It’s a solid résumé, with that last item nearly guaranteeing that Manning will be enshrined in Canton once he is eligible. But make no mistake: His induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame will lower the bar for every quarterback who comes after him.
Just look at the numbers. Manning’s career completion rate (60.3 percent) is below the league average (63 percent) over the course of his career, ranking 46th among 73 passers with at least 1,000 attempts since 2004. His average yards per pass (7.0) are also below average, ranking 39th in that span. Same for his touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.5, 37th).
Those are also key ingredients in a player’s passer rating. And Manning’s 84.1 rating is below the league average of 89.2 during his career; he ranks 42nd among passers with at least 1,000 attempts, behind quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford and Trent Green. Even Manning’s regular season won-loss record, a team stat that is an admittedly terrible barometer of individual performance, is a decidedly average 116-116. In fact, the only stats in which Manning ranks in the upper half of the league are the raw counting stats such as passing yards and touchdowns, byproducts of a virtually uninterrupted 15-year career.
To put this mediocrity in context, there are only two Hall of Fame quarterbacks who finished their careers with a below-average passer rating after adjusting for the era in which they played: Charley Trippi and Jim Finks.
Trippi, who played from 1947 to 1955, was a quintuple threat, finishing his career with 3,506 rushing yards, 2,547 passing yards, 1,321 receiving yards and 7,907 punting yards, plus four interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries as a defensive back. Finks spent time at quarterback and defensive back from 1949 to 1955 and was the architect of the “Purple People Eaters,” the dynamic defensive line of the Minnesota Vikings.
The Hall of Fame quarterbacks who played after the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 all have been above average in passer rating. That includes those with and without Super Bowl rings. Enshrining Manning would thus be unprecedented.
Under Pro-Football-Reference’s era-adjusted passer rating, 100 is considered the league average, with higher numbers indicating better performances.
Warren Moon has the lowest era-adjusted passer rating index among modern Hall of Fame quarterbacks without a Super Bowl win. His 80.9 career rating, produced from 1984 to 2000, earned an era-adjusted passer rating index of 106. Jim Kelly, also a non-Super Bowl winner despite four straight championship appearances from the 1990 to 1993 seasons, was the next lowest in this group at 111.
There are seven quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame who played all or part of their careers after 1970 and won one Super Bowl: Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas, Kurt Warner, Len Dawson and Steve Young. All have an above-average passer rating after taking into account the era in which they played. The worst of the group is Namath, whose 65.5 career passer rating produced an era-adjusted passer rating index of 102 during his 13-year career (1965 to 1977).
Among the seven modern Hall of Fame quarterbacks with two Super Bowl wins or more — a group that includes John Elway, Bob Griese, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana — the era-adjusted passer rating indexes range from 105 (Elway and Bradshaw) to 123 (Montana).
Manning could finish his career with an era-adjusted passer rating index of 98, which is below average for his era.
Manning isn’t even the best quarterback from his draft class. Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers have accumulated more Approximate Value (Doug Drinen’s method of putting a single numerical value on any player’s season, at any position, from any year) than Manning. If all quarterbacking production is included since 2004, Manning’s rookie year, he falls to No. 8, behind two other passers, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, who were drafted after him. (Three players who preceded Manning — Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — also rank ahead of him in Approximate Value since 2004.)
Perhaps Manning is a true outlier, the unique quarterback whose postseason exploits outweigh his regular season performance to Hall of Fame voters. For some, the two Super Bowl victories at the expense of Brady and Bill Belichick, two titans who will define Manning’s era, were résumé enough. But at some point, it must be considered that those were team victories. And when the focus is solely on Manning’s individual performance, his enshrinement could end up diminishing the Hall of Fame’s standards.