Tom Brady sits just 18 yards away from surpassing Peyton Manning for the second-most passing yards in league history entering Thursday’s matchup with the New York Giants, a figure he could reach on a single throw on New England’s first series.
No. 12 still has a ways to go to catch Drew Brees – 2,922 yards, to be exact – but his assault on the record books isn’t just limited to the amount of championships he racks up anymore. It hasn’t been that way for some time.
Brady’s ascension to the top of nearly every leaderboard there is has clouded what it means to be a future Hall of Famer. He’s set the bar so high for other quarterbacks that the gap between himself and other passers of this era makes it appear as though Brady has no contemporaries.
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Just because Brady has lapped the field, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for anyone else to be enshrined at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio someday.
Which begs the question, since the Giants are in town on Thursday and all: should their backup quarterback get the call to the hall?
The guy who’s responsible for two of Brady’s most bitter defeats?
The guy who’s currently holding the clipboard for New York starter Daniel Jones, two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning?
Yet another way in which Brady has ruined the curve for others is his longevity. Eli appears to be done at “only” 38 after being benched two games into the season, two losses for the Giants which brought his career record as a starter to an even 116-116.
Of the 26 modern era quarterbacks already in Canton, only two don’t have a winning record: Joe Namath (62-63-4) and Sonny Jurgensen (69-71-7). Namath, of course, is in for much of what he accomplished based off of a single game, when he guaranteed his New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and followed through.
The game was widely considered the greatest upset in NFL history at the time, in a similar fashion to how Manning’s Giants knocked off the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Eli was named MVP of the game, which New York won, 17-14, on the strength of Eli’s drive-extending hurl to Dave Tyree and subsequent touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, who found himself covered by Ellis Hobbs without any safety help, with 0:35 left in regulation.
Giants fans know that the real MVP of that game was its defensive line, though, namely Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan. The fact remains that Eli, despite a middling 87.3 passer rating in the contest, went to Disney World with the award, just like he did after winning the honor again in Super Bowl XLVI – a 21-17 win for Big Blue over New England.
The second Giants-Patriots Super Bowl, played after the 2011 season, remains the last postseason win for New York. The Giants made the postseason just once and have gone 47-66 when Eli starts in the meantime.
There’s precedent for a quarterback with two Super Bowl titles being left out of Canton in Jim Plunkett, the No. 1 overall pick (like Eli) in the 1971 draft by the Patriots who went on to win a pair of titles with the Raiders. But a two-time Super Bowl MVP getting left out?
That hasn’t happened, in part because it’s so rare: only Eli, Brady, Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana have won it two or more times.
Eli compares favorably with several legends of the game in that regard. His raw numbers – he’s completed 60.3 percent of his passes and posted an 84.1 passer rating in the regular season – stack up to what the majority of modern era Hall of Fame quarterbacks have done…so long as you’re keeping in line with the NFL’s modern era beginning in the 1950s.
Eli has a better completion percentage than guys like Dan Marino (59.4), John Elway (56.9) and Johnny Unitas (54.6). You’d be hard pressed to find many football fans to tell you with a straight face that Eli is a better quarterback than any of them.
Eli was never named First Team All-Pro by the Associated Press, something which happened to only four other modern era QBs in Canton: Elway, Warren Moon, Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.
Comparing any quarterback to another of a different era is a mostly flawed strategy, of course. The pass-happy NFL of today didn’t come to be until closer to the turn of the century.
The only way to truly grade Eli out as a potential Hall of Famer is with how he compares with others who’ve played the position in today’s game.
Though hardly scientific, let’s call Eli’s contemporaries his older brother, Brady, Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, Tony Romo, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Donovan McNabb, Jay Cutler and Kurt Warner – the last of whom is already in the Hall of Fame.
The logic behind that group is that all debuted between 1998 and 2008 and enjoyed careers that lasted at least a decade, enjoying at least some modicum of success in the NFL (some more than others, to state the obvious).
Of said crew, only McNabb and Vick had lower career completion percentages than Eli, though Vick, of course, is the greatest rushing quarterback of all-time with 6,109 yards.
Eli’s passer rating of 84.1? Again, only Vick is lower, and the only other quarterbacks below 90 are Palmer, McNabb, Flacco, Smith and Cutler – none of whom will ever sniff Canton.
Eli has made four Pro Bowls, or the same number as Vick, Romo and Ryan. Borderline candidates at best.
Clearly, Eli was never the consensus best quarterback in the NFL at any point of his career. Was he even top five at any point? The only major statistical category Eli has ever led the league in is interceptions, which he’s done three times.
Eli was also an ironman of sorts for the Giants, starting 210 straight games – third-most all-time by a quarterback – between his rookie year in 2004 and 2017. That kind of durability has helped him creep up to seventh on the NFL’s all-time passing yards list – coincidentally, one spot behind Roethlisberger and one spot ahead of Rivers, each of whom was also drafted in the first round in 2004.
Roethlisberger, like Eli, owns a pair of Super Bowl rings, though he gave way to receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes for MVP honors in those games. Rivers is yet to play in a Super Bowl, having lost to the Patriots three times in the postseason. Rivers owns the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of the trio at 381::182 (2.09%), followed by Roethlisberger at 363::191 (1.9%) and Eli at 362::241 (1.5%).
Not that it’s a prerequisite for getting to Canton, but is Eli even the best quarterback from his draft class?
Barring an injury to Daniel Jones, Eli’s career in New York is almost certainly over. There’s a chance, however slight, he could choose to continue his career elsewhere at the conclusion of his contract at the end of the season. Maybe a quarterback-desperate team (Buffalo? Tennessee?) would kick the tires on him at the trade deadline.
In all likelihood, he’s done at the end of the season and the clock starts on his Hall of Fame eligibility five years down the road. His older brother will be in by then…and while it’s likely that Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, Rivers and Rodgers will all be done playing by then, it’s less certain – but not impossible – that any of them retire after 2019.
How could Eli Manning enter the Hall of Fame before any of those names?
But what if Roethlisberger decides not to comeback from his elbow injury, Brees is beset by his ailing thumb, Rivers gets fed up with his commute to LA and Brady goes out with a seventh ring? The logjam of quarterbacks awaiting the call in 2025 will be prolific. And should Brady, Roethlisberger, Brees or Rivers enter before Eli, does that make his case weaker? How many quarterbacks from one era truly belong in the Hall of Fame?
Eli’s status as a key foil of the Patriots dynasty will do him favors when he is finally up for induction, as will his last name. He’ll still be one of the more polarizing candidates in recent memory, and while he certainly checks off plenty of boxes, the fact that there’s already debate ensures he’ll be no slam dunk.
Eli Manning was a good quarterback, at times very good. Aside from two throws in February 2008 and 2012, he was never great.
Yet he’s probably going to get into the Hall of Fame someday. If Brady has set the bar so high, doesn’t the player most responsible for keeping him down a few rungs for a time deserve a bust?
If Brady is the high water mark, Eli will become the low man on the totem pole in Canton.