A New Age of Quarterbacks; A New Era in the NFL
There’s little ambiguity about the quarterback position in today’s NFL. As the common philosophy has proven over the last several years, the quarterback is the single most important position on the football field. An NFL offense will not operate at any viable capacity without a truly competent and talented signal caller (unless you’re the Jaguars, apparently). After just five weeks, the 2017 NFL season feels like a tipping of the scale in the geopolitical struggle for gridiron hegemony. The earlier half of the decade is sputtering further and further out of sight and mind. Fresh faces in the NFL have not only flirted with relevance, but have established themselves with some credibility as well. Young quarterbacks are tearing up the league in almost every division, providing the NFL with a much needed refresh. What does this mean for the league? Just about everything.
As of Week Five, there are nine starting QB’s who’ve begun their careers within the last three seasons. These young quarterbacks haven’t disappointed in the early going. The most obvious example within this group is Dak Prescott, who’s been a gift for Dallas in the post-Romo era. Yet others are indeed on the rise. Jared Goff’s Rams are 3-2 and tied for the NFC West division lead; Carson Wentz and the Eagles are 4-1 and lead the NFC East outright by two games. Tyrod Taylor, who was drafted in 2011 but didn’t start until 2015, has led the Bills to a 3-2 start and a tie for first in the AFC East; Deshaun Watson, the 12th pick this year, has been impressive for the Texans despite some rookie mistakes, which are expected; Jameis Winston, although shaky at times, appears to be the guy for the next several years in Tampa; Last night, the Bears accepted the fact that Mike Glennon runs the offense much like a go-cart on a railroad (i.e. does not work) and opted to finally start the #2 overall pick in this year’s draft, Mitchell Trubisky; Marcus Mariota isn’t going anywhere in Tennessee, a franchise that appears to be building for a championship run in the next three to four years. The list continues when you mention the likes of Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, who aren’t exactly new faces in the NFL but certainly won’t be retiring soon. The rise of these quarterbacks has immense implications for the rest of the NFL, particularly in light of some older veterans blowing away in the wind.
Have you ever thought about the New England Patriots’ immediate future without Brady or Belichick? What does that mean for the rest of the AFC, or the NFL in general? How about Ben Roethlisberger’s likely departure in the coming offseason? This could doom Pittsburgh for years of toiling amongst the mediocrity so pervasive in the rest of the conference. In Indianapolis, it appears that the Andrew Luck era may be over before it even started. Luck, who might not even play this season, has been plagued with injuries behind a mostly-inept roster that hasn’t shown many signs of life. Baltimore is wildly inconsistent in just about every possible metric with Joe Flacco at the helm. The Denver Broncos, typically a staple amid the top of the NFL hierarchy, still don’t have much of a solution at QB post-Manning/Elway. In the NFC, there’s a similar pattern of decline in older quarterbacks. Carson Palmer’s rapid deterioration has likely marred the Cardinals’ existence to a season of poop. Yes, poop. The New York Giants are 0-5 and may actually be one of the worst teams in the NFL. They lost all three starting WR’s to injury this week, and have proven they cannot protect an older, slow-footed Eli Manning. Much of Drew Brees’ career has been wasted in New Orleans due to a perennially horrendous defensive roster. Brees will retire soon, and unless the Saints are able to significantly bolster the rest of their personnel, they will become a mere afterthought in an otherwise rising NFC South.
The NFL’s balance of power is going to shift remarkably in the 2017 season. There are many franchises that have been regular attendees of the postseason who may not see January football for years to come. Pittsburgh and New England are the teams that come to mind, primarily because they’ve sported the most consistently great AFC teams since the mid-2000’s. Imagine a world where New England doesn’t have a first-round bye in the playoffs. What would that look like? For anyone under the age of 25, it’s almost impossible to remember a season where the Patriots weren’t awesome. Similarly, the Steelers have been to three Super Bowls since 2005 and have missed the playoffs just four times in the last 14 seasons. Eli Manning has led the New York Giants to Super Bowl glory on two separate occasions. His HOF brother Payton, who alluded to his future enjoyment of an indefinite amount of Budweiser upon retiring after a Super Bowl 50 victory, has left an enormous rift in the power structure of the league. Imagine a world where Jacksonville or Tennessee is holding the #2 seed in the conference come wild-card weekend. Will the Buffalo Bills dominate the AFC East after Brady hangs up the cleats? The Chiefs somehow start the regular season undefeated seemingly every year, but nobody is counting on Alex Smith to be Andy Reid’s prodigal son in Kansas City, especially in light of their choice to draft Patrick Mahomes. The San Francisco 49ers are going to draft a top college quarterback this year, aligning the stars for future excellence under the likes of USC’s Sam Darnold or UCLA’s Josh Rosen. The LA Rams are not perfect, yet they’ve shown early signs of life this season behind Jared Goff and rookie head coach Sean McVay. The arrival of these new gunslingers not only assures a spike in jersey sales. It’s all but guranteed that the playoffs in 2017 are going to feature some surprise members.
The writing is on the wall, folks. The NFL is undergoing an enormous revamping of championship teams. As the Belichick-Brady era comes to a halt, the door is wide open for a new superpower to reign supreme in the league. 2017 is going to be a pivotal season for the NFL’s future. Saddle up.