The End Is Near for the Best Quarterback Class of the 2000s
The curtain is coming down on the careers of Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger
The surplus of speculation about Tom Brady’s future in the NFL has stolen the spotlight, but there’s another star quarterback whose football future is in serious doubt. Actually, there are three.
Drafted in 2004 as members of the best quarterback class of the 21st century, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger — who have four Super Bowls, 44 playoff games and more than 650 regular-season starts between them — could all potentially hang up their cleats at the end of the season.
Even if they don’t, there’s little doubt that the end is near for the storied quarterback class of 2004. (Thirty-eight-year-old Matt Schaub, who was also picked in the ’04 draft, is also still playing and could retire after the season.)
Picked No. 1 overall more than 15 years ago, Eli Manning was benched after two games this season so the Giants could get a better look at rookie quarterback and presumed franchise cornerstone Daniel Jones. Manning handled the benching with class and pledged his support to Jones, but his contract is up the end of season. Outside of possibly being given a token start in the last game of the season, it seems likely the 38-year-old has played his last snap for New York.
Manning, who hasn’t revealed what his future plans are, may retire at the end of the season. Even if he doesn’t, it seems likely that he’s done playing meaningful games in the NFL. As Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer told InsideHook, the longtime Giant seems likely to end up as a “sacrificial lamb quarterback.”
“Here’s basically what happens and happened to me,” Dilfer says. “You take a veteran guy that’s on his last legs, and you bring them in for culture, for offensive install, for their professionalism and for their football IQ. But really, they’re coming in to be the sacrificial lamb while another guy gets ready. You’re taking them through a transitional time. Very rarely do you see that guy going somewhere and plug-and-playing into a championship-caliber team.”
Dilfer says Rivers, who is in the final season of his four-year, $83.25 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, may also find himself on a new team that’s looking to transition from being a bad team to an average team next season.
For the Chargers, who have had a difficult time drawing fans and capturing interest since moving from San Diego to LA, the time seems ripe to move on from the 37-year-old father of nine.
“I think this is going to be the year they’re in the market for their next franchise guy,” Dilfer says. “He’s weathered this storm with them and their transition out of San Diego. I think they’re definitely going to want to open the next stadium [SoFi Stadium] with a new flashy toy, and that new flashy toy is going to be a franchise quarterback.”
With the Chargers struggling this season despite winning their last two games (they currently sit at 4-5), they’ll likely be in a favorable position to secure a replacement for Rivers in the upcoming draft.
For the 11th overall pick in 2004, Roethlisberger, the situation is also murky.
Injured during Week 2 and forced to undergo season-ending surgery on his throwing elbow, Roethlisberger has vowed to return to the Steelers and honor the remaining two years on his contract with Pittsburgh.
“I can only trust God’s plan, but I am completely determined to battle through this challenge and come back stronger than ever next season,” the 37-year-old said in a statement after being injured. “I love this game, my teammates, the Steelers organization and fans, and I feel in my heart I have a lot left to give.”
While Roethlisberger may feel that way, it remains to be seen whether what he has left to give will be anything the Steelers would actually want.
“I think the writing’s on the wall,” Dilfer says. “Ben’s injury’s going to be really tough to come back from. I think he will — he’s earned the right to come back and get a chance to reclaim his territory. I just think it’s going to be easier said than done, especially since he doesn’t have the supporting cast he’s had the last six, seven years. I’m not saying Ben’s done, but without the talent that he’s had in the past, they’re morphing back into a more defensive-centric organization. I do think we’re on the very, very last legs of Ben.”
When those legs finally give out and Roethlisberger, along with Rivers and Manning, limps off into the sunset, it’ll be the end of an era in the NFL. All three players have clear-cut cases for the Hall of Fame once they’re eligible, and all three have been staples of Sunday afternoons and Monday nights for well over a decade.
Though none have ever ascended to MVP status like peers Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, all three have had their moments in the sun. Unfortunately, the next phases of their lives — life after football — is fast approaching. Appreciate them while you still can.
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