Among the most frustrating arguments bandied about when comparing all-time great quarterbacks is the ‘weapons’ argument.
The weapons argument goes like this:
A while back, I came up with my ‘top tier’ of great quarterbacks. If I were to redo that list, I would now also include Tom Brady on it. His 2010 season was by far the finest of his career, and in my book elevated him to another level in my pantheon of great signal callers. All the great players on that list played with other amazing players.
The following is a list of all the Hall of Fame and multiple Pro Bowl level players that each of the great Super Bowl era quarterbacks played with on offense.
Johnny Unitas-The Baltimore Colts great played with Ray Berry (HoF WR), John Mackey (HoF TE), Lenny Moore (HoF RB), Jim Parker (HoF Guard), Joe Perry (HoF FB), and was coached by two Hall of Famers in Weeb Ewbank and Don Shula. He also had 5 time Pro Bowl tackle Bob Vogel and 4 time Pro Bowl FB Alan Ameche. Unitas had tons of weapons. Total HoFers and multiple Pro Bowl players: 7
Joe Montana-Montana played with Jerry Rice, but also had two time Pro Bowl TE Dwight Clark, 3 time Pro Bowl Guard Randy Cross, 4 time Pro Bowler Roger Craig, 5 time Pro Bowl guard Guy McIntyre, and 2 time Pro Bowl WR John Taylor. Oh yeah, some guy named Bill “The Greatest Coach in History” Walsh was involved with him at some point. Total HoFers and multiple Pro Bowl Players: 6
John Elway-Elway had Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe as well as Terrell Davis (3 PB), and Keith Bishop C (2 PB). This list also includes Sammy Winder, but he was horrible (despite two inexplicable Pro Bowls), so I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by listing him. He also got two seasons with multiple Pro Bowl Center Tom Nalen Of any of the quarterbacks on this list, Elway probably had the least ‘help’, but he still relied heavily on one of the best tight ends in history, and a running back who for a short time was as good as any back has ever been. Total: 4
Dan Marino-He had a Hall of Fame Center in Dwight Stephenson, a 7 time Pro Bowl tackle in Richmond Webb, Mark Duper (3 PB), Mark Clayton (5 PB), Keith Simms G (2 PB), Ray Foster G, (2 PB), and two time Pro Bowl TE Ferrell Edmunds. Most of Marino’s help was on the offensive line, but it’s unquestionably that he played with some great linemen. He was also coached by Don Shula. Total: 7
Roger Staubach-He played with a slew of Hall of Famers including OT Rayfield Wright, WR Lance Allworth, WR Bob Hayes, RB Tony Dorsett. He also had a six time Pro Bowl guard in John Niland, 3 time All Pro WR Drew Pearson, 4 time Pro Bowl RB Calvin Hill, 3 time Pro Bowl WR Tony Hill, 3 time Pro Bowl TE Billy Joe DuPree. Oh and Tom Landry coached him. Total: 9
Steve Young-Again, he had Jerry Rice, but also Terrell Owens, 2 time All Pro Tackle Harris Barton, 4 time Pro Bowler Brent Jones at TE, Ricky Waters (3 time Pro Bowler w/Young), and Jesse Sapolu, a 2 time Pro Bowl guard/center. Total: 6
Bart Starr-Starr played with several of Hall of Famers on offense. He had guard Forrest Gregg, RB Paul Hornung, center Jim Ringo, and full back Jim Taylor. He also played with 5 time All Pro Guard Jerry Kramer. He had a Hall of Fame coach by the name of Vince something I think too. Total: 5
Fran Tarkenton-He played with a Hall of Fame tackle in Ron Yary. He he also had a 6 time Pro Bowl center in Mick Tingelhoff, 6 time PB tackle Grady Alderman, 5 time PB RB Chuck Foreman, 3 time PB WR Tommy Mason, and 4 time PB WR John Gilliam. His head coach, Bud Grant, is also in the Hall of Fame. Total: 6
Tom Brady-Brady played with Randy Moss for two Pro Bowl seasons, as well as Wes Welker for 3. Matt Light is a 3 time Pro Bowl tackle and Logan Mankins is a three time Pro Bowl guard. He also has had Bill Belichick as his head coach. Not coincidentally, Brady’s best statistical seasons have come since he started playing with multiple Pro Bowl offensive talent. Total: 4
Peyton Manning-Manning had the benefit of a Hall of Fame caliber WR in Marvin Harrison. Marvin is likely the only Hall of Fame player from the Manning era (not counting Marshall Faulk with whom Manning played one season). Other standouts include Jeff Saturday (5 Pro Bowls and a border-line HoF chance), 5 time PB WR Reggie Wayne, and 4 time Pro Bowler Edgerrin James at RB. Tarik Glenn was a 3 time PB at tackle. He had potential Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy as well. Note that Dallas Clark has only ever gone to one Pro Bowl in his career. Manning’s ‘weapon cache’ is actually much smaller than most of the names on this list, though he did get a lot of years with the ones he had. Total: 5
As you can see, most of this list of the greatest quarterbacks of the Super Bowl era played with other great players. Obviously, just counting the numbers of multiple Pro Bowlers doesn’t necessarily sync up with the number of years the QBs played with them. Still, this list helps to give a clearer picture of just how most of the great quarterbacks had plenty of help being great. In general the ‘weapons’ argument isn’t all that useful in splitting hairs between the best of the best. The only quarterback on this list with much of a gripe is John Elway. Of course it can be argued that Elway failed to elevate any of his offensive teammates to a Pro Bowl level, too.