By Chris Lingebach

The average age for NFL starting quarterbacks is 29. Save for the Cardinals, whose 38-year-old Carson Palmer just retired.

Over the next five years, five elite quarterbacks — Philip Rivers (36), Tom Brady (40), Drew Brees (39), Eli Manning (37) and Ben Roethlisberger (35) — are likely to retire. Aaron Rodgers, 34, is fast behind them.

If there were ever to be a window for pedestrian quarterbacks to win championships on the backs of great defenses, it’s sure to open soon. And who’s to say — with Nick Foles, Blake Bortles and Case Keenum set to play for their respective conference championships — The Game Manager Era isn’t already upon us?

Keep in mind that, as these distinguished franchises search for their franchise QBs of the future, they’ll be surrounded by a sea of mediocre QBs who are already leading other middling and lowly clubs. In other words, unless Mitch Trubisky, Dak Prescott and Tyrod Taylor transform overnight into elite passers, we’re likely to soon witness a bunch of Andy Daltons and Matthew Staffords aging into the next generation of ‘elite’ talent.

Ready to have your mind blown? Because the emerging quarterback market is astounding. As many as 10 of the NFL’s current Top 20 quarterbacks — Matt Ryan, Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Brees, Rodgers, Manning and Rivers — could test free agency by 2020.

That’s assuming — and a big assumption, it is — that Tom Brady, at some point before then, gives the league a break and decides to retire. And, not to mention, at least two of three Vikings passers — Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford — will assuredly test free agency this calendar year.

With the potential for that much volatility, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see even more teams double down on their defensive personnel. It would simply be a matter of availability, the safe bet, rather than forward thinking.

Of course, since we’re talking three-to-five years down the line, the teams who have entrenched franchise QBs now should enjoy a sustained competitive advantage over the next few seasons. Bad time for the Redskins to let Cousins walk, you say? Whoops.

Let’s not pretend this defense-heavy model has suddenly sprung on the NFL. It’s been two years since a broken-down, 39-year-old Peyton Manning hobbled up to the line and managed the Broncos to a win in Super Bowl 50, doing only enough to not lose the game for one of the best defenses ever assembled. Manning was no Trent Dilfer, to be sure; though his best days were clearly behind him.

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.

It takes a strong wind to shift the tide of an NFL trend, but the weather may be just right. And Bortles, Keenum and Foles — at least one of whom is sure to be playing in Super Bowl LII — may be the undercurrent to The Game Manager Revolution.

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter

  1. Gerry Miller says:

    In addition to those mentioned in the article, Mark Rypien, Doug Williams, Jim McMahon and Joe Flacco were not superstar QBs when they played QB for a Superbowl winner. All those teams had dominating lines, great cover guys, good special teams and a balanced offensive attack.

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