Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner announced that he was retiring from the NFL today. Unless he decides to do a Brett Favre and unretire in August, we should be able to discuss his legacy and place in NFL history today.
I have written several times before that I believe Warner should be inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. However, I do not believe he is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in NFL history. Let us discuss.
Why Kurt Warner is a Hall of Famer: The impressive numbers he put up are just impossible to ignore. Warner played for the St. Louis Rams from 1998 to 2003, the New York Giants in 2004 and the Arizona Cardinals from 2005 to 2009. He is the only quarterback in NFL history to have 100 plus touchdown passes for two franchises (Rams and Cardinals). In his 12-year NFL career he had 2,666 completions in 4,070 attempts, a 65.5 completion percentage, 32,344 passing yards, 208 touchdown passes, 128 interceptions and a QB rating of 93.7.
Warner is third in career QB rating among quarterbacks with 4,000 career passing attempts, trailing only Hall of Fame QB and former San Francisco 49er Steve Young (96.8) and future Hall of Fame and current Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning (95.2). Those statistics allowed him to capture the AP NFL MVP Award in 1999 and 2001. The only players with more than one MVP Award are Cleveland Browns RB Jim Brown, Baltimore Colts QB Johnny Unitas, San Francisco 49ers QB Joe Montana, Young, Favre (in his Green Bay Packer days) and Manning. All of those players not only are or will be first ballot Hall of Fame Players; those are legends of the game.
The most impressive part of Warner's resume is that as good as he was in the regular season, he was even better in the post season. Warner's teams posted a 9-4 record in the postseason and qualified for three Super Bowls. Those nine playoff wins are a record for an undrafted quarterback. In three NFC Championship Games, he was 3-0. He won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in 1999 and was the Super Bowl MVP. He was also the runner up in 2001 with the Rams and in 2008 with the Cardinals. His teams lost those games by a combined seven points.
In these 13 playoff starts, he posted 307 completions in 462 attempts, a 66.5 completion percentage, 3,952 passing yards, 31 passing touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a QB Rating of 102.8. He threw a touchdown pass in 12 consecutive playoff games; a streak that was broken in his final playoff game against New Orleans. The only active players with longer active streaks are Favre (20) and New England Patriots QB Tom Brady (16). His 102.8 QB rating is second only to former Green Bay Packer Hall of Famer Bart Starr (104.7). Warner also holds the three highest passing yardage totals in Super Bowl history. With numbers like that there is no debating that he was about as solid as any quarterback in NFL postseason history.
He just keeps too much Hall of Fame company to not be included in the Hall. He has too many statistics where the only other player to do those things are all-time great players. His best season was his first season as a starter. In 1999, starting QB Trent Green was lost for the year in a preseason game. All Warner did in 1999 was complete 325 passes in 499 passing attempts for 4,353 yards passing, 41 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions and a QB rating of 109.2. The only players that have had 40 touchdown passes in a single season are Brady, Manning and former Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame QB Dan Marino. Warner followed that up with 36 touchdown passes in 2001. The only quarterbacks with two seasons of more than 35 touchdown passes are Marino (48 and 44), Favre (39, 38, 35) and Young (36, 35). When Warner added a third 30-touchdown pass season in 2008, he joined another list of quarterbacks with three such seasons, joining Marino, Favre and Manning. Again, Warner keeps too much Hall of Fame company to be ignored.
The Rams became the "Greatest Show on Turf" in large part due to his abilities as a playmaker. The Arizona Cardinal were able to go from NFL doormat to NFC Champions because of the skills Warner brought to the field. Warner helped change the culture or those two franchises. Warner had four Pro Bowl Seasons and two seasons as an All-Pro First Team Selection. He did things in the regular season and the postseason that few quarterbacks have ever done. It would be impossible to discuss the quarterback position without talking about what Warner did in his time as a starter. He absolutely should be celebrated as an all-time great quarterback by being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Why Kurt Warner is not a Top 10 All-Time Quarterback: There are 23 modern era quarterbacks that are in the NFL Hall of Fame. That does not include former Washington Redskins QB Sammy Baugh and Former Chicago Bears QB Sid Luckman, who played the majority of their careers in the 1940s. Three more will be inducted five years after retirement (Favre, Manning and Brady). Saying a quarterback is in the top 10 means that you believe that he is in the top third of guys that are or will be in the Hall of Fame. There are just too many Hall of Fame quarterbacks for all of them to be in the top 10.
Warner's resume is just too light to be given that type of honor. He only played 12-years in the NFL. Furthermore, he did not even start all 12 years he was in the NFL. Warner had just a 67-49 record in 117 regular season or a .578 winning percentage. That amounts to only 7.3 seasons as a starting quarterback. Compare that to Favre who has started 285 games or almost 2.5 times as many games. Marino, former Broncos QB John Elway and former Houston Oilers / Minnesota Vikings QB Warren Moon started over 200 games. Even a player like Young, who did not start regularly until he was 30-years-old, started 143 games. Former Dallas Cowboys QB Roger Staubach was delayed by a commitment to the Navy and did not start until he was 29-years-old, but still started 114 games in an era where the schedule was only 14 games long, not 16 games.
Warner had his own unique story for delayed stardom. He could not catch on with a NFL team early in his career. After being released by the Green Bay Packers, he started games in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe. He had his shot in 1999 and never looked back. The problem is that after a three-year run from 1999 to 2001 he was hurt and could not regain his starting job. From 2002 to 2006, he started only 31 games or 6.2 games per season. He was 8-23 in those games, which is horrific. He had only 27 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in those years. Again, those are terrible numbers, especially if you are considering Warner as a top 10 all-time quarterback.
Every quarterback has an off year. Ask Favre about his 2005 season when he had four wins, 20 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions. However, that is not indicative of his career. One year before he had thrown 30 touchdown passes and won the NFC North and two years later he finished second in the AP NFL MVP Voting and played in the NFC Championship Game. Most of the Hall of Fame quarterbacks have a year or two they would rather forget. Warner had five years in succession.
Quarterbacks have injuries. Montana missed the 1991 and 1992 season with injuries, but bounced back to play with Kansas City in 1993 and 1994. Young was hurt in 1995 and 1996. He bounced back with two great years in 1997 and 1998. I am not saying Warner should be looked down on for playing Arena Football. I am not saying that he should be looked down upon, because he was injured in 2002. What I am saying though is that 2002 to 2006 is too big of a stretch to be ignored. That is five years of absolutely horrific football and you cannot just pick the impressive parts of the resume and ignore the bad parts, especially when the bad part is almost half of his NFL career. The difference between the top ten and the next ten is splitting straws and that is a huge differentiating factor that cannot be ignored.
As a result of those five years, Warner is very light on the career numbers. His 32,344 passing yards rank just 26th in NFL history. Former Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman, who played for a run first Dallas team and retired at 34 has 32,942 career passing yards. Former San Francisco 49er and New York Giants QB Y.A. Tittle, who played his entire career in the Dead Ball Era has 33,070 career passing yards. Even a player like former New York Giants QB Phil Simms, who is not in the Hall of Fame and played on run first New York Giants team has 33,462 yards passing in his career.
The same goes for touchdown throws. Warner has only 208 career touchdown passes, which also ranks 26th. Former Los Angeles Ram and New Orleans Saints QB Jim Everett has 203 career touchdown passes. Journeyman QB Kerry Collins, currently of the Tennessee Titans has 192 career touchdown passes. That just is not good enough company for top 10 consideration.
My top ten quarterbacks are as follows:
1) Brett Favre (1991-active)
2) Johnny Unitas (1956-1973)
3) Joe Montana (1979-1994)
4) John Elway (1983-1998)
5) Sammy Baugh (1937-1952)
6) Bart Starr (1956-1971)
7) Otto Graham (1946-1955)
8) Tom Brady (2000-active)
9) Peyton Manning (1998-active)* If he wins the Super Bowl he is jumping to No. 6
10) Dan Marino (1983-1999)
While everyone might not agree with the order, I do not think there are any surprises there. The only players on that list that had less than 15 years of NFL service are Graham, Brady and Manning. Brady and Manning will probably surpass 15 years; they are still active players that are young enough to reach 15 years. Graham played in the AAFC / NFL Championship every year of his career. The list is a combination of players that either rewrote the record book or played on multiple championship teams. In some cases, they did both. Warner is so light on career numbers and so light on championships won, I cannot see him replacing any of these players.
Furthermore, with guys like Pittsburgh Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw (Four Super Bowl Wins and Two Super Bowl MVPs), Minnesota Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton (Career passing leader at retirement and thee Super Bowl appearances), Staubach (Four Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl wins) and Young (Two MVPs, Career QB Rating Leader, six NFL Passing Titles) not even on the list, it would seem impossible to say that Warner is even really in that discussion; he is not on the outside looking in.
I would put Warner somewhere in the 20 to 25 range. Hall of Fame Quarterback for sure, just not enough good years put together in succession for an extended period to warrant the top echelon. While he is a Hall of Famer, to me he is closer to being out of the Hall of Fame than he is to being in the top 10. That is not a slam; there are thousands of quarterbacks that have tried to play in the NFL. To be considered in the top 25 with only seven quality seasons is saying something. It shows how dominant he was and what a lasting impression he left in a short period of time.
It would have been fun to see Warner stay in the NFL; he is one of the good guys that is never in trouble and always giving back to the community. It would have been nice to see Warner earn his shot at 23-years-old, he may have rewritten the record books in the right system. Warner makes the NFL a more entertaining league. He is a fierce competitor and a great leader and the Cardinals are going to have a tough time filling his shoes. They tried by drafting QB Matt Leinart in the first round back in 2006, but Leinart has not shown that he can keep this team atop the NFC West. There is going to be a drop off in production in 2010 in the Arizona passing game.
The Cardinals could probably have won the division next year, but I think Warner made the right call. He has a concussion history and has already played in three Super Bowls and won one. While it would always be nice to go to another, only one team out of 16 is going to represent the NFC. It is hard to make the Super Bowl and it was not worth the risk of endangering his health. Warner goes out with two great seasons back-to-back and two postseasons to remember. It looks a lot better than where he was in 2006, when if he had retired he would probably have had zero chance of making the Hall of Fame. Warner is going out on top of his game. Very few players are able to do that, but then again, there have been very few players as good as Warner.
By Derek Lofland, NFL director at Football Maniaxs