9.8.08 - My friends and I have a running debate that often reads like the first line of a bad joke: "How many rock-solid NFL quarterbacks are there right now?" We've had this argument for the last three seasons, every September, and every year we come up with a list of the guys we would absolutely want running our team.
I know what you're thinking. So, how many?
Brady, the Manning brothers, Palmer (when he has an offensive line), Brees, Romo (until January), McNabb. Favre.
(Hasselbeck plays in the NFC West, so we don't include him. Roethlisberger forgets to put his helmet on from time to time, and he owes his Super Bowl ring to Mike Vanderjagt, Jerome Bettis and a great defense. Philip Rivers? He'll get there, soon enough, but he's not there yet and those Chargers are Tomlinson's team.)
Tom Brady's unlucky step yesterday afternoon got me thinking: what's the criteria for an elite quarterback these days? And what I came up with is this: without this guy, does your team have even the slightest chance of winning the big one this year? Absolutely not.
Now, Tom Brady is a cut above the rest of these guys, beyond any shadow of doubt. His performance last year was flat-out dominant. He moved back to his customary spot ahead of Peyton for "Best QB of the 2000s," led an offense that will never be matched, and turned his narrative around, from Underdog 6th-round Pick Who Made Good to The Guy You Don't Want To Face EVER. And so it stands to reason, Brady going down for the year in Week 1 changed the whole league dynamic. You can tell by the look on the face of every Pats fan you come across. The Patriots are finished for the year. And you can tell by that noise coming from Jersey and parts of Manhattan that the ecstatic, still-drunk Jets fans are thinking the same thing.
The second question that comes out of the Brady injury is, how important is a starting quarterback to an NFL team?
Well, I'm sitting here watching the Tavaris Jackson Show, wondering what the Vikes would look like if they had someone with just a liiiiitle bit more ability in that position, and I'm thinking...yeah. It makes a big difference. It's extremely important.
Now, it's not black and white. You could argue the merits of Kyle Orton vs. Rex Grossman til you're blue in the face (from laughing at how hilariously bad they both are), and you can wonder how the Buccaneers ever managed to get to the playoffs with Chris Simms, or how the Ravens won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer. But those guys seem to be the exception. Perennially good teams are defined for the most part by winning quarterbacks. Montana. Elway. Kelly. Aikman. Favre. Brady. Peyton.
Still disagree? Consider this: if Matt Cassel ends up holding this thing together in New England and the Pats win nine or ten games, how big a contract is he getting as a free agent the next time he's available?
And finally, consider these 2008 Vikings, from two paragraphs ago, who should be too good to be left out of the final six of the NFC this year, but they can't make the playoffs with this kid. It's not happening. Now, imagine they had Brett Favre under center for them instead of Tweak Jackson?
(As I write this, Jackson just forced a terrible pass into coverage that turned into a game-ending interception. I rest my case.)