Agent Bus Cook generated a few chuckles last month when he said that Brett Favre, 44 and three seasons into retirement, is "better than a lot" of NFL quarterbacks these days. The comment seemed blatantly self-affirming and a transparent attempt to keep his client in the public spotlight.
Here's a scary thought:
What if ol' Bus is right?
That conclusion is worth considering after the St. Louis Rams called Cook to gauge Favre's interest in replacing injured starter Sam Bradford, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Thursday. Whether it was a matter of due diligence or panic, the call provided the darkest sign yet of the state of quarterback play in the NFL midway through the 2013 season.
By my count, 51 quarterbacks have thrown at least one pass through seven weeks of play. Ten starters have suffered injuries that have cost them at least one game, and three others have been benched; Brandon Weeden has suffered the indignity twice at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. Three quarterbacks ticketed for third-string status have already seen action, and one No. 4 quarterback -- the Buffalo Bills' Thad Lewis -- has made two starts.
Ultimately, the Rams bolstered their depth chart behind new starter Kellen Clemens by signing Brady Quinn, who joined his second team of 2013 and fifth in seven years, and free agent Austin Davis, a training camp cut this summer.
Injuries are an annual and unavoidable event, but their frequency this season has revealed how tenuous depth is around the league. They have also set the stage for what could be the biggest scramble in NFL draft history, with early estimates suggesting up to nine quarterbacks could be selected in 2014's first round.
The Bills' scramble after losing backup Kevin Kolb in the preseason and starter EJ Manuel in Week 5 led them to, among others, Matt Flynn -- who had been released by the Oakland Raiders after falling to fourth on the depth chart. The Browns' reluctance to turn to journeyman Jason Campbell, whom they finally capitulated to this week, reveals a bleak assessment of their roster, and perhaps no team has made a bigger mockery of the position than the final team Favre played for -- the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings became the first NFL team to hold open quarterback tryouts -- for the 2014 season! Through the first seven weeks of 2013, the Vikings have twice benched their current starter, first Christian Ponder and then Matt Cassel. They were forced into two other changes because of injuries to Ponder and Josh Freeman, who opened the season as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starter but was released after one month.
They released their initial third-string quarterback, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who was immediately claimed by the San Francisco 49ers and became the eighth different quarterback who has spent time on the 49ers' roster since the start of training camp. (Depth is hard to come by, eh?)
The Vikings, of course, rushed Freeman into the lineup after 13 days cramming a limited playbook. He produced one of the worst games in recent NFL history and suffered a concussion Monday night against the New York Giants, pushing the Vikings reluctantly back to Ponder.
Got all that?
It's no secret that quarterback play is the most important ingredient for NFL success, and clearly there aren't enough good ones to go around. But when you recognize the lengths that some teams have already gone to in an attempt to build competent depth, you begin to understand why the Rams felt compelled to check in on Favre.
After all, it was Favre and Cook who promoted a public narrative about his conditioning and current skills relative to the league's current crop of passers. Like many of you, I read those quotes and wondered whether Favre was setting the groundwork for the midseason rescue of a team.
As it turns out, he appears simply to have been seeking affirmation that he could play while having no desire to actually do so, a twisted path that fits neatly into the Favre psychological profile.
When we last saw him, in 2010 with the Vikings, Favre was a shell of his former self and a sad target of opposing pass-rushers -- which in 2013 terms makes him as qualified as anyone else to start for the Rams this weekend. And so it goes ...