Tipping Pitches: Sports: Kurt Warner is Not a Hall of Famer... Right?


Friday, January 29, 2010

Sports: Kurt Warner is Not a Hall of Famer... Right?

email to friend edit
The name "Kurt Warner" inspires emotion and debate. I had never seen the guy as a Hall of Famer. Maybe it's because he annoys me. Maybe it's his goofy wife. Maybe it's because I really didn't think he deserved it.

Then, Kurt Warner ravaged my Packers in the playoffs. He was perfect. Unstoppable. Suddenly, I changed my mind. I gave in. He was a Hall of Famer.

But I took a surface look at his career stats and changed my mind again. The truth is that Warner is the ultimate "tweener."

Kurt Warner retired today. He was an excellent quarterback, and one of the truly great rags to riches stories. There were a couple of seasons when one could say he was the best quarterback and even the best player in all of football.

But does that make him a Hall of Famer?

Oh, I know. He had some very special seasons. He won the NFL MVP in both 1999 and 2001. He was amazing during that stretch of time, even if he only played 11 games in 2000. He threw for 98 touchdowns and 55 interceptions during those three seasons, passing for more than 12,000 total yards.

But then he suffered a five year lapse in his career when he either rarely played or didn't play well at all. From 2002 through 2006, Warner threw 27 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. That's total, people.

Warner did finish his career strong, throwing 83 touchdowns and 45 interceptions in his final three seasons. But he wasn't even the starter the entire season in 2007, starting 11 of 16 games.

So, Warner had two amazing seasons and four very good to great seasons. Everything else was a complete disaster. And he started at the age of 28.

Warner still finishes with some pretty nice numbers: 26th in passing yards, 26th in passing touchdowns, and sixth in passer rating.

But Warner also played in a pass-heavy era. The top five players all-time in passer rating are Aaron Rodgers (I know!), Steve Young, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and Peyton Manning. Clearly, he's benefited from rules that favor quarterbacks, particularly the past three seasons.

He also finishes behind such quarterbacks as Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe, Kerry Collins, Dave Krieg, Boomer Esiason, Jim Everett, Jim Hart, Steve DeBerg, John Hadl, Phil Simms, Donovan McNabb and Ken Anderson in career passing yards. He finishes behind Testaverde, Krieg, Bledsoe, Esiason, Hadl, McNabb, John Brodie and Hart in career passing touchdowns.

They've been playing 16 games per season in the NFL since 1978. Yet, only two quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame, Jim Finks and Bob Waterfield, played in fewer games than Warner's 125.

This is Warner's biggest obstacle to getting into the Hall: Longevity and consistency. Quarterbacks need to be consistently good for several years to earn induction. Running backs tend to get more leniency because their careers are not expected to be long. But quarterbacks can easily be productive late into their 30s, as was Warner.

The problem, of course, is that Warner was productive late into his 30s, but was only productive for six seasons total. Had he been at least a good quarterback during his middle five seasons, I don't think this would even be up for discussion.

His short career looks even shorter when you consider how little he played in the middle of it. That's a problem.

That said, I'm still not ready to rule him out completely.

Something I like to consider is the number of times he was best, top three or top five in certain categories during his career.

Warner led the league in passing yards once, was in the top three three times and in the top five four times during his career. Dan Marino was first five times, in the top three 10 times, and in the top five 11 times.

Of course, that's not a particularly fair comparison. Marino was possibly the most dominant quarterback, statistically, ever. But it gives you an idea of what one of the top Hall of Famers looks like.

A couple of fair comparisons are Boomer Esiason and Ken Anderson, neither of whom are in the Hall of Fame. Similar quarterbacks. It should be noted that Esiason bested Warner by 5,000 career passing yards while Anderson threw for merely 500 yards more. Yet, it can't be argued that Warner played in an era (particularly lately) that favored the passing game.

Warner did throw 11 more touchdowns than Anderson, but 39 fewer than Esiason. Of course, Warner was a better quarterback, on average. But he had fewer opportunities (which is also reflected by his fewer interceptions).

Again, opportunities. You can't just assume that had Warner been given more opportunities that he would have been incrementally greater. Particularly since he wasn't good enough to play in the NFL until he was 28. It isn't like injury took away his ability to compete. Prior to the age of 28, he was a nobody.

Esiason and Anderson played in at least 60 more games each than did Warner. Since Warner averaged just over 11 games per season, we're talking about five-plus years that these two quarterbacks have on him.

Passing Yards Ratings
First: Anderson (2), Warner (1), Esiason (0)
Top Three: Anderson (3), Warner (3), Esiason (2)
Top Five: Anderson (5), Warner (4), Esiason (4)

Passing Touchdowns Ratings
First: Warner (2), Anderson (0), Esiason (0)
Top Three: Esiason (4), Warner (3), Anderson (2)
Top Five: Anderson (5), Esiason (5), Warner (4)

Passer Ratings
First: Anderson (4), Warner (2), Esiason (1)
Top Three: Anderson (4), Warner (4), Esiason (3)
Top Five: Anderson (5), Warner (5), Esiason (4)

MVP: Warner (2), Anderson (1), Esiason (1)
Pro Bowl: Anderson (4), Esiason (4), Warner (4)
All Pro: Warner (2), Anderson (1), Esiason (1)

Before the awards come into play, Anderson has a slight advantage over Warner in most categories. One advantage Warner has is that he has won a Super Bowl, including a Super Bowl MVP. Neither Anderson or Esiason have.

This is the problem: Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason are borderline Hall of Famers. They aren't Hall of Famers, but they were an MVP or a Super Bowl or another good year away from getting in. They were on the cusp.

They had the longevity, but they lacked the greatness.

Warner had the greatness (at least some greatness), but lacks the longevity. Do the awards and temporary greatness make Warner a better overall quarterback than Esiason or Anderson, despite the otherwise very similar statistics?

Because, frankly, being better than these two quarterbacks is all he really needs. The next step is the Hall.

In Conclusion
Anyone who says that Kurt Warner is obviously a Hall of Famer is nuts. Anyone who says that Kurt Warner is obviously not a Hall of Famer is nuts. He is the ultimate tweener.

Had Warner started his career prior to the age of 28, he'd undoubtedly be a no-brainer.

Had Warner not dropped a deuce during the five years in the middle of his career, he probably would have been an easy choice, even though his career was otherwise short. Playing at least adequately -- and regularly -- would have significantly enhanced his statistics.

Warner had two of the most prolific seasons ever for a quarterback. Though, it needs to be mentioned that you can't really compare those two seasons to the entire history of the sport. The game has changed dramatically. They were great seasons, though, but need to be compared primarily to other quarterbacks during the past 10-15 years.

He won two MVP awards and one Super Bowl MVP award. I personally don't care who wins the Super Bowl MVP. Actually, winning awards is often arbitrary, based on team success and preference for quarterbacks. But it can't be denied that his first three full seasons in the NFL marked one of the greatest stretches ever. And despite a short career, his overall stats (though not eye popping) stack up reasonably well with current Hall of Famers.

Will I ever wrap this up and make a decision?

Kurt Warner was a better quarterback than either Boomer Esiason or Ken Anderson. Not by much. Just barely. Very comparable players. But a little more greatness.

Kurt Warner is not a first ballot Hall of Famer. He's not an automatic. I wouldn't shed a tear if he doesn't get in. But he will eventually get in.

And...  I reluctantly admit it. He'd deserve it.


Post a Comment