The NFL plans to make up for lost time next year by flooding the Hall of Fame with members from the past. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
It already was known that the Pro Football Hall of Fame would have a Centennial Class for 2020. What wasn’t known was how many.
As it stands now, the maximum number of inductees in a year is eight. In conjunction with the NFL’s 100th anniversary celebration, the Pro Football Hall of Fame tentatively has approved a class of 20 for next year, Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker revealed Monday.
It would allow players, coaches and contributors who have fallen through the cracks a spot in Canton.
The operating board has approved five modern-era candidates — the same as normal — plus 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches for the Class of 2020. The full board still must approve the plan during their meeting Aug. 2.
“It is extremely elite company, and it’s not the Hall of very, very good. It’s the Hall of Fame, and so it should be difficult to make it,” Baker said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “But there’s a lot of guys through the years [who have slipped through the cracks]. We have several guys who are on all-decade teams who aren’t in the Hall of Fame, so this is an opportunity with the Centennial coming up. What we’ve looked at potentially and has been approved, at least in concept, by our operating board . . . is that potentially we would have 20 Hall of Famers enshrined for the year 2020.
“This year we have eight, so this would be quite a few guys, but it would be the five normal modern-era players elected from 15 finalists and then 10 seniors, three contributors and two [coaches]. But again, I want to stress that that’s got to be something that’s passed by our board on Friday, Aug. 2.”
The seven first-team all-decade players in the senior pool would have their best shot at earning election. Only one of those, former Cowboys safety Cliff Harris, has ever made it on the list of finalists, according to Rick Gosselin of the Talk of Fame.
Former coach Don Coryell, a five-time finalist, also likely would have a great chance at finally earning his due.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame currently has 318 Hall of Famers.
Some of the top first-ballot players for the 2020 class include safety Troy Polamalu, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and linebacker Patrick Willis. Peyton Manning comes on board in 2021.
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Eliot Harrison of NFL.com offers his list of the 25 greatest QBs ever. The whole thing is here, edited below:
Who is the greatest quarterback of all time?
It’s a question that has been posed countless times. You might have a good idea on who is No. 1. But what about Nos. 2-25? Now that is the spot in the football universe where the QB debate gets pretty darn interesting.
Makes for good conversation, too. The last time I completed a ranking of the best quarterbacks to ever lace ’em up was back in 2014. A few years later I heard the list being discussed on the radio, leading me to think the list needed a refresher (and in some respects, a drastic makeover). With the 100th NFL season also on the horizon, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the game’s most exalted position, and to contrast the most celebrated players that played it. Well, they weren’t always celebrated, as even the Hall of Fame and HOF-caliber players below often heard as many jeers as cheers. Perhaps that, as much as anything, makes this exercise so worthy of the time — the subjective nature of it all, and the concerted effort to quell that subjectivity and morph it into educated objectivity.
Easier said than done, but to that end I enlisted the support of Jack Andrade, research maven for NFL Network. He and I have collaborated on historical pieces before, such as comparing quarterbacks from 1992 and 2017 with a statistical equalizer. You will see a little of that below, with some reference to Jack’s handiwork.
As for the rest, there are facts and there are opinions. The following includes a portion of the former, and plenty of the latter. Many of these players are compared with their peers from the same era as well as quarterbacks from a different decade. It should make for interesting arguments in your head or at your favorite pub. Send me your strongest take. Would love to hear it. @HarrisonNFL is the place.
First, let’s start with the greatest quarterbacks to not make the top 20. An appetizer, if you will.
25) Norm Van Brocklin
Los Angeles Rams, 1949-1957; Philadelphia Eagles, 1958-1960
24) Len Dawson
Pittsburgh Steelers, 1957-1959; Cleveland Browns, 1960-1961; Dallas Texans, 1962; Kansas City Chiefs, 1963-1975
23) Fran Tarkenton
Minnesota Vikings, 1961-1966, 1972-1978; New York Giants, 1967-1971
22) Warren Moon
Houston Oilers, 1984-1993; Minnesota Vikings, 1994-1996; Seattle Seahawks, 1997-1998; Kansas City Chiefs, 1999-2000
Moon could be higher on this list; he could be lower. Those who would say others belong ahead of him would have a point in that Moon never enjoyed success in the playoffs, winning only three postseason starts (and never advancing to a conference title game) in his 17-year career. Yet, what those pundits miss, and why Moon could be (should be?) higher on this list, is the fact that he had to spend the first six years of his pro career in the Canadian Football League before he got a chance to play quarterback in the NFL.
21) Jim Kelly
Buffalo Bills, 1986-1996
Put the four Super Bowl losses aside. Sure, Kelly and the Bills’ offense didn’t play great in any of those contests. But what about all the playoff games to get them there?
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That’s your bonus five right there. Hated to leave out Y.A. Tittle, whose run from 1961-1963 is up there with the most incredible three-year performances in league history. Doubly hated omitting Bobby Layne, who won back-to-back titles in Detroit and made the sad-sack Steelers respectable in the early 1960s. Then there’s Philip Rivers, and I didn’t forget about either Kenny — Stabler or Anderson. One word: under-freaking-rated (actually that’s three words and two hyphens).
20) Kurt Warner
St. Louis Rams, 1998-2003; New York Giants, 2004; Arizona Cardinals, 2005-2009
When it comes to rating Warner, most folks can’t get past the mid-career lull. Their argument is, essentially, that he didn’t enjoy enough of a prime. Well, that might be true. But it sure as heck wasn’t all his fault.
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Stat you need to know: Warner went 1-2 in his three Super Bowl starts, but did you know that he threw a touchdown to tie the game or take the lead in the final three minutes of all three games? That puts things into perspective.
19) Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004-present
Maybe the most difficult guy on this list to rate. Roethlisberger has, at times, played brilliantly. He led the NFL in passing yards in 2018 (5,129), his 15th season. He posted a passer rating of 98.1 and went 14-1 as a starter during his first season (including the playoffs). He’s won two Super Bowls, and started a third. On those merits alone, he should probably go higher than 19th here. Then again, has Roethlisberger ever been the best or second-best player at his position?
18) Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks, 2012-present
Wilson hasn’t put in nearly as much time as the other players that are listed here among the league’s pantheon of all-time quarterbacks. That’s OK, because his first seven seasons as a starter rate just as well as that of almost any QB in league history.
17) Terry Bradshaw
Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970-1983
There are those, particularly the aforementioned NFL Research guru Jack Andrade (who I’ve done many a historical-research deep-dive with), who think Bradshaw was an average NFL quarterback. If you consider the body of his regular season career alone, you wouldn’t be as far off the mark as many of Bradshaw’s passes were from 1970-1974. Yet, from 1977 until 1982, he was quite effective, shrugging off injuries and a coach who was not the easiest for QBs to play for in Chuck Noll. So why is Bradshaw here? Because when it came to big games, particularly the Super Bowl, he was often masterful.
16) Sid Luckman
Chicago Bears, 1939-1950
Severely underrated. Vastly underrated. Whatever other adjective you can come up with that applies here, please do. There’s a reason why some of the Bears’ passing records still belong to Luckman.
15) Steve Young
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1985-1986; San Francisco 49ers, 1987-1999
Steve Young retired in the previous century, but he’s a prototype of the modern player who can throw, run, and throw on the run. In fact, he might be the most complete quarterback to ever lace ’em up. You read that right. He was the Russell Wilson of his day, using his athleticism to make plays with his legs, yet knowing when to call it a day and play another down. He was as accurate as Drew Brees, and he was as tough as they come.
14) Troy Aikman
Dallas Cowboys, 1989-2000
If Young was the prototype for the modern-day quarterback, Aikman was the embodiment of what every GM in pro football was looking for at the position from 1950 until Y2K. That is, a tall, steady presence in the pocket and in the huddle, complete with a strong arm that operated with a tight release. Aikman could see, sense and let it fly as quickly as anyone, despite not being necessarily known for doing so. You might have heard that Aikman’s numbers aren’t as impressive because the Cowboys’ offense was all about running the football. Well, that isn’t exactly true. What is accurate is that Dallas’ offense was a replica of the Air Coryell attack, which threw for quality, not quantity. With the Cowboys leading so often late in games in the ’90s, there was no need to keep chucking it
13) Bart Starr
Green Bay Packers, 1956-1971
Starr always gets placed third among the Packers quarterbacks. It’s not fair, especially when most analysts say the game is about winning and not stats. Who can match Starr’s 9-1 postseason record? (Answer: Nobody.) Starr ranks below Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers here — and it’s cloooooose — only because he struggled early on and near the end of his 16-year career.
12) Brett Favre
Atlanta Falcons, 1991; Green Bay Packers, 1992-2007; New York Jets, 2008; Minnesota Vikings, 2009-2010
Similar to his Hall of Fame forebearer in Green Bay, Favre is often remembered for one aspect of his career: the ironman streak of 297 consecutive starts. It zooms far past being impressive, no doubt. So did the man’s lasers. However, if there is one thing not mentioned quite enough, it’s the fact that Favre won three straight MVPs.
11) Sammy Baugh
Washington Redskins, 1937-1952
Too high, right? Sammy Baugh, a guy who came into the league in 1937, shouldn’t sniff this rarefied air, right? Whatever. Yes, Baugh played in some of the NFL’s prehistoric days, back when throwing for over 100 yards in a game was a solid outing. Except he threw for 335 and three touchdowns in the 1937 NFL Championship Game, winning the title as a rookie. Guessing 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL would take that line. Baugh revolutionized the passing game, catapulting off the strides made by the Packers’ Arnie Herber to make throwing the football more than just an idle threat.
So, those are Nos. 11-20. The next 10, the elite of the elite, have been scrutinized through every possible metric, consideration, and of course, subjective reasoning. Only one member of the top 10 never won a title. Meanwhile, four of the signal-callers below played the bulk of their careers over the last 20 years, which is indicative of the improved play at the position as a whole.
10) Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers, 2005-present
There will be those in the peanut gallery who would expect to see Rodgers higher than 10th, and those that would be just fine putting him behind Favre. (And even a few cheeseheads would slot Rodgers behind Starr.) Frankly, putting Rodgers at 10 was the hardest selection, particularly since it placed him over Baugh, who was the top quarterback of his era.
9) John Elway
Denver Broncos, 1983-1998
If winning is the lone gauge for determining the finest quarterbacks in league history — a method we discussed in the Rodgers section but one I don’t subscribe to — then Elway’s career received a boost from those back-to-back Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998. In fact, immediately after winning those rings, I recall some folks vaulting Elway to Johnny Unitas-level status. Reasonable? Well, you can view Elway’s career from several prisms. One of the most common is for critics to say he was a Hall of Fame quarterback, but far from the greatest, due to the fact that Denver’s late 90s championship teams won because of a supercharged running game behind Terrell Davis. Or, there is the vantage point of Elway’s early chapters, when he was considered a one-man band that willed the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances in his first seven years. Yet another view stems from a pure talent perspective. For all you Patrick Mahomes junkies out there, hop on YouTube and watch yourself a scoop of Elway from 1985 or ’86. What an arm. Extremely mobile, too.
8) Roger Staubach
Dallas Cowboys, 1969-1979
There is only one Roger Staubach. There will never be another player like him, much less quarterback. He served in the Navy for four years, including a tour in Vietnam, upon graduating from the academy and was the ultimate franchise representative, embodying all that was right about professional sports while never being a distraction to his team, save for the artificial one Tom Landry created when he began rotating a young Staubach and Craig Morton EVERY PLAY.
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Losing out on those four seasons while he served in the Navy and the fact that he might have played longer had injuries, especially concussions, not piled up on him ultimately hurts Staubach on this list. Rightfully so, as longevity is part of the deal. Yet, Staubach didn’t go out with a whimper like so many Hall of Fame quarterbacks. He led the NFC in passer rating in each of his final three seasons, and made the Pro Bowl in each of those years.
7) Dan Marino
Miami Dolphins, 1983-1999
Marino is considered the universal exception to the “thou shalt win a Super Bowl to be great” sports proverb that has pervaded analysis over the last 25 years. It used to be, back when the Super Bowl was young, that Y.A. Tittle, Dan Fouts, and other quarterbacks who never won a title but displayed excellence, and put forth gaudy numbers (for their time), could be counted among the top-shelf passers in league history. No more, except for Marino, it seems. So how has Marino transcended one of the most tired, stale, dumb*@$ arguments in sports? Although I can’t be sure, the educated guess is that the Dolphins legend’s wow factor was so off the charts that he couldn’t be denied.
6) Drew Brees
San Diego Chargers, 2001-2005; New Orleans Saints, 2006-present
Much like Marino, Brees has made a living producing gaudy numbers. Many in the football business think he’s been underrated, partially because his record 74,437 passing yards have come in workmanlike fashion. Brees is not the imposing presence Cam Newton is. He doesn’t have Aaron Rodgers’ arm. Although a nice-looking athlete, Brees has never been the GQ cover-boy-type like Tom Brady or a young Joe Namath. All he does is produce, year after year
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Stat you need to know: The fact that Brees has finished ahead of all comers in passing yards seven times, a league record, doesn’t validate the uniqueness of his production. Rather, it’s how often Brees has reached numbers that other greats either never do or rarely do. For example, while he has passed the aforementioned 5,000-yard-barrier five times, no other player has managed that total more than once. He has completed over 70 percent of his passes four times, and no other player has surpassed that number more than one time.
5) Otto Graham
Cleveland Browns, 1946-1955
Arguments can be made for an old-timer like Graham ranking this high that, unfortunately, some football fans just won’t consider. Imagine a world in which people only believe what they want to believe, basing their opinions on alternative facts. Thank goodness that only happens in pro football. The stat/number/fact that you hear the most about Graham is concise and carries import: 10 seasons, 10 championship game appearances…And he did it all with class.
Stat you need to know: I have always thought that yards per attempt was the most unheralded measure of a player, or at least quarterback, in pro football. It’s a simple data point: How much bang for the buck does a quarterback give his team when he cocks his arm? It’s also the one area that older passers, such as Graham, can be measured fairly equally with players of today. Guys like Graham threw down the field, as opposed to tossing none-yard outs to Danny Amendola and three-yard ins to Jarvis Landry. All of which is to say that no stat in this article is more impressive than Graham’s career yards-per-attempt mark of 9.0. The dude almost got a first down every time he released the ball! When I sat down with Jack Andrade to go over the numbers, Jack had the brilliant idea of finding out how many times Graham would have had to spike the ball into the dirt for the next closest player to catch him on the all-time list. The answer: 174 times! For the next active passer? More than 200! Next.
4) Johnny Unitas
Baltimore Colts, 1956-1972; San Diego Chargers, 1973
The innovator of the group, Johnny Unitas altered the way the quarterback position was played in a similar manner to another Colt some four decades later. Much of what you see in the passing game today can be attributed to Unitas. He morphed the disorganized approach losing teams used to make a comeback late in a game into the routine two-minute drill we know today. Before this monumental shift in strategy, offenses ran their normal attacks, clocks be damned, and more often than not, ran out of time (only Bobby Layne achieved regular success with this inefficient approach). With Unitas’ late-game heroics came clock management and precision passing.
Stat you need to know: Unitas is the only player to lead the league in passing touchdowns four straight years, a feat he pulled off from 1957 to 1960. During that time, he also completed a streak of 47 straight games with at least one touchdown pass. Drew Brees beat it in 2012, some 52 years later. However, when Unitas produced his record streak, he was throwing the ball fewer than 29 times per game. Brees? Nearly 40. Huge difference. Moreover, while Brees tossed a touchdown on 6.2 percent of his passes during his span, an excellent number, Unitas did the same on 7.6 percent of his attempts. That Unitas streak from the late ’50s is every bit as golden as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
3) Peyton Manning
Indianapolis Colts, 1998-2011; Denver Broncos, 2012-15
What can you say about Peyton Manning that hasn’t already been said? Not much. The key with Manning is pointing out how he changed the way the position was played. Lost in all of the passing yards (he ranks second), passing touchdowns (he ranks first) and those five MVP trophies lies the undercurrent of innovation. By the time he was drafted in 1998, quarterbacks had long ceased calling their own plays. The Raiders were the last holdout. They quit the practice in the mid-1980s. Sure, Dan Marino called many of his own via audible as he got more experienced. Jim Kelly called them on the reg out of the K-Gun, the Bills’ rip-off of the Bengals’ no-huddle offense that befuddled the AFC in 1988 (so Boomer Esiason should be mentioned here, too.) Manning began calling plays at the line constantly in the mid-to-late 2000s, but his approach was different. He would identify defensive formations at the line, choose the best play to counter what he saw and routinely yell out dummy calls more than anyone else. Opponents would do their best to match wits and identify keys, only to have Manning switch the play up, or shift it to the opposite side, seconds before snapping the ball. Only veteran middle linebackers or defensive play-callers, such as a Ray Lewis or the too-often forgotten Zach Thomas, could even attempt to keep pace with Indy’s Hall of Fame quarterback.
Manning’s wobbly throws often resembled some Dan Fouts specials, but like the phenomenal Chargers quarterback, the ball always got there.
2) Joe Montana
San Francisco 49ers, 1979-1992; Kansas City Chiefs, 1993-94
For a long time, it was Joe Montana and then everybody else in the greatest quarterback of all time conversation. Under Bill Walsh’s tutelage, Montana ushered in a new era of offense in the NFL, a fresh take on an old moniker. The West Coast offense spawned a legion of imitators, with many of its principles still present in today’s game.
Montana didn’t own the strongest arm, but he was highly accurate and much more mobile than people remember. He threw perhaps the most catchable ball ever. Watch some of those Jerry Rice and John Taylor highlights. Notice how all the slants each took to the house hit them on the run, softly in stride. What stuck out more than the kind of passes Montana tossed was the quality of them; specifically, the circumstances in which so many of his greatest performances occurred. Montana was so often a maestro in contests against the NFC’s toughest competition
1) Tom Brady
New England Patriots, 2000-present
He’s the all-time leader in the QB clubhouse, though not in any of the major statistical areas. Except, that is, for the category that has always resonated the most with this position: winning. Brady owns the most wins at the position by a wide margin. His 207 regular-season victories are 21 more than second-placed Manning. His 30 postseason wins blow everyone out of the water. Early in his career, Brady was known for being an accurate passer who was smart with the football and could dial up big plays when the defensive-minded Patriots needed it. He was cool in the pressure moments, too. Brady let the game come to him toward the end of Super Bowl XXXVI, taking the checkdowns and short stuff to maneuver kicker Adam Vinatieri into range to finish off the “Greatest Show on Turf.” A less-heralded, but equally important, drive came at the end of Super Bowl XXXVIII, when Brady moved the Patriots’ offense just enough to set up Vinatieri for another Super Bowl-winning kick. No such theatrics were needed the next year, as Brady was efficient in helping New England to its third Super Bowl in four seasons.
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Paramount to Brady’s success has been his focus on what’s in front of him. He refuses to lose, and early in his career, refused to be distracted. He’s taken less money every year to ensure New England has the resources to build a quality team around him. He supports his teammates, even guys who are forced to move on from the organization (like Malcolm Butler). Despite so many accomplishments in his incredible career, winning a Week 2 home game against the Dolphins still remains as important to him as ever. As part of that immense drive, Brady has readdressed his body and conditioning in a manner pertinent to his age and the position he plays. It’s functionality over fashion, despite his ease with the latter. Although not known for stats, and Brady’s seemingly indifference to them, he has managed to finish No. 1 in passing yards three times, touchdown passes four times and passer rating twice. Brady has also produced the lowest INT percentage in a season four different times in his career — a truly rare feat. He minimizes mistakes without sacrificing production, then wins the important downs so his team wins in the standings, game after game, year after year. Brady is the NFL’s top all-time quarterback, if not player. Yep. He is probably that, too.
Stat you need to know: Brady’s career has been a study in steady greatness, but it’s also bookended by both individual and team accomplishments. There simply hasn’t been much decline, and if anything, Brady might have improved in his later years. His first and most recent MVP seasons came a decade apart. Brady’s first and most recent passing yards titles were 12 years apart. His first and most recent passing touchdowns titles were 13 years apart. More than any other numbers, a single line exemplifies what Brady’s legacy will be: In 17 healthy seasons as a starter, he’s made more Super Bowls (9) than he’s missed (8).
Interesting list. Our first thought is that Fran Tarkenton is rated too low. He was Wilson or Young for a much longer run. And way ahead of his time.