Great running backs and playmaking receivers have been a rare find in the NFL, championships teams have always been able to get by with simply very good backs and wide outs. At the turn of the century this could be said about quarterbacks as well. Just look at a list of Super Bowl champions. The Tampa Bay Bucs won the big game in 2003 with Brad Johnson behind center and Trent Dilfer managed the Baltimore Ravens offense in 2001 as they won the Super Bowl. Now the league is more pass happy than ever and a simple game manager will not be enough, making a quarterback the most precious commodity on a football team once again.
A look at the shelf life of the current starters will give an idea of how close some of these teams are to actually winning a championship. Some NFL teams have game managers, some have veterans on their last legs needing to win it all right now, some clubs have a young gun who needs a few years to develop, and some teams have that franchise quarterback set for the next five seasons. Let’s look at the league by division and see how long each team has with its current starter in place, beginning with the NFC.
Current Starter: Tony Romo
Career: 990/1571, 12,777 Yards, 94 TD/51 INT, 94.9 Rating
Shelf Life: 5+ Years, Pro Bowl Caliber
Fans may complain when he throws a pick to kill a two minute drill or shows up as a postseason dud, but he is a risk taker with a big arm that has led the Dallas Cowboys to a 46-26 regular season record. He has yet to play in a losing season, but also has yet to win a playoff game. Still, he is a rare frustrating breed of quarterback that cannot be counted out of any fight with any defense.
New York Giants
Current Starter: Eli Manning
Career: 1442/2559, 16,693 Yards, 113 TD/82 INT, 77.6 Rating
Shelf Life: 5+ Years, Pro Bro Caliber
I was shocked when I looked at his numbers, but then realized that the New York Giants have tied their future to a balanced offense that favors a bruising run game. His completion percentage is not impressive at just 60 percent in the last two seasons when he has set himself apart from the rest of the field. Still, few quarterbacks have won a Super Bowl ring and fewer still have won a Super Bowl MVP (Super Bowl XLII). His ability to show up for the big games makes him a true gem behind center that Giants fans should try and keep until the bitter end of his career.
Current Starter: Donovan McNabb
Career: 2630/4466, 30,555 Yards, 204 TD/93 INT, 86.2 Rating
Shelf Life: 5+ Years as an NFL hired gun
Philadelphia Eagles fans have been on the fence on this guy for years, wondering if he is done or not. He achieved star status as a breed of quarterback that could run and throw, struggled with injury thanks to his early playing style, and adjusted to the new NFL and shined. He also has been to the Super Bowl, in a 21-24 losing effort in which he was Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns as well as three picks. The fans are right though, now. He has a few years left where he can have a punchers chance before he simply becomes a veteran band aid for teams struggling to find a quarterback.
Current Starter: Jason Campbell
Career: 811/1336, 8,723 Yards, 43 TD/30 INT, 81.2 Rating
Shelf Life: Backup Quarterback Extraordinaire until he earns enough money to retire comfortably.
Jason Campbell has a big arm but no touch. He is proof that Joe Montana is not overrated. He is playing his way out of the Redskins organization as they eventually have to come to terms with his failure as a first round draft pick.
Current Starter: Jay Cutler
Career: 944/1506, 11,070 Yards, 68 TD/ 49 INT, 86.4 Rating
Shelf Life: 5+ Years, a few Pro Bowl Seasons with a stunning late career
The Denver Broncos were hoping that he would be the next John Elway, a maverick quarterback with a cannon for an arm and the guts to take that extra hit on a scramble on Third and Five. His numbers are actually pretty similar to the early Elway, but a management fiasco gave him to the Chicago Bears. Now, the Bears get to enjoy the spoils of a quarterback that will frustrate them a few more seasons before his mental growth and physical ability are at optimal levels.
Current Starters: Matthew Stafford
Career: 115/214, 1265 Yards, 5 TD/ 12 INT 55.9 Rating
Shelf Life: Not Available
If people made decisions binding quarterbacks to their rookie season then legends like Troy Aikman, John Elway, and many more would have never of had those amazing careers. I have seen him play and he has moments where he looks like a star, zipping passes in between defenders through a tight window. Everyone needs to keep an eye on him and see if he is for real or simply another Joey Harrington.
Green Bay Packers
Current Starter: Aaron Rodgers
Career: 540/855, 6622 Yards, 45 TD/19 INT, 95.3 Rating
Shelf Life: 5+ Years, a few Pro Bowl Caliber seasons
Rodgers was forced to sit on the bench for three seasons while Favre played out his time as the Green Bay Packers starter. Then, suddenly, thanks to Matt Ryan, he is expected to immediately put up big numbers and lead the team to the playoffs. He put up big numbers but the team (a flawed team) only won six games. He has the arm, the ability to deliver in a two-minute drill, and the legs to keep defenses honest. Once he develops a little better pocket timing (get rid of the damn ball!) then he will be a stud.
Current Starter: Brett Favre
Career: 5894/9536, 67,052 Yards, 480 TD/313 INT, 86.0 Rating
Shelf Life: Expiring soon, but will keep ruining his legend like Michael Jordan
Favre only has a few more seasons left. He is still among the better quarterbacks in the NFL, but his football days should be numbered soon as he struggles to keep that arm rested as the season wears on. The Minnesota Vikings are a great situation for him since he has the best running back in the league to keep defenses honest, but after a couple of years he is going to have to leave. Then the Minnesota Vikings will have to start over, so they better draft a quarterback now and prime him for lofty expectations.
Current Starter: Matt Ryan
Career: 404/667, 5089 Yards, 28 TD/20 INT, 85.8 Rating
Shelf Life: 5+ Years, not sure of what caliber play
Matt Ryan was the Atlanta Falcons savior in 2008, making the big throws and helping fans forget about Michael Vick sooner than the front office expected. Ryan led the team to a 11-5 record and exited in the first round of the playoffs in a hotly contested 30-24 loss to the NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals. This season he has regressed a little bit, but how telling can that be in a quarterbacks second season? I need another year to see if his first season was a mirage thanks to the NFL-ready Boston College system that he came from or if he is the real thing.
Current Starter: Jake Delhomme
Career: 1582/2655, 19,340 Yards, 120 TD/89 INT, 83.2 Rating
Shelf Life: 1-2 Years Left as Starter
That shelf life is mostly due to Coach John Fox’s allegiance to Delhomme. Delhomme has had a stellar career as a glorified game manager. Sure he could make a few bog throws, but he was never asked to single-handedly take the team over for more than a few fourth quarters. The Panthers have been a team that has relied on its defense more than its offense and Delhomme was great for that while that was in vogue in the NFL, but the game of football has changed and he is just too old to change with it. The Panthers would be wise to find a replacement now and I do not think Matt Moore is the answer.
New Orleans Saints
Current Starter: Drew Brees
Career: 2515/3915, 28,594 Yards, 185 TD/106 INT, 90.5 Rating
Shelf Life: 5+ All Pro Status for the next few seasons and Pro Bowl Caliber long after that
Drew Brees is entering the prime of his career with a team that seems to have the coaching staff that appreciates his talents and the cast of playmakers to inflate his numbers beyond compare. The Saints could begin a dynasty with this quarterback and could erase the more than four decades of disappointment. Brees is staying here (or at lest should be) until his arm falls off.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Current Starter: Josh Freeman
Career: 16/35, 221 Yards, 3 TD/1 INT, 83.2 Rating
Shelf Life: Not Available
Josh Freeman may have been a first round draft pick (No. 17 pick) by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was hardly a lauded player. He had a nice debut that is typical for a rookie in terms of yards, but exceptional in terms of touchdowns (even against the Packers defense). For my money, Freeman’s scouting report from Mocking the Draft makes him sound a little too much like Jason Campbell.
Current Starter: Kurt Warner
Career: 2534/3872, 30,766 Yards, 198 TD/125 INT, 93.3 Rating
Shelf Life: 1-3 Years, as long the Cardinals can avoid handing the reins over to Matt Leinart
Kurt Warner looks like an old embittered warrior more than a quarterback in his Arizona Cardinals uniform, but I think that epitomizes his career at this point. He is fighting off old age and is not going to let this role as starter go no matter what lingo he uses about being a teacher for Leinart. Unfortunately, like an old warrior he is going to keep fighting well beyond his years and the Cardinals management will likely let him since Leinart just lacks the awareness to be an NFL quarterback. The only way Warner is forced is if the Cards seasons go south and he becomes too expensive to keep.
San Francisco 49ers
Current Starter: Alex Smith
Career: 498/899, 5,369 Yards, 25 TD/36 INT, 65.7 Rating
Shelf Life: 5+ Years, starter until his contract is up after the 2010 season, at which point he becomes a third string back up.
Alex Smith, the first pick of the 2005 draft, is back in the starting role because Shaun Hill was simply ineffectual at quarterback. Smith never lived up to his billing and should consider leaving the NFL once his contract is up to become a star in one of the lesser football leagues.
Current Starter: Matt Hasselbeck
Career: 2137/3550, 24,856 Yards, 157 TD/98 INT, 84.7 Rating
Shelf Life: 3 to 5 Years, will remain a starter throughout the rest of his career
Matt Hasselbeck’s Pro Bowl days are behind him as injuries continue to rob him of playing time and he is unable to develop new receivers. This makes him a great fit for a team that needs a seasoned quarterback. His contract is up in 2011 with the Seahawks, but they do not have a real protégé in place. If this was a couple of years ago I would say that Seattle would resign him for two- to three-years and teach a new draft pick how to play the position, but this is a new age when general managers want immediate results (or do not want to pay two quarterbacks big bucks as Len Pasquarelli argues). I expect to be seeing Hasselbeck in a Raiders uniform in the near future.
St. Louis Rams
Current Starter: Marc Bulger
Career: 1924/3094, 22,301 Yards, 120 TD/91 INT
Shelf Life: Five Years, his contract runs out in 2013 and expect him to have taken enough punishment to happily retire
Marc Bulger put up great numbers when the Rams system was working, but has found that as the talent level and blocking has diminished he is unable to put up even decent numbers. In the last two seasons he has failed to play a full season and eclipse 11 touchdowns. It is hard to say how much of this is his fault since he is constantly being barraged by defensive lineman and has old or inept receivers dropping passes. The Rams need to draft a line before getting another young quarterback so St. Louis has basically set Bulger up to be gluten for punishment.