Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Great Debate: Can Rodgers overtake Favre?
By Kevin Seifert and Gene Wojciechowski
Assuming he retires, Brett Favre will one day enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame with a sack of NFL records to his name. He'll have more attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns (and interceptions) than any quarterback who has played the game.
But a funny thing happened when Favre left Green Bay after the 2007 season: His successor made arguably the best debut in the history of the league. Indeed, Aaron Rodgers is the first quarterback ever to produce consecutive 4,000-yard seasons at the start of his career.
At 26, Rodgers' career remains a mostly unwritten story. But after throwing for 8,472 yards in the past two seasons, and then picking up this summer with a red-hot preseason, the possibilities are endless. ESPN.com national columnist Gene Wojciechowski and NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert are here to ponder the question: Could Rodgers ultimately go down as the best Packers quarterback of all time?
Brett Favre (left) and Aaron Rodgers will be forever linked in Green Bay.
Kevin Seifert: Gene, I'll admit it: When I eagerly agreed to take part in this debate, I didn't take a minute to look at the actual numbers. I figured Rodgers is young, Favre is old and soon enough the gap would start closing. Like Rodgers, I am young. But unlike him, I'm a little stupid.
The raw numbers suggest that Rodgers will need to play another 13 or 14 seasons at his current pace -- even if the regular season moves to 18 games -- to overtake Favre from a statistical standpoint in Packers history. That's not to say it can't be done. All he would have to do is be in condition to throw for 4,000-plus yards when he's 40 years old. I know a guy who did that.
Favre's longevity has been his greatest career asset. The chances of Rodgers -- or anyone else for that matter - playing at such a high level for so long are not high. So for the purposes of this debate, I think we might need to rely on less objective measurables. Rodgers might not reach Favre's gross numbers, but that doesn't mean he won't one day be considered the better quarterback.
I think Rodgers is already a smarter passer. He's thrown a combined 20 interceptions in two seasons as a starter. Favre has thrown more than 20 interceptions in five single seasons as a starter.
Gene Wojciechowski: I'm sorry? Rely on less objective measurables? As the great Lee Corso says, "Not so fast, my friend."
Rodgers could end up as the greatest Packers quarterback of all time. And I could grow a full head of hair by daybreak.
Before Cheeseheads everywhere take that as a rip on Rodgers, remember a few things: I own two Packers jerseys (a Hornung and a Sharpe), my family is from Wisconsin and I've lived among you. But Favre's career numbers make it almost impossible for Rodgers, even with all his considerable talent, to surpass Favre.
I did the math. He'd have to average 4,000 passing yards for the next 15-plus seasons (at 16 games per season) to catch Favre's current total passing yards. He'd have to average 30 touchdown passes (which is what Rodgers had last year) for the next 14-plus season to reach Favre's 497 career touchdowns. He'd have to average 350 connections for the next 15-plus seasons to reach Favre's career completion totals.
Favre has 285 consecutive starts, the second most in the history of the league. Do we really think Rodgers will get to that number? Favre also had started 61 games and thrown for about 15,000 yards by the time he was 26. At the same age, Rodgers has thrown for 8,801 yards. And the scary part? Favre isn't done yet.
Yes, Rodgers is a remarkable talent. He's made a believer out of me with his arm and his toughness. But I'm not sure what you mean by a smarter passer. Didn't his postseason end with an interception?
KS: Hey, hey. Be nice, Gene. I'm just some blogger sitting in a (Wi-Fi enabled) igloo up north. But let's address your claims so I can keep my fingers from freezing.
First, Rodgers' postseason didn't end on an interception. It was on a fumble when a free blitzer grabbed his face mask and cheated Packers fans everywhere out of a trip to New Orleans. Not my guy Aaron's fault.
Chasing Favre's NFL records
Peyton Manning and Drew Brees could reach his milestones, but it's a long shot. Football Outsiders
The thing I like most about Rodgers is that he's an aggressive, downfield passer without being a reckless gunslinger. Like Favre, he gets big chunks of yards. (In fact, he gets more.) But unlike Favre, he avoids unnecessary risks to do it. It's a rarity to see Rodgers throw a ball up for grabs or into double coverage.
And in this case, at least, the numbers bear me out. In his first two seasons as a starter, Rodgers has thrown 58 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. In his first two seasons with the Packers, Favre threw 37 and 37.
Otherwise, I'm with you on the numbers argument. As I said, it's going to be awfully difficult for Rodgers to play at such a high level when he is Favre's age. He's got almost no chance at the career totals, and his odds for overtaking Favre just in his Packers years aren't much better. But we already know that Rodgers, like Favre, is a gamer.
In 2008, he played with a sprained throwing shoulder. Last season, he played in all 16 games despite a foot injury that caused him to limp noticeably during some games in 2009.
I talked to Rodgers during training camp this summer. More than anything else, Rodgers said he is proud to have made every start since taking over as the starter. I realize his streak is only at 32, but he absolutely values that aspect of playing quarterback in the NFL.
Brett Favre had started 61 games and thrown for about 15,000 yards by the time he was 26.
To be clear, I don't think Rodgers is going to surpass 70,000 yards or 500 touchdowns in his career like Favre will. But I don't think Rodgers necessarily has to do that in order to be considered the greatest Packers quarterback of all time.
Longevity alone shouldn't guarantee that title to Favre. From what I've seen of Rodgers so far, I think he has a good chance to finish his career as a more accurate, less mistake-prone passer. Victories and championships also could tilt our judgment.
To this point, Rodgers' career record as a starter is 17-15. Favre's was 160-93 with the Packers, a considerably higher winning percentage. But in his first two seasons, Favre was 18-14.
GW: Well, it's not like I'm sitting in a palatial estate in Palm Springs watching a polo match while an attendant pulls a fresh frostie from the cooler for me. I'm just a state or two over, in Illinois, home of Blago and Bears hysteria.
But you're right and I'm wrong about the Rodgers interception. It didn't come at the end of the wild-card loss to AZ, but on the first play of the game and later resulted in a Cardinals touchdown.
You're also right about Rodgers' toughness, physical and mental. It was a humbling day when he was taken with the 24th pick--much later than he expected -- of the 2005 draft. But he dealt with it. And he dealt with the controversy surrounding Favre's messy departure from Green Bay. I'd argue that he handled it better than Favre or Packers general manager Ted Thompson. And he has played through injuries, significant ones. I'm sure that meant a great deal to him, as well as to his teammates, who had come to expect nothing less than Favre.
I agree with you about the pure numbers versus greatest Packers quarterback of all time. It isn't a prerequisite. In fact, I'd argue that Rodgers first has to surpass the legacy of Bart Starr before we start worrying about Favre. I'm guessing there are Packers fans who flip Starr for Favre.
Rodgers' early numbers are encouraging and impressive, but he has yet to lead the Packers to a division title or a playoff win in those two years.
Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers: All-Time With Packers
Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers: Best in a season with Packers
KS: Bart Starr? Please. You mean the guy who was the caretaker on all of Vince Lombardi's championship teams? Was the book called "Run to Daylight" or "Pass to Daylight?" I can't remember. What? You say Bart Starr is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Er, lemme check that one out. ...
Anyway, I guess the premise of my argument is that Rodgers has established a high standard at the base of his career. It presupposes he continues that upward climb, and I think that will continue in 2010. I think the Packers will win the NFC North, make a deep playoff run and be one of two or three favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
If that happens with Rodgers at quarterback, I think I'll be on to something. If not, I guess I'll just be on something.
GW: How dare you mock the great Starr.
Anyway, is this what you would call a Seifert leap of faith? Rodgers does something for two seasons, so that means he'll do it for the next 10? The NFL is littered with guys who start fast and then, for whatever reason, can't sustain the production.
I don't presuppose anything. Rodgers has played two full seasons, that's it. I like what I see, but I'm not ready to say he's destined for football immortality.
In his favor: a wonderful feel for the game, a set of really good wide receivers and tight ends, a head coach who loves the passing game.
Not so much in his favor: an improved -- but still questionable -- offensive line, playing at Lambeau in the snow months (yes, I know, Favre did just fine), and a knack for suffering injuries.
I'm reserving judgment on the 2010 NFC North. I'm leaning toward the Pack, but you can't tell me Favre's Vikings won't be a factor. And I'm having a hard time forgetting about Green Bay's shaky offensive line last season and those 51 points Arizona scored in the playoffs against them. But that's just me, Mr. Negative.
KS: You said it, not me. I'm all sunshine and roses. Brett and Bart are both Hall of Famers. And Aaron Rodgers has a chance to be better than both of them. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.