Along with watching shady pirated game streams at work, I’ve been watching a lot of football highlights on YouTube and episodes of “A Football Life” as of late. The playoffs are nearly here. Living in Korea, football in general and the NFL specifically has become a long distance relationship for me, but the love is still there. Apropos of nothing, I feel like talking about Hall of Fame Quarterbacks – current members as well as breaking down those most likely to be enshrined.
The NFL Hall of Fame currently has 30 quarterbacks. For the purposes of this post, I’m just going to call it 31 since the only thing that could prevent Brett Favre from being inducted on his first ballot is the apocalypse. Kurt Warner is likely a shoo-in as well, but for now I’m going to leave him out of the conversation since his odds of going to Canton are slightly less than Favre’s 100%.
We football fans (I use the we here, as I assume you must be a football fan if you’ve bothered to make it to the third paragraph) are experiencing the most prolific passing offenses in the history of the game. Stats that I am too lazy to look up would probably show that Don Coryell and Bill Walsh would be considered run-oriented coaches if they were to run their exact offenses in today’s aerial focused game. This begs the question – with such a pass-dominated league, are we currently witnessing the largest influx of quarterback talent in league history?
The answer to this rhetorical question is probably yes, but I want to examine whether we are also watching the most Hall of Fame QB –rich season in history. I think we can all agree that the only way Jay Cutler will ever be in Canton is if he’s invited to Brandon Marshall’s induction. Yet, if Cutler time traveled to 1972, 1982, or even 1992 and somehow kept the same stats he puts up now, he would have been first ballot.
If you are around my age, you probably recall the great quarterbacks of the 1980s and 90s. In 1993 and 1994, the NFL boasted a whopping 8 future Hall of Fame starting QBs. The league had 28 teams at the time, so a remarkable 28.5% of teams started a hall of famer:
Kansas City – Joe Montana
Denver – John Elway
Buffalo – Jim Kelly
Dallas – Troy Aikman
San Francisco – Steve Young
Green Bay – Brett Favre
Miami – Dan Marino
Houston (1993)/Minnesota (1994) – Warren Moon
Surely, this was the most dense population of starting Hall of Fame quarterbacks, right? Shockingly, no. In 1971, there were 26 teams in the league, and NINE starting hall of fame signal callers. Over a third of the league!
New York Giants – Fran Tarkenton
Washington – Sonny Jurgensen
Green Bay – Bart Star
Dallas - Roger Staubach
Kansas City – Len Dawson
Baltimore – Johnny Unitas
New York Jets – Joe Namath
Miami - Bob Griese
Pittsburgh – Terry Bradshaw
Plus, for good measure, George Blanda threw a few passes for Oakland but was by no means the starter.
Now, one could argue that a lot of those QBs are like prominent hitters in the dead ball era, and probably couldn’t beat out Alex Smith for a starting job today. Other than a couple standout seasons and one super famous guarantee, Joe Namath was a pretty mediocre quarterback. Yet, on that list of 1971 QBs, “Namath” was the only uncommon surname that spellcheck recognized. I’ll save that argument for another day.
With these names in mind, let’s take a look at the quarterbacks of 2013 and weigh the hall of fame chances for each. I’ll go division by division, and I’ll start with the AFC West, if for no other reason than the NFC East always gets to go first in these sorts of lists, so fuck them.
Kansas City – Alex Smith – Probably no chance.
Denver – Peyton Manning – As certain as Favre. The NFL Hall of Fame is more likely to shut down entirely than it is to snub Peyton.
San Diego – Phil Rivers – He seemed to have HoF potential at first and he’s had a solid year, but he had too many down years and too little postseason success.
Oakland – Matt McGloin/Terrelle Pryor – I should probably put them in the “too early to tell” category, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet that these guys are not Hall QBs.
Pittsburgh – Ben Roethlisberger – Really tough call for Ol’ Rapey. Successful team, 3 Super Bowl appearances, two wins, maybe the best game-winning TD pass of all time all point toward Canton. Then again, when I watch Rapey play, I never feel like I’m watching one of the best players ever. I don’t seek out his highlights or tune in to Steelers games to see him play. I don’t think anyone else does either. Plus, he’s a dirty rapist. I’d say definitely not first ballot, and 50-50 overall without a whole lot of upward mobility there.
Cincinnati – Andy Dalton – the Bengals seem to win a lot with him, and he can play. I’ll go with a too young to call for him, but he will have to do A LOT to get in.
Baltimore – Joe Flacco – He had pretty much the best postseason in NFL history last year, causing the Ravens to overpay him by 50 million dollars or so. Unless he repeats his January 2013 performance a couple more times, he has no chance.
Cleveland – This year’s plethora of Cleveland starting quarterbacks have roughly the same odds of making the NFL Hall of Fame as I do.
Tennessee – Jake Locker is still young, but I think he’s probably shown enough to assure he won’t be in the Hall.
Indianapolis – Andrew Luck – Still way too early to make a call, but I think he has the potential to make it.
Houston – Matt Schaub, Case Keenum – Both probably have roughly the same 0% odds as David Carr.
Jacksonville – no.
New England – Tom Brady – Yes. Bold call, I know.
Miami – Ryan Tannehill – I think he’s a good player and I’d be happy to have him on my team. I’ll cop out and throw him in the too young to pick category, but I’d lean heavily towards no.
New York Jets – Geno Smith – Too early to tell.
Buffalo Bills – EJ Manuel – Way too early to tell.
Seattle – Russell Wilson – Too early to tell, but he’s look awful promising so far.
San Francisco – Colin Kaepernick – ditto.
St. Louis – Sam Bradford – no chance.
Arizona – Carson Palmer – ditto.
Green Bay - Aaron Rodgers – Tough to say he would be a sure shot if he retired today, but I’m pretty sure he plans to keep playing. If he continues on his current trajectory, he should be in. This should be a good place to mention that I hate the Packers. Two back-to-back Hall of Fame QBs covering over 20 years. Over that same time period, my beloved Chiefs and Bears have gone through a combined 437 starting quarterbacks with maybe 5 Pro Bowl appearances between them.
Chicago – Jay Cutler – Not unless a whole lot changes. So, no.
Detroit – Matt Stafford - I think Brandon Weeden could throw for 4,000 yards if he had Magatron.
Minnesota – Ponder/Cassel/Freeman – Nope.
Atlanta – Matt Ryan is a very talented starting quarterback, but he has no place in Canton.
Carolina – Cam Newton – Another too early to tell, but he hasn’t eliminated himself from the running yet.
New Orleans – Drew Brees – Absolutely.
Tampa – Mike Glennon – Way too early to tell. Also, I haven’t seen the Bucs play a single time this season.
Dallas – Tony Romo – Dude has all the talent in the world, but he’s going to need at least 2, maybe 3 Super Bowl wins to overcome all his gaffes. The way Jerry Jones runs his team, I don’t think those Super Bowls are coming anytime soon. Gotta say no.
Washington - Robert Griffin – He was on my fantasy team last year and I loved watching him play. He should be in the too early to tell camp, but unfortunately I feel like he’s just too injury prone. Out of the 5 young stars (Newton, Kaepernick, Wilson, Luck and RGIII) that dominated the preseason hype this year, I’m now of the mind that Griffin is the least likely one to make the Hall. I hope I’m wrong.
Philadelphia – Nick Foles –Definitely too early to tell, but he’s really come around this season. He could be the most likely Hall of Fame QB in this division, which would have seemed impossible as recently as October.
New York – Eli Manning – Full disclosure – I’ve always hated Eli. He came into the league as a whiney bitch at the draft. I don’t like using the term whiney bitch, as it could be construed as sexist and it’s also pretty played out, but I have no problem using it to describe Eli. Eli’s crying at the draft was reminiscent of John Elway, and Elway is my least favorite athlete of all time. In the end, Elway made the Hall, and deservedly so. Eli, on the other hand, will not be there. Two years ago, he was a borderline candidate – Super Bowl glory and clutch postseason performance mixed with mid-season inconsistency. However, he’s spent the last two years playing his way out of Hall of Fame consideration, a development that I’ve probably enjoyed more than I should have. Then again, I know the Giants are Freddy Krueger, and they could end up going 8-8 and winning the crappy NFC East next year, then going on another playoff run. No QB has ever won three Super Bowls and failed to get to Canton.
So, to recap, the current NFL landscape is populated by three absolute hall locks (Manning, Brees, Brady), one very likely inductee (Rodgers), one coin toss (Rapey), six young upstarts with legit chances (Luck, Wilson, Kaepernick, Foles, Newton, Dalton), three rookies that we don’t know enough about yet (Glennon, Manuel, Smith), and a bunch of guys who range from terrible to very good, but just not good enough.
This means that as many as 14 quarterbacks that started games in 2013 could end up in the Hall. Will that happen? Of course not. 11 of them would have to get in to match the same percentage of starters as the 9 HoFers from 1971. I doubt that 11 of these 14 will make it. I think that the percentage of starters making the hall of fame in 1971 probably won’t ever be eclipsed. Still, I’d rather watch 20 or so of today’s starters than Bob Griese or Sonny Jurgensen.