With the recent news that all-time great quarterback Peyton Manning is planning on announcing his retirement this week, the NFL is well on its way into a transition from the greatest set of passers the game has ever seen to a set of young quarterbacks simply trying to live up to their predecessors.
We have seen how each generation of quarterbacks has left a lasting legacy on the game. Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach dominated the 70’s, the quarterback class of 83 was legendary, and the current group of veteran signal callers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning, will go down as arguably the most prolific group of passers the game has ever seen. But the time may be upon us that the torch passes from the older hands of these three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks to younger ones that are starting to make a name for themselves and hope to one day be mentioned in the same breath as those who came before them.
Peyton Manning is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, but his time in the NFL looks to be at a close after he won Super Bowl 50 in a John Elway-esque kind of goodbye to the game. His numbers will be hard to reach for any quarterback, as he holds nearly every passing record in the book.
Tom Brady, who signed a 3-year extension through 2019, looks to have a few more years on the gridiron, and is still playing at a Hall of Fame level despite being 38 years old and having a wide receiver corps that has a combined ZERO Pro Bowl appearances.
Meanwhile Drew Brees is a 1st ballot Hall of Fame passer who has been the heart and soul of a franchise that needed hope. And Brees delivered hope to New Orleans in the form of the Vince Lombardi trophy with his incredible passing numbers.
And while all 4 of these quarterbacks share the qualities and achievements of future Canton, Ohio inductees, a quality they also share is advanced age. Together the 3 average 38 years old while it looks like none of the trio will see the playing field in the 2020’s. And while that might sadden the football fans out there, it is not as though their impending retirements will leave a massive void in the quarterback rich NFL.
Young guys like Cam Newton (26), Russell Wilson (27), Derrick Carr (24), and Andrew Luck (26) are more than ready to pick up where the last group left off. These 4 young players all under the age of 28 have already shown to be absolute studs with 10 Pro Bowl selections between them in their still-early careers. And with Newton’s MVP year and leading the Panthers to a 15 win regular season and Super Bowl berth, it could be said that the reigns have already been handed over to the younger generation of signal callers.
Derek Carr surpassed a great group of division quarterbacks like Phillip Rivers, Alex Smith, and even Peyton Manning, to be the best quarterback I the AFC West. Meanwhile Russell Wilson put up an MVP-worthy season this year coming off back-to-back NFC championships. And Andrew Luck despite missing this year due to injury, he has made a case for being one of the elite passers in the game today.
Now this is not to say that the older quarterbacks are simply over the hill and not worthy of their starting spots, but the writing may be on the wall for some of the more veteran players. Philip Rivers, who deserves to be in the conversation for Hall of Fame status, is on a team who is nowhere near competitive and with the retiring of Malcom Floyd and the old age of Antonio Gates has very little in the way of weapons. Carson Palmer is 36 years old and only signed through 2017, plus he has already has had a brutal knee injury and a retired, so he may just repeat that if another injury occurs. Drew Brees is still putting up video game numbers in Sean Payton’s offense, but is in a quickly improving division and gets absolutely no help from the worst defense in NFL history. Tom Brady, while on a competitive team, is a behind an O-line that struggles to protect a quarterback that is 38 and escapes the pocket like he is 68. That leaves Peyton Manning, who is rumored to be announcing his retirement later this week.
Still, we have seen this before. A mass exodus of All Star quarterbacks being replaced in the league by up and coming superstars that would take the world by storm. Jim Kelly (96), John Elway (98), Dan Marino (99), Steve Young (99), and Troy Aikman (00) all hung it up within 4 years of each other. But that just left opportunity for those shoes to be filled by the talent that was just getting into the league as Manning (98), Brady (00), and Brees (01) would be taking the torch from that generation. And it is a torch that now they pass on to another set of young studs.
So while we do mourn the seemingly inevitable departure of NFL legends, we know that it is less a loss of football greatness and more a changing of the guard at football’s most important position.