When John Elway refused to play for the Baltimore Colts back in 1983, the NFL's collective jaws were on the floor. The eventual Hall of Fame quarterback's decision was a polarizing one that was criticized throughout the process before he was ultimately traded to the Broncos. Even in 2004 when Eli Manning did the same thing by refusing to play for the Chargers, it was quite a controversial ordeal that was not particularly well received by those even without a dog in the fight. However, if a similar situation played out today in 2021 with consensus No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence not wanting to play for the Jaguars, folks really wouldn't bat an eye. In fact, there were some pundits publicly imploring Lawrence to either stay in college or refuse to be taken by the Jets when New York had the inside track at the top pick earlier in the 2020 season.
That's a pretty significant shift in philosophy on how the NFL world views these types of situations and it appears like we're on the doorstep of a new era in the league in that regard: QB empowerment.
"You get paid a ton of money to do a certain job, and just do it, and let the chips fall where they may," Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre told Yahoo Sports earlier this month when asked about Deshaun Watson's unraveling relationship with the Texans. "I think we make too much money to voice an opinion, but I'm not saying he's wrong. Again, I think it's a different day and time, and it'll be interesting to see how the organization handles it."
That answer by Favre has been viewed by some as archaic. Because it is. At the same time, it sort of illustrates where we are in the NFL today. During his era, it was essentially unheard of for quarterbacks to think about changing teams if they didn't like the product that was being built around them. For the most part, they just dealt with it (despite Favre reportedly making a private trade request during the end of his run with the Packers). As Favre noted, however, "It's a different day and time."
As we're seeing throughout the league as of late, quarterbacks -- specifically those who are considered to be elite -- are taking a firm grasp of their situations with their respective teams. Whether it's Watson, Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers, it appears like the days where quarterbacks just strapped on a helmet and played no matter the quality around them is out the window.
"I want to be able to be involved because at the end of the day, it's your legacy, it's your team's legacy, it's the guys you get to go into the huddle with and at the end of the day, those guys you've got to trust," Wilson told "The Dan Patrick Show" this week, publicly stating that he wants more influence in the decisions made by Seattle.
You may be wondering how we got here, right? What was the awakening for these elite quarterbacks to finally use their franchise-altering talent as leverage to push teams to put the best possible product around them or else they'll bounce?
For that answer, I think you need to look at two different quarterback situations that have unfolded over the last two years or so. The first being Andrew Luck, who stunned the Colts and the rest of the league by retiring in August of 2019 at the age of just 29. He was projected to be the next great quarterback when he joined Indianapolis, but the lack of ability to protect the up-and-comer was apparent essentially from day one. He was sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL during his rookie season and was sacked a league-leading 41 times in 2016 before missing the entire 2017 campaign due to injury.
Over those next two years, Luck's body kept breaking down until he reached his boiling point.
"I've been stuck in this process," Luck said at the time of his retirement. "I haven't been able to live the life I want to live. It's taken the joy out of this game. The only way forward for me is to remove myself from football. This is not an easy decision. It's the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me."
That seems to be Part 1 of this awakening: the cautionary tale.
The second and final part that is spring boarding us into this new era is Tom Brady and his immediate success with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After twenty years with the Patriots, Brady showed his peers that you can move to a team you feel has the right situation in place and contend almost instantly. In the past, a reset into a new system had the perception of being a daunting task that would take years to master. Well, Brady was able to dissolve those thoughts by hoisting a Lombardi after just one season.
And quarterbacks are taking notice.
"When you think about one of the reasons why Tom went to Tampa was because he felt like he could trust those guys and [coach Bruce Arians] was going to give him the opportunity," Wilson continued with Patrick.
With Brady being physical proof that a signal-caller can have an influence on roster management and it helps result in a Super Bowl title, it's no surprise to see these MVP-caliber quarterbacks suddenly start speaking up and jockeying their way to the table for a bigger voice within their respective organizations. As Wilson correctly stated, it's their legacy on the line, so they should certainly have a seat at the table when decisions are being discussed.
By the day, elite quarterbacks are growing increasingly more powerful within the constructs of their organization and it seems to be leading us into one of the more exciting eras in history. If a superstar isn't happy where he currently stands within his organization, now more than ever he has the ability to consider life in another NFL home, which could create seismic roster turnover of which this league has never seen before.