Sometime in the next couple of seasons, it’s likely that we’ll see Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, and perhaps Tom Brady hang it up and call it a career. All five of those quarterbacks have Hall of Fame cases—three or four of them even deserve it!—and they’ll exit as players analysts and fans have used as shorthand for great quarterbacking for well over a decade. There’s a vacuum there when it happens.
When you’re talking about logical players to fill in that reputational gap, Matt Ryan comes to mind. If all those players retired right now, for some reason, Ryan would have the highest number of passing yards, second-highest number of passing touchdowns, and third-highest passer rating among active quarterbacks. We’ve said before that he just needs 3-5 quality seasons and a ring to have a pretty sterling case for Canton, and that case will become easier to see and appreciate when the players in front of him retire.
Who are the other candidates? You’re looking at Alex Smith, for one, who has been pretty good for a long time but lacks the wattage. You’re looking at Cam Newton, who may well re-claim the elite status he was flirting with a couple of seasons ago if his supporting cast has improved this offseason. And then there’s Aaron Rodgers, a more or less slam dunk Hall of Famer and one of the greatest quarterbacks I’ve ever seen, who figures to be in this conversation regardless of whether Ryan or Newton join him.
It’ll likely be a short, 3-7 (at most) year window for these guys before they’re overtaken by younger players, but Ryan’s body of work suggests he’s due to be viewed as one of the NFL’s elites. Hopefully he’ll have fewer obstacles in a year or two, and hopefully his play this season makes that case strongly either way.