The deeper the NFL offseason, the more the scramble for journalistic material is. The MMQB, for example, recently did an all-time draft – one that saw punter Ray Guy picked fourth overall – while Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar published a story why New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s 6.7 yards per attempt in Super Bowls is reflective of a lack of skill. It is, to put it frankly, a slow news period.
The same holds true for the self-proclaimed world wide leader in sports, ESPN. With no Deflategate drama to push and stories about free agent Colin Kaepernick unable to carry an entire network’s football coverage, ESPN – namely senior writer Mike Sando – decided to collect 10 former NFL coaches, general managers and executives to do a poll for the story “The GOAT Index: NFL coaches, execs rank best QBs since 1978”.
The 10 members of the panel cast their vote for best quarterbacks since the league’s fundamental rule changes in 1978 and the results were determined by how frequently each player outranked his peers. On top, little surprising, came five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, who scored a “GOAT index” of 86.7.
The praise for the reigning Super Bowl MVP was almost universal. Veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called him an easy choice saying that Brady is “such a winner”: “I just think he's the hardest to defend against. It doesn't matter who their receivers are. [...] Tom Brady is just the best our teams have ever played against.”
Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Holmgren said that Brady had taken professionalism, hard work and discipline – which the all-time greats universally possess – to a new level. Norv Turner, on the other hand, praised Brady not only for his record but also his ability to master any situation as well as his durability. The rest of the 10 men, who have all been on championship teams, also heaped plenty of praise upon the 39-year old future Hall of Famer. They also all voted him in the top two – all except one, that is.
Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy opted to throw a curveball and voted Brady as only the sixth best quarterback of the last almost 40 years. According to Sando’s description of the project, Dungy approached it as if drawing up a game plan – and he argued that double-threat quarterbacks posed more of a challenge. Consequently, Dungy had John Elway (#4 overall), Aaron Rodgers (#5 overall) and Steve Young (#8 overall) ranked ahead of Brady.
Furthermore, he listed Peyton Manning (#2 overall) and Dan Marino (t-#6 overall) before naming the Patriots quarterback. While it certainly makes sense to judge quarterbacks by how tough they are to defend, Dungy ranking his long-time rival at six is curious to say the least – particularly considering that Brady is coming off one of the best quarterback seasons in NFL history and played a Super Bowl for the ages.
Still, Dungy has his reasons for having Brady at six. His mobility (or lack thereof) is one, another is Brady's success with head coach Bill Belichick. The debate about who benefitted more from the relationship will possibly rage on forever in the deepest parts of the internet but what cannot be disputed is that the duo is the most successful in league history; and without Brady at quarterback the Patriots likely would not have won five Super Bowls.
Of course, having the greatest coach in modern football on the sidelines is something no other quarterback can enjoy (retrospectively at least, as Elway, Young and Marino all benefitted from having top coaching staffs at the time). Then again, Brady is the one to make the ultimate decisions and has to make the plays. More often than not they have been successful, which has led to his legendary status as the consensus top quarterback of the last almost 40 seasons.
And apparently, nine out of ten people agree.