The end is near for arguably the greatest generation of quarterbacks in NFL history. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger enter the playoffs with at least one foot out the door as the retirement clock counts down the final seconds of their illustrious careers.
Standing in the path of the storybook ending each hopes to author is a new generation of quarterbacks who want nothing more than to dash their predecessor's dreams of being the next Peyton Manning or John Elway. How the next five weeks unfold will determine legacies and prestige, but it will also signal an official passing of the torch from one group of all-timers to their presumed successors.
Brees, 41, has already reportedly decided to retire after this season and assume his post as an NFL analyst at NBC. Rivers, 39, and Roethlisberger, 38, have likewise had retirement rumors floating around them this season and could be embarking upon their final playoff runs. Brady seems hellbent on playing until someone carts him off the field in a wheelchair, but at age 43, time is not on his side.
Yet what could be seen a dark cloud approaching the NFL with the expected retirement of four quarterbacks with their names engraved firmly in the record books and, for three of them, in Super Bowl lore, is brightened immensely with the knowledge greatness is ready to replace them.
Patrick Mahomes has already won a Super Bowl, a Super Bowl MVP, and a regular-season MVP at the ripe age of 25. Lamar Jackson, 24, has won a regular-season MVP and set the NFL record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback. Josh Allen, 24, likely would have won the MVP this year if it wasn't for Aaron Rodgers and is on the cusp of his second playoff run as a starter in Buffalo. Even Baker Mayfield, 25, took steps forward this year, though he's not in the same league as the aforementioned trio.
That playoff list doesn't include Deshaun Watson, who is a three-time Pro Bowler and still only 25-years-old. Kyler Murray, 23, who was a Pro Bowler this season after winning Rookie of the Year last season, and Justin Herbert, 22, who will likely follow Murray as Rookie of the Year, are also part of this next wave of talented signal-callers. Most expect Trevor Lawrence, 21, to be better than any of them outside of Mahomes and there's always the possibility of an unknown star emerging. That gives the NFL at least seven franchise faces to further build their brand around for the next 15-20 years.
Yet as this new generation takes over, the old guys will try their darnedest to further cement their legacies. Whether that be Brady winning a seemingly-unfathomable seventh Super Bowl or Roethlisberger winning a third or Brees and Rodgers winning a second or Rivers a first, each one of them is driven not only by the opportunity to claim glory, but also the knowledge this could be their last real shot at it.