Tom Brady won a title after the age of 35. Which senior signal-caller has the best chance to match him? (Elsa/Getty Images)
Last season, Tom Brady entered into select company on a couple of levels. He wasn’t only the third quarterback to win four Super Bowls as a starter, joining Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw — he became the fifth quarterback to win a Super Bowl after his 35th birthday, joining Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett and John Elway.
In truth, this could be considered a pretty good time to be an older quarterback. This season, six projected starters will be 35 or older (Peyton Manning, Brady, Drew Brees, Josh McCown, Carson Palmer and Tony Romo), and while it’s early to handicap the field, it seems to be a safe bet that at least four of them will make the postseason. But which one of them has the best chance of joining Brady in that exclusive company and being able to boast of winning a ring after his 35th birthday?
Here’s a look at the field:
Peyton Manning: Despite the fact there was talk he wouldn’t return for an 18th season, Manning is back in camp with the Broncos. After seeing how he struggled to the finish line last year with Denver, there are questions about his health, as well as a few members of his receiving corps. At 39, he’s slated to be the oldest position player in the league this season, and if he wins a Super Bowl this year with the Broncos, he’d be the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win a title.
Drew Brees: The Saints’ signal-caller turned 36 in January, and while he’s talked about playing into his 40s, he shown little sign of slowing down. He led the NFL in several major passing categories in 2014, including passing yards (4,952, first), completed passes (456, first) and passing yards per game (309.5). Despite the fact that New Orleans was 7-9 last season and underwent some serious personnel changes in the offseason, as long as he stays healthy, Brees will certainly be able to keep the Saints competitive for the foreseeable future.
Josh McCown: Truthfully, we’re just including him on this list because he’s become the default starter for the Browns this season. McCown, who will turn 36 in July, has had some nice moments for the six other teams he’s played for over the course of his career, but at this stage with Cleveland, is a longshot at best to become the next plus-35 quarterback to win a title.
Carson Palmer: The former Bengal, who will turn 36 in December, was looking good as a possible darkhorse last season, as he led the Cardinals to a 6-0 start. Then, he wrecked his knee and had to watch the rest of the season from the sidelines. If he stays healthy this year, it’s reasonable to think that Arizona has progressed to a point where it can be a serious playoff threat in the NFC West.
Tony Romo: Well, he’s certainly not lacking for confidence when it comes to the 2015 season. The Cowboys quarterback, who celebrated his 35th birthday last month, was able to get the first playoff win of his career last year against the Eagles, and if a catch is truly a catch, then there’s the very real chance that Dallas pulls the upset on Green Bay in the divisional playoffs and is going against the Seahawks in the NFC title game. If the Cowboys can keep the running game moving after losing DeMarco Murray and Romo is truly over any past late-season or playoff meltdowns, then Romo has a chance to join fellow Cowboy Staubach and the rest of the over-35 crowd that took home a title.
For some historical perspective, this current group is good, but it likely pales in comparison to the plus-35 quarterbacks from 1997 and 1998. In 1997, Elway (37), Boomer Esiason (36) and Steve Young (36) topped the plus-35 QB club, with Elway winning the first of back-to-back Super Bowl titles. The following year, there were eight quarterbacks age 35 or older, a group that included Elway, Young, Bubby Brister (who went 4-0 with Denver in relief of Elway), Doug Flutie, Randall Cunningham and Vinny Testaverde. Those plus-35 QBs from 1998 were also successful — Elway won another Super Bowl, while Cunningham led a passing game with Randy Moss and Cris Carter to the NFC title game. Meanwhile, Testaverde got the Jets to the AFC title game, while Young and Flutie also guided their teams to the postseason.
One more thing: While we included just the projected starters for 2015, there are a few other quarterbacks who also have an excellent chance of joining the over-35 championship club sooner rather than later. Eli Manning, who already has a pair of Super Bowl wins on his resume, will turn 35 in January. Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are 33, while Aaron Rodgers is 31. While we are celebrating the current crop of over-35 quarterbacks, given the skill level and resume of some of their counterparts in the 30 to 35 age range, there’s the possibility that we’ll have to wait a few seasons for the next senior signal-caller to be the last man standing on the postgame podium.