The 2004 NFL Draft was the moment that shaped three NFL franchises for many years to come: the New York Giants, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the San Diego Chargers. The Giants and Chargers were both coming off a dismal 4-12 season. The Steelers, a team rooted in winning, saw reality hit, ending their season 6-10. All three teams in desperate need of a franchise quarterback; low and behold, all three franchises got exactly that. The Giants traded the rights to Philip Rivers to the Chargers for Eli Manning, while the Steelers ended up with Ben Roethlisberger. A decade later, the trio has produced four Super Bowl titles and nine Pro Bowl appearances. Fans have since argued who got the better end of the deal that April day in 2004. According to those who consider championships to be the determining factor of a quarterback’s success, only two of the three would be considered worthy of a Hall of Fame nod over this past 10 year span. Fortunately for Philip Rivers, championships aren’t the “and all and be all” to get you in. But unfortunately for Manning and Roethlisberger, a ring doesn’t guarantee you a spot either (Just ask Jim Plunkett of Oakland. Hoisted multiple Vince Lombardi trophies and was never inducted into the Hall Of Fame). If their careers were to end tomorrow, which guy ends up in Canton? I’m finding that question is not so simple to answer as it appears.
Statistically speaking, if the voting took place off numbers alone, it may surprise many to know that Philip Rivers actually has been the better of the bunch during the regular season. According to Stats Insights, he holds a better TD-to-INT ratio (2-1), better completion percentage (64.3%) and holds a 95.6 quarterback rating. However, Big Ben’s teams have had the better winning percentage with 66.7%. Eli Manning would appear to trail behind the others in all these categories. Completely different story come postseason play. Rivers and Roethlisberger both have significant drops in production, while Manning seems to take his game to another level in the postseason, sporting a better than 2-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio and a 89.3 QB rating that is the 9th highest in postseason history.
On the surface, two championships ought to be enough to receive a nod, but this leads me to ask: how much individual consideration does one receive for a team accomplishment? In the case of Eli Manning, he may be given too much credit. In terms of where he ranks statistically among his peers compared to past Hall of Famers, Manning still has work to do. And now coming off an ankle surgery, that work may be just a tad bit harder. Manning threw 27 interceptions in 2013, which led the NFL and established a new career high. He completed 57.5 % of his passes (another career low) and posted the worst quarterback rating of his career (69.4) since his inaugural year. This is what is considered to be his prime playing years, but these last few years haven’t been highlighted as such. At this point, it is very hard to see Manning as a Hall of Fame candidate even with two championships. The inconsistency of his regular season numbers make it hard for me to look at Eli Manning and say without a shadow of a doubt that he is truly a game changer every time he steps on the field, even if he does have Super Bowl MVP honors in his trophy case.
Ben Roethlisberger, also a two time Super Bowl winner, has a much different case to argue. He has never led the NFL in passing yards or touchdowns. He will probably never win an MVP either. However, Roethlisberger has never had a losing season and has been to four AFC title games and three Super Bowls (2-1). There are fans that will argue that the defense of the Steelers was the key to getting to those two championships, and they may even have a valid point on some level. But to those fans I say this- consistency. His yearly production is consistent enough to say he played a significant role in getting Pittsburgh in a position to play for a championship from an offensive viewpoint. His 10-4 playoff record is better than Brady and Peyton Manning who are both looked at as sure Hall of Fame locks. Even with the Steelers pulling out an 8-8 season in 2013, Big Ben still managed to compile a 92% qbr with 28 TDs. There are some who will say his off the field issues in the past may be a stumbling block for a HOF bid. At only 32 years old, and with a team that is usually at the top of the AFC North, it is not out of the equation to say that a third championship opportunity could present itself before he calls it a wrap. Three rings for Ben would solidify his place in Canton, but if he continues to play at the level he has these past 10 years, it would be very hard to deny his enshrinement even without another ring.
Most will jump the gun and automatically say no to Philip Rivers being a HOF candidate, but I cannot argue against his case too soon. Compared to the others in his draft class, the only thing he’s missing is a championship ring. As previously stated, not having the ring doesn’t automatically blow away the chance of being in the HOF. Rivers’ numbers are good enough to silence the overrated chatter some speak. The fact of the matter is Rivers is statistically better than his 2004 counterparts. He is more productive, attributing more passing yards than the other two. He’s more accurate, compiling a better completion percentage than the other two, and he protects the ball better with a lower interception percentage than the other two. You can even make the case that he has had the least favorable supporting cast in comparison to the other two. In 2013, Rivers had the best season of his career and managed to help lead his team to a playoff spot beating Peyton Manning and a very good Denver team to get there. Not winning the hardware will hang over his head, but that didn’t stop Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, or Dan Marino from making the last stop in Canton. Their numbers were good enough to get the nod without the help of a Super Bowl victory.
Since none of these three are smelling the retirement air anytime soon, there is still time left to define their legacy and cement a spot in the HOF. It won’t be easy, as the league is forever changing. Young QBs of today are making their mark and their style of play more dominant. The 2012 draft class that brought the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Super Bowl Champion Russell Wilson are presenting a serious force to be reckoned with and are driving their teams to be better, making winning a championship for the older guys even more difficult of a task. It is possible that all three of these franchise changers will have a place in Canton. But if the “all said and done” happens to happen anytime soon, that possibility hangs in the balance.