The talks have been swirling around since the day the Super Bowl ended: Will Kurt Warner officially retire after this season? And the ever-popular question: Is Kurt Warner a Hall of Famer?
It's very, very close.
But I am here to tell you that Kurt Warner is NOT a Hall of Famer...not yet.
In the Beginning:
Kurt Warner's story is one of the most famous in all of professional sports. After a mediocre college career at Northern Iowa, Kurt attended training camp for the Green Bay Packers in 1994. Warner competed for a spot on the Packers' roster against Brett Favre, Mark Brunell, and Ty Detmer. Warner was released before the season began.
The four quarterbacks in training camp would combine for 862 touchdown passes, 329 wins (including 23 in the postseason), 17 Pro Bowl selections, and 5 MVP awards, while contributing 50 years of service for 14 different teams.
Warner played for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League from 1995-1997, earning All-Arena First Team selections in 1996 and 1997.
Warner was signed by the St. Louis Rams in 1998, before playing for NFL Europe's Amsterdam Admirals in the spring. He backed up future Pro Bowl quarterback Trent Green during the 1998 season and was named the starter before the 1999 season, after Green suffered a season-ending knee injury in preseason.
Warner responded with one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in NFL history.
He threw for 41 touchdown passes. His 4353 passing yards, 109.2 quarterback rating, and 65.1 completion percentage led the league. The Rams dominated the rest of the NFC, winning 13 games before advancing to Super Bowl XXXIV, where Warner threw for 414 yards and two touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors and a world championship.
Warner had one and a half more very good seasons with the Rams. He broke his hand in the middle of the 2000 season, causing him to play only 27 games over those two seasons.
During that time, Warner led the Rams to a 22-5 regular season record and a 2-2 postseason record, including an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVI, where he threw for 365 yards and a touchdown.
He threw for 8259 yards and 57 touchdown passes, with a cumulative passer rating above 100. He earned his second MVP award in 2001, making him already the most successful quarterback in franchise history.
He resurrected his career with the lowly Arizona Cardinals in 2007, throwing for 27 touchdown passes despite only starting 11 games.
The following season, Warner started in all sixteen games, throwing for 4583 yards and 30 touchdown passes. He ranked third in the NFL with a 96.9 passer rating, leading the Cardinals to their first division title since 1976.
In the postseason, the Cardinals won a home game, a road game, and a home game, to advance to their first Super Bowl in team history.
Warner threw for 377 yards and three touchdown passes in Super Bowl XLIII, including a 64-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald with under three minutes remaining to give the Cardinals the lead.
Should Kurt Warner retire before the 2009 season, he will hold numerous NFL records, including most passing yards per game (261.2), most games with a perfect passer rating (three), most yards passing in the Super Bowl (career: 1156, game: 414), and highest percentage of games with 300 yards passing (45.2%, 47 of 104).
He ranks second in NFL history in completion percentage (65.75 percent) and is one of three quarterbacks to take two teams to the Super Bowl.
1) The Benchings:
Kurt Warner's career began in 1998, at the age of 26. It will likely end before the start of next season, at the age of 38.
During those 11 seasons, Kurt Warner played in 16 games exactly three times. He only started more than 11 games only three times. He played in 110 games in his career, starting 101 of them. I'll be fair and not count his 1998 season (one game played, zero starts) against him.
Over his 10 years, he averaged 10 starts per season. He missed 51 games, at least five in six different seasons. Some can be attributed to injury, but most of this resulted from the one thing most people don't want to acknowledge: Kurt Warner kept losing his starting job. Over and over again. FOUR times.
In the 2002 season, he struggled with injuries and posted one of the most dismal touchdown-to-interception ratios in NFL history (three touchdowns, 11 interceptions). He lost his job for good after fumbling SIX times in the 2003 season opener against the Giants. Marc Bulger replaced Kurt Warner and was able to lead the Rams to a 12-4 record and a second-seed in the postseason.
The Rams released Warner in June of 2004, who was promptly signed by the New York Giants. Eight fumbles and three interceptions in a three-game span cost Warner his starting job in the middle of a season. Rookie Eli Manning struggled for the remainder of the season and the Giants finished with a 6-10 record.
The Arizona Cardinals signed Warner before the 2005 season. Head coach Dennis Green named Warner the starting quarterback. Warner struggled for three straight games, before injuring his groin.
Former starter Josh McCown performed well enough during Warner's absence that Green handed the starting job back to McCown. However, after McCown began to struggle, Warner was named the starting quarterback again, before suffering a season-ending partially torn MCL in week 15.
Warner opened the 2006 season as the Cardinals starting quarterback, before losing his job in the fourth quarter of week four. He didn't play again until Matt Leinart suffered a shoulder injury in week 16.
Leinart was named as the team's starter for the 2007 season, before suffering a season-ending injury in week four that handed the job back to Warner.
Even in the 2008 season, Warner almost lost his starting job before the season even began. Leinart was named as the team's starter in the offseason, but on August 30th, Kurt Warner was officially handed the starting job.
2) Surrounding Talent:
Kurt Warner has been blessed with some of the most amazing talent a quarterback could ask for. His receiving and running back corps are not only successful, they are a quarterback's dream come true.
The 1999-2001 Rams were nicknamed the "Greatest Show on Turf", as they became the first team to score 500 points in three consecutive seasons. While Warner was an integral part of this offense, there's no denying the unbelievable talent in the Rams' offensive players.
During those three seasons:
- Running back Marshall Faulk earned three NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards. He finished first in the MVP voting in 2000, and second in 1999 and 2001.
Faulk amassed over 6700 combined rushing and receiving yards, while scoring 59 total touchdowns. Faulk's three-year totals are higher than the career numbers of Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers.
- Wide receiver Isaac Bruce, one of the best route runners in NFL history, earned three consecutive Pro Bowl selections, averaging 76 catches for 1247 yards and nine touchdowns per season.
- Wide receiver Torry Holt earned two Pro Bowl selections and averaged 72 receptions for 1262 yards and six touchdowns per seasons.
- Offensive tackle Orlando Pace was easily the best linemen in the NFL, earning three consecutive Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro selections.
With the Arizona Cardinals, Kurt Warner has been blessed with arguably the greatest wide receiver in the NFL in Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has averaged 98 catches for 1420 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past two seasons, both of which he was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Warner has also had the services of Anquan Boldin, a 2008 Pro Bowl selection, who has averaged 80 catches for 945 yards and 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
I'm going to cut straight to the chase. Kurt Warner is a turnover machine.
He averages more than one interception per game, throwing for 114 in 110 career games (101 starts).
He has fumbled the ball 91 times in his career, at a rate of .87 times per game. Projected over a full season, he averages 14 fumbles. He fumbled six times in a single game in 2003.
Even with the "Greatest Show on Turf," he threw for 53 interceptions and fumbled 23 times in 43 games. His 5.2 interception percentage in the 2000 season was the worst of his career, even worse than his 11-interception performance in just six games in 2003.
In Warner's five best seasons (1999, 2000, 2001, 2007, and 2008), he totaled 130 turnovers.
Despite making only 70 of a possible 80 starts, Warner has averaged 26 interceptions and fumbles per season. That's an average of 1.87 interceptions or fumbles per start--just a slight improvement over his career mark (2.03 per start).
Let's compare Kurt Warner's 2.03 mark to other Hall of Fame quarterbacks--Joe Montana (1.17), Troy Aikman (1.21), Steve Young (1.22), Bart Starr (1.28), George Blanda (1.44), Fran Tarkenton (1.46), Bob Griese (1.48), Otto Graham (1.49), Dan Marino (1.51), John Elway (1.57), Jim Kelly (1.57), Sonny Jurgensen (1.60), Len Dawson (1.67), Norm Van Brocklin (1.86), Terry Bradshaw (1.86), Johnny Unitas (1.87), Warren Moon (1.94), Joe Namath (1.95), Y.A. Tittle (1.97), Bob Waterfield (2.00), Dan Fouts (2.03), and Bobby Layne (2.18).
Only the Detroit Lions' Hall of Fame quarterback from the 1950's, Bobby Layne, has a higher percentage than Kurt Warner.
Warner's turnovers are crucial also. It's not just first quarter interceptions or second quarter fumbles. It's the big stuff.
He threw a 47-yard interception touchdown to Ty Law in Super Bowl XXXVI, giving the Patriots a lead they would never relinquish.
He threw a 100-yard interception touchdown on the final play of the first half in Super Bowl XLIII.
He lost a fumble with five seconds remaining in the same game.
4) Passer Rating
Kurt Warner has the fourth highest passer rating in NFL history (93.8).
However, I have three issues with passer rating as the primary statistic for a quarterback:
1) It doesn't account for fumbles
2) It doesn't factor in the strength of a quarterback's running and receiving corps
3) 18 of the top 22 all-time leaders in passer rating are active quarterbacks.
Offensive records are falling like crazy nowadays. Look at record-setting guys like Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Marvin Harrison, and Adrian Peterson. Anymore, a 100 passer rating probably won't even lead the league. An 85 passer rating is merely average.
Major League Baseball requires ten seasons of play for a baseball player to make the Hall of Fame. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has no requirements for length of a player's career.
However, I personally don't feel that Kurt Warner played enough games in his career to warrant a selection into Canton.
Warner played in 16 games three times. He played in 11 or fewer games in every other season. It's not just because of injuries, either. It's because he just wasn't good enough to keep his job—over and over and over and over again.
Kurt Warner is a fantastic quarterback and is one great season away from the Hall of Fame. Twice, he was named the game's Most Valuable Player. He won a Super Bowl championship in 1999 and led his team the Super Bowl in 2001 and 2008.
Besides being a winner, Warner has fantastic numbers and ranks in the top in many single-season passing statistics.
However, Warner did not win football games without incredible supporting talent, as Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, and Larry Fitzgerald are future Hall of Famers, while Anquan Boldin also has a chance.
It could be argued that no quarterback in NFL history has been aided by his teammates more than Kurt Warner.
Faulk, Bruce, Holt, Pace, Fitzgerald, and Boldin all either had previous success before playing with Kurt Warner, or continued their success after his departure.
Isaac Bruce was no more successful during Warner's tenure than at any other point in his career. Torry Holt's greatest season came with Marc Bulger in 2003. Orlando Pace continued making Pro Bowls (four more) after the days of the Greatest Show on Turf.
Larry Fitzgerald has been consistent throughout his career, whether playing with Josh McCown, Matt Leinart, or Warner. Anquan Boldin had his best season in 2003, with the services of Jeff Blake and Josh McCown.
Marshall Faulk is the only one of the six to have his best seasons with Kurt Warner.
Warner won more than five games in a season just four times in his career. He won more than two games in a season only six times. When he doesn't have the talent, he cannot win. Sometimes he had the talent, and he still didn't win.
He went 0-6 with the 2002 Rams and 0-1 with the 2003 Rams. He went 2-8 with the 2005 Arizona Cardinals and 1-4 with the 2006 Arizona Cardinals. He once went 33 months without winning a regular season game. He has won just 57 career regular season games.
This is what separates him from the best of the best.
I believe that the Pro Football Hall of Fame should warehouse the best of the best.