Good quarterbacks are much more than passers. They are leaders who instill confidence and make teammates play better together than the sum of their individual talents. Great quarterbacks insist on it.
Of course, an accurate throwing arm is a prerequisite to teammates buying into this leadership thing. But there are a lot of passers with strong, accurate arms who do not have what it takes to become leaders or great quarterbacks. Jeff George and JaMarcus Russell come to mind.
Looking at the current crop of NFL quarterbacks -- which Sports Xchange reporters did in this analysis of the entire league -- it is possible this may someday be considered a golden era for quarterbacks, not just because evolving rules are creating an aerial circus, but due to the unusual number of quarterbacks displaying both leadership and passing worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.
Peyton Manning, who transferred his astute leadership from Indianapolis to Denver, is clearly the best of the bunch heading into the 2014 season after throwing for a record 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards last year.
On Wednesday, NFL Network revealed that a vote of players (481 of them to be exact) correctly named Manning as the best player in the league. And while there have been a lot of great quarterbacks and leaders in NFL history, none displayed such a complete mental, physical and psychological control of the game as Manning.
But he alone would not make this a golden era for quarterbacks. There are at least three more with similar traits who were the second, third and fourth quarterbacks named in the NFLN poll, all among the top 11 overall -- New England's Tom Brady, New Orleans' Drew Brees and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers.
That, in itself, would be enough to gild this group with gold, but there are another couple of veterans who may be only one more Super Bowl away from strong Hall of Fame consideration -- Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and San Diego's Philip Rivers.
Looking into the more distant future there are a few impressive young quarterbacks who may be in a HOF discussion someday, such as (in no particular order) Seattle's Russell Wilson, who has one Super Bowl ring after only two seasons; Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, the Colts' latest version of Manning, and maybe Carolina's athletic wonder, Cam Newton.
In four of the last five seasons, at least nine quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards and last year two threw for more than 5,000, including Brees, whose single-season record Manning broke by one yard.
Brees extended his NFL record for most 5,000-yard seasons with his NFC-best 5,162 yards. He has thrown for 4,000 yards in eight straight seasons and has four of the eight 5,000-yard seasons in NFL history.
To put it all in historical perspective, the highly revered Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath (New York Jets) was the first quarterback in pro football history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season when he managed 4,007 yards in 1967 -- in a 14-game season, still in the old American Football League, but when it was legal to mug receivers and quarterbacks.
We can only wonder how Namath would do in today's game, which is far faster and complex, but with rules that favor passing.
Meantime, here is an analysis by Sports Xchange reporters of quarterbacks on every team (listed in alphabetical order):
--QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Carson Palmer. Backups - Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley, Logan Thomas.
Palmer was much better in the second half of the season than the first. He struggled in the offensive system early, throwing nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdowns in the first eight games. He needs to improve that ratio (24-22) next year. Stanton and Lindley did not play. Stanton is definitely the No. 2 quarterback, coach Bruce Arians said. That leaves Lindley and Thomas, a fourth-round pick, to compete for the final roster spot. Arians insists the job is open, although it would be hard to imagine the Cardinals cutting Thomas.
--QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Matt Ryan. Backups - T.J. Yates, Sean Renfree, Jeff Mathews.
Ryan took a licking and kept on ticking last season while under relentless pressure. He was under duress on 37.6 percent of his dropbacks as the Falcons played with a patchwork offensive line. He completed 67.4 percent of his passes in the face of a constant pass rush. The Falcons made it an offseason priority to fix the line so that Ryan can operate in a cleaner pocket. He has shown that when he can step up in the pocket, he can be effective. Ryan has completed 2,093 of 3,288 pass attempts (63.7 percent) for 23,472 yards with 153 touchdowns, 77 interceptions and a 90.6 passer rating during his career. Yates takes over as the backup after being acquired in a trade.
--QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Joe Flacco. Backups -- Tyrod Taylor, Keith Wenning.
Flacco did not live up to the expectations that accompany a blockbuster $120.6 million contract as he threw a franchise-record 22 interceptions. It was an uncharacteristic season for the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player. Some of the biggest priorities for the Ravens are providing Flacco with more time to throw and getting him into a comfort zone. He was sacked 48 times last season and clearly did not look comfortable. He has looked sharp during offseason minicamps and organized team activities. "It's a new year, a new beginning and a chance to do new things," Flacco said. "I think we've got a good team and an offense that can put up some numbers." Taylor remains the backup heading into the final year of his rookie contract. He provides an athletic change of pace as insurance behind Flacco. Wenning did not look ready to be the backup during offseason practice sessions.
--QUARTERBACKS: Starter - EJ Manuel. Backups - Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel, Dennis Dixon.
This is a big year for the 2013 first-round pick, Manuel. After a frustrating rookie season when he could not stay healthy and missed six full games, Manuel's grade was an incomplete, and no one can say with any certainty that he is this team's future. The Bills have to hope that a full offseason with the coaches, and learning the playbook, will offset some of the lost playing time. Manuel is confident that will be the case, but he still has to go out there and prove it. If he goes down, the Bills are not good in the backup positions. Lewis is serviceable, but he is not taking this team to the playoffs, and Tuel and Dixon are non-entities.