I’ve been tracking “old QB play” for a few years now to see historically when quarterbacks hit the “age-wall”. Of course that was before Tom Brady smashed down the age-wall. Can Aaron Rodgers do the same? How did Brady play for so long and at such a high level?
Let’s first look at the historic data and then we will dive into how Rodgers might be able to play for close to as long as Brady did (or longer).
Assuming Tom Brady stays retired, he will have played until he was 44 (age at season start). Pro-football-reference.com has the age at season start for all players so it’s pretty easy to put together charts that show performance vs age for QBs since their stats get tracked in gory detail (unlike offensive linemen). Of course, for me, it’s not good enough to see passer rating or QBR by age, I also want to see if the QB was actually on the field most of the time.
I do this by multiplying games started by either passer rating or QBR and then normalizing to the best year ever. For example, using QBR, Peyton Manning had the best season ever (tied with Brady 2007). He started 16 games and had a QBR of 86.4 at the age of 30 (2006 season). Note that QBR did not exist before 2006 (this is why there is so little data for Brett Favre and Peyton Manning).
16 games started x 86.4 QBR = 1382 for Manning
16 GS x 87.0 QBR = 1392 for Brady
If you want to quibble Brady was a smidgeon better, but this is my article and I’m saying it’s a tie. These two are the two best QBR values in the history of the league. Frankly Manning’s 2004 was probably better than his 2006, but QBR did not exist yet. Manning’s passer rating in 2004 was 121.1 which is the 3rd highest single season value ever (Rodgers owns #1 and #2).
So all values for every other QB are divided by (or normalized to) 1400 - which is an estimate for what Manning’s 2004 would have been had QBR existed. Aaron Rodgers best season (2020) he had a score of 1277 (16 GS, 79.8 QBR) or 91% of the best ever. Rodgers was 37 for the 2020 season. Manning also had a great season at the age of 37 (2013), but he was never able to play that well after (although 2014 was not bad).
Using this metric, I would call anything above 70% elite. Does this pass the sniff test? Well Patrick Mahomes has been elite for his four years as a starter so that passes.
Rodgers when healthy has been elite - check.
Tom Brady and Drew Brees were elite for almost every year of their careers (2006 and beyond) - check. Brees really fell off in his last two seasons when he was 40 and 41.
Josh Allen was not elite in his first two seasons but he has been for the last two - check.
Matt Ryan has been elite for almost every year of his career? - dubious.
Russell Wilson has been elite for every year of his career with the exception of two - I’ll buy that.
Getting back to Rodgers and Brady it is interesting to note that Brady’s score for the year when was 38 was 1094. Rodgers was 1102. That being said, Brady is the only guy to be able to play as well into has 40s as he did. The other guys who get brought up either when this is discussed either had one good year in their 40s (Favre, Warren Moon and Vinny Testeverde), or weren’t full-time starters (Steve DeBerg and Doug Flutie). Even Drew Brees hit the wall at age of 40. Most QBs start to decline after the age of 36.
So if Brady could do it, maybe Rodgers can, maybe. Can ARod play for another six seasons at an elite level like Brady did?
To answer that we need to find out how Brady was able to do it.
Brady is well-noted for taking great care with of body through diet, stretching, rest and training. He is even into new-age hippy stuff like yoga and meditation. So is Rodgers. In fact, Rodgers has patterned his training and diet regimen on Tom Brady’s. So it’s safe to say that Rodgers is at least trying to follow the playbook that Brady authored for playing QB at an elite NFL level into your early 40s. But there is another reason Brady was able to play for so long.
Historically the Patriots had really good offensive line play. This was due in large part to their offensive line coach. While I argued at one point that Mike Munchak was the best OL coach in the NFL, I will fully admit that I was wrong. Dante Scarnecchia was. Scarnecchia was the Patriots OL coach for almost the entirety of Brady’s run with the Patriots (1999-2013 and 2016-2019). He is probably the man most responsible for minimizing the total number of hits that Brady took during his career. Brady then moved to the Buccaneers who have had the best pass blocking OL in the league for the past two seasons (5th in pressure allowed in 2020 and 1st in 2021).
So one thing that Rodgers will need to continue playing well into his early 40s is a really good offensive line. While there are two ways to build an offensive line (free agency or the draft), the better way is the draft. In general the Packers have not been using their draft capital on offensive linemen during Rodgers’ tenure. Rodgers became the full-time starting QB for the Packers in 2008. The Packers have drafted exactly twenty-three offensive lineman 2008-2021 and only five of those were in the first two rounds (14 drafts). Of those five three were busts. The only two highly drafted offensive lineman that the Packers have “hit” on were/are Bryan Bulaga and Elgton Jenkins (although the jury is still our out on Josh Myers).
From 2013-2017, the Packers invested the third least amount of draft capital on their offensive line. Only the Jets and the Steelers invested less. Now, that is not to say that they have not found some great players on day three. They got Pro-bowlers: David Bakhtiari, JC Lang, Josh Sitton and Corey Linsley in the 4th or 5th round. Bahktiari (2x) and Linsley have been named first team AllPro. AllPro still means something even if Pro-Bowl selections don’t anymore.
So we should expect that Aaron Rodgers will want to go to a team that either has a great offensive line or at least is willing to build one around him. The Broncos don’t currently have a great offensive line. By most metrics the Bronco offensive line is average or worse and the revolving door at right tackle for the past seven seasons has not helped. From the perspective of Aaron Rodgers (or any impartial observer), the Bronco OL has one above average starter projected for 2022 - Garett Bolles. Dalton Risner is below average (average at best). Lloyd Cushenberry is average at best (although he did show decent year-over-year improvement). Graham Glasgow is average and injury prone. Quinn Meinerz is still learning how to pass block in the NFL and the only offensive tackle currently on the roster with any starts at right tackle, Calvin Anderson, has exactly one start there.
So if we are relying on our offensive line to be a draw for Aaron Rodgers, it won’t be. Most of the other teams that are suitors for his services have better offensive lines as they currently stand. Some of the draft capital that Broncos could use to rebuild the OL, will have to be traded away to get Rodgers.
I’m not saying that through continued improvement from Cushenberry and Meinerz we can’t have an above average OL in 2022, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. That being said, with a strong offensive line in front of him (wherever he is playing), Rodgers could possibly do what Brady did - play at an elite level and lead a second team to the Lombardi trophy.
How many more years do you think Aaron Rodgers can play at an elite level?
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7 or more