It seemed as though for years we were waiting for some of the older signal callers to be ousted from dominating the league, and now it's finally happening. For the last decade, fans have been waiting for new, younger quarterbacks to emerge, but instead found a league still dominated by players including Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady. They kept figuring out a way to win their divisions and put up historic numbers year after year. But 2022 has been rough, so far.
The Old Guard Begins to Crumble
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Since 2010 only four of the 13 Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks were under 30 years old. By comparison, during that same time span, Brady and Manning combined for four Super Bowl victories themselves at age 39 or older. Though it isn't crazy to have young QBs take the league by storm, it tends to be some of the older quarterbacks with unquantifiable veteran savvy who are able to lead their teams to division titles and championships.
Last season, 38-year-old Aaron Rodgers won his second of back-to-back MVP awards, while 34-year-old veteran Matt Stafford proved to be the missing piece that pushed the Rams over the top.
But something has finally changed this year. We saw Rodgers throw three horrendous interceptions in a loss to the Lions where the Packers couldn't even muster double digits in points. Brady versus Stafford was an embarrassing display of offensive football for the first 59 minutes. Fans were feeling bad for the old men under center. What is going on?
Twelve quarterbacks are older than or will turn 30 this season and have thrown 160 or more passes this season, yet just two of those teams have winning records. And the two veteran QBs leading their teams above .500? It's not Rodgers, Russell Wilson or Brady -- it's Geno Smith and Kirk Cousins. Smith didn't even throw 160 passes in the previous six seasons combined. Something doesn't make sense.
So what has gone wrong? Several older quarterbacks such as Wilson, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz and Derek Carr have moved on to new teams or have new head coaches, and so far most seem like a poor match. Others such as Rodgers and Stafford have new offensive coordinators, which could contribute to some of the struggles. But I think it has to be something even more than that.
What's Causing These Late Career Issues?
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Could it be salary cap issues plaguing these teams? New or overpriced contracts for these veteran signal callers have swallowed much of their team's available cap space, and it is crippling the assets they can use on critical parts of their roster.
Stafford signed a massive four-year extension and is the highest-paid quarterback in 2022. The Rams, however, have had one of the worst offensive lines and rushing attacks in the league on their way to a 3-5 record. The Colts are dealing with similar issues along the line after inheriting Ryan's large extension from the Falcons. Unfortunately, these teams don't have the financial resources to reinforce their lines.
Rodgers signed a huge extension this offseason, but along with it the Packers could no longer afford Davante Adams, who signed a mega deal following his trade to the Raiders. This left the Packers with a void at receiver, which has made them one-dimensional and left them scrambling unsuccessfully to acquire someone ahead of the trade deadline.
Wilson's massive new contract isn't paying dividends for the Broncos, who had to become sellers at the deadline, trading away star defender Bradley Chubb as they try to get ahead of the inevitable cap chaos they will face.
We've heard tons this season about Deshaun Watson's contract with the Browns, which included the most guaranteed money ever in the NFL. But he sits suspended on the bench; and his replacement, Jacoby Brissett, fills in at QB1 for almost exactly one-tenth of the price.
But it has to be more than just their price tags, right? To combat the passing explosion of the last 20 years, NFL defenses have switched their focus from strength to speed. There are more defensive backs than ever on the field per play, trying to keep pace with record-setting speed at the receiver position. Gone are the days of the bruising middle linebacker, as now teams pay top dollar for coverage specialists who can match the pace of a running back from sideline to sideline.
The best way for an offense to combat that defensive speed is to place stress on teams by using a power-oriented rushing attack, or with an athletic quarterback extending plays outside the pocket. The ability to extend a play, or freeze a defense with a run-pass option, gives your offensive skill players the moments of daylight they need to create separation. This level of athleticism isn't so easy for a quarterback as they get older -- they are, after all, being chased by world-class athletes in their prime.
The Young Guns are Taking Over
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The quarterbacks dominating the NFL today bring a level of elusiveness to the position that makes defending them incredibly difficult. Let's take a look at a list of five QBs who are dominating in the NFL right now: Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. Each of these five quarterbacks is 27 years old or younger, and they all have the ability to pressure a defense with their arms and their legs.
Jackson averages nearly 7.5 yards per carry. Earlier this season, he became the first QB ever to throw for three touchdowns and rush for over 100 yards in consecutive games. He is the fastest quarterback ever to reach 4,000 rushing yards.
For everything Allen can do through the air, he is also averaging more than six yards per carry and has rushed for four touchdowns. Fifty percent of Allen's rushes this year have resulted in a first down.
Hurts is more of a power runner and leads all quarterbacks with six rushing touchdowns, which is tied for the fifth most on the ground in the entire league.
Mahomes has run less than in previous years, but he has a career high 6.5 yards per attempt when he does take off and does dazzling work to extend plays with his legs behind the line of scrimmage.
While Burrow isn't seen as a running quarterback -- attempting fewer than four rushes per game -- he has a rushing TD in four of his last five games. Over 40 percent of his runs result in first downs, so when he does take off, he has been incredibly effective.
These facts should tell you the story behind things you likely already know about these quarterbacks: Four of those five lead the league in pass attempts longer than 40 yards, because they can extend plays and you can't afford to blitz them. They all sit among the league leaders in quarterback rating. And all of them sport winning records and sit on top of their divisions (or, in the Bengals' case, a game behind Jackson and the Ravens).
Even younger QBs like Justin Fields and Zach Wilson have the potential to use all of their weapons are a higher rate than their older counterparts. We've only scratched the surface as to what these young guns can do and other coming up through the college football ranks, like Hendon Hooker, Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud, are only going to see that trend continue in the future.
You've likely heard the adage that the NFL is a "copycat league" -- once one team finds something successful, others will surely follow. The current state of the NFL is that defenses have caught up with the speed of spread offenses, which is why games are going under predicted scoring totals at a historic rate. The way for NFL offenses to combat this might be to invest in younger and more-mobile quarterbacks, while they are only on their first or second contracts. This way, you can maximize the amount of money you can spend on talent surrounding your young athlete at quarterback, before they reach 30 and rust begins to hit the tires. It is how much of the NFL currently views the running back position, and it might only be a matter of time until quarterbacks are seen the same way.
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