The NFL is in the midst of releasing their final players for their 100 All-Time Team. On Friday night, they revealed the 10 quarterbacks who would be a part of the team. There were the usual suspects; Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning jump to mind as obvious choices.
As has been the case with these lists, there was much controversy over the selections. But this position grouping, in particular, left out one big name, and thus the question is posed: Was Drew Brees snubbed in the making of this list?
Other than the three mentioned above, the quarterbacks chosen were: Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, Sammy Baugh, John Elway, Roger Staubach, Brett Favre, and Dan Marino. Graham, Unitas, and Baugh all played before 1970, and the argument to include (or not to include) those three has less to do with their accomplishments and more about their "impact" on the way the game was played. That's unquantifiable, so I'll leave that argument to Twitter experts.
But leaving out Brees is a tough decision, regardless of who else is on the list. He's the leader in the biggest statistical categories for quarterbacks by a long shot-- he has more passing yards, touchdowns, and completions than any quarterback in NFL history. He was the fastest QB ever to reach the 50,000, 60,000, and 70,000 yard-mark. He's the all-time leader in completion percentage, the most consecutive seasons of both 4,000 and 5,000 passing yards, and most consecutive seasons with both at least 20 and 30 touchdown passes. When it comes to the basic, fundamental job of playing quarterback, it's hard to argue that anyone has been better than Brees.
He doesn't have the Super Bowl appearances of other quarterbacks on the list, which appears to be the main reason he was left off the list. In the thirteen years since Brees took over as a starter in New Orleans, the Saints have only made the playoffs seven times, despite Brees' prolific stats. He did win a Super Bowl in his sole appearance, an accomplishment he holds over Marino. But he doesn't have any MVPs, and never drove his team to victory through sheer will like most of the QBs on this list. That's not entirely fair to Brees, of course; this conversation could be completely different if Marcus Williams didn't whiff on Stefon Diggs to cause the Minneapolis Miracle, or if the referees had made the easiest call of their careers against the Rams in the NFC Championship Game last season. But he lacks that signature moment, that signature win when everything is on the line.
These lists are a combination of individual accomplishments and legacy. Brees has the individual accomplishments down pat, and perhaps more impressively than any other individual on the list. Legacy-wise (outside of New Orleans, where he will be revered as a god for the rest of his life) is where Brees appears to fall short. Staubach, who seems to be the most likely omission if Brees were given a spot, never threw for more than 27 touchdown passes in a season; Brees has done that 11 times. Staubach completed more than 60 percent of his passes exactly once in ten years, while Brees has done 16 times, and is on pace to make it 17. But Staubach started in four Super Bowls and won two. Brees has only ever been to one.
Is that fair? Not really. Brees is playing in a much different era, but you can't chalk all of his impressive records up to the fact that he was paired with a great offensive mind in Sean Payton and the evolution of the game. In a similar manner, you can't put all of the blame on Brees for the Saints' lack of postseason success, especially when you look at some of the defensive units New Orleans trotted out earlier this decade. But if Staubach played two decades later and put up even league-average stats (as he showed he was capable of in his final year when he threw for 3,586 yards and 27 TDs in 1979) along with his playoff achievements, he'd be up there with the other untouchable names on a list like this. But if ifs were fifths, we'd all be drunk, right?
The way I look at lists like this is when we talk about this era of the NFL in 30 years, who are we going to be talking about? Brady, of course. Manning, for sure. Then it's a hodgepodge of other guys battling for position at the top of the second tier-- Roethlisberger, Rivers, the other Manning, and yes, Brees. Brees has better stats, but will we be talking about his win over Peyton in 2009 or Eli's two wins over the Patriots when it's all said and done?
Brees has done more than enough to go down as one of the greatest throwers ever, and he's still going. But the NFL 100 list is about more than records. It's tough, but looking at the big picture, Brees just misses the cutoff-- and the team in charge of making that decision was correct in doing so.