The NFL is currently in a slump. This is not debatable. TV ratings are on a multi-year slide, after enjoying a bull market rise for several years prior. The peak of the NFL’s TV hot-streak came sometime in the early teens.
It coincided with the Golden Age of QBs: Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Big Ben, Brees. Every one of those marquee QB’s punched their ticket as a SuperBowl Champ, certifying them as “must-see” TV going forward. Even Eli Manning got two rings of his own, although he was always considered a lower level “A-List” QB. Being of pedigree (a Manning) and playing in Market #1 (New York) was TV ratings gold.
Super Bowl after Super Bowl featured incredible QB vs. QB showdowns. Brees vs. Manning. Rodgers vs. Big Ben. Brady vs. Eli.
Even the QBs who did not win a ring – or even make it a Super Bowl, were exciting appointment TV. Tony Romo was always worth a watch with Dallas, while Kurt Warner had a spectacular desert resurrection. Brett Favre authored two impossibly great seasons in Minnesota.
Then you layered in exciting young talents like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and RGIII and the NFL could do no wrong. It was hard to even put a bad game on national TV!
The league had become what I’ve said for a while now it is: “A television show, about quarterbacks.”
But then Warner, Favre, Manning and Romo retired. Big Ben is apparently on the doorstep. Eli now stinks. Kaepernick and Griffin are out of the league! Andrew Luck has been ruined. Rodgers is hurt. Cam is increasingly inconsistent and un-likeable. Even the unspectacular but competent QBs like Dalton, Flacco, and Rivers are now zero fun to watch.
My own Kirk Cousins, good as he may be, is nobody who gets you out of your seat on the couch. Ditto Alex Smith.
The league keeps planting the seeds of replacement QB flowers, but too many are just not taking hold. Winston and Mariotta are buried on small market deep south teams, and have not yet made the playoffs. Bortles is a bust. Denver is lost in the weeds of bad QB ideas. Bridgewater got snuffed out by a freak injury. DeShawn Watson is now on indefinite hold with the same.
Thank god for Wentz and Prescott, because otherwise the landscape for QB’s would look even more bleak. Imagine if Brady has something go “snap!” in the next 8 weeks, and Luck never returns to ever being fully healthy. Throw in Big Ben retiring and just one more “name” guy hanging it up in the next 2 years (Eli, Brees) and you’ll have full blown QB market collapse.
I’m old enough to remember when QB’s in the NFL didn’t matter nearly so much. They weren’t so long ago. There were decidedly below-average guys like Trent Dilfer, or mostly-average guys like Brad Johnson winning Super Bowls behind awesome defenses. Go further back, and there were transient QB talents that happened to land in just the right spot at just the right time – as my Redskins found with Doug Williams and Mark Rypien.
Now the NFL has become an unending unicorn search, a frantic quest for a do-it-all QB who is not only good, but has sizzle. And if you think the sizzle doesn’t matter to owners, Kirk Cousins still not being under a long-term contract is my “Exhibit A.”
Given the tightening rules on defensive which has made the game far less punishing, there are fewer aveneues to building a winning team. All roads, now lead through a true “franchise” QB. I’m not sure the NFL can ever go back to 15 or 20 years ago, and I’m not sure they want to. But they need to start growing some more exciting QB’s for their “TV show” and they need to do it quickly. There’s really nothing the NFL can do to stop the current ratings slide. Yes, the anthem issue has hurt, but I still say it’s all about the quarterbacks.