snead as a starter, and Morrall as a backup. Maybe Snead would have done pretty well with the ’68 Colts and ’72 Dolphins, too? Following a poor rookie season (11 TD, 22 INT, 51.6 rating) on a hopeless Washington team, Snead threw for at least as many TDs as INTs in four of his next six years — not bad for the early ’60s. Coming off a Pro Bowl season in 1967, Snead broke his leg in a 1968 exhibition game. Over his remaining nine seasons, Snead threw as many TDs as INTs only once.

Snead’s production is what I look for with the Archie Manning argument. Snead played for terrible teams. Washington didn’t have a winning season between 1956-68. Philadelphia’s only winning record from 1962-77 came with Snead as the primary starter (’66). The Giants never made the playoffs between 1964-80. Snead’s teams were awful, never just “one player away” from contending. It’s tough to succeed in that environment, but Snead at least partly overcame the challenges, making a handful of Pro Bowls and posting career passing totals that still show up on today’s leaderboards. That’s what I wanted to see from Archie Manning.

* * *

Now, let’s look at the top 52 QBs of the Modern Era. This series will become an ordered list, but there’s not a big difference between #49 and #52, so for now, we’ll just proceed in alphabetical order.

Mark Brunell
Green Bay Packers, 1993-94; Jacksonville Jaguars, 1995-2003; Washington, 2004-07; New Orleans Saints, 2008-09; New York Jets, 2010-11
32,072 yards, 184 TD, 108 INT, 84.0 rating

Mark Brunell started in the NFL for 11 seasons, and he had a 19-year career, continuing to play as late as age 41. In his prime, Brunell was a dual-threat QB, an efficient passer and a good runner. He is the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era to lead the NFL in passing yards and lead all QBs in rushing the same season. He passed for over 3,000 yards six times and rushed for over 200 yards seven times.

Brunell is one of the finest left-handed quarterbacks in history. Teamed with Jimmy Smith3 and Keenan McCardell, he helped the expansion Jaguars become one of the best teams in the AFC. Brunell also went to the playoffs with Washington in 2005, quarterbacking the team’s only postseason win of the 2000s.

Some readers may question why Brunell made the top 52, and Drew Bledsoe did not. These two are easy to compare, because both were rookies in 1993.4 Bledsoe passed for many more yards (44,611) and TDs (251), but Brunell had better completion percentage, yards per attempt, TD%, INT%, passer rating, and net yards per attempt … he was a far more efficient passer. And of course, Brunell was a far superior runner, with an edge of 5 TDs and about 1,500 yards. The most striking difference is that Brunell committed 137 turnovers (108 interceptions, 29 fumbles lost), compared to 262 for Bledsoe (206 INT, 56 FmL). Brunell played with better receivers and nicer weather, but that’s a titanic difference, 125 turnovers.

I’m not trying to denigrate Drew Bledsoe, because he was a good quarterback. But he’s commonly ranked higher than this, so it seemed important to explain why each player rates where he does.

Trent Green
San Diego Chargers, 1993; Washington, 1995-98; St. Louis Rams, 1999-2000, 2008; Kansas City Chiefs, 2001-06; Miami Dolphins, 2007
28,475 yards, 162 TD, 114 INT, 86.0 rating

Trent Green started his first season opener in 2001. He was 31. But Green quickly showed that flashes of promise with Washington and St. Louis were no fluke. Most passing yards, 2002-05:

Quarterback Yds   TD   INT   +/-   Rating   NY/A
Peyton Manning 16,771   133   49   +84   102.4   7.5
Trent Green 16,334   94   52   +42   92.7   7.2
Tom Brady 15,186   105   54   +51   88.9   6.4
Brett Favre 14,988   109   83   +26   84.2   6.4
Kerry Collins14,437   73   62   +11   77.2   6.1

For a period of four years, Trent Green was arguably the second-most effective QB in the NFL. Of course, Green benefited from a supporting cast that included two Hall of Fame linemen (Willie Roaf and Will Shields) and the greatest tight end of all time (Tony Gonzalez), as well as standouts like Priest Holmes and Brian Waters. There was a sense around the league that Green was a product of his team, and not the key player.

There’s certainly some truth to that idea, but Green’s success in Kansas City is validated by his time with the Rams. When Kurt Warner got injured in 2000, Green (16 TD, 5 INT, 101.8 rating) played at a similar level to Warner (21 TD, 18 INT, 98.3 rating). With such a brief starting career and so many talented teammates, you wouldn’t want to rate Green much higher than this, but he quarterbacked the greatest offense of the early ’00s.

Phil Simms
New York Giants, 1979-93
33,462 yards, 199 TD, 157 INT, 78.5 rating

Phil Simms played maybe the most perfect Super Bowl of any quarterback. Facing the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, Simms went 22-of-25 for 268 yards and 3 TDs. Two of the three incompletions were drops, though one of the three touchdowns came on a deflected pass, which probably evens out. Thirty years later, Simms still holds the record for the highest passer rating in a Super Bowl.

A first-round draft pick in 1979, Simms began his career as a disappointment. He struggled with injuries and inconsistency before securing the starting job in 1984. The 1986-90 Giants went 55-21 with two Super Bowl victories. Those teams succeeded with dominant defense, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust ground game, and a pass attack that was whatever Phil Simms could manufacture. The team’s best wide receiver was Lionel Manuel, and tight end Mark Bavaro was the only real standout Simms could throw to. The defense kept New York in nearly every game, but it was largely up to Simms to produce enough points to win.

Simms’ stats are good (although he kept his interception rate low by taking a lot of sacks), but they don’t do justice5 to a player who overcame his lack of weapons and often saved his best performances for the biggest moments. He led the Giants to their first playoff appearance in 18 years, he was a two-time Pro Bowler, and he was MVP of Super Bowl XXI.

Vinny Testaverde
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1987-92; Cleveland Browns, 1993-95; Baltimore Ravens, 1996-97; New York Jets, 1998-2003, 2005; Dallas Cowboys, 2004; New England Patriots, 2006; Carolina Panthers, 2007
46,233 yards, 275 TD, 267 INT, 75.0 rating

This is a seven-part series on the greatest quarterbacks of all time. When we get close to the top, we’ll go in order, but in this part of the rankings, we’re looking at groups of players. Can I tell you with any confidence whether Tobin Rote was better than Drew Bledsoe, or Mark Brunell compared to Trent Green? Not really. We’re comparing similar players, and the similarity that ties together many of the QBs in this article is that they began their careers playing for bad teams.

From 1983-96, Tampa Bay went 64-159 (.287) and never had a winning season. The Bucs were terrible before Testaverde arrived, and they were terrible after he left. During his six seasons in Tampa, Testaverde threw 77 TDs and 112 INTs, but I don’t believe he was a bad quarterback; he was stuck in a hopeless situation. From 1985-86, a Buccaneers QB named Steve Young threw 11 TDs and 21 INTs. Don’t judge Vinny by his career numbers, or his seasons on one of the worst teams in history.6

Testaverde ranks among the all-time top 10 in both passing yards and passing TDs, but it’s not just the compilation of statistics that distinguishes Testaverde’s career; he had some genuinely great seasons. Below are stats for two QBs from 1996. Other than net yards per attempt, these figures do not include sacks.

    Att   Yds   NY/A TD INT Rating
QB A 543   3,899 6.3   39   13   95.8
QB B 549   4,177 6.7   33   19   88.7

Which player do you want? QB A had more touchdowns and fewer interceptions, but B passed for 300 more yards on the same number of attempts. B was also a better rusher (188 yds, 5.5 avg, 2 TD) than A (136 yds, 2.8 avg, 2 TD), and he had fewer fumbles (11-9). Statistically, they’re really close. QB B is Vinny Testaverde, and QB A is NFL MVP Brett Favre.

That’s not Testaverde’s only great season. Two years later, he led the AFC in passer rating (101.6), went 13-2 as starter (including postseason) and took the Jets to the AFC Championship Game. That was at age 35, and very few players have a great season after that point, but Testaverde played 21 seasons in the NFL, finally retiring when he was 44. Warren Moon, Favre, and Testaverde are the only players with a 3,000-yard passing season after age 40, and Testaverde is the oldest starting quarterback to win a game in the NFL. A quarterback’s abilities decline rapidly in his mid-30s, so a guy who could still play in his mid-40s was obviously pretty good before the decline.

* * *

That’s all for today. For new visitors, last week, we highlighted the best pre-Modern Era quarterbacks: Sammy Baugh, Dutch Clark, Ed Danowski, Paddy Driscoll, Benny Friedman, Arnie Herber, Cecil Isbell, Sid Luckman, Bernie Masterson, Ace Parker, and Bob Waterfield.

Next Tuesday, we’ll profile the QBs ranked 40-48.

  1. For his career, 13% of his passing yards went to Terry Glenn, 11% to Coates, 7% to Eric Moulds, 7% to Shawn Jefferson, 6% to Brisby, 6% to Troy Brown, and 3% to Timpson. You can see similar breakdowns for other quarterbacks here. []
  2. Which happens to be one of Chase’s favorite trivia questions. []
  3. Obligatory link. []
  4. Both were also in-state rivals, though Bledsoe got the better of Brunell in the 1992 Apple Cup. []
  5. As Chase highlighted here. []
  6. Regular readers may recall Jason Lisk’s great post on Testaverde at the old PFR Blog. []
  • Explanation of Trent Green’s Ranking

    Several readers have expressed that they believe I underrate Trent Green. This idea seems to be founded on the premise that Green had several seasons as one of the very best QBs in football, and that his excellent prime makes up for his short career as a starter.

    My disagreement lies here: I don’t believe Green was ever one of the very best QBs in football. When you watch players like Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, there’s a magic about them. They make jaw-dropping plays, the sort that remind you why you love watching football. Trent Green didn’t make those plays. He was a good quarterback, but it never crossed my mind that he might be the best in the NFL. Green was an effective player, but he was not amazing.

    Trent Green had the good fortune to play for the most dynamic offense of his generation (The Greatest Show on Turf) before moving to Kansas City, where he teamed with the best offensive line in the league, the best backfield in the league, and the greatest tight end of all time. I’ve been recording my Pro Bowl votes since 2002 — which is convenient, since ’02 was Green’s first good season with the Chiefs. These are the teams whose offensive players I voted for most often from 2002-05:

    1. KC, 22
    2. IND, 12
    t3. GB, PIT, SEA, 11

    On Kansas City, that’s Tony Gonzalez x 4, Priest Holmes x 3, Tony Richardson x 3, William Roaf x 3, Will Shields x 3, Brian Waters x 2, Casey Wiegmann x 2, Trent Green and John Tait once each. I don’t believe Trent Green was the best offensive player on the Chiefs. I don’t believe he was the 2nd-best offensive player on the Chiefs. I don’t believe he was the 3rd-best, or the 4th-best. He might have been the 5th-best, and he was probably at least the 6th-best. But the idea that Green was the vital piece in the team’s offense, I just don’t think is true. Damon Huard replaced Green in ’06, and the team didn’t miss a beat. Huard posted a 98.0 passer rating and led KC to the playoffs. The year before Green joined the team, Elvis Grbac made the Pro Bowl, with stats that look just like Green’s.

    I would also invite you to compare Green’s production in Washington to his predecessor (Gus Frerotte) and his successor (Brad Johnson). Playing with essentially the same team, both Frerotte and Johnson compiled better stats than Green. Please forgive a touch of hyperbole, but I don’t think it’s obvious that Trent Green was ever the best QB on his own team. He didn’t outplay Frerotte, he didn’t outplay Johnson, he didn’t outplay Kurt Warner, he didn’t outplay Grbac, and he didn’t outplay Huard.

    Trent Green was a good player, and it’s a shame he didn’t get to start earlier in his career. It would be fascinating to see what the Rams’ offense would have looked like without Green’s injury in ’99. But the idea that Green was a top-level QB doesn’t hold up, I think. His stats are great, but that looks to me like a function of the offense. Everyone did great throwing to Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, everyone did great behind the Chiefs’ o-line, everyone did pretty well for Norv Turner in the late ’90s. Green’s stats are only exceptional if you take them out of context; in context, they’re ordinary. And Green didn’t make throws that amaze you: he never looked like a special player, or at least not to my eye.

    I’m not trying to insult him, because I always liked Trent Green, and I think he was a very good player. But that’s why I don’t rate him higher.

    • Adam Steele

      Given your arguments, what led you rank to Green ahead of Bledsoe? It sounds like you think Bledsoe carried teams on his back while Green was merely a cog in a well oiled machine. As far as your assertion that Green was only the 5th best player on the Chiefs offense, I don’t think that’s fair. Even a merely good QB is more important to his offense than an all-pro bowl guard or fullback. It also don’t think it’s quite accurate to say Green didn’t outplay Grbac and Huard. Grbac’s numbers with the ’00 Chiefs were above average, but not quite the level of Green’s, and he only maintained it for one season. Huard’s half season in ’06 screams sample size fluke to me, particularly his 0.4% INT rate. Very reminscent of Josh McCown in 2013. If Huard was really the better QB, why couldn’t he beat out Green for the starting job? Now I agree with you about the Washington years. Brad Johnson especially outplayed Green in his sneaky good ’99 season. Honestly, Green’s career arc is so odd that it’s really hard to evaluate him alongside QB’s who started throughout their prime years.

      • I agree with this: “Green’s career arc is so odd that it’s really hard to evaluate him alongside QB’s who started throughout their prime years.” I like Green a little better (50-55th) than Bledsoe (55-60th) in large part because Green missed years of his prime, sitting on the bench, whereas Bledsoe was always afforded an opportunity to play. If I had to guess which player had more true talent, I lean slightly (albeit uncomfortably) toward Green.

        I might agree about Huard, except that I’m not looking at his performance in a vacuum: I see it as part of a cohesive whole. I wasn’t arguing that Huard was better than Green. But when he got a chance to play, he performed at basically the same level as Green. If that was an isolated incident, I would chalk it up to small sample size. But that happened to Green over and over again, basically every stop of his career.

        I don’t know what stats you’re looking at to think Grbac’s ’00 doesn’t fit in perfectly with Green’s years in KC. He passed for more yards than Green usually did, more TDs than Green ever did … his passer rating is a little lower, but that’s comp%. His ANY/A is in line with Green’s, even though passing offense exploded over the next few seasons.

        Willie Roaf and Will Shields are in the Hall of Fame. Tony Gonzalez will go in on the first ballot. Priest Holmes was first-team all-pro three years in a row. If you want to argue that Green was more important to KC’s success than those guys, I’m very comfortable on my side of that disagreement.

        • Adam Steele

          First off, you’re right about Grbac being just as good as Green in 2000. That was simply an error on my part as I was half asleep and mixed up his ’99 and ’00 seasons.

          As far as Green’s standing amongst his teammates, here’s a thought experiment….In 2004, if you gave the other 31 GM’s the opportunity to pluck one player from the Chiefs offense, who would they take? Do you think they’d all pick Roaf, Shields, Gonzalez, or Holmes over Green? I really don’t know the answer to that.

          • Wolverine

            Well you would have to limit the question to teams that have a hole at that position (the 2004 Patriots wouldn’t replace Tom Brady with Green, and the 2004 Seahawks would be unlikely to replace Shaun Alexander with Holmes).

            In 2004, I think they take Gonzalez or Holmes. If you fast forward to today, I think teams (rightfully) value the quarterback position over anything else. So a team without a decent starting quarterback would take Green without hesitation, even if they thought the other three were better players at their positions.

            • I think the teams with really desperate QB situations might, the four or five worst teams. But anyone with a half-decent QB would think how great he’d look handing off to Holmes, passing to Gonzalez, getting blocks from Roaf and Shields and Waters. So yeah, the Jets and Jaguars would probably take Green. But the Ravens and Bengals and Dolphins and Giants and 2015 Chiefs wouldn’t.

              If you told teams today they could have their pick, for 2015, of Rob Gronkowski, Jamaal Charles, Jason Peters, Josh Sitton, Marshal Yanda, and … I don’t know, Philip Rivers or Matt Ryan or someone, how many of them would choose the quarterback? Not very many, I think. You’re right that teams would decide based on their own rosters, but Green simply was not as outstanding as those other players. How many teams could pass up Gronk? What roster couldn’t use an extra offensive lineman? There’s no RB in the league right now like Holmes was in ’04, but it’s easy to sell your fan base on a star running back: that’s an exciting roster move. If you told me in ’04 that I could pick one of those guys for my favorite team, I sure wouldn’t start with Green.

              • Adam Steele

                You may have convinced me on Green, but I disagree with the assertion you make here. Quarterbacks are FAR more important than linemen and running backs, and a roster full of great players still won’t go anywhere without at least an average QB. Gronkowski is a once-in-a-generation freak, much more of a game breaker than Gonzalez, so I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. I’d bet 15-18 teams would take Matt Ryan over Marshal Yanda or Josh Sitton, even some who already have a serviceable QB. JJ Watt is the most dominant defensive player in 20 years, and the Texans still went 2-14 with him. Joe Thomas is regarded as one of the best O-linemen in the league, and the Browns still suck with him. Upgrading from an average QB to a good QB is a better move than picking up a superstar at any other position. How come Vegas lines don’t move at all for injuries to non-QB’s, but can swing by as much as 7 points when a star QB misses a game?

                • Apparently you’re not a gambler. The line moves for QB injuries because the public reacts to those, and not for most others because people don’t pay attention when a center gets hurt. But Vegas does pay attention; it’s one of the ways they’re so effective, is by setting lines that reflect less noticeable personnel moves.

                  I’m not sure we’re arguing about the same thing. If you’re saying that QB is the most important position, I agree with you. If you’re saying it’s the only important position, I don’t. You made a couple of interesting assertions I want to respond to:

                  “a roster full of great players still won’t go anywhere without at least an average QB”

                  Just from the last 15 seasons, the 2000 Ravens, 2003 Panthers, 2006 Bears, 2007 Giants, and 2012 Ravens all made the Super Bowl with QBs that were close to average, or perhaps below average. That doesn’t even include the ’08 Steelers (Ben had a poor season) or the ’12 Niners (is Kaepernick above average?).

                  Here are some of the leading passers on playoff teams from the last decade: Kyle Orton with the Bears (4.2 NY/A, 59.7 rating), Chris Simms, Rex Grossman, Damon Huard, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Gus Frerotte, Tim Tebow, Christian Ponder, Drew Stanton … I get what you’re saying, and I think you’re mostly right, but [1] you’ve exaggerated a bit, and [2] your point is much more the case now than it was during Green’s career.

                  You may be right about linemen, but I don’t think there are a lot of teams who would have chosen Green over Holmes and Gonzalez.

                  “Gronkowski is a once-in-a-generation freak, much more of a game breaker than Gonzalez, so I don’t think that’s a fair comparison.”

                  Tony Gonzalez is the greatest tight end of all time. I think it’s an excellent comparison. Check out the top receiving TEs from 2000-04. Gonzalez has 66% more yardage than anyone else, double-digits more TDs than anyone else, nearly three times as much yardage as three-time Pro Bowler (2001-03) Bubba Franks. He was on another planet. In 2003, Gonzalez was the 7th overall pick in my league’s fantasy draft. The next year he was 14th. He was so far ahead of any other TE at that time.

                  “I’d bet 15-18 teams would take Matt Ryan over Marshal Yanda or Josh Sitton, even some who already have a serviceable QB.”

                  I think you underestimate how much people tend to value what they already have. I imagine the Dolphins think Tannehill will be a better QB than Ryan within a year or two. Most people I talk to think Joe Flacco is better than Ryan, and I’m sure the Ravens wouldn’t swap. So who would not only replace their QB with Ryan, but do so rather than taking on an all-pro lineman?

                  I’m guessing BUF, CHI, CLE, HOU, JAC, NYJ, OAK, STL. It’s tough to evaluate the Bucs and Titans, so let’s leave them out of this, but that’s only a quarter of the league. To get to 18, you have to add TB and TEN, plus eight of these nine: ARI, CIN, KC, MIA, MIN, NYG, PHI, SF, WAS.

                  I can’t see it. I think teams like the Dolphins and Vikings would much rather see what their current QBs can do behind a great line than change direction at QB. Maybe I’m wrong. But when you include the idea that they could add the greatest TE of that generation, or a superstar RB, or a Hall of Fame tackle, I think you’re left with only a handful of clubs that want the quarterback.

                  • sacramento gold miners

                    Great research on your story, and I’m a big NFL Films fan myself. I will have to disagree with you about Big Ben’s 2008 season, it was a good one, even if the TD/int ratio was unimpressive. Five times he led the Steelers to late come from behind wins, and we have to factor in the postseason, including one of the great drives in Super Bowl history.

                    His overall numbers from 2008 are skewed in the sense the running game faltered from 2007, and the early season was brutal. There was an awful game at Philadelphia where the offensive line couldn’t have blocked anyone. All year the line and running game were inconsistent, but # 7 kept bailing them out. 2008 is one of the reasons Big Ben will be in Canton someday.

                    • Thanks for your comments, but I still disagree about Ben Roethlisberger. Other than the year of his motorcycle accident, his stats are by far the worst of his career. I thought maybe I was getting too caught up in the numbers, so I went back and looked at what I wrote about Ben that year.

                      In Week 16: “Big Ben probably isn’t among the three most valuable players on his own team … He’s a good quarterback having a bad season. This year, Ben is just an average QB on a great team”. I agreed about the game at Philly, but I also wrote extensively about Ben’s struggles a couple months later: “Pittsburgh is 6-3 this season. In each of the three losses, Big Ben has made crucial, game-changing mistakes.” Details follow in the link.

                      The ’08 Steelers were successful because they had one of the greatest defense of this era, not because of a quarterback who averaged 5.9 NY/A, committed 23 turnovers, and posted an 80.1 passer rating with Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Heath Miller.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      I think stats can be useful when talking about sports, but this is a good example when what we saw on the field was different than the box score. We also need to look at the context, and what the results were. The
                      running attack was much weaker than in 2007, and the offensive line may have been the worst on a winning team in Super Bowl history. Any elite QBs stats will suffer when they don’t have time to throw properly. Sean Mahan is the answer to a trivia question today, and he was the starting center in 2008.

                      2008 kind of sums up Roelisberger’s career, not pretty, and even the big plays aren’t always on script. He was also injured and missed games that season, which must be considered when evaluating the season. I saw nearly every game live that year, and numbers alone don’t begin to tell the story. NFL Films chronicled that season on America’s Game, and it accurately described what happened. If I’m not mistaken, that schedule was very difficult as well.

                      Yes, the 08 Steelers had a great defense, but without Big Ben they may have missed the playoffs. Five come from behind wins in the regular season is something we just don’t see from a QB having a mediocre year. This wasn’t Trent Dilfer handing off to Jamaal Lewis(who had a monster 2000 season), this was a future hall of famer executing like others we’ve seen. And in the postseason, it was # 7 coming up with the key plays over a possible trio of future HOF QBs. And it was the Steelers defense which screwed up in the final minutes in the SB, setting the stage for the Montana-like game winning drive. Could be mistaken, but I don’t think Hines Ward was on the field at that time, because of the knee injury suffered the week earlier versus Baltimore.

                      So we just can’t go by the box score, and pro sports will always be team results driven process. Having a brilliant regular season has value, and that’s a Tony Romo type of career. Great players aren’t always great, but at least they’re great more often than others. It’s accurate to say 2014 was a superior season than 2008 for Roethlisberger, but not by a huge margin.

                    • You obviously didn’t read the links I offered. I explained, in depth, things I saw Roethlisberger do. I wasn’t just going by stats. He didn’t have a good season.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      Respect your opinion, but a few bad games doesn’t make the entire season, and there were issues on the team as I described above. Can’t think of a QB having a mediocre year with five come from behind wins in the regular season, I think three came against playoff teams. Yes, it was ugly at times, but # 7 came through. At the end of the day, it’s a team game, and the top QBs have most of the wins.

                      I also don’t think a QB who is struggling would have reeled off three postseason wins. My take on 2008 is the other issues, combined with the health problem, kept the individual stats down, but late in the year we saw more of the QB who should be a first ballot HOF selection. Trent Dilfer had a fine season as a game manager in 2000, but wasn’t asked to carry the load like # 7. SB winners just can’t have average play at the QB position and win it all.

                    • In 2010, Mark Sanchez had 6 game-winning drives and 4 4th-quarter comebacks. The Steelers defense was unreal in 2008: they ranked as a top 10 pass defense of all time by these two metrics (http://www.footballperspective.com/putting-the-2013-seahawks-pass-defense-in-perspective/) and were two full standard deviations above average in terms of points allowed: http://www.footballperspective.com/the-best-scoring-defenses-in-nfl-history/

                      They pulled off the amazing feat of ranking 1st in NY/A allowed, 1st in YPC allowed, 1st in points allowed, and 1st in yards allowed. Pittsburgh ranked 20th in points scored and still 5th in points differential.

                      Pittsburgh ranked 20th in total yards, but 2nd (!) in yardage differential. That’s an incredible defensive performance.

                      As for the 5 come-from-behind wins…. I assume you mean 5 games where he either led a 4QC or a GWD? Those games were won by scores of 13-9, 11-10, 20-13, 23-20, and 26-21.

                      You want to give Roethlisberger credit for his comebacks, but one of them came in a game where his team trailed 10-8 (with the defense providing a safety and two Jeff Reed field goals!) before Pittsburgh hit a game-winning field goal in the final seconds. Another came when the Steelers were held to 3 points for the first 50 minutes of the game, and the team allowed just 9 points. How many teams could Roethlisberger have been so ineffective on offense for long stretches and still had a chance to win?

                      I like Ben the player, but his ’08 season was not good. He was carried by the defense (at least, in the regular season).

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      I don’t think you can divorce the regular season from the playoffs, it’s the same player. I agree with your stats on Mark Sanchez, he had a good year in 2010, and nearly beat the Steelers in the playoffs. Instead of improving he regressed.

                      I don’t think a player carried by the defense beats the Ravens twice, even if the offense misfires for much of the game. Mike Kruschak(spelling?) was indeed a QB carried by his defense, in this case, the 1976 Steelers. The 2014 Cardinals were carried by their defense, but in modern football, not having a playmaker at the QB position will catch up to you. I agree Ben’s regular season numbers weren’t great in 2008, but I don’t see many QBs going 12-4 with that line and weakened running game. The low average in points per game reflected those struggles, Willie Parker had only about 750 yards rushing, a huge dropoff from 2007.

                      The 2008 season, warts and all, will be on the plus side when talking about Roelisberger’s career. We’ve got to evaluate the whole season.

                    • Adam Steele

                      Big Ben is NOT a first ballot Hall of Famer. He’s arguably only the 4th or 5th best QB of his own generation.

                      As far as 2008, I have to agree with Brad and Chase. Roethlisberger had a sub par season whether you use stats or the eye test. The O-line may have been poor, but Ben still held onto the ball way too long. Funny you mention Dilfer because even he could have won a playoff game or two with that defense.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      What we have is a philosophical divide, I’m a fan who believes winning is the primary objective in football, and when we evaluate players and teams, that category is right up there with personal statistics. Warren Moon, Dan Fouts, and Jim Kelly were all first ballot hall of famers, so unless Ben has some kind of off field problem, it’s a slam dunk. His lifetime numbers are already in that territory, and I think people would be surprised how high he ranks, and he will be passing more and more hall of famers in the future.

                      There’s noting wrong with being the fourth best QB of his generation when we’re talking about Brady, Manning, and Rodgers. Brees is also a first ballot lock, and Eli Manning will get in later. I’m a Kelly, Moon, and Fouts fan, but those players did struggle on the biggest NFL stage. Kelly was neutralized in four straight Super Bowls, and Fouts & Moon were up and down.

                      Roethlisberger will end his career as the career leader for a storied franchise, he’ll have lifetime numbers which will leave many HOF QBs in the rear view mirror, and has already won as many Supers Bowls as Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers combined. Yes, he had a rough Super Bowl XL, but what people forget is how the Steelers don’t reach Detroit without his excellent play in three straight road wins. One of those was at Indianapolis, when Ben outplayed Manning in the upset win.

                      I get it, Ben is a polarizing figure, from the ungraceful way he plays the game, the 2009 off field incident, and the misconception he’s been a game manager, which has lingered for much of his career. Put Trent Dilfer with the 2008 Steelers, and Pittsburgh is maybe 8-8 or 9-7. Dilfer had one shining moment in 2000, the comeback win over the Titans, but Jamal Lewis carried that offense. He also had a much stronger offensive line, led by Johnathan Ogden. Huge difference as compared what Ben had to work with, yet he still led five late comeback wins. Also, as strong as that 2008 Steelers defense was, they did struggle in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, and Roethlisberger had to lead that incredible drive, which started with an offensive line penalty.

                  • Adam Steele

                    To your point about teams with mediocre or worse QBs going deep into the playoffs – Yes it happens occasionally, I’m not denying that. However, those teams had a COLLECTION of great defensive players that enabled them to be dominant. What I’m saying is that a decent QB is more valuable than any ONE defensive player from those teams. If you have an average team on both sides of the ball, upgrading at QB is almost always the better choice than upgrading one player on defense. I’m not talking about Green’s Chiefs anymore but the league in general.

                    I agree that Gonzalez is the greatest TE of all time, and that he was far and away the best in the league during his prime. But I honestly think Gronk is a bigger mismatch and has a ripple effect on the whole offense to a greater degree than Tony did. To me, Gonzalez is Jerry Rice and Gronk is Randy Moss. Even though Rice is the GOAT, I’d say Moss had a greater impact on games than Rice, even if it’s not directly reflected in his stats.

                    Okay 18 teams was probably an exaggeration, but I the scenario I’m discussing doesn’t happen in real life so it’s hard to know for sure. Part of the reason teams hold on to mediocre QBs is because of the uncertainty of finding someone better. However if Ryan or Rivers were freely available, I think a lot of teams would and should pull the trigger.

                    If you wanted to win the SB this year, would you rather have Alex Smith and Marshal Yanda, or Philip Rivers and a street free agent? I think it’s a tough call, but I’d take my chances with the better QB. Sounds like we have philosophical differences on this and that’s okay!

                    • I certainly agree it’s okay for us to have philosophical differences on this — but I’m not sure we do.

                      Quarterback is the most important position in football, and that’s more true now than ever. But it seems to me that you’re thinking about this in a 2015 context, and I’m thinking about it in a Trent-Green’s-prime-context. I know you specified “not talking about Green’s Chiefs anymore but the league in general”, but the rules have changed (illegal contact, defenseless receiver, etc.) and the passing game is more important now than it was 10 or 15 years ago. When you talk about how central and significant the QB position is, it seems like you’re talking about present-day, and I’m not. So I’m not certain we even disagree; we may just be talking about slightly different things.

                      The other possible source of disagreement is what kind of teams and players we’re talking about. Let’s say we grade all quarterbacks on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best. Probably 2/3 of the league is between 3-7. I think Green would represent a downgrade for about 5-8 teams, a small upgrade for most teams, and a substantial upgrade for about 5-8 teams.

                      Most of those bad teams should probably improve their QB before anything else, but for the other 3/4 of the league, adding a truly great player like Gonzalez or Holmes or Shields would help more than a QB who is above average. I feel like you’re assuming a league in which lots of teams not only need QB help, but acknowledge that they need QB help. I believe there are only about half a dozen teams that have a serious enough QB problem to admit it, and even within that group, a couple of those teams might prefer to add an all-pro LT or a game-changing TE. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.

                      I don’t agree about Rice/Moss and Gonzalez/Gronk. I think you’re overrating players you’ve seen as an adult and a more able analyst, and underrating players who are a bit dimmer in memory.

                    • Chase Stuart

                      I am definitely on the same page with you about Moss/Rice. I’m not so sure about Gronk/Gonzo. Perhaps Gonzo was more dominant among his peers (I.e., other TEs) than Gronk was, but I think Gronk may be a more dominant offensive player.

                    • Adam Steele

                      I am talking about the league environment in 2015, sorry for not clarifying that. I agree that in the early 2000’s it was much more feasible to win with defense and running than it is today. I feel like 2004 and 2011 designated major jumps in QB dependency around the league.

                      Look at how much the Patriots offense suffers when Gronk is injured. They go from best in the league to plain average. And that’s with a HOF QB! Did Gonzalez’s teams have such drastic splits? Of course he was far more durable than Gronk so that in and of itself elevates his value.

                    • Gonzalez only missed two games in his career, so there’s no way to compare. I also think you’re overestimating post-Welker Brady, and your position on Gronk seems to contradict your insistence on the primacy of QBs. We may have to agree to disagree on Rice/Moss and Gonzalez/Gronk. What you’ve suggested seems silly to me, but I think I’m done arguing for a little while. I’m glad I made a persuasive case for my position on Trent Green.

          • Really interesting question. I’m confident Gonzalez, Holmes, and Roaf would have gone before Green. An all-pro left tackle could easily go in the top 10 leaguewide. Shields and Waters, depends on the format. If it was just, hey, you can steal one player from the Chiefs, no question in my mind more GMs would take Shields than Green.

            I think you may overestimate how good a QB Trent Green was regarded as being. Manning, Brady, Favre, and McNabb obviously go ahead of him. Maybe Pennington, maybe Culpepper, probably Vick. 2002-03, McNair goes ahead of him, probably Gannon, maybe Garcia or Warner or Bledsoe. 2004-05, Palmer and Roethlisberger go ahead of him, maybe Brees or Hasselbeck, maybe McNair.

            Green was not regarded as a top-tier QB. He made two Pro Bowls, which is not bad, but raw stats show Green as one of the five best QBs in the league, four years straight, and I don’t know anyone who believed that. Green never received an all-pro vote from any member of the Associated Press. Here are AP all-pro votes for Chiefs offensive players from 2002-05:

            Will Shields, 88; Tony Gonzalez, 67; Priest Holmes, 66; Willie Roaf, 54; Brian Waters, 37; Casey Wiegmann, 18; Tony Richardson, 17; Larry Johnson, 4; John Tait, 2. Seven different QBs received votes during those years (Brady, Favre, Gannon, Manning, McNair, Palmer, Pennington).

            For someone who seems interested in applying context to stats, I’m surprised that you seem so willing to take Green’s at face value. Returning to Grbac/Huard … Trent Green’s stats with the Chiefs, 2001-06, compared to all non-Green KC passers from 2000-06:

            Green: 61.9 comp%, 4.2 TD%, 3.1 INT%, 87.3 rating, 5.9 sack%, 6.9 NY/A, 6.4 ANY/A
            others: 59.3 comp%, 4.7 TD%, 2.1 INT%, 90.3 rating, 5.6 sack%, 6.8 NY/A, 6.8 ANY/A

            I’m not comparing Green to Kurt Warner here. This is Elvis Grbac, Damon Huard, Todd Collins, 40-year-old Warren Moon — journeymen. Green didn’t outplay them, just like he didn’t outplay Gus Frerotte and Brad Johnson in Washington, or Warner in St. Louis. This isn’t just passing stats: Frerotte went 15-15-1 as starter from 1996-98. Johnson was 17-10. Green was 6-8 with the same team. Grbac and Huard went a combined 12-11 with KC in ’00 and ’06. Green was 48-40, basically the same. Green went 2-3 starting for a Rams team that was 34-8 with Kurt Warner.

            Individually, those are small samples, but this is a pattern that follows Green throughout his career. If we’re willing to put Vinny Testaverde’s performances on bad teams into context, we should do the same for Green with good teams, especially when there are so many available comparisons.

            • Adam Steele

              I’m really just playing devil’s advocate on this topic. I’ll probably always be slightly higher on Green than you, but I fully agree that his stats need to be looked at in proper context. You make a couple of great points about his lack of all-pro votes and his league wide perception at the time. I remember watching many Chiefs games during that era and the announcers usually mentioned Holmes and Gonzalez as the stars while ignoring Green. It’s funny to think that Michael Vick was ever considered a prime commodity but after 2002 that certainly was the case.

              I’ve noticed a phenomenon where some players are so underrated or forgotten that they actually become overrated. Among the stats crowd, Green definitely falls into that category. I’m as guilty as anyone and I don’t mind admitting my cognitive biases. 50th all time is a very reasonable ranking.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Drew Bledsoe looked like a hall of famer in those years with the Patriots, but declined with the Bills, and looked like a shell of himself with the Cowboys. Have to credit New England’s coaching staff for making the decision to stay with the young Tom Brady, looking back, they may have seen something about Bledsoe that was troubling.

    If Phil Simms doesn’t get hurt in 1990, and still leads the Giants to the World Title, he’s probably in the HOF by now. Agree about Mark Brunell, and Jeff Garcia was also a terrific QB.

    I’m more sympathetic about WRs, RBs, and other standouts on bad teams than the QB position. An underachieving QB on a bad team is part of the problem, and if we went back and crunched the numbers, I’ll bet the Vinny Testaverdes of this world amassed some of their numbers after their teams were already losing. Having a few good seasons in a very long career with playoff struggles isn’t impressive to me. Given the hype and physical skill set coming out of Miami, his career was definitely disappointing.

    • Adam Steele

      Testaverde’s career may be disappointing when judged against the expectations of a #1 draft pick, but it certainly wasn’t when you consider the situations he actually had to play through. Nobody was going to succeed in Tampa during the late 80’s and early 90’s, and in Cleveland he wasn’t exactly surrounded by a crew of all stars. I think he did as well as anyone could reasonably expect under those circumstances. Later in his career he showed greatness when finally paired with a strong supporting cast. Top 50 for Testeraverde is quite reasonable. Even top 40 wouldn’t make me flinch.
      Do you think Brunell and Garcia were better QB’s than Testaverde?

      • sacramento gold miners

        Yes, and so was Bernie Kosar. Vinny had four quality seasons in his long career, and that’s just not good enough. And when he reached his only conference title game, failed to toss a TD, as the Jets lost the lead in the second half. Yes, those Bucs teams were lousy, but Testaverde’s play was a big part of the reason why. The team was eager to part with him at the end. I’ll give him credit for improving later on, but it’s a mediocre career.

        • Wolverine

          Testaverde had a poor game in that AFC Championship games, but John Elway had an even worse one. Elway had Terrell Davis to hand off to, and he won the game for the Broncos. Curtis Martin, on the other hand, ran for 14 yards on 13 carries. The result of that game had little to do with the quarterbacks.

          I agree that quarterbacks have more impact on their teams W-L than any other position, but if the rest of the team is so bereft of good players, it can reach a critical mass and leave no hope of winning, no matter how good your QB is. In fact, the QB’s stats look worse because they end up trying riskier throws to try to get their team back in the game. Look how overmatched Troy Aikman looked until the Herschel Walker trade started paying off.

          • sacramento gold miners

            It is interesting to speculate on what would have happened if Aikman and Testaverde had swapped teams, my own take is that the Bucs would have been improved with Troy, much more competitive. If Vinny had been on those Dallas teams, I don’t think they would have been as strong, perhaps one or two fewer Super Bowl wins. Testaverde would have fouled things up at some point, and made some critical mistakes.

            • Wolverine

              I disagree with that assertion. You cannot understate just how bad the 80’s/early 90’s Buccaneers were as far as talent on the roster, and how poorly they were run. They were way worse than the ’89-’90 Cowboys. Bill Walsh is a great coach, but I don’t think it was coaching alone that made Steve Young go from a total disaster in Tampa to a hall of famer in San Francisco.

              Since there’s no way to prove who’s right, I suppose we can just agree to disagree.

              Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Testaverde was ever on the level of the Young/Montana/Marino types. I’m just asserting that his teammates early in his career made him look worse than he actually was.

              • sacramento gold miners

                Good conversation we’re having. I do remember those Bucs teams, but it seemed like Testaverde accepted the losing, which was surprising, considering his college career. I give Vinny credit for improving after leaving Tampa Bay, but always felt he should have been better. Four big years out of 20 plus years feels like mediocrity to me. In my opinion, if Vinny was a good QB, it would have showed up more consistently later on.

                Steve Young did struggle during his short time with the Bucs, but even without Walsh, I think his talent would have emerged to the point where he would have outperformed Testaverde, and Tampa Bay would have been more successful.

          • Testaverde did not play poorly in the AFCCG. He was probably the Jets best offensive player. In the first 50 minutes of that game, the Jets had one drive end on a missed field goal (from 42 yards out, in Denver), three others end on fumbles inside Denver territory, and one drive aborted when New York fumbled the kickoff (Denver tied the game at 10 on a field goal on the ensuing drive).

            Yes, Testaverde threw 2 INTs, but both came in the final 5 minutes of that game, with the Jets down double digit points.

        • Richie

          “The team was eager to part with him at the end.”

          I don’t know how many of the same people were involved in that decision as were involved with drafting Bo Jackson and letting Steve Young go. But I don’t think we can put too much stock in any of the personnel decisions being made in Tampa at the time.

  • I think it’s wise to put quarterbacks in tiers rather than a concrete ordered list. If anyone actually thinks he knows for certain the difference between the number 50 and number 51 or, even crazier, number 101 and number 102, quarterback of all time, I am inclined to believe this person has far too high an opinion of his own judgment. I like what you have done here, just going by groups and not establishing a hard list just yet. I’m more likely to take you seriously when you admit that you don’t and can’t know for absolutely sure.

    I think it’s somewhat easier to separate names at or near the top of this type of list, but there are far too many variables for me to ever feel certain. Joe Montana is my favorite quarterback, but I cannot be certain that he is as good as, equal to, or better than Dan Marino. John Elway put up some ugly numbers at face value, but there has to be a reason Bill Walsh briefly entertained the notion of trading Joe Montana to get him.

    Trying to avoid the entanglement issue ends up becoming a highly subjective task, and it often becomes easier to just say “who had the best career?” rather than “who was inherently better?” Of course, no matter what you do, people are going to disagree with you; and there are many who would probably say that having an unordered tier is a cop out. I am not among those humans. I rather appreciate the time, research, and actual thought you put into this. It’s easy to give a page full of names and numbers, but it’s much more difficult to provide a reasoned rationale behind your choices. I look forward to the rest of the series.

    • Adam Steele

      I agree that ranking players in tiers is the more intellectually honest approach. In retrospect I sort of wish I had run my crowd sourcing experiment with a tier based voting system rather than a straight ordinal ranking. Even among the all time greatest players, it’s still hard to say with confidence who was better.

    • Thanks, Bryan. I’m sure there are some people who think this approach is a cop-out, but the next post (40-48) is another unordered tier. I’m glad this method seems to makes sense — at least to you and Adam! — so far.

      • I don’t know if it’s a product of the current sports fan generation or human nature in general, but it seems like many people want to label something a cop out if it doesn’t involve taking a hard stance – even on a super complicated issue. Now that I think about it, I guess people do the same thing with almost every political issue. I’m reminded of the debate scene from the movie Primary Colors, in which Travolta’s character is derided for not having his feet in ideological cement.

  • Andy Barall

    “… teams consistently viewed Snead as a starter and Morrall as a backup. Maybe Snead would have done pretty well with the ’68 Colts and ’72 Dolphins, too?

    How did Snead do on the ’71 (11-3) Vikings? At age 32 he couldn’t beat out Gary Cuozzo or even Bob Lee, Cuozzo’s backup.

    Earl Morrall spent half his career backing up Fran Tarkenton, Johnny Unitas and Bob Griese. He spent his rookie year in San Francisco behind Y.A. Tittle. Do you think Snead would’ve started over those guys when he couldn’t beat out Gary Cuozzo?

    His stats may be above average, but Snead never was. Morrall had a far steadier temperament and much higher football intelligence. Indeed, Snead might have done pretty well with the ’68 Colts and the ’72 Dolphins. But not as well as Morrall.

    • Your larger point is fine: Norm Snead was not a demonstrably better player than Earl Morrall.

      They were both good, and I rate them basically equal. But your arguments along the way are full of holes. You write that Snead “couldn’t beat out Gary Cuozzo” like that’s the picture of his career. Snead started double-digit games for 10 years in a row before that, and he had a brilliant comeback season the year after. Morrall started double-digit games only four times. Everywhere he played, Morrall signed as a backup or got benched. He didn’t get traded to teams that wanted him as a starter — implying that no one did. At a time when the number of teams in pro football had suddenly doubled, Morrall spent almost his enitre career as a backup.

      You write that “Snead never was” above average, but he made four Pro Bowls and he was traded basically straight up for Sonny Jurgensen. You compliment Morrall’s steady temperament and football intelligence without mentioning his very poor record in postseason play: 3 TD, 7 INT, 56.5 rating, and his worst performances in the biggest games.

      If you want to contend that Morrall was a better player than Snead, that’s fine. I have no interest in arguing against that position. But you can make that case a lot more honestly than it’s presented above.

  • Wolverine

    Glad to see some love shown to Mark Brunell. He was really fun to watch (it’s kind of hard parse out how much of that was due to his excellent receiving corps). The Jaguars are thought of as a joke nowadays, so it’ easy to forget how dominant the Tom Coughlin-era Jaguars of the late 90’s were. Brunell’s performance in the 1996 divisional playoff game lifted his otherwise overmatched team to victory against the Broncos (if not for that, Elway might have retired after winning three straight superbowls instead of two straight).

    • Agreed, Brunell was one of my favorite players to watch in the late ’90s. Those Jags were a fun team.

  • John

    Speaking of bens 2008 season, they had arguably the worst offensive line to ever start in the SB

  • “Brunell also went to the playoffs with Washington in 2005, quarterbacking the team’s only postseason win of the 2000s.”
    Technically true, but he completed 6 passes for 41 yards in that game. Still nice revenge for the 36-35 WAS-TB game in regular season.