denis gullickson | talking titletown | oct. 2018
Sometime back, this column traced the evolution of the quarterback position over football's long history. Essentially, the position has gone from a somewhat-random player who was a “quarter-back” from the line of scrimmage to the premier, star-studded position it is today.
On any given play “back in the day” — we're talking the era of “King Football” circa 1890 — the “quarter-back” oft times did not even touch the “foot-ball.” Instead, he called out signals — or not. His biggest contribution was as lead blocker for a runner from one of the other backfield posts who'd caught the “snap” from center (done with the foot at first) — sometimes.
Today, a team either has a quarterback who can handle the limelight and deliver the goods or it's scrambling to find one — be it, fingers crossed, by drafting a promising college prospect, or, fingers crossed, by trading for one with even a glimmer of possibility. A boatload of money is nearly always involved.
Some might suggest that the Packers' Aaron Rodgers recent deal shows that quarterback salaries are astronomical and way out of proportion — a perspective of us mere mortals. Nothing reflects a market economy more than the insane amounts hauled in by even marginal quarterbacks these days.
The nuts and bolts of Rodgers' new contract are staggering: In the end, the deal could be worth up to $180 million with $103 million of that guaranteed — $67 million due by December 31, 2018; another $13 million by St. Patty's Day, 2019 and the rest staggered over time. The average annual value of the deal is a whopping $33.5 million.
You Don't Always Get What You Want
Of course, Aaron Rodgers is worth every penny, right?
If you answered, “Yes,” you would probably point to the comeback he orchestrated against the Bears as a recent example.
If you answer, “No,” you probably don't watch much football.
But in the relative scheme of things, even the cynics would suggest that Rodgers has demonstrated again and again that — if that's the going price of quarterbacks these days — he's worth the dole. Don't take this writer's word for it, take Forbes Magazine's justification from August 29, 2018:
“Rodgers remains one of the most gifted passers in football and currently holds the career mark for passer rating (103.8). Rodgers, who won MVP Awards for the 2011 and 2014 seasons, has thrown 43 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions in his last 17 games.”
For Forbes — as well as sports-minded accountants and Packers fans looking for numeric support of their love for their quarterback — it's really a case of “Safermetrics” (hardly “safe,” but a nod to baseball's “SABR-metrics”): You can crunch every dollar of Rodgers' all-time-high contract into his on-field accomplishments.
Anecdotally, you don't have to channel surf far across the sports channels to hear some talking head expounding upon Rodgers being the best quarterback in the league today — if not league history.
To be sure, not every team that ever shelled out a king's ransom for a starting quarterback got the return on investment that the Packers have in “Number 12.”
Because it's fun (and, sometimes, too easy) to pick on the Bears — a quintessential exemplar is the Jay Cutler saga in Chicago. What the “Sports Cheat Sheet” called “The Most Overpaid Player in NFL History” — over his twelve-year career — Cutler made (nix “earned”) just under $112.2 million. That, with an all-time passer rating of a measly 85.3. Yes, part of that fiasco was with the Broncos, but that should have been enough for the Bears not to trip over the same stick.
Other recent examples might include Joe Flacco, Brock Osweiler and Mike Glennon (another Bears' strikeout).
That Fourth Face?
But this column isn't about quarterback salaries so much as it is quarterback value to the Packers franchise.
Safermetrics be damned, while his career passer rating is a paltry 80.5 — with his five NFL titles — Bart Starr might be George Washington in that regard. Given the breadth of his contribution— 275 games, an 86.0 rating and an infectious joi de vivre — Favre would be Thomas Jefferson.
On that note, Aaron Rodgers can probably take Abe Lincoln's spot with his generally somber, cerebral approach and his studious 104.0 career rating, 6.4 touchdown percentage and 1.6 percent interception rate — all historical records.
While Starr and Favre were both Packers for 16 years, Rodgers is entering his 14th season. If he plays through his new contract, Rodgers will become the longest-serving Packer and Packers “QB” of all time.
So, three of the four faces on the Packers Mount Rushmore of Quarterbacks are unquestionable — etched there for statistical success as well as longevity and involvement in the franchise's iconic moments.
The fourth face up there can be contested — perhaps as enigmatic as that remaining countenance, Teddy Roosevelt.
Since the team first started designating “quarterbacks” — according to wikiwand.com — 46 guys have taken snaps as a Packers QB. Of course, in the Roaring Twenties — the league's first decade — a bevy of utility backs rotated in and out of the lineup — all capable of running and throwing the ball. Naming a quarterback during that stretch was about as elusive as were those players.
From that era, Curly Lambeau, Johnny Blood and Clarke Hinkle and others all appear in the team's passing category. Even Tony Canadeo, the “Galloping Ghost of Gonzaga” — though primarily a running back in the 1940s — is listed in the QB ranks for his number of tosses.
Hall of Famers in the group include Lambeau, Blood, Arnie Herber, Canadeo, Starr and Favre. Certainly, Rodgers will join that group when he is eligible.
Recent rankings at Ranker, The Sportster and Lombardi Ave and an older one at Bleacher Report confirm that Starr, Favre and Rodgers are all shoo-ins. Most of these listings have Rodgers first, Favre second and Starr third. After that, even these sources get a little murky.
Consistent amongst these sources are the names of Lynn Dickey and Don Majkowski — Dickey averaging just outside of fourth-place and Majkowski averaging a bit back of fifth-place. The only other name to appear on all the lists is that of Zeke Bratkowski.
Other names on at least one list — as high as fourth-place, as low as tenth — are Lambeau, Herber, Canadeo, Cecil Isbell, Tobin Rote, Mike Tomczak, Matt Flynn, Scott Hunter, Jack Jacobs and Randy Wright. All things considered, only Lambeau, Herber and Canadeo merit a deeper look.
Lambeau could “do it all.” In fact, he was so busy doing it all, that he really doesn't qualify for that fourth quarterback spot. While the same applies to Canadeo, he does rank in the team's top twenty all-time passers. Herber was a dedicated quarterback of some note — as a Packer and a Giant — playing in four NFL title games and winning two.
In 2015, 247 Sports' tackled this question and put Arnie Herber up as that fourth face on the Packers Quarterback Mount Rushmore.
And the Winner Is …
A quarterback's “Passer Rating” — used by the NFL since the 1970s — might be one “Safermetric” to rank those 46 Packers quarterbacks — though it, too, can ultimately be subjective. Changes in the style of play over the years alone skew the number toward the modern game or particular schemes.
Basically, the rating is arrived at by comparing passing attempts to completed passes, passing yards, touchdown passes and interceptions. It doesn't include many aspects of a quarterback's overall performance including successful handoffs, the value of split-second decision-making, the strategic timing of playmaking in a game, or a host of other factors.
In 2011, ESPN developed the “Quarterback Rating” which includes many of the nuances of a quarterback's performance such as running the ball, turnovers and penalties — giving a bit better picture of the QB's impact on the entire game.
Additionally, one cannot ignore the number of playoff wins and NFL titles earned — another reason the Packers' “Big Three” are “up there.”
Excellent resources on Packers' stats are Eric Goska's “Packer Legends in Facts” and the updated “Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness.” Goska's lists helps confirm a hypothesis this writer had going in: The quarterback consistently near the top in many passing categories is … Lynn Dickey.
Dickey, however, led the Packers to a single playoff win. If Dickey becomes that fourth face, then Don Majkowski and others warrant reconsideration.
So, that fourth face is, indeed, Arnie Herber — Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame just three years after it opened — Herber was the league's leading passer even before he teamed up with Don Hutson. He battled Benny Friedman as the league's best early-era quarterback, was selected to the Pro Bowls, was a First Team All-Pro, passed for over 8,000 yards and had a 6.9 percent touchdown percentage. Best of all, he was a Green Bay kid.
The Green Bay Theatre Company continues work developing an arts and performance center to open in downtown Green Bay in 2019. Contact Denis Gullickson with ideas and input at email@example.com.