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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Contrasting generations in the 2020 NFL offseason

A look into past, potential moves of NFL quarterbacks this offseason 

The end of every NFL season always seems to bring about a surge of questions surrounding aging, veteran players and the decisions they make going into the following season. 

In this particular offseason, the league is witnessing more quarterback-oriented uncertainty than it has seen in a long time. A new core of young, immensely talented signal callers is emerging, while many older players at the position are at a crossroads. 

With several teams unsure who will be their quarterback in 2020, and with the free agent negotiation period set to open on March 18, it is important to examine past seasons and the potential futures for veteran quarterbacks while also examining the younger generation of quarterbacks we are now experiencing. 

One of the first decisions that was made was by former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who announced he would be retiring at 39 years of age after spending 16 years with the team. 

Manning’s decision is an example of a veteran who decided to leave at the right time in his career. Although Manning boasts an overall impressive career with two Super Bowl wins, his underwhelming performance to start the 2019 season and the Giants’ decision to start rookie quarterback Daniel Jones midseason were clear indicators that Manning’s time with the Giants was coming to an end. 

In contrast with Manning’s retirement, Drew Brees, the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, recently announced that he will continue playing in the 2020 season. Brees’ decision to continue through another season makes as much sense as Manning’s decision to retire, since Brees has not shown any major signs of slowing down — at least not to the same degree as Manning. 

Brees’ completion percentage has been the highest in the NFL for the last three seasons and he reached his own career-high completion rate of 74.4 just two years ago. Brees also threw only four interceptions in the 2019 season. These numbers are especially impressive considering his age — at 41, Brees is still an asset to his team and likely would be for any team in the NFL at this point. 

Among the quarterbacks whose careers still remain shrouded in uncertainty are former Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, both of whom have dedicated their entire careers to their respective teams. 

While the Chargers and Rivers have announced that they have mutually agreed to part ways, Rivers plans to continue playing and maintains impressive numbers following his 16-season run with the Chargers. Rivers, who is 38-years-old, has been a consistent passer throughout his time in the NFL and has thrown for over 4,000 yards each season since 2013.

When looking at Rivers’ 2019 season, it is easy to argue that his abilities have declined, as seen by his decreasing number of touchdowns and the fact that the Chargers finished last in the AFC West last season with just five wins. The fact that Rivers was sacked over 30 times last season, paired with the amount of injuries that plagued the team, however, indicate that a decline in numbers can be attributed more to a lack of reliability in Rivers’ offensive line and surrounding talent rather than his age. 

The quarterback who has received the most attention this offseason regarding his potential decision for 2020 is clearly Brady, who has spent his entire 20-year career with the Patriots. Dominating the league with six Super Bowl titles — the most by any one quarterback in history — Brady’s uncertainty for next season was never much of a question of whether or not he would keep playing but rather whether he would choose to stay in New England. 

Brady, now 42-years-old, has stated multiple times that he believes he can keep playing until he reaches at least 45 and that idea does not seem to be too far-fetched. He has carried the Patriots to the playoffs every season for the last decade and won his sixth Super Bowl just two years ago at the age of 41. 

Faced with some issues offensively last season — specifically the loss of key receiver Rob Gronkowski— was definitely a disappointment compared to what Patriots fans are used to seeing. If Brady decides to stay with New England next season and is placed behind an improved offensive line, it would not be too surprising to see him contend for yet another Super Bowl appearance. 

Brady’s ability to produce at such a consistent rate not only defies the notion that age is always a significant factor in a player’s abilities but also proves to the younger generation of quarterbacks that true dedication to your craft can allow you to be successful regardless of age. 

The most notable player within the “younger” group of quarterbacks is Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. At just 24-years-old, Mahomes is already a Super Bowl champion and MVP. This year, he led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl title since 1970, and, in 2018, he was named the NFL MVP. 

In just his second NFL season and first season as a starting quarterback, Mahomes threw for a whopping 50 touchdowns — a milestone that Brady didn’t reach until his seventh year with New England. The only quarterbacks in history to throw for 50+ TD’s in a season are Mahomes, Brady and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who threw for 55 scores in 2013 with the Denver Broncos. 

Mahomes has more passing yards in his first two seasons as a starter than any of the other quarterbacks mentioned previously and has exhibited the same crunch time performance ability for which Brady has always been praised. 

Being named MVP at the age of 23 also places Mahomes in a list of the NFL’s youngest MVP award winners with icons like Walter Payton and Dan Marino. If he continues at a similar pace, it would not be surprising if Mahomes were to match and possibly even surpass Brady’s numbers. A situation like that would be similar to Brady’s ability to surpass records set by the older generation of his own time, such as Joe Montana.

Mahomes’ record of youngest NFL MVP, however, was recently broken by the 23-year-old Lamar Jackson, quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson is only the second player to win the MVP award with a unanimous vote — the first was Brady in 2010. 

Jackson not only had an impressive 3,000 passing yard performance in 2019 but also rushed over 1,000 yards to become the first player in NFL history to do both in a single season. His rushing yards alone are more than double Mahomes’ career rush yards and are indicative of Jackson’s ability to improvise and carry a team through high-pressure situations. 

Jackson had an exceptional 2019 season overall, leading the league with 36 touchdowns and helping the Ravens to achieve the best record in the NFL. The performances by Mahomes and Jackson at such young ages demonstrate the talent that will continue to be showcased in the upcoming seasons. 

More talent among the younger group of quarterbacks can be seen in Dak Prescott from the Dallas Cowboys and Jameis Winston from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Prescott and Winston, both 26-years-old, finished the 2019 season with career high passing yards and touchdowns. 

Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans is also just 24-years-old and helped the Texans, which was once one of the worst teams in the NFL, become a competitive team at the top of the AFC South in his first full season as starting quarterback. 

Both the Cowboys and Texans have already expressed their intentions to keep Prescott and Watson with their respective organizations for as long as possible. It is predicted that either Mahomes, Prescott or Watson could be offered a record-breaking deal going into the 2020 NFL season. 

This possibility of multiple young quarterbacks receiving record-breaking contracts indicates the value that the league places on young talent and demonstrates the enhanced sense of competition at the position that will likely be featured in this upcoming season. 

It is also worth noting that former LSU Quarterback Joe Burrow will most likely be entering the NFL in 2020. With 60 touchdowns, a completion percentage of 76.3 and over 5000 yards passing last season with the Tigers, Burrow is the overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL draft. 

Overall, the decisions being made by Brees, Rivers and Brady this offseason indicate that playing well into your late 30s or past the age of 40 is a plausible option for successful NFL quarterbacks. There is a level of respect and shared history that lies among veteran quarterbacks and their fans, but, as we can see with the departure of Manning and Rivers from their respective clubs, what is most important is what a team believes will benefit it most going forward. 

In essence, as players come and go through the league, teams will always be looking toward the future. The younger generations that enter the league may provide a new level of talent and stability within teams. 

Written by: Rain Yekikian — sports@theaggie.org


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