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And A Child Shall Lead Them

The new breed of QBs takes the playoffs by storm -- The passing of the torch from the old guard to the young guns.

Earlier this week I predicted a changing of the guard at QB in the NFL. I said this would be the last year that one of the old guard like Brady or Peyton would win the Super Bowl, and by next year the league would be firmly in the hands of the young guns, led by guys like Ryan, RG III, and Russell Wilson. I may have been a day late and a dollar short on that prediction.

By now, there are only 2 QBs from the old guard left in the playoffs, and they will face each other today in the AFC game. When the dust clears, out of 4 remaining QBs, only 1 will be from the old guard. That may seem surprising, but history says otherwise.

In all of Super Bowl history, there have been only 4 QBs who have ever won a Super Bowl past the age of 34. John Elway was the oldest at the age of 38. He did that in 1999. The other three go back much further. Johny Unitas did it at age 37 in 1971. Jim Plunkett did it at the age of 36 in 1984. And Roger Staubach did it at the age of 35 in 1978. So for the last 28 years, only Elway was able to do it past the age of 34.

Among elite QBs the picture is even more interesting. Since Unitas did it in 1971 at age 37, only Elway (38), Staubach (35), Steve Young (33), and Joe Montana (33) have done it past the age of 31. Only Young and Elway accomplished the feat past age 31 in the age of the salary cap (first instituted in 1994). This isn't a coincidence. The salary cap has led to older, more established star QBs getting extremely high salaries at precisely the point when their skills start to erode. They win it all when they are young, keep their teams perpetually in the bottom quartile of the draft, and get astronomical salaries when they are older, making it difficult to address other aspects of the team through free agency and/or retain other elite players at the same time the weak draft positions make it more difficult to obtain elite talent through the draft. The result -- teams that are top heavy at the QB position, with a gradually declining QB taking a disproportionate percentage of cap space and sub par drafts leading to declining surrounding talent. From age 30 or so on, it's usually a case of always in the running but never going to Disney World.

Peyton Manning won his only Super Bowl at 30. Brady's last Super Bowl win was at age 27. Roethlisberger's last win was at 26. Eli Manning's was at 31. Brett Favre won his last at age 27; Kurt Warner at 28. Troy Aikman was 29; Drew Brees 31, Aaron Rodgers 27.

Among the current crop of QBs, by the time the next Super Bowl rolls around, Peyton Manning will be 37, Tom Brady 36, and Drew Brees 34. Tony Romo will be 33, Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning 32, and Ben Roethlisberger will be 31. It feels like the end of an era. While it is certainly not out of the question, if history is any guide the large majority of these guys will never win another Super Bowl, and it would not be at all surprising if not one of them ever won one again.

I believe we are now witnessing a major inflection point for NFL QBs. Maybe Brady or Schaub wins this year, maybe not. But the future belongs to the young guns. The times they are a changing, and the next decade will see names like Wilson, Newton, RG III, and Ryan dominate the Super Bowl landscape. Bid your fond farewells to your old guard favorites, and raise a glass toasting their success. It's just about time to give them their gold watches, thank them for their years of service, and watch them ride off into the sunset. Youth will be served, and they aren't about to politely wait their turn.