The next great QB


Welcome to a conversation that is going to bounce around a bit. Try to keep up.

I started this essay a few years ago. Actually, few years may not even cover it properly. We’re talking at least three Super Bowl starts for Tom Brady ago (and possibly five).

Patrick Mahomes hadn’t started a game yet. And, to be honest, I’m not certain if he had even been drafted when I was first kicking the thought around, typed out the title, and saved it for later efforts.

So, why now?

Well, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff have been traded. And while that might sound like a real reason to be motivated about the exploration to identify the next great quarterback in the NFL, consider these two items…

First, Wentz and Goff—actually, Goff and Wentz if we want the order correct—were the first two selections in the 2016 NFL draft.

Second, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were the first two selections in 2015.

Mull that over for a minute. Then try and develop an argument about how drafting quarterbacks works out well. Try to defend the though that it’s just an activity to get the selection right from given options.

Sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer, and the best answer is the easiest to understand.

Best quarterback? Mahomes. Likely best for the next ten years? Mahomes. (Thanks for coming everybody! Have a safe drive home.)

Heck, let’s keep moving along anyway, and we’ll add this idea…

Mahomes isn’t going anywhere. 2017 draft choice there. But there are whispers about his 2017 first round quarterback cohorts… Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubiskey. And 2018 selections Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield are all on their first contracts. So…

It’s possible that by the time training camp opens for the 2021 season, Patrick Mahomes will be the only starting quarterback in the NFL drafted in the first round, signed to his second contract (or more), that has only played for one organization.

(I said possible. All you folks that want to scream “Aaron Rodgers” at me, please sit down. He will be in Green Bay. Got it. But you can’t tell me some folks haven’t at least been thinking someone could make an offer the Packers can’t refuse. And, yes, I know there might just be another quarterback you could point toward. We’ll get there.)

Let’s take a spin around the league and see if we can spot some greatness. We’ll break it down by division.

AFC East

Every time someone wants me to consider Josh Allen an elite quarterback, my brain flashes back to January of 2020. During the second half of a playoff game against Houston, he spent the second half of the game snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I mean, he was gaining more yards for the Houston defense than his own offense.

And let’s start counting. Mahomes. Watson. If I offered you Mahomes or Watson straight up for Allen, you’d trade him. Done. Trade him and be smiling that someone could be so crazy as to trade you Patrick Mahomes for Josh Allen. Moving along. Wilson. Rodgers. Brady. Forget the trade idea, since those guys are in the second half of their careers, and arguably deeply in the second half. Is Allen right now better than any of them? Jackson has an MVP award. Tannehill has multiple playoff victories. (At what point do we move away from elite and into a group of solid and securely a starter, albeit with a great deal of potential.)

That said, he’s good. Really good. I just can’t place him into the elite yet. Not a conversation I’m ready to have. And yet… the AFC East…

There’s no one else here.

Talk is Miami is ok with Tua Tagovailoa, but looking. New York appears all but certain to move on from Sam Darnold, but crying because the top draft choice slipped away and working on the media hype for next season when he’s still the starter. New England is prepping a fan-loyalty contest for next season. (If you’re the season ticket holder in Section 204, Row 1, Seat 3, congratulations. You’re currently number two on the New England depth chart.)

Josh Allen. He’s the only one here to consider.

AFC North

Whispers are that Pittsburgh is waiting to see the final salary cap limits for next year, but they may be making a change. And that means this conference is otherwise set, and could be completely set.

Jackson, Mayfield and Joe Burrow.

I’m not ready to place any of them solidly into elite status. But… Jackson is an MVP winner that has been getting the Ravens to the playoffs. Not winning in the playoffs. But, getting to the playoffs. Mayfield has the swagger and seems to relish playing in Cleveland. Burrow isn’t going anywhere.

We’ll move Jackson and Mayfield to the next round.

AFC South

And… yuck.

Indy now has Carson Wentz. Interesting trade. A fingers-crossed project.

Houston has the electric Watson. The world is split on whether or not they end up trading him, despite their claims he’s staying.

Jacksonville has the number one pick. Trevor Lawrence is exciting… please refer back to the opening of this essay, notations of top selections in 2015 and 2016, and prepare to defend your work on Lawrence being a sure thing. (I’ll give you a head start. Watson also played for Clemson. We can discuss at a different time. But Lawrence is not the next great yet.)

Ryan Tannehill is the remaining starter. He’s become decent and reliable, but more importantly to those pointing at his years in Miami, he’s finally been consistent and available week-to-week. Great for their organization. I wouldn’t call him great as a quarterback.

Watson is the pick for next greatest consideration, but he may not even be in this division when the next year kicks off.

AFC West

Mahomes. Of course, Mahomes. He is, bar none, the most talented quarterback in the NFL right now.

Beyond that… yawn.

Justin Herbert looks really, really good. Still a bit early on him. Derek Carr and Drew Lock are solid overall. You could defend both as decent starting quarterbacks, but word is that both Las Vegas and Denver want more (and possibly someone else).

Mahomes moves along.

NFC East

Empty division.

I mean that. Watch.

Jalen Hurts, Daniel Jones, Alex Smith, Dak Prescott.

You could make an argument that Prescott deserves consideration. I’d listen. I wouldn’t agree. But I’d listen. (Remember my notes about Josh Allen and the second half of a playoff game? My memory recalls two seasons ago that Prescott led the Cowboys against a struggling Patriots squad and absolutely wilted. And then, the team fell apart to end the year. I’m not saying my opinions are perfect or even fair. Just saying that Brady and Mahomes wave MVP trophies and Super Bowl rings in my direction when I recall their weak and ugly moments. Prescott does not.)

No one moves on.

NFC North

Goff… pass.

Bears… don’t have a quarterback.

Vikings… don’t have a quarterback. (I know. Kirk Cousins. Prove me wrong. They don’t have a quarterback.)

Packers… Aaron Rodgers. Hall of Famer. Currently great, not next great.

No one moves on, but Rodgers gets mentioned.

NFC South

All you need to know about the NFC South is that Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the division and no other quarterback comes close. There is no second best in the division… as in, there is not even a future star in the making… as in, there may not even be a quarterback on any divisional roster other than Tampa’s that will be on that team’s roster for next season, never mind 2022.


Drew Brees has started his yet-to-be-announced-but-coming retirement. Matt Ryan is in Atlanta, but the organization hasn’t decided if they are viewing veterans like Ryan and Julio Jones as part of plans for building, rebuilding, trading, releasing, or whatever. Carolina is a work in progress, where all reports are they might be willing to sacrifice a ton to bring someone in. All of which means that for New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina, none of those organizations can say if next year’s starting quarterback is even on their roster right now. And that means there is no next great quarterback on their rosters right now.

No one moves on, and Brady keeps winning.

NFC West


Really interesting.

Russell Wilson is good and reliable. No, he’s actually great and reliable. However, the organization has had troubles putting a complete roster around him that can advance once in the playoffs. A few seasons ago, with a title and two Super Bowl starts on his resume, he was a sure thing for consideration as the next great. So, what about now?

Would you believe Russell Wilson is 32? True. Turns 33 next November. And reports are floating around that there might be a bit of a disconnect between him and the organization. (For the record, I don’t buy it. Seattle is a decent place to play… he gets elite money without the elite media scrutiny. They have put playoff teams on the field with him for the majority of his career. I don’t think he’s moving any time soon.)

End result is I’m not sure if Wilson qualifies as the next great quarterback, but I will put him there because he’s playing well, not necessarily considering retirement off of the current or even next contract, and deserves respect. But I do believe Wilson is going to be one of those amazing sidenotes that exists between Brady’s legendary career coming to an end as Mahomes brings his to feel speed.

Next up, Kyler Murray. And this one fascinates me, because the Cardinals are assembling some terrific pieces and he’s been very good. I like Kyler Murray.

Which leaves us with Matthew Stafford and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Wilson and Murray move along.


If we’re looking at the next five to ten years, and trying to debate who will dominate the conversations created over many recent years by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, well…

My run through the divisions means you have Allan, Jackson, Mayfield, Watson, Mahomes, Wilson and Murray for consideration.

Could there be surprises? Sure. I included Murray in the final batch, and you can ask the Cardinals and Chargers about possibilities. (You should also call Arizona and ask how many attempts it takes to get to a starting-caliber NFL quarterback.)

But I think Mahomes is still standing alone on the summit. All alone. I think the rest have questions, and could just as easily be tomorrow’s forgotten wannabes as they are starting quarterbacks still playing when the playoffs start next January.

The media wants us to have possibilities. That’s why writers post articles with claims like Josh Allen has already proven himself to be better than Mahomes. (Seriously. There were a handful of those. We need to take their press passes away.) We create villains and heroes, tear them down, and build them back up.

But nothing is a sure thing. And that’s true for both good and bad. If certainty was a part of it, more first round selections would be with their original teams. And before people start building the hype and making the claims, it would be helpful if some of these guys could win in the playoffs, stop losing yards more effectively that gaining, and be more than the flavor of the day for a few games.

The next great thing? It’s the current great thing. And the debate isn’t one that lasts too long.


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