Shutdown Mailbag: Who are the top quarterbacks of all time?

It’s a new week, friends, and that means we’re throwing the doors wide open to you and your questions, complaints, rants and one-liners here in the Shutdown Mailbag. You know the drill here: unburden your football soul via email at or via Twitter at @jaybusbee. Now, gather ‘round. This week, we're talking quarterbacks and quarterback-like products. We start with the most important question of all:

Just wondering...who are the top 3 greatest quarterbacks in your opinion? Off the top of my head I'm going with:
1) Joe Montana
2) Peyton Manning
3) Tom Brady


That's a solid trio there, even if it suffers from recency bias. You've also got to consider John Elway (two rings, ungodly good in the clutch), Dan Marino (no rings, but a statistical monster), Brett Favre (a quarterback genius who would be immortal if he'd retired two years earlier and never discovered smartphones), Fran Tarkenton (also a statistical beast), and Steve Young (good enough to punt a still-viable Montana to the curb). Also, if you want to dig deeper, you might consider Otto Graham (reached the championship game in each of his 10 seasons), Sammy Baugh (first quarterback ever to use the forward pass), or Johnny Unitas (your grandfather's favorite quarterback, young fella).

Ultimately, you've got to decide whether you value Super Bowl rings or statistics. As Tony Romo can tell you, a quarterback alone can't haul his team to an NFL title; if you prize rings alone, you might as well throw Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger (two apiece) in this mix.

But then there's danger in placing too much weight on statistics. For instance, the all-time leader in passing rating? We'll give you five guesses and you won't get it. (Spoiler: it's Aaron Rodgers.) Romo ranks fourth, and Philip freaking Rivers ranks sixth all-time in passing rating. That's a product of the pass-happy, don't-breathe-on-the-QB era we're now in, but it's a cautionary note against prizing statistics above all.

Ultimately, you need to pick your favorite quarterback and then figure which metric puts him at the top. Which is why I roll with Atlanta Falcons '70s-era legend Steve Bartkowski. No player in NFL history ever posted a higher P+N (passing + nightlife) rating. Who's your guy?


The best way to fix Matt Schaub is to challenge him for his job. Ever since his big contract was signed, Schaub has become complacent. He doesn’t have to try hard, so why take the hits? Competitive Schaub may wake up from his nap.

-Chad Yahoo

Well, he's getting a challenge this weekend, isn't he? Local hero Case Keenum will get the start against the Chiefs while the still-injured Schaub rehabilitates his wounded pride body and the Texans do the season equivalent of that classic Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl play "everybody go long and get open."

Now, there's nothing wrong with bringing the proverbial new kicker into camp to challenge for a job, and there's certainly precedent for a player to sign a fat contract and then go into the tank — 'sup, Albert Haynesworth — but we're not prepared to say that's the case here. No, if you were booed mercilessly at your job, well ... it'd be just desserts for some of you comment-leaving sociopaths, but the truth is that it'd probably have a pretty significant negative impact on your work performance as well. Schaub's best bet is just to get a little distance, come back healthy and be the halfway decent quarterback we all know he can be.


Hey, speaking of halfway decent quarterbacks, let's take a look at a classic football commercial from a few years back, for something called "Pepsi Lemon":

Oh, Giant Romo. The bigger they are, the harder they'll break our hearts. (Hit us with your best football ad of days gone by at


Should any established quarterback starters be traded? (For example, Big Ben.) If so, what teams should trade for one?

Tearing off a big-name trade in the NFL is a lot tougher than the NBA, which is why the Trent Richardson trade is such a big deal. Honestly, the problem with most quarterbacks at this point is that even if they suck, who can you realistically get that's an upgrade? Philadelphia with Michael Vick and Nick Foles is probably the closest we've got to a quarterback controversy right now. Everywhere else, you've got the starter and some way-not-ready-for-prime-time scrubs. Roethlisberger isn't going anywhere, but guys that could use a change of scenery would (in theory) include Schaub and Eli. Still, contracts in place mean there's no way they're getting moved. Sorry.

That said, Cleveland would take whatever you're offering, even a football-throwing machine.


Can't hit a QB in the head. Can't hit a QB in the legs. Can't hit a QB (running with the ball) with your hands from behind (on the field of play). Can't move your feet to break away from a hold, 'cause the QB might trip on it and stumble. Now can't hit a QB in the body (try hitting anyone in the chest with your shoulder without your head making contact). What can a DT do? Ask the QB to sit down?

Politely, yes. Otherwise it's a five-yard penalty.

Ron is referencing the fine leveled against Ndamukong Suh for a hit on Brandon Weeden this past weekend. Compared to a couple of Suh's other ugly stomps, this one was fairly mild, and you can see why defensive-minded folk might think that the quarterback is getting handled like a fragile porcelain doll. Here's the thing, though: it's not changing anytime soon. Quarterbacks are the alpha dogs of the NFL, and defenses are ... I dunno, the pooper-scoopers, I guess, to continue the metaphor. With the increased emphasis on injury prevention, there's no way the league will do anything to put quarterbacks in any more danger than they're already in.

For our final letter, strap in...


I heard from other people that John Elway traded Tim Tebow to the Jets because of his religious beliefs and the Jets had to buy Tim out of his Bronco contract. Can NFL teams do that? Or is that against NFL rules? Or was it that Elway was jealous of Tim because he was getting so popular in Denver? Can you have the NFL investigate this?

Kimmy. KIMMY. You are venturing down some dark pathways here. The night is long and full of terrors, and all that. Be very careful which questions you ask, Kimmy, because you are scratching around the edges of the greatest conspiracy in NFL history: The Plot To Silence Tebow. Everyone's in on it, Kimmy: the Broncos, the Jets, the Patriots, the NFL ... they all want Tebow quieted, because otherwise he'll shatter the gilded palaces of the National Football League, upending the status quo, bringing the giants of the game to their knees, ushering in an aw-shucks awkward-throwing-motion New World Order --

... either that, or he sucks, and Elway had a chance to get Peyton Manning. But go with the conspiracy theory. That's a lot more fun.


All right, friends, that’ll do it for this week. Think you can do better than this week’s round of letter-writers? Take your shot by emailing and hitting me up on Twitter at @jaybusbee. This is also a reminder that you can tune in to our twice-weekly podcast, the catchily-named Shutdown Corner Podcast, right here on iTunes. And come on back to Shutdown Corner every day, multiple times a day, for the best NFL coverage in the known universe.

Enjoy the games, everybody!

Jay Busbee is a contributor for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!