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It's a golden era for quarterbacks in the NFL

From Tom Brady to Eli Manning to Philip Rivers, the league is brimming with talent under center. And the position only gets deeper with the return of Brett Favre and Michael Vick.

September 03, 2009|SAM FARMER | ON THE NFL

Down . . . Set . . . Glut!

So much for a quarterback shortage.

From Tom Brady to Peyton Manning to Drew Brees to Kurt Warner to Philip Rivers, the NFL is so loaded with capable field generals this season, you might call this a golden age of golden boys.

"There was a time not too long ago where a lot of people were asking the question, 'Where have all the great quarterbacks gone?' " said Hall of Fame passer Troy Aikman, now a Fox analyst. "And I don't hear people asking those questions anymore. When you look at the league and you look at some of the really talented signal-callers, this league right now is in good hands."

Fans in New England would agree. They're getting Brady back, a quarterback who led the Patriots to a 16-0 regular season and threw 50 touchdown passes in 2007 before a knee injury in the 2008 opener sidelined him for the season.

Packer backers would agree, too. Under the most challenging of circumstances, Aaron Rodgers has more than filled the shoes of Green Bay legend Brett Favre, and now must be considered among the league's most promising rising stars. In exhibitions against Cleveland, Buffalo and Arizona this summer, Rodgers directed the starting offense to nine touchdowns and a field goal in 12 possessions.

There's Favre, creating the biggest story of the off-season -- and, many people would argue, the most tiresome -- doing the retirement rumba before finally resuming his career with Minnesota.

Manning, whose younger brother Eli just signed a blockbuster deal with the New York Giants, is coming off a spectacular season for Indianapolis, winning his third most-valuable-player award. New Orleans' Drew Brees threw for 5,069 yards in 2008, joining Dan Marino as the only player to pass for more than 5,000 in a season.

In Atlanta last season, rookie Matt Ryan earned the nickname "Matty Ice" and melted the hardened pattern that first-year quarterbacks are almost always overmatched by the task. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Ravens' Joe Flacco became the first rookie quarterback to win two postseason games -- even though he was most often a caretaker for a defense-minded team.

Kurt Warner emerged as the most revered (almost) senior citizen in Arizona, leading the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl despite the league's last-ranked running game. And Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger one-upped him by directing a dramatic, last-minute touchdown drive in Super Bowl XLIII, winning one for the other thumb for the Steelers.

Roethlisberger and his team will be on display in the opener Sept. 10 against Tennessee, and things look good so far for the Pittsburgh quarterback. He shredded Buffalo's defense in his most recent exhibition, completing 15 of 19 passes.

"When you got it, you got it," teammate Willie Colon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He's got it."

Chad Pennington had it in Miami last season, when the Dolphins became the first franchise to make the playoffs after winning only one game the previous season. Does he have it again? Coach Tony Sparano sure thinks he does, this week proclaiming Pennington "regular-season ready" and saying his arm strength has improved this off-season.

"The throw he made the other night, I bet you none of you guys would have bet on that," Sparano told reporters, referring to a 54-yard completion to rookie Brian Hartline against Tampa Bay.

"Pretty good throw he made in the game the other night. Probably a lot of oohs and aahs."

As arm strength goes, few quarterbacks can match the firepower of Chicago's Jay Cutler, acquired in a trade with Denver. Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, who got a good look at Cutler when he was with the Broncos, calls him "the most athletically gifted" quarterback in the NFL.

Can't talk about superior arm strength without also mentioning Carson Palmer, who Cincinnati said has recovered enough from a sprained ankle to start the season opener against Denver.

No one questions the athletic gifts of Philadelphia's Michael Vick, although many people question whether he belongs in the league. Regardless, he's back after serving 20 months of a federal sentence for his role in a dogfighting ring, and will be fully reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell sometime within the first five weeks of the season.

Exactly what Vick's role will be isn't clear, although he's scheduled to start the second half of tonight's exhibition finale at the New York Jets. Eagles starter Donovan McNabb stirred up a bit of a fuss after the last exhibition when he dismissively referred to Vick's role as a gimmick.

McNabb later brushed off that dust-up, saying, "I know with everything that's going on right now people are searching to try and find something," McNabb told reporters. "With the whole situation, the whole issue, it's blown way out of proportion, and we've just all moved on."

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