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Wednesday, January 26, 2011
XLV: The Packers' quarterback transition

By Kevin Seifert

Mark Kreidler's column on the rise of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers includes this line: "Today, one can look at Rodgers and see that he is on the verge of emphatically completing a historically rare feat: following a legend into a quarterback job and succeeding at it."

Indeed. Longtime readers might remember this post from October 2009, from which the chart below is republished. It chronicles the difficulty NFL teams have had replacing a Hall of Fame quarterback over the past 30 years.

As you can see, the best-managed transition over that span was the San Francisco 49ers' shift from Joe Montana to Steve Young in 1993. Otherwise, the other eight Hall of Fame quarterbacks gave way either to one-year stopgaps or journeymen who never came close to matching Rodgers' success.

Some of those franchises are still searching for a worthy long-term replacement, most notably the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos.

Why has it been so difficult to replace these Hall of Famers? Obviously, there has been and continues to be a shortage of elite quarterback talent in the NFL. Making this work also requires a special level of forethought, and a certain insensitivity, to plan adequately for a transition. Drafting and developing a hot-shot young quarterback might not always sit well with the established Hall of Famer.

The Packers drafted Rodgers in 2005, when Brett Favre was 36 but clearly nowhere close to retirement. Rodgers was fortunate enough to spend three years in development, including the final two in current coach Mike McCarthy's offense, and hit the ground running when the Packers made their much-debated change in 2008. The transition was painful for all parties, but it worked as well as any in recent NFL history.