Who Are The Elite Quarterbacks?

Maybe I’m just not paying attention; I’ll grant you that. But, you don’t see a lot of NFL hot takes this hot coming from a television partner of the NFL, even if it is ESPN and it’s one of their talking head hot take shows.

For starters, I have to come out and say that the above link is all that I’ve seen. I don’t have the full context of their conversation at my disposal. That annoys me, because I feel like you could cut out an 85-second clip of any conversation and stumble upon something outrageous. Something that – IN context – might not be so inflammatory.

Anyway, my initial reaction is to shrug my shoulders and say, “He’s not wrong.” Even as – when I listen to it – I feel that fanatic urge to defend my team’s guy. The guy I’ve been rooting for since he came into the league in 2012. It really did feel like he crossed a line when he compared Russell Wilson to Big Ben … but, when you really consider it, is he out of line?

I have to take a step back here and ask myself: why is that an insult? Taking off-the-field incidents out of the equation, what’s wrong with Big Ben? He’s a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and almost certainly a first-ballot Hall of Famer. As it stands now, Big Ben is better than Russell Wilson, with the caveat being that – in an ideal world – Wilson will have another decade to try to catch and surpass him.

Then, I have to ask why a guy like Big Ben isn’t elite, in the eyes of Ryan Clark. If Big Ben isn’t elite, then who IS?

He talks about needing an elite defense and running game as crutches, as if every quarterback ever hasn’t needed such things. My main question, then, has to do with what makes an all-time great quarterback?

Is it Super Bowls? Is it playoff appearances? Is it the counting stats? Is it carrying your team on your back and having the entire offense run through your arm? As we’ve seen with Kansas City the last couple seasons, even the biggest talent we’ve probably ever seen in Patrick Mahomes can be slowed down as defenses adjust. And, as we’ve seen with Aaron Rodgers’ entire career, you can only carry a team so far without the requisite defense and running game to help balance things out en route to a Super Bowl championship.

So, what are we talking about? If we’re talking about winning games and making the playoffs, who has been better than Russell Wilson at that through their first ten seasons?

If we’re differentiating between “elite” and “all-time great”, I think that’s dumb. You shouldn’t make “all-time great” arguments until a player has officially retired. You need to take a look at their career in total. What’s the difference between John Elway and Dan Marino? Both were considered elite in their time. But, John Elway only became an all-time great when he closed out his career with back-to-back Super Bowl victories. And he only got those when he had an elite running back and a top-notch defense to rely on.

So, again, what are we talking about here? I’m sorry, but they can’t all be Tom Brady. If you’re comparing every single quarterback to Tom Brady, then congratulations, no one else is an all-time great. No one is elite if they have to match Brady’s lofty heights. At some point, we have to give him his own category, then we have to move on to have reasonable debates about everyone else.

I will reiterate that I don’t think Ryan Clark is wrong when he talks about Wilson needing a quality running game and defense to succeed. I also don’t think he’s wrong when he says you can’t just plug Wilson into any other team and expect them to be a Super Bowl team. But, I would argue the same could’ve been said for Tom Brady. He went to one of the few teams – superb talent on offense, outstanding young defense – that was capable of winning immediately.

But, that’s why Clark’s argument is flawed. There are levels of greatness when it comes to quarterbacks, and if “all-time great” is the peak, then it should be really difficult to get there. That should be reserved for the best-of-the-best-of-the-best. The problem is, I think that’s only reserved for guys who have won three or more Super Bowls. If you want to weed out the Eli Mannings and Ben Roethlisbergers of the world (who, I agree, are not the best-of-the-best), then there’s your mark. Except, that also weeds out Peyton Manning, who many would consider one of those all-time greats, even though he failed more often than not when it came to reaching and winning the Super Bowl. And, when he did win – especially his second one – it had everything to do with having a rock-solid defense.

So, I dunno. No one is elite, and everyone is chasing Tom Brady, is my point. Or, maybe this is a dumb argument, because we don’t know what Wilson’s second act is going to look like. As we’ve seen from countless quarterbacks, just because you’ve already hit your peak, doesn’t mean you’re going to immediately fall off a cliff. It’s a slow, steady descent. He’s going to be an effective quarterback for many more years. He’s going to have plenty of opportunities to prove his value to whatever organization he’s on.

In the end, Ryan Clark will almost certainly be proven right. It’s an easy argument to defend, because it’s all subjective. If Wilson never makes it back to the Super Bowl, he won’t be an all-time great. If he never wins a second title, he won’t be an all-time great. Those are facts. Even if he does, Clark could always move the criteria around to continue making his case. You need a third title, you need 70,000 passing yards, you need this or that or the other. Something will prevent Wilson from being an all-time great; if you will it, Dude, it is no dream.

And, I couldn’t be more excited. Because if you think this video won’t be on Wilson’s radar, you’re crazy. If you think this won’t motivate him every single day for the rest of his life, you’ve got another thing coming. I don’t know if it’ll work or not, but if it does, Clark is going to have these words thrown back in his face time and time again.

If Wilson sticks around Seattle, it could be a whole lotta fun to watch. Clark might not EVER live it down! I can only hope.

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