Aaron Rodgers is chasing Brett Favre and Bart Starr in a way people might not be considering.
Rodgers could soon join Favre and Starr on the list of the top 10 quarterbacks in NFL history. The reason Rodgers needs to target Favre and Starr is because both retired Packers quarterbacks are his steppingstone into that elite class. I rate Favre at No. 7 and Starr at No. 10.
The surprising part of this chase is that the real debate can begin by the end of this season, when Rodgers starts reaching numbers that draw top-10 consideration. If Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have a big year, Rodgers can start comparing his career against Starr's.
A colleague recently suggested Rodgers might already rate as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in NFL history. The colleague might have a point. Eleven years into his career, Rodgers is trending in that direction. While I'm not yet willing to concede top-10 status yet, Rodgers can make a case.
What is undeniable is Rodgers really is chasing Favre and Starr historically.
Two types of quarterbacks fill the current top 10 in NFL history. There are those who are defined by winning but often have lighter stat totals, such as Starr and Otto Graham. Then there are those who put up great stats, like Favre, who will go into the Hall of Fame on the eve of this year's Super Bowl.
Rodgers is putting up stats like Favre. They both have one Super Bowl win. The Packers are talented enough to contend for the Super Bowl this season, and Rodgers is the biggest reason. He is considered the best quarterback in the game today and is a leading candidate to be MVP.
If Rodgers, who at 31 is in the prime of his career, wins MVP again, the top-10 conversation will be legit. It would be his third MVP win in four years, tying him with Favre. The unusual thing with Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks is their longevity. Most Hall of Famers have careers that last longer than 15 years, which makes it difficult to project Hall consideration for quarterbacks in the middle of their careers.
For Rodgers, this is his 11th year, his eighth as a starter.
The previous occasion I was asked to rate the top 10 quarterbacks ever was in 2010. Favre was 41. Peyton Manning was 34. Tom Brady was 33. I had Favre fifth, Brady seventh and Manning eighth. My top four were Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Graham and John Elway. Dan Marino was sixth, Terry Bradshaw was ninth and Starr was 10th.
My updated list would be Brady at No. 2, ahead of Montana, because of his four Super Bowl wins and 21 playoff victories. I would put Manning at No. 4 ahead of Graham, Favre and Marino because he has locked up most of the all-time statistical numbers. This season, for example, Manning should top Favre's yardage total of 71,838. He already has passed Favre's 508 career passing touchdowns.
This puts Favre at No. 7. Starr is still at 10, and this is where the chase begins for Rodgers, who likely won't catch Favre's stats. But Rodgers could pass Starr's accomplishments. An MVP season and another Super Bowl win could put him at least at No. 10, ahead of Starr.
The list I put together in 2010 heavily favors quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings. What has become clear in the free-agency period is the Super Bowl standard is hard to maintain. Quarterbacks who played before free agency started had the benefit of having consistent rosters together for years. Because of free agency, it's tough for Super Bowl teams to get back.
Statistics, then, become Rodgers' elevator ride into a higher ranking. Rodgers currently ranks 48th for yards with 28,578 and 28th for touchdowns with 226. He also gains high marks for efficiency as the toughest QB in history to intercept and currently carries the all-time best passer rating. In a normal 16-game season, Rodgers figures to throw for 38 touchdowns and about 4,500 yards. By the time he's 35, he should have more than 46,000 yards and 378 touchdowns.
That would put him eighth or ninth for yards and sixth for touchdowns. Because he played three years behind Favre, it would take Rodgers 10 more years (until he's 41) to catch Favre's record for yards. Steve Young played behind Montana, so there was no way he could catch Montana's 40,551. Young finished with 33,124.
For Rodgers, the chase is on to be among the 10 best quarterbacks ever. At this rate, he's well on his way.
From the inbox
A: Clearly, he will top Rodgers' $22 million a year. I would anticipate he would get in the neighborhood of $23 million to $24 million a year. What was interesting about this round of quarterback negotiations is how all top deals came in under Rodgers. Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson had to take deals of about $21 million. Luck will be negotiating from a salary of $16.155 million but with the idea of a $24 million or $25 million franchise tag possibility for 2017. That should allow him to get more than $22 million.
Q: Kam Chancellor aside, do you expect the Seattle secondary to take a step back this season just based on attrition and the departure of Byron Maxwell, or does this coaching staff have a plan that just gets a lot out of whatever they have? -- Aaron in Spangle, Washington
A: It could get off to a slow start, but it should be fine. The defensive line is better, and the linebacking corps is loaded with speed. All the players in the secondary are well-coached and use proper technique in coverage. The team is treating the Chancellor holdout like it is waiting for an injured player to get healthy. The Seahawks' defense is loaded with great players. I don't expect a great drop-off.
A: I actually think Mariota will have the better season. I think the Titans have more talent than the Bucs. Mariota will protect the ball well and not have a lot of turnovers. Winston will take chances and throw interceptions. I can see him throwing 18 to 20 picks. In the end, though, I think this is the best quarterback duo to enter the league since Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco in 2008.
Q: Headsetgate! OK -- it's probably not at that level. But my question: Why don't teams have the option of controlling their own communication as long as helmet-communications are standard? -- Joe in Boston
A: Teams do control their communication, but you hit on an interesting point. The league might have to look into having its people involved with the headsets if it determines something was funky about what happened in New England on Thursday night. It has been left to teams to handle the frequency issues at games. Teams know the nuances of their stadiums, so it's natural for them to hire a person to make sure the communication system is working well. But if a home team is gaining a competitive advantage because of the headsets, the competition committee might have to come up with a new system.
Q: Do you think Sam Bradford took a risk in not signing a deal in Philly and betting on himself? If he does well, sure it could make him money, but it could also just tell Chip Kelly "I can do this with anyone" and drive the price down. -- Mark in State College, Pennsylvania
A: I don't think so because the team will have the ability to franchise Bradford or sign him to a long-term deal after the season. Bradford should do well in this offense. He will appreciate the success of being with Kelly if he and the Eagles have a great season. Sure, it might cost the Eagles more to keep him, but it's better to see how he plays before giving him a long-term deal. From Kelly's standpoint, I think he'd like to settle on a quarterback for the next several years. If Bradford does well, I don't think Kelly will be shopping for another quarterback.