One hundred and twenty-eight game-winning drives, 187,927 passing yards and 1,247 touchdowns. Four hundred and sixteen wins, 22 pro-bowl appearances and five Super Bowl victories.
Those are just some of the eye-popping career numbers of franchise quarterbacks Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. All three players have been staples in the NFL since the early days of the 2000s, and this past Sunday might’ve been the last time all three hit the gridiron at the same time.
Eli Manning, the first-overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, will be sent to the bench for just the second time in his last 225 games. While Ben McAdoo ruined his longest-active starting streak for one game in the 2017 season — much to the displeasure of the Giants fan base and ownership — this time around has the potential to be much more permanent.
In steps Daniel Jones, the sixth pick of the 2019 NFL Draft and the heir apparent to the throne in New York. Fans booed and rivals mocked the selection at the time, myself included, but the Duke product dazzled in preseason action and turned uneven fans into hopeful optimists.
While the Giants aren’t expected to transform into world-beaters by the end of the season, there’s hope that the young offensive core of Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, wideout Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram can develop into a formidable force in the NFC East.
As his younger teammates gear up for the future, Manning has some huge decisions to make over the next year. He’s currently 38 years old, has four kids ages eight and under who live in New Jersey, and a wealth of success at the professional level. It’s not 100 percent certain that his days as the starter in New York are over — injuries are as common as they come and a trend in today’s piece — but he’ll need to decide whether to hang up his cleats at season’s end or venture out and try and earn a starting job elsewhere.
It’ll be tough to find the right situation for Manning — one where the franchise doesn’t already have an up-and-coming star or a seasoned vet — and it’ll be even more difficult to find a team that’s willing to spend money on a quarterback with a 62 percent completion percentage and 153 interceptions since the 2010 season. Should Eli choose to retire, he’ll walk into the sunset with two Super Bowl rings, four Pro-Bowl selections and an agonizing debate on whether or not he’s deserving of a Hall of Fame bust in Canton, Ohio.
While Manning’s future on the field seems to have more closure post-2019, there are many more questions regarding the future of Roethlisberger and Brees. Both quarterbacks suffered upper-body injuries on Sunday and will both miss extended time — Roethlisberger is out for the entire season, and Brees for at least the next six-to-eight weeks.
Brees’ surgery on his thumb will fortunately not cost him the season, but it does put his New Orleans Saints in uncharted waters. He hadn’t missed a game to injury since arriving in Louisiana, and now the franchise’s hands turn to backups Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill. Bridgewater looked underwhelming as the replacement on Sunday in Los Angeles, but is expected to get the start this week against the Seattle Seahawks. Hill certainly brings more pop to the offense and could get the nod down the road should Bridgewater continue to struggle, but the schedule is massively unfavorable for whoever takes snaps under center. Just in the next five weeks, they’ll face top defenses like Seattle, Dallas, Jacksonville and Chicago, along with a much-improved Tampa Bay defense in Week 5.
Should Brees come back to finish out the final stretch of the regular season, the Saints will most likely need to win out to put themselves in a position to make a deep playoff push. The NFC South isn’t exactly the most dominant division in football, but Atlanta and Tampa Bay sit even with New Orleans through the early stages. If they are able to squeeze their way into postseason play, you can never count out Brees, Sean Payton and their electric play makers in the month of January; hopefully the refs stay out of their way this time.
Beyond 2019, however, Brees will also have much to consider. There’s no denying his play dipped in the closing six games of the 2018 season, and his start to 2019 wasn’t all that imprrssive. With 19 years in the books and a lot of success to show from it, the 12-time Pro Bowl nominee will certainly contemplate finishing off his career. It’d be far more likely for him to be willing to leave if the Saints made another deep postseason run, and he’d be itching to return in 2020 if they’re left out of the playoff picture. By then Brees will be 41 years old, however, and aside from Tom Brady no one has been able to successfully play the position at that age.
Despite Big Ben missing the season after having elbow surgery, the Steelers have already shown their faith in now-starter Mason Rudolph — giving up their 2020 first-round pick for the rising star defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. After an 0-2 start and the loss of its franchise gun-slinger, the Steelers could’ve very well chalked this season up as a wash and surveyed their options at the top of the upcoming draft.
The former killer-B trio of Ben, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown now takes form in Rudolph, running back James Connor and wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster. They have the help of a strong defense and a consistent offensive line, but they’ll have their work cut out for them in a division with an impressive Ravens squad and rising Browns team. If things were to completely go off the rails, the Steelers will either desperately need Roethlisberger to give things another go or feel confident enough in Rudolph’s play that he’s the future of the franchise. Either way, it’d be much easier to evaluate internally if the Steelers finished as an average team, as opposed to awful or great.
Although I’m unsure on if we’ll see Manning and Brees take the field in 2020, I’m most confident in seeing Roethlisberger don the black and yellow next season. Much like I believe Brees will need one last playoff run before calling it a career, Big Ben has had too successful a career to call it quits after being shut down before September ends.
Whether one or two return to form as a starting quarterback in 2020, this past Sunday most likely marks the final time all three start an NFL game in the same week. But instead of debating legacies and where they fell short, let’s recognize and appreciate the legacy they’ll all leave behind on the game we all love to watch — as three of the most successful quarterbacks of the 21st century.