By Jared Clifton
As I scoured through my daily sports reading today, I came across a story on ESPN that talks about how the five oldest quarterbacks in the league are all in the playoffs. It’s story book fodder, but all too real this season. Tom Brady: 43. Drew Brees: 41. Philip Rivers: 39. Ben Roethlisberger: 38. Aaron Rodgers: 37.
From a dynasty perspective, this narrative will have true consequence. Assuming one of these guys wins the Super Bowl this year, with the exception of maybe Aaron Rodgers, there is a very real chance we could be seeing the last games of one of these true icons.
It’s even conceivable that we could lose up to three of these guys after the champ is crowned, so I thought it relevant to take a look at the possibility of each of these long term NFL fixtures stepping away from the game and how that could start a domino effect of quarterback off-season movement, the likes of which we’ve never seen.
We play in a speculative game, especially in dynasty formats and this turn over of all-time greats to obviously playoff caliber teams, may bear a significant amount of future fantasy fruit. So, it may be time to do some speculative work and beat your friends and league mates to the punch in eyeing the exits and doing some educated guesswork on who may be coming up next in all these situations.
For Tom Brady, his sole season in Tampa Bay, capped with a championship outside the supervision of his long time coach Bill Belichick, could put the final jewel in his metaphorical scepter or maybe he gets one more Infinity Stone than Thanos and snaps half of us into oblivion. I don’t doubt he has that power.
The reality here is that Tom Brady has the heart of a true competitor and whenever he does decide to walk away, he certainly has the Hollywood version in his head of walking away as a champion. If he were to be able to achieve that this year, with an oft uneven Buccaneers team, the gamble may not prove worthwhile enough to run it back.
Tampa has no true immediate option if Brady does decide to call it a career, but with the offensive weapons and a near championship caliber defense in place, it will be an attractive destination for a number of QB’s looking for a new home in 2021.
Likelihood of retirement after Super Bowl win: 75%
Likelihood of retirement without a Super Bowl win: 10%
Possible Heir Apparent(s): Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick
It makes a lot of sense for Bruce Arians to try to revive yet another former Bengal QB, like he did with Carson Palmer. From a scheme perspective, Andy Dalton would fit as a poor man’s Tom Brady.
Fitz would work as a bridge to the next QB move in Tampa, while not waving any white flags.
The pursuit of one more Super Bowl ring and to be the record holder for all major QB stat categories is the motivating factor for Brees at this point. So long as Brady doesn’t win a ring this year, it would appear that Brees won’t be hanging on to the latter.
Brees was fine this year. Not spectacular. Not terrible. He was fine. But, Brees isn’t a just fine QB. He’s one of the greatest to play the game and after a tough season in terms of injuries and overall image, it looks clear that he is all but done as being anything other than just fine and that doesn’t fit who he is as a competitor.
That lands him as the most likely to retire regardless of outcome this season and the Saints do seem to have the best in-house contingency plans of the bunch.
Likelihood of retirement after Super Bowl win: 95%
Likelihood of retirement without a Super Bowl win: 90%
Possible Heir Apparent(s): Taysom Hill, Matthew Stafford, Sam Darnold
While I wouldn’t endorse the Saints rolling with Taysom Hill as the replacement for Brees, he certainly has the inside track, as evidenced by his installation over the more experienced and prototypical option Jameis Winston this season. Sean Payton loves Hill the player, but if the Saints don’t want to change the scheme drastically, trade options Matthew Stafford and reclamation project Sam Darnold make a lot of sense. With a league worst cap situation, Hill or Darnold do make the most realistic sense.
Rivers is the only one on this list without a ring and the one I’m most confident would call it a career if he finally secured one. There were times where his arm looked completely dead and his turnover madness reared it’s head and others where he played more than just serviceable on an overall talented team.
The likelihood of the Colts re-upping him on another one year deal are probably slight, as they do see a good window in which to be a Super Bowl contending team and filling the signal caller role with continuity should be near the top of their offseason wish list.
There won’t be a lack of options this coming free agent or draft season and Frank Reich and Co. should be on the look for an upgrade after Rivers walks or retires.
Likelihood of retirement after Super Bowl win: >99%
Likelihood of retirement without a Super Bowl win: 75%
Possible Heir Apparent(s): Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, Deshaun Watson, Jacob Eason
There are several trade options that make a lot of sense for the Colts. Starting with Wentz, coming off a horrific year and benching, could reunite with Reich and with the O-Line and weapons in place, reinvigorate his newly deflated career. The longshot here would be a deal with interdivision rival Texans for Watson, but there is merit to the Texans wiping out the draft capital of a division foe and the Colts getting their guy for the next decade.
Despite a marvelous season for the Steelers, that saw them take an undefeated streak deep into it, we saw a fair amount of Good Ben/Bad Ben from week to week. At 38, he’s not in the same shape as older guys such as Brady and Brees and even Rivers, so the drop off is likely to continue at a more escalated pace.
Winning a third ring would help solidify him as one of the greats and unless personal pride pushed him to go for number four to match Steeler legend Terry Bradshaw, it would make a lot of sense for the Lombardi hoist to be his final NFL act.
With a tenuous cap situation looming in Pittsburgh and many personnel choices to make in the offseason, this is another story that makes more sense to end with a Super Bowl win, then to labor through just playoff contending mediocrity.
Likelihood of retirement after Super Bowl win: 75%
Likelihood of retirement without a Super Bowl win: 50%
Possible Heir Apparent(s): Sam Darnold, Jacoby Brissett
Another spot where Sam Darnold makes sense. He should be a relatively low cost option if the Jets do decide to move on and he even makes sense as an understudy if Big Ben does decide to return for another season. Brissett comps favorably to Roethlisberger and the Steelers could do worse than him as a stop gap between Ben and a future franchise QB.
I have little to no concern that Mr. Rodgers retires after this season, even if he does win his second ring. After this MVP caliber season, he has ascended from a QB that everyone expected to be more of a game a manager to finish his career, to near classic 2011 form Aaron Rodgers. How long that resurgence lasts is anyone’s guess, but it easily looks like he he has five more years of productivity in him.
The bigger question is will he finish in Green Bay. Winning cures a lot of ills, but it wasn’t too long ago that he was publicly upset with the Packers decision to move up to draft his heir apparent in Jordan Love. They also didn’t do much to provide him with suitable weapons and all he did with that was throw for 48 TD’s this season.
It likely won’t be the 2021 season, but there is writing on the wall, however faint, that Rodgers could pull a Brady and force his way out of a situation that has long been prickly. San Francisco remains a legitimate spot and they just so happen to be nearing a point where new blood at the QB position is imminent. Don’t discount John Lynch and a surprise move in the next few seasons.
Likelihood of retirement after Super Bowl win: 10%
Likelihood of retirement without a Super Bowl win: <1%
Possible Heir Apparent(s): Jordan Love
If you listened to the Ride or Dynasty Podcast this week, Eric Braun @ericbraunmower spoke on Jordan Love and how he was likely gridlocked for the foreseeable future. However, if things were to sour for Rodgers, Love has the capital there to be the next man up a la the transition from Favre to Rodgers. His value may never be lower than now, after an MVP caliber season from Rodgers. He is an interesting cheap long term stash with upside.
Jared Clifton – Host of The Rule of 3 Podcast, Editor, Writer
Ride or Dynasty