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What is an elite quarterback?

tumblr_kuy6a1knoo1qz8lvoo1_500Here in the greater Baltimore/DC area, after the big Super Bowl victory, everyone is debating whether Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback. The argument goes something like this:

Joe Flacco is 9-5 in the playoffs. Tom Brady is 9-11 in the playoffs. Peyton Manning has never won 9 playoff games. Neither has Drew Brees.

Joe has won a Super Bowl, he has won a Super Bowl MVP award.

Ipso Facto: Joe Flacco > Tom Brady > Peyton Manning > Drew Brees > all

Joe Flacco is elite and he is a free agent. He should be paid $20m per year.

The counter argument tends to revolve around how he has never thrown 30 touchdowns in a season. Or how he has never thrown for more than 4,000 yards. His advocates say this is because of the offense. His detractors say the offense is geared to hide his shortcomings.

I believe these arguments stare down the wrong problem. This is much like being in business. The best programmers think different. The best CEOs think different. The yardstick is relevant, but there is other stuff also.

The reason that people do not talk about Joe in the same way that they talk about those guys is not 100% a function of winning or touchdowns. It is intangible. It is Jerry Maguire action:

What Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees have is that they are the unquestioned leaders of their teams. When they switch teams (like Peyton and Drew did), they instantly, INSTANTLY, became the unquestioned leader of their new team. They set the standard, they drive the organization, and they are the tone of the business. You get in line. When they tell everyone to run into a brick wall, people run. BAM.

Joe has never had that role. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are the leaders of the Ravens. They are real deal elite leaders. If they went somewhere else, they would be the leader there. Joe is not. It seems likely, that with the retirement of Ray Lewis, Joe will have the chance to step into that role. Ben Roethlisberger had the same challenge. The Steelers did not become his team until Jerome Bettis retired. His first few years were filled with many, many wins but not gaudy stats. Even today his stats are not insane, but most people agree that he is a Top 10 quarterback in the league.

Joe Flacco can make that next step as well. His ability to do that will define whether he takes the next step in becoming an elite quarterback.

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