As the Russell Wilson contract drama shows, quarterback is an extremely important position -- even for teams with better players at other positions.
The headlines about Wilson and the Seahawks got me thinking: How many teams in the NFL can say their quarterback is also their best overall player?
Given the emphasis placed on finding good signal callers, the final count, upon closer examination, is surprisingly low -- as you can see in the following list:
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
Unlike most of the other teams here, the Packers have an outstanding roster filled with exceptionally talented players, like Nelson and fellow receiver Randall Cobb, running back Eddie Lacy and linebacker Clay Matthews. Rodgers is just that good. The quarterback simply is Green Bay's offense; as productive as Nelson and company are, they wouldn't be as effective on a team with a lesser quarterback. To go through an entire season with just five interceptions and none at home, as Rodgers did in 2014, is almost totally unbelievable. He's also the only quarterback in history to have notched three seasons with 500-plus pass attempts and seven interceptions or less. The 31-year-old Rodgers is like a fine wine -- he gets better with age.
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck
Indianapolis upgraded its supporting cast, bringing in veterans like Frank Gore, Andre Johnson and Trent Cole and adding first-round pick Phillip Dorsett to the receiving corps, but Luck still basically means everything to the Colts, both on and off the field. Of course, this is nothing new for the team, which pretty much went right from the end of the Peyton Manning era to the beginning of Luck's reign. Luck is a quiet superstar who prioritizes football above all else. This all-around athlete is trending firmly upward, getting progressively better each season; in 2014, he reached personal highs in completion rate (61.7 percent), yardage (4,761), yards per attempt (7.7), touchdown passes (40) and passer rating (96.5). I could see him surpassing Rodgers in a year or two, provided he stays on this trajectory.
San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers
Rivers makes the Chargers nearly perennial contenders despite being stuck with a supporting cast that, Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson aside, has been less than extraordinary for much of his nine seasons as San Diego's starter. He has kind of a sixth sense, reminiscent of Dan Marino, that allows him to get rid of the ball before the pass rush can get to him. He's an intense competitor; if you're playing the Bolts, you don't want to see him take the ball with the game on the line in the closing moments. He's also been dependable, starting 16 games per year since 2006. It's hard to be critical of a guy who threw for 4,286 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2014 despite, for all intents and purposes, not having a running game to back him up. But the fact is, the lack of talent around him is holding him back to a greater degree than it is some of the other quarterbacks listed.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
It's hard to fathom, especially given that he tied Ben Roethlisberger for the league lead in passing yards last season (4,952), but 2014 was a down year for Brees. He finished with just the fifth-most yards (behind his jaw-dropping four 5,000-yard seasons), fifth-most touchdown passes (33), third-best completion rate (69.2 percent) and fourth-best passer rating (97.0) of his career. He still knows where the windows are and he still has a knack for getting rid of the ball just before defenders converge on him in the pocket. But I think the fact that the next-best player on the roster is a defensive end is indicative of a shift in strategy in New Orleans. It looks like the Saints, who shipped pass-catching tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle in March for center Max Unger and a first-round pick that was used on a linebacker (Stephone Anthony), are going to focus on being a more balanced team with regard to the defense and ground game. So I don't think we'll see Brees get close to 5,000 yards this season; though he hasn't thrown for less than 4,300 yards in any season since joining the Saints in 2006, I see him finishing with something around 4,200.
Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco
In the early part of his career, Flacco was overshadowed by a dominant defense that starred Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs and regularly rated as one of the best in the NFL. In Flacco's rookie season (2008), the Ravens finished 11-5 while notching many more rushing attempts (592) than they did pass attempts (433). However, in every season since, that ratio has flipped, especially recently: Baltimore has recorded at least 100 more passes than it has rushing attempts in 2012 (116), 2013 (196) and 2014 (106). And of course, Flacco went nuts in the 2012 playoffs, posting 11 touchdown passes against zero picks in four games en route to capturing the Lombardi Trophy. At this point, Flacco -- who just had one of his best seasons ever, reaching career highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27) and recording a career low in sacks (19) -- is extremely underrated. People look at him and see a big, lumbering guy, but he's sneakily nimble for someone who checks in at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, having posted a time in the three-cone drill of under 7 seconds (6.82) at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine. I like Dumervil, and he's obviously a guy who's racked up a lot of sacks (90 in eight seasons) -- but at the end of the day, this is an inherently subjective exercise, and in this instance, I just like Flacco more.
But what about ...
Here (in alphabetical order) are some of the teams with top-notch quarterbacks who did not fit the bill: