Editor's note: Our two-week series, "The Best," looks at the NFL's best in a number of key categories.
The Best: Player I'd start a franchise with ...
Most people would take a quarterback but Tomlinson is the best player in the league right now. He has great vision, explosiveness and his versatility makes him a threat in the passing game. He's also made life much easier for his quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Philip Rivers), both of whom became Pro Bowl players with Tomlinson working in the same backfield. Plus, any player who can produce 31 touchdowns in one season has to be at the top of the list.
John Clayton: Peyton Manning, QB, Colts
You build championship teams with quarterbacks. Peyton Manning is that quarterback. Though it took him a while to get past Tom Brady and the Patriots, Manning is the ideal player to build your team around. Thanks to Manning and the team built around him, the Colts have been to the playoffs seven times in the past nine seasons. Manning is 31, but he still has a number of playoff years and a Super Bowl or two left in him. It's no different than what Brett Favre did in the 1990s in Green Bay. With Favre under center, the Packers kept rolling off great seasons. Manning is doing the same in Indianapolis, possibly at a higher level, and he's the guy I'd start my team with.
Matt Mosley: Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals
After an internal debate between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, I decided not to choose either quarterback to start my yet-to-be-named NFL franchise. First of all, they'll both be on the verge of retirement by the time I surround them with enough talent to make a run at the playoffs. Secondly, choosing one of these quarterbacks causes somewhat reasonable humans to fly off the handle and fire off non-affirming e-mails.
And for those of you waiting to see me roll out the Tony Romo selection, let's wait and see what happens during preseason.
No, I'm going with 27-year-old Carson Palmer because, despite his career-threatening knee injury in the 2005 playoffs, I think he's on the verge of greatness. It's too bad that he's currently in a locker room that doubles as a reform school, and we could definitely offer more stability. He's already the first 4,000-yard passer in Bengals history, and he's thrown 78 touchdowns in only 45 career games. Palmer finished with 28 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 93.9 passer rating in 2006 after returning from a severe injury. He's not yet in the same class as Brady and Manning, but then, who is? Both of those players are first-ballot Hall of Famers, and by the time they hang it up, some will argue they're the two greatest quarterbacks of all-time. You could definitely make an argument for choosing Titans quarterback Vince Young to start a new franchise, but I'll take the experience and skills of Palmer.
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Len Pasquarelli: Shawne Merriman, LB, San Diego
The preference in choosing one player with whom to start a franchise would, of course, be a quarterback. But because it typically takes 5-7 years for a franchise to begin to demonstrate real results, it's probably impractical to choose a player like Peyton Manning, who still has plenty of productive seasons remaining, but has played nine years. Even Carson Palmer, a possible choice, is 27 years old. Tailback LaDainian Tomlinson? He'll be 28 in June, just at the cusp of a dangerous age at his position, and has averaged 407.2 touches in six seasons. That's a lot of tread rubbed off the tire.
So my choice is San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman, who has played only two seasons, and just turned 23 this past Friday. The Chargers' star, who is aptly nicknamed "Lights Out," has a remarkable sack-per-game average. He's appeared in 27 games and has 27 sacks, including 17 sacks in just a dozen outings in 2006. Although his skills-set fits best in a 3-4, Merriman, whose versatility is also demonstrated with 11 passes defensed and six forced fumbles, would be a dominant defender in any scheme. His four-game suspension last year for a violation of the league's steroid policy is a little troubling, but put a chip on his shoulder and made him even more devastating. He should dominate for many more years.
Joe Theismann: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
The guy I'd start my franchise with is Tom Brady for a number of reasons. The first reason is because he's still fairly young at 29 years old so he can lead a team for seven or eight years. Two, he has no baggage in terms of off-field issues. The third reason is because he's one of the best leaders in football. He's a guy who leads his team on and off the field. He's one of the first people in the morning meetings, always gives his all in the offseason and makes sure to put in the practice time with both the veterans and the younger players.
The final reason is probably the biggest. Brady is the type of guy you want to be the face of an organization. He's handsome, smart, talented and easily marketable.