Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the most high-profile quarterbacks to sign extensions this offseason, but they're certainly not the only ones to do so. In fact, after seeing how the Joe Flacco-Baltimore Ravens contract situation played out, teams are lining up to lock up their franchise signal-callers:
» Tony Romo was on the receiving end of a six-year, $108 million contract extension in March.
» Matthew Stafford just signed a three-year contract extension through 2017, reportedly worth a tidy $53 million.
» And logically, Matt Ryan will be next, with his rookie deal set to expire after the 2013 season.
It's interesting to compare those last three cases, with one question coming to mind: Of Romo, Stafford and Ryan, which QB is most indispensable to his team?
With Ryan at the helm, Atlanta has become a perennial contenderMatt Ryan is not the most talented member of the trio, but he is undoubtedly the most important to his team. He has been a rock-solid performer for the Atlanta Falcons since his arrival in 2008. Ryan has led the team to a 56-22 regular-season record as a starter, including an impressive 33-5 mark at home. In doing so, Ryan has grown from a game manager to playmaker, as evidenced by his career-best 4,716 pass yards in 2012.
Some will point to his dismal postseason record (1-4) as a sign that he lacks the clutch factor. However, the fact that he took over in the wake of the Michael Vick saga and immediately helped establish the Falcons as a perennial contender suggests he has the moxie, poise and confidence to thrive as a franchise quarterback.
Given the impact of the quarterback on a team's championship hopes, the production and performance of Ryan makes him the most indispensable player in this debate.
Stafford is forced to make the most with the leastIf we base it on last year, I believe the answer is Matthew Stafford. Yes, he won the fewest games of this group, but he had the weakest supporting cast. Stafford was flanked by one true offensive threat, Calvin Johnson, and Detroit lacked a consistent running game. Meanwhile, the strength of the defense, the D-line, underperformed. And the secondary, especially the corner position, has been a weakness for the last few years.
Another way to address the question is to look at who has the weakest backup QB situation. In that case, Atlanta would qualify as the team that can least afford to lose its starter.
Ryan is the slam-dunk answer hereBy any rational measure, Matt Ryan is the most indispensable, because he's the best player of the three by a wide margin. Ryan was voted midseason 2012 MVP in a poll of 103 NFL players and was in the discussion for MVP at the end of the season. He finished first in completion percentage, fifth in passing yards, fifth in touchdowns and fifth in passer rating.
Playing with a mediocre defense, he sports a gaudy 71.8 career winning percentage -- the best by any quarterback save Tom Brady. Ryan also leads all NFL quarterbacks in fourth-quarter/overtime comebacks over the past five years. It's an open-and-shut case.
Despite catching the most flak, Romo is most important to his teamTony Romo is one of the more maligned quarterbacks in the league, but to me, he's the most important guy to his team. Yes, he's often derided for not being clutch ... But wait a second: He boasts the highest fourth-quarter passer rating among active quarterbacks.
Romo is the victim of some bad luck. Perhaps we would look at him a little differently if Martin Gramatica could have at least chipped the guy on Romo's bobbled snap. ... Or if Jason Witten had served as holder like Jay Novacek used to. ... Or if Miles Austin hadn't lost the ball in the lights in 2011. ...
Or if he didn't play for the Dallas Cowboys. Honestly, an undrafted quarterback who builds his way from obscurity to Pro Bowl signal-caller would probably be held in much higher regard if he played for any other team.
But ultimately, his career passer rating (95.6) and overall production say he's the best one in this trio.
Stafford would be otherworldly with Romo's or Ryan's supporting castThe answer is Matthew Stafford.
First of all, we watched Jon Kitna fill in for Tony Romo in 2010 -- thanks to the latter's season-ending clavicle injury -- and produce very similar numbers. With the weapons at Romo's disposal, a lot of quarterbacks could come into Dallas and do what Romo's done (and even improve on past results). Romo still turns the ball over at the wrong time way too much. This is not to say he isn't a good QB, but he's one of those guys who's good when he has great help around him. He doesn't make everyone else better. And don't get me wrong: Matt Ryan is terrific. But with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez catching passes, that offense is set up for success no matter who's throwing the ball.
How about Stafford? Yes, he has Calvin Johnson (the best wide receiver in the game) and ... well ... that's really been it. Megatron's one man. And Stafford's still been able to get him the football against triple coverage. Not to mention, Stafford has made players like Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and even Titus Young useful.
Take it a step further: If you put Romo or Ryan in the Lions' offense, would either produce at Stafford's rate? I can confidently say the Cowboys and Falcons would continue to churn out points with Stafford behind center.