With "The Top 100 Players of 2011" wrapped up, it got us thinking: Who are the greatest players of the new millennium, the Y2K era? Since 2000, broad developments in NFL strategy have taken place, as well as the specialization of the players who fit into these new schemes. So who has thrived most in the league's ever-evolving environment?
Today, Willie McGinest and Elliot Harrison debate the best quarterback. Got an opinion of your own? Sound off in the comments section below.
McGinest: A case for Tom Brady
I would have to take Tom Brady. Of course, right?
Besides football, you can trust Tom. He's a good person on and off the field, which makes his game deadlier. He's a guy teammates want to rally behind. You want to play hard for him. You just don't want to let him down.
On his off days, Brady is at the office watching film or on the practice field working on something. While other guys are shooting commercials in the offseason, he looks at it as more time for him to work on his game. He doesn't want to show up his offensive teammates. Although he does it naturally, he doesn't try to stand out.
Other than Peyton Manning, there's not another guy who puts in more time -- in the classroom, after practice, during practice -- than Brady. I know Manning does it, because he's a student of the game. However, Tom's ambition to get on the field is higher than other guys. Being a sixth-round pick, he had no guarantees. To see how he got his opportunity, and took his work ethic to another level to make the most of it, was incredible for me to see when I played for the Patriots.
I'm Tom's former teammate (so I might be biased), but you've seen Manning get frustrated and taken out of his game a lot more than Brady. In playing with Tom, I saw him get jacked up, but it's more him getting fired up -- not rattled.
Tom doesn't get rattled.
When I was with the Patriots, we were able to rattle Manning, especially when we faced him in the playoffs. I still hold him in very high regard and believe he's one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Still, he's always had 10 times as many weapons as Brady. Look at Manning's receivers: Brandon Stokley, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. And the running backs he's had: Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Joseph Addai.
If you look at Brady's cast, he had David Patten, David Givens, Deion Branch. Those are the guys he won his Super Bowls with, not Wes Welker and Randy Moss. So if I look at each quarterback's body of work, I think Brady has always had less to work with than Manning.
Not that it has ever mattered to Tom.
Player in the discussion: Manning
Great ... but doesn't belong: Brett Favre
Guy nobody talks about: Matt Schaub
Harrison: A case for Peyton Manning
It's very difficult to go against Tom Brady in anything. But if we're picking best quarterback of the 2000s, then I'll be doing something more like nitpicking.
Peyton Manning gets my vote over Brady for three reasons:
1. He's been a starter the entire period without missing a game, or a start, for that matter (Brady hardly played in 2000 and practically missed all of 2008).
2. He is the Indianapolis Colts, and that club would stink with Curtis Painter or Jim Sorgi driving the bus (Matt Cassel proved New England could win without Brady).
3. And in the least important category, Manning has four most valuable player awards.
Obviously those awards are important, but mentioning those MVPs prominently almost makes it sound like he just puts up regular season numbers and does nothing else, a criticism laid at Manning's feet ad nauseam, which is totally unfair. The Colts accomplished a great deal under Manning's stewardship during the 2000s: Two Super Bowl appearances, one Lombardi Trophy and 10 winning seasons. While Brady has three Super Bowl rings, often Manning gets a raw deal when the two are compared.
Here are just a few facts to think about: The Colts have won a Super Bowl more recently than the Patriots. Indy has also been to a Super Bowl more recently as well. And, the one year Brady missed in 2008 his team still went 11-5 with Cassel at the helm.
Yes, Brady has a better playoff record, but his supporting cast has not been nearly as bad as it's always made out to be. If you consider coaching to be part of a "supporting cast," then the 2010 MVP has had it pretty good.
Speaking of MVPs, let's get back to Manning's hardware. Four times the Associated Press said he was the most valuable player in the game. Last year, a blue-ribbon panel of former players, coaches and general managers voted him as the eighth-greatest player in NFL history, 13 spots ahead of Brady at 21.
There's no question that Brady is the hot hand and had one of the best seasons by a quarterback in 2010. I hate to question my man Willie. But the best quarterback -- granted, by the slimmest of margins -- from the beginning of the era all the way through is Manning.
Player in the discussion: Brady (only guy who can challenge Manning)
Great ... but don't belong in the discussion: Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner
Guy nobody talks about: Trent Green (great player before concussions derailed him)