For much of the past decade, the debate has reigned loudly across NFL circles as to which quarterback was the best in the league. Was it Tom Brady, the Patriots star who a long time ago was once a lanky sixth-round pick out of Michigan? Was it Peyton Manning, the prodigal son of former Saints great Archie Manning, who seemed destined for greatness since parlaying his success at Tennessee into the number one overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft? Or, was it the undersized Drew Brees, who seems to throw for numbers every year that often resemble that of something seen in a video game.
The debate could head any number of directions but a common ground in it is much like the comparison in the NBA, between LeBron James and Michael Jordan and it comes down to one simple thing: championships. While Manning has more of the individual glories, including the MVP awards and the stats, Brady has the hardware, with four Super Bowl rings to Manning and Brees’ one.
Also to consider is the age of the three, with Brady set to turn 38 in August and the 2015 season possibly being the farewell tour for Manning, 39, who is the focus of alleged trade rumors to the Texans earlier this offseason. Brees is 36 but even this past season showed a little decline in his production.
The skills of the three have not simply nosedived off a cliff overnight, but they’re ready to be replaced as the top quarterbacks in the game, including one who’s already in the conversation as the best, the Packers Aaron Rodgers. The other two are the Colts young stud, Andrew Luck, and Pittsburgh’s very own, Ben Roethlisberger, who’s seen a steady increase in production the last few seasons.
If the aerial stats have a say in anything, they already appear to lean in the direction of the youngsters, as they threw for a combined 14,094 yards and 110 scores last year, trumping the elder statesmen’s mark of 13,788 yards and 105 scores. The trio already has a combined three Super Bowl rings, with Big Ben owning two of them. Also, Roethlisberger, 33, is fairly young for a quarterback, a position that’s beginning to yield great production by players well into their late 30’s, like the aforementioned ones.
Roethlisberger also has at his disposal arguably the league’s top offense, and the bar could be raised even higher next year, especially when running back Le’Veon Bell returns from suspension and if wide receiver Martavis Bryant makes the leap everyone is expecting. Last year, Ben threw for 4,952 yards and 32 touchdowns, and those numbers could very well go up next year.
Another way to look at the situation is the fact that Brady could miss some games next season, depending on the outcome of his appeal. As great as his favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski is, Brady simply looks average when “Gronk” is hurt, something that he’s been prone to. Manning contemplated retirement after last season and his passes lacked the same zip they usually have on them. Also, Sean Payton’s offense in New Orleans has the look of a more run-heavy scheme, with the subtraction of tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Kenny Stills. Marques Colston already looks like he’s lost a step and also the new contract given to running back Mark Ingram after his breakout 2014 campaign, along with explosive free agent C.J. Spiller.
To Steelers fans, Roethlisberger has already been severely underrated when it comes to naming off the top QB’s in the game, but his stats last season prove otherwise. Perhaps moving forward, he will get the proper recognition that he’s due, as his name often comes up already when it comes to the conversation with Canton.