Several years ago, the NFL found itself in a golden age of quarterbacks, with a nucleus of aging all-time greats complemented by an emerging group of stellar young players at the position.
Now, there’s only one highly seasoned quarterback left: Aaron Rodgers.
It happened one retirement at a time. From Philip Rivers to Drew Brees to Ben Roethlisberger to Matt Ryan (who isn’t officially retired, but c’mon) to Tom Brady, Rodgers is the last old man standing.
Rodgers is 39. He turns 40 in December.
The next oldest starter is Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, at 35. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill recently turned 35. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins will be 35 in 11 days. Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson hits 35 in November.
For the first time since Rodgers’s first year as a starter, when Brady played only one game due to an ACL tear, Rodgers has the stage to himself. And he has said he will take his career one year at a time.
His contract with the Jets suggests he’ll play two years, maybe three. If he opts for a third year with the Jets, the handoff to Zach Wilson will become more complicated, since he’s two seasons away from free agency.
Brady defied our expectations regarding quarterback longevity. Before Brady, few quarterbacks thrived after their 40th birthdays. Was Brady the aberration or the start of a new trend? Other quarterbacks (like Brees) didn’t make it very far into their 40s. Others (like Roethlisberger and Rivers) didn’t quite make it to 40. For Ryan, the wheels fell off at 37.
How long will Rodgers keep going? Was last year’s dip the beginning of the end?
Father Time eventually will take every quarterback down, along with the rest of us. And while Brady could keep playing if he wanted to at 46, most other quarterbacks won’t get to exit on their own terms. They’ll be shoved before they can walk.
With Rodgers, which will it be? In a little more than a month, we’ll get a clear glimpse of where his career currently is, in his first year with the Jets.