I know I promised a look a touchdowns and interceptions yesterday, but I think the discussion will make more sense if we start with a look at attempts per season. The bottom line with aging quarterbacks is staying healthy enough to stay on the field.
Each of the 10 QBs selected (see yesterday’s post) played through age 36. Seven were still playing at age 38. 3 by 39, 2 by 40, and only Warren Moon played past age forty (he played until 44 years old, though only saw a full season of play once after age 40). Currently, we are guessing that Manning plays until 2014, when he will break most of Brett Favre’s records. I can’t see him quitting at age 37, needing just one more season to take some of the most illustrious records of all time away from Favre.
Of the 10 QBs in question, injuries took a toll. Johnny Unitas was never fully healthy after age 34. Steve Young played until he was 38, but lost parts of three of his last four seasons. Joe Montana lost almost 2 full years at age 35, before coming back at age 37. Dan Marino was banged up two of his final four years in the league. Still, of the QBs who suffered lost or partially lost seasons due to injuries after the age of 33 (Young, Montana, Marino, Fouts, Elway), most came back to be successful again. Only Unitas (again, very different era) got hurt and was never the same.
The stunning thing about all the quarterbacks on the list, is that other than Unitas and Moon, the end came quickly. Eight of them posted a season of at least 430 attempts one year before retiring. Staubach, Montana, and Favre all posted at least 460 attempts in their final season.
Manning has always been a high volume passer and bears a lot of similarity wtih Marino and Favre in that respect. Favre never threw fewer than 471 times after age 33. Four of Marino’s final six seasons saw him throw the ball over 480 times. In two other seasons, he battled injuries, but still threw at least 369 times both seasons.
So, what can we take from this? We know that injuries can hit any player at any time. We also know that Manning has a suspect offensive line. So we knock on a serious amount of wood as we draw these conclusions:
1. Manning is likely going to throw the ball a lot right up until the end. In terms of passing attempts, there’s more of a cliff than a gradual decline. Most of the big time passers kept flinging it until they left the league.
2. Manning is likely to play to at least age 38. Most of the greats retired at that age. It would take him through the 2014 seasons which would be enough to pass Favre’s consecutive start streak (should he stay healthy).
3. In terms of playing time, we won’t see the end coming. The greats kept throwing until the end. Once they couldn’t be the man, they walked away. The exceptions were Warren Moon, who started in the NFL much later than other great QBs, and Johnny Unitas.
4. Even if he does get hurt, he can still come back to have fine seasons. Many QBs in the modern era have done so.
Tomorrow: TDs and Ints (I promise)
(note: this will be compiled and posted in the articles sidebar upon completion of the series)