Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case
Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

In 1998, a legendary quarterback started his NFL career. He soon took control of one of the league's worst teams and turned them into an offensive juggernaut. It wasn't long before this deadly accurate quarterback earned MVP awards, set passing records and won a championship.

That was supposed to be the story of Peyton Manning, the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft. That was actually the story of Kurt Warner, the greatest undrafted success in NFL history.

Warner will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame next year (voting process will start soon). With Hall of Fame week upon us, let's have a conversation about probably the most polarizing first-ballot candidate (the rest of the candidates will be featured in article on Friday).

No quarterback has been inducted into Canton since Troy Aikman and Warren Moon went on their first ballot in 2006. Since then, the only quarterback to even spark an argument is Ken Anderson, now restricted to a senior selection. With the way Donovan McNabb's career ended, we can forget about him gaining any traction. Warner's the only interesting quarterback case we have before the inevitable first-ballot selections of Brett Favre (2016), Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Is Kurt Warner a Hall of Fame quarterback? The burden of proof is on the prosecution, and we are going to give this one proper treatment. I'll do my best Ed Norton (Primal Fear) impersonation, representing both sides of the case. However, I'm not sugarcoating anything. I think Warner belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I have a good grasp on how the other side feels. Since I'm more likely to slip into Norman Bates territory with the split personality dynamic, we're going to keep things simple. We'll start with the evidence for why Warner should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, followed by the evidence to keep him out. In closing, I will refute the arguments against Warner and make a closing statement.

Evidence for Induction

There are 23 modern-era quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame (HOF). Kurt Warner doesn't have to be better than all of them to join, nor does he have to be better than peers such as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Debating his place amongst the all-time quarterbacks is a different topic. All we care about here is whether his career was worthy of the HOF, and a look at the body of work clearly confirms he was.

Pick any of the usual arguments people use for the HOF, and Warner passes each one except for longevity. True, he played only 12 seasons (1998-2009) after getting a late start at age 27, and about half of them were largely forgettable. No one's going to deny that, but when he was on few quarterbacks ever reached the level of play Warner did.

Was he ever the best player at his position?

Two MVP awards and two first-team All-Pro selections in a three-year period (1999-2001) tell us he was in St. Louis. It's almost impossible to earn those accolades without playing at an insanely high level.

Warner is one of 15 quarterbacks since 1950 to have multiple first-team All-Pros. Nine are in the HOF, the trio of Favre/Manning/Brady will make it 12, and that just leaves Warner with Rich Gannon and Earl Morrall on the outside. Gannon was basically a four-year sensation with the Raiders (1999-2002), but his peak was never as dominant as Warner's and he had a lot of incomplete seasons in his career. Morrall has earned his reputation as the best backup quarterback ever, but his most notable success came on loaded teams coached by Don Shula like the 1968 Colts and 1972 Dolphins.

The two MVP awards really set Warner apart. He's one of only eight players in NFL history to win multiple MVP awards. The first four were first-ballot HOFers and the same will happen for Favre, Manning and Brady. Honestly, when does a two-time MVP not get into his sport's HOF? I looked at the NFL, NBA and NHL.

Multiple MVP Winners in NFL/NBA/NHL History
NFL (AP MVP) NBA NHL (Hart Memorial Trophy)
Player MVPs HOF? Player MVPs HOF? Player MVPs HOF?
Peyton Manning 5 Lock Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 6 Yes Wayne Gretzky 9 Yes
Jim Brown 3 Yes Michael Jordan 5 Yes Gordie Howe 6 Yes
Johnny Unitas 3 Yes Bill Russell 5 Yes Eddie Shore 4 Yes
Brett Favre 3 Lock Wilt Chamberlain 4 Yes Alexander Ovechkin 3 TBD
Joe Montana 2 Yes LeBron James 4 Lock Mario Lemieux 3 Yes
Steve Young 2 Yes Larry Bird 3 Yes Bobby Clarke 3 Yes
Tom Brady 2 Lock Magic Johnson 3 Yes Bobby Orr 3 Yes
Kurt Warner 2 TBD Moses Malone 3 Yes Howie Morenz 3 Yes
Tim Duncan 2 Lock Sidney Crosby 2 TBD
Karl Malone 2 Yes Dominik Hasek 2 Yes
Steve Nash 2 TBD Mark Messier 2 Yes
Bob Pettit 2 Yes Guy Lafleur 2 Yes
Phil Esposito 2 Yes
Stan Mikita 2 Yes
Bobby Hull 2 Yes
Nels Stewart 2 Yes
Bill Cowley 2 Yes
Jean Beliveau 2 Yes

Note: Additionally, HOF receiver Don Hutson twice won the Joe F. Carr Trophy, which served as the NFL's MVP award for 1938-46.

It's obvious that LeBron James and Tim Duncan are locks for basketball's HOF. Steve Nash might be the closest comparison to Warner, and Nash is one of the greatest players to never reach the NBA Finals. Still, his numbers in assists, three-point field goals and free throws are all among the best ever and he likely gets in quickly. Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are absurdly productive and probably in lock territory as well. I'm not that familiar with a lot of the old hockey players -- the Hart Memorial Trophy has been handed out since 1924 compared to the MVP award in the NFL/NBA starting in the late 1950's -- but they're all in the HOF. All 13 players listed in the NFL/NBA who are already in the HOF were all first-ballot choices.

Out of 38 players to win multiple MVP awards, 29 are in the HOF, 5-7 are locks and only Nash and Warner are really "to be determined." In other words, no multiple-MVP winner in the NFL/NBA/NHL has ever been kept out of the HOF. Are we really going to ostracize Warner? This isn't baseball, which I did study, though didn't include above since it's different. For baseball, a MVP is given out in each league and steroids/cheating have had a big impact on voting politics. For those curious, 30 MLB players have won multiple league MVP awards, and 23 are in the HOF. Albert Pujols should be a lock. Miguel Cabrera (active) has a good case, and so did Alex Rodriguez before cheating scandals. That means only four athletes in major North American professional sports have been denied HOF induction despite multiple MVP awards: Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Roger Maris and Dale Murphy.

When a player is great enough to win multiple MVP awards, you expect a lot of strong seasons in his career. Warner can't give us a number higher than six (1999-2001 and 2007-09), but some of his best years are worth multiple "good" seasons from lesser players.

Was he a "winner" and did he play well in "big" games?

We know it's not fair, but quarterbacks are judged by wins and championships more than any other position in the game. Warner is the last player to win a MVP and a Super Bowl in the same season (1999). He was a Super Bowl MVP with a record 414 passing yards. In fact, Warner still has the three-highest games in passing yardage in Super Bowl history: 414 vs. Tennessee, 377 vs. Pittsburgh and 365 vs. New England.

In the three seasons he started all 16 regular-season games, Warner led his team to the Super Bowl. He got there with three different head coaches (Dick Vermeil, Mike Martz and Ken Whisenhunt) and two teams, which has only been matched by Peyton Manning. Warner is one of 12 quarterbacks to start at least three Super Bowls. Eight are in the HOF, Manning and Brady are locks, Ben Roethlisberger is on the path, and Warner would make it 12-for-12.

Warner did not make the postseason often, but he made his runs count. Warner is statistically one of the best postseason quarterbacks ever. In 13 games he threw 31 touchdowns to 14 interceptions with a 102.8 passer rating. He has the highest completion percentage (66.5 percent) and passing yards per attempt (8.55) in postseason history. He has the third-most passing DYAR (1,639) since 1989, including the single-highest game ever, regular season or playoffs (380 DYAR vs. 2009 Packers). Against Green Bay, Warner became the only quarterback to ever win a playoff game in which his team allowed 45 points. He threw more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (four) in his final virtuoso performance.

Warner's passing DVOA in the playoffs (42.3%) is the second highest since 1989, trailing only Joe Montana's late-career hot streak:

Playoffs: Passing DVOA Leaders Since 1989 (Min. 150 Attempts)
Rk Player Games DVOA Rk Player Games DVOA
1 Joe Montana 9 62.3% 21 Kerry Collins 7 12.1%
2 Kurt Warner 13 42.3% 22 Randall Cunningham 10 10.7%
3 Drew Brees 11 32.5% 23 Matt Ryan 5 9.1%
4 Peyton Manning 23 31.3% 24 Ben Roethlisberger 14 7.1%
5 Troy Aikman 16 31.0% 25 Dan Marino 12 6.6%
6 Aaron Rodgers 9 28.9% 26 Chad Pennington 6 6.1%
7 Mark Sanchez 6 28.3% 27 Rich Gannon 9 5.4%
8 Philip Rivers 9 27.5% 28 Michael Vick 6 4.0%
9 Steve Young 18 26.2% 29 Neil O'Donnell 9 3.8%
10 John Elway 14 24.7% 30 Brad Johnson 7 3.3%
11 Tom Brady 26 21.9% 31 Jake Delhomme 8 3.2%
12 Mark Rypien 8 21.5% 32 Jeff Garcia 6 2.4%
13 Vinny Testaverde 5 20.0% 33 Steve McNair 10 2.2%
14 Colin Kaepernick 6 19.9% 34 Donovan McNabb 16 -1.3%
15 Eli Manning 11 17.9% 35 Jake Plummer 6 -6.5%
16 Brett Favre 24 17.1% 36 Mark Brunell 11 -6.7%
17 Warren Moon 6 15.8% 37 Stan Humphries 6 -13.0%
18 Joe Flacco 13 15.2% 38 Jim Harbaugh 5 -14.0%
19 Matt Hasselbeck 11 14.9% 39 Kordell Stewart 6 -16.3%
20 Jim Kelly 15 14.8% 40 Drew Bledsoe 7 -25.4%

An argument could be made that Warner has been the best playoff quarterback of his era. His record is 9-4, but he led a valiant comeback effort in three of the defeats. The only game that wasn't competitive was the swan song of his career: a 45-14 loss he left injured in New Orleans in the 2009 NFC Divisional round. Warner's 0.28 win probability added per game (courtesy AdvancedFootballAnalytics.com) is the third highest in the playoffs since 1999.

In the regular season, Warner was 67-49 (.578) as a starter. That gives him a better winning percentage than the likes of HOFers who he probably fits best with on a tier: Joe Namath (.496), Fran Tarkenton (.531), Sonny Jurgensen (.487), Dan Fouts (.506) and Warren Moon (.502). Five times Warner left a start early with no more than 13 pass attempts. His teams went 0-5 those days. He also left the 1999 regular-season finale (for playoff "rest") after tying the game at 24 in the third quarter. The Rams turned the ball over on their next five drives without Warner and lost 38-31. So in games where Warner started and played most of the game, he was actually 67-43 (.609). Warner also led his team to a 3-1 record in four significant outings off the bench.

Warner would have won more games if he played with better defenses. He had a great one when he won the Super Bowl with the 1999 Rams, but Warner also dragged with him two of the worst defenses to ever see the postseason in 2000 and 2008.

Most Points Allowed by a Playoff Team in NFL History
Rk Team Year Primary QB Record PA Result
1 Rams 2000 Kurt Warner 10-6 471 Lost NFC-WC
2 Packers 2013 Aaron Rodgers 8-7-1 428 Lost NFC-WC
3 Cardinals 2008 Kurt Warner 9-7 426 Lost SB
4 Oilers 1989 Warren Moon 9-7 412 Lost AFC-WC
5 Seahawks 2010 Matt Hasselbeck 7-9 407 Lost NFC-DIV
6 Giants 2011 Eli Manning 9-7 400 Won SB

Only six teams have made the playoffs after allowing 400 points, and Warner was the primary quarterback for two of them. He was the first to win a playoff game with one of these defenses, and has the only 10-win season on the list (2000 Rams). Technically, Trent Green started five games (2-3 record) that year with Warner injured, but the Rams actually allowed more points -- 30.2 points per game is a pace of just under 483 points -- in Warner's 11 starts. Warner still went 8-3 as a starter.

Did he pass the eye test?

Numbers can mislead at times, but anyone who watched Warner saw a very accurate quarterback. Even in his down years, Warner was still a high completion percentage guy, and he currently ranks fourth all-time in that stat (65.5 percent). He did not have a cannon, but his timing and accuracy on intermediate throws (15-25 yards) was as good as any of his peers. The dig route was probably his trademark throw, and it's that type of high-risk, high-reward pass that made the Rams the Greatest Show on Turf. Warner didn't have the greatest pocket presence, he wasn't mobile, he wasn't known for the two-minute drill, but he could stand and deliver from the pocket with only five blockers with the best of them.

Was he prolific?

Warner's penchant for big passing numbers was evident early. He threw 14 touchdown passes in his first four starts, which is still a record. When he threw 41 touchdowns in 1999, he and Dan Marino were the only quarterbacks to hit 40. It's since been done by five more players. Warner was the fastest passer to 5,000 yards (19 games) and 10,000 yards (36 games), and tied Marino as the fastest to 30,000 yards (114 games).

Warner averaged 9.88 yards per attempt in 2000 -- the highest season in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). In 43 regular-season starts between 1999 and 2001, Warner completed 67.2 percent of his passes, averaged 9.1 yards per attempt, had a 103.4 passer rating and was 35-8 (.814) as a starter. It was always going to be difficult to sustain that absurd start.

The efficiency dropped, but some of the volume continued. Warner played in 124 games, but he threw for at least 300 yards in 52 of them. That's the sixth-most 300-yard passing games in NFL history, and tied with Drew Brees for the highest rate (41.9 percent) for anyone with at least 100 games played.

If we look at Warner's stats in his 124-game career compared to where some other notable quarterbacks were at in their first 124 games, he comes out very favorably with the third-most yards and the highest completion percentage.

Passing Stats Through 124 NFL Games
Quarterback Att. Cmp. Pct. Yards YPA TD INT Rating
Dan Marino 4,334 2,563 59.1% 32,461 7.49 246 139 88.1
Peyton Manning 4,238 2,709 63.9% 32,408 7.65 241 128 93.6
Kurt Warner 4,070 2,666 65.5% 32,344 7.95 208 128 93.7
Drew Brees 4,238 2,752 64.9% 31,137 7.35 205 110 92.1
Philip Rivers 3,859 2,481 64.3% 30,364 7.87 206 100 95.4
Carson Palmer 4,189 2,616 62.4% 30,040 7.17 192 132 86.2
Warren Moon 3,975 2,295 57.7% 29,877 7.52 173 144 80.9
Tom Brady 4,082 2,583 63.3% 29,732 7.28 217 94 93.3
Brett Favre 4,168 2,548 61.1% 29,663 7.12 229 133 87.7
Drew Bledsoe 4,518 2,544 56.3% 29,657 6.56 166 138 75.9
Ben Roethlisberger 3,671 2,321 63.2% 29,151 7.94 185 105 92.7
Eli Manning 4,039 2,370 58.7% 28,590 7.08 190 132 82.5
Dan Fouts 3,635 2,111 58.1% 28,090 7.73 169 159 79.9
Jim Kelly 3,679 2,223 60.4% 27,534 7.48 184 135 85.0
Donovan McNabb 3,943 2,324 58.9% 26,980 6.84 179 82 86.2
Johnny Unitas 3,304 1,808 54.7% 26,821 8.12 210 149 83.9
Tony Romo 3,355 2,180 65.0% 26,508 7.90 183 92 95.9
John Elway 3,807 2,089 54.9% 26,500 6.96 142 130 75.0
Joe Namath 3,417 1,721 50.4% 25,960 7.60 166 199 67.6
Troy Aikman 3,535 2,205 62.4% 24,992 7.07 124 104 83.0
Joe Montana 3,276 2,084 63.6% 24,552 7.49 172 89 92.5
Steve Young 2,876 1,845 64.2% 23,069 8.02 160 79 96.1
Fran Tarkenton 2,965 1,599 53.9% 22,678 7.65 182 133 80.7
Roger Staubach 2,751 1,559 56.7% 20,958 7.62 139 103 82.3
Ken Anderson 2,893 1,633 56.4% 20,717 7.16 127 105 78.5
Bob Griese 2,623 1,448 55.2% 19,129 7.29 146 134 75.7
Terry Bradshaw 2,694 1,381 51.3% 18,616 6.91 142 152 67.7

Can you tell the story of the NFL without him?

Remembering this is the Hall of Fame, this is a classic argument that Warner has in spades. Warner defined a transitional era in NFL history when the stalwarts of the position moved on to retirement, and new quarterbacks emerged from unusual origins. None were more impressive than Warner's journey from stocking groceries to Super Bowl MVP. When the game said goodbye to John Elway, Steve Young, Dan Marino, Warren Moon and Troy Aikman, it was Warner taking over the mantle (for a limited time) as the best quarterback. Brett Favre's MVP reign was over and Peyton Manning's had yet to begin. Other quarterbacks rose to unexpected success like Gannon, Brad Johnson, Jake Delhomme and Tom Brady, but Warner was the most dominant of that era. The 2004 season was when teams went back to mostly finding quarterbacks in the first round, but during an odd period (1999-2003) where defense dominated and unheralded quarterbacks won championships, Warner was the best of the bunch.

If his career ended after St. Louis, Warner would be the Terrell Davis of quarterbacks. However, his late resurgence in Arizona completes his story and should solidify his reputation as a HOF player. Without Warner, there wouldn't be much to say about the Rams and Cardinals; certainly not in the television era. The following table shows the longest streaks in the Super Bowl era of teams missing the playoffs and not having a winning record.

Most Consecutive Seasons Without Winning Record Or Playoffs
Rk Team Seasons Years 10+ Losses 0.500 Years
1 Saints 1967-86 20 9 2
2T Buccaneers 1983-96 14 13 0
2T Bengals 1991-04 14 9 3
4T Broncos 1960-72 13 6 1
4T Cardinals 1985-97 13 8 1
6T Raiders (active) 2003-13 11 9 2
6T Eagles 1967-77 11 5 1
6T Jets 1970-80 11 6 4
9 Lions 2001-10 10 9 0
10T Bills (active) 2005-13 9 6 0
10T Rams (active) 2005-13 9 5 1
10T Patriots 1967-75 9 6 1
10T Bears 1968-76 9 4 2
10T Colts 1978-86 9 6 0
10T Rams 1990-98 9 8 0
10T Cardinals 1999-07 9 7 1

The Rams (1990-98) and Cardinals (1999-2007) were each a season away from a decade of ineptitude before Warner led them all the way to the Super Bowl. Where are those teams since Warner left? The Rams are on the list again for 2005-2013, and the Cardinals have averaged a rank of 27.8 in offensive DVOA since 2010. Warner made those teams relevant when it was least expected. That's the stuff of legends. That's what a Hall of Famer does.

Evidence Against Induction

Think of a pie with a delicious top layer and a fresh crust underneath. Now imagine the filling as the most rancid thing you ever tasted. Would you still praise that pie or would you send it back? That pie is Kurt Warner's career. It starts off great, but once you get to the middle, everything goes sour. For some people, it's not worth digging through to get to the good stuff at the bottom.

A lot of HOF players have bad seasons. That's undeniable. However, how many have a five-year gulf on their resume like the massive one Warner had in 2002-06? We say Warner pulled the Rams and Cardinals out of the abyss, but he fell into his own in between.

In those five years, Warner was 8-23 (.258) as a starter. He threw more interceptions (30) than touchdowns (27), which is hard to do in today's game. After losing Super Bowl XXXVI as a heavy favorite, he never won another start for the Rams (0-7) and led the team to more than 17 points just once. Warner was replaced by Marc Bulger, who vastly outplayed Warner in 2002 and led the Rams to the playoffs in 2003-04.

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When Warner went to the Giants and no longer had the services of a stud left tackle like Orlando Pace, he was shell-shocked, taking a sack on 12.5 percent of his dropbacks. Without a dominant cast of receivers, Warner's numbers were pedestrian, never passing for more than 286 yards or one touchdown in any game with New York. His early-season success was mostly about the defense, which never allowed more than 14 points in any of his five wins. After falling to 5-4, the Giants replaced Warner with rookie Eli Manning.

In Arizona, Warner was kept on the bench for Josh McCown. The Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart in 2006 and quickly put him behind center after Warner failed to impress during a three-game losing streak. If Leinart ever figured things out, Warner would have ended his career as an afterthought.

But that didn't happen and we must acknowledge what did. Whether it was his pair of three-year successes or the five-year pitfall, there were flaws in Warner's game throughout his whole career.

The Fumbler

Warner had fumbilitis. His rate of fumbles per dropback was 2.27 percent -- ranked 164 out of 174 quarterbacks in NFL history (minimum 1,500 attempts). Some of those mistakes were crippling to his teams. In 2002 against Washington, Warner fumbled on a sack with the ball at the 6-yard line in the final seconds with his team down 20-17. Warner fumbled six times in the 2003 opener, which became his final start with the Rams. Against the Rams in 2006, Warner had a first down in the red zone in the final two minutes, down 16-14. Arizona could have taken three knees and won with a field goal, but Warner fumbled the snap on first down to lose the game. In 2007, Warner took a sack in the end zone in overtime, losing to the 49ers on a game-ending fumble recovered for a touchdown.

In Super Bowl XLIII, some may forget the Cardinals were at the Pittsburgh 44 with 15 seconds to play. Larry Fitzgerald was playing like a man possessed, and any jump ball in the end zone could have been a game-winning score. Warner didn't even get the pass off, getting strip-sacked to deny us the Hail Mary finish.

Warner was a little below average with interceptions, because he played in a vertical offense. The fumbles are inexcusable, and they're a big reason he ranks 97th in quarterback turnover rate (5.1 percent). Warner would have the worst turnover rate for any quarterback in the HOF who started his career since 1974. With the direction the game is headed, he's likely the last quarterback with a turnover rate over 5.0 percent who will even be considered for Canton. The only other recent players to hit that mark are David Carr (5.0 percent), Kyle Boller (5.3 percent), Mark Sanchez (5.3 percent) and Rex Grossman (5.3 percent). Enough said.

The postseason turnovers

It's an amazing feat that Warner has the top three games in passing yardage in Super Bowl history, but why don't we ever hear that he never scored more than 23 points in any of those games? Why don't we connect the dots that he threw for so many yards because he threw two of the most deadly pick-sixes in Super Bowl history? There's a reason his record is 1-2 in those games. He gave the Patriots the lead on the Ty Law pick-six, and the James Harrison play was a 14-point swing before halftime. That one was especially a poor decision. Even in his "valiant comeback effort" against the 2000 Saints in a Wild Card game, Warner needed a 24-point comeback because he turned the ball over four times. Meanwhile, Warner's defense supplied him with 30 takeaways in his nine playoff wins.

Warner might not have ever won a Super Bowl if his defense didn't bail him out in the 1999 NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay. Great defense was beating great offense again as Warner threw three interceptions. There's a long history of juggernaut offenses crashing and burning in the playoffs (see 2013 Broncos as latest example). The 1999 Rams were on track to be another, but the difference was they had a defense (and the opponent had Shaun King at quarterback). Warner got the 11-6 win and his first fourth-quarter comeback, which proved to be the most important of his career.

The Front-runner

With the high-powered offenses Warner ran in his best years, you probably think there was no deficit too big for him to overcome, right? Wrong. Warner was at his best on teams who jumped out to big leads and stayed in front. Comebacks were hard to come by, especially from bigger deficits. In other words, Warner was a great front-runner.

In his career, Warner was 2-44 (.043) when trailing by at least 10 points at any time in the game. The league average is around 15 percent. In two years, Andrew Luck is already 7-9 (.438) when trailing by at least 12 points (Warner is 1-37). Maybe Luck's an outlier, but Warner looks like an outlier on the opposite end. Teams win about 10 percent of games when trailing by 12-plus points. Peyton Manning's already done it four times in Denver, and he's been there two years. In a three-week span last season, Tom Brady led New England to comebacks of 24, 10 and 16 points.

Warner was 9-30 (.231) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, which are only for deficits of 1-8 points. That's below average too, but the interesting part is Warner's nine wins had an average deficit of just 2.2 points -- the smallest average deficit for any quarterback with at least nine fourth-quarter comeback wins in NFL history.

On the road, Warner had just two fourth-quarter comeback wins. They came against the 2005 49ers (4-12; 30th-ranked scoring defense) and 2005 Rams (6-10; 31st-ranked scoring defense). How big were those deficits? One point each.

Warner was 0-42 when trailing by at least six points in the fourth quarter, including 0-23 when he had possession in a one-score game. That's just unfathomable for someone who quarterbacked four different 400-point teams.

Where does he get those wonderful toys?

When Warner was lighting up the scoreboard, he played with an arsenal of weapons few quarterbacks ever get to experience. Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are all 10,000-yard wide receivers who will receive HOF consideration. HOF running back Marshall Faulk was the most dynamic offensive player in the league in 1999-2001, and he's one of the best receiving backs ever. Faulk, not Warner, was the player Bill Belichick sought to shut down in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Warner threw 50.5 percent of his career regular-season passes to those five players. He also played with talented receivers such as Amani Toomer, Jeremy Shockey, Ike Hilliard, Steve Breaston, Ricky Proehl and Az-Zahir Hakim. Orlando Pace, Warner's left tackle in St. Louis, is also eligible for Canton this year and probably has the best case of these GSOT Rams. Warner had just about everything on offense except for a good tight end.

We know how Bulger outperformed Warner in 2002-03, but that wasn't the only time. When a capable quarterback like Trent Green stepped in for Warner in 2000, he actually had a higher passer rating (101.8) and DVOA (28.6%) than Warner. If not for Rodney Harrison injuring Green in the 1999 preseason, we might be talking about Green's HOF case today.

Beyond the weapons, there were other factors contributing to Warner's great statistics. He played in a dome with the Rams and there was no such thing as bad weather in Arizona with that retractable-roof stadium. Warner played in one game with precipitation in his career. He lost 47-7 in New England in 2008, completing 6-of-18 passes for 30 yards.

Warner also played most of his career in the NFC West when it was the laughingstock of the league. Soft schedules boosted his early start. The 1999 Rams are the only team since 1970 to play just one team with a winning record in the regular season. They lost. Warner went 36-13 in games against the NFC West in his career. He was 1-7 against the NFC South (10 touchdowns, 14 interceptions) and 7-13 against the NFC East (24 touchdowns, 23 interceptions). This is why Warner's VOA (not adjusted for opponent) is higher than his DVOA for nine of his 12 seasons. He played some very weak schedules of defenses.

All-star casts needed for relevancy, weak schedules to inflate the numbers, a "win big lose close" reputation, and five years of nothingness. Is it really a HOF career if we're asked to forget half of it?

Well Allow Me to Retort

The other side of my mind makes a convincing argument for why Warner's not a top 15 all-time quarterback. However, that does not mean he's not a HOF quarterback, because anyone would be hard-pressed not to have him in the top 25. It's hard to find sustained greatness at quarterback, which is why the main argument against Warner isn't a strong one.

Circa 2002-06

Yes, the five-year abyss is a little too long. However, something simple as health can explain some of those problems that started in St. Louis. Warner broke a finger on his throwing hand in 2002. That will make gripping the ball difficult for any player, which explains some of the fumbling and general issues in those final starts with the Rams. After he moved on, there was obvious pressure to start top-10 picks like Eli and Leinart back when those guys were paid handsomely before playing a down. Warner was on a short leash. Ken Whisenhunt, who did not draft Leinart in Arizona, realized quickly in 2007 that Warner was the right man for the job, and the slump was over.

Were those five years really as bad as they appear? The record was bad, but so were the teams. Warner didn't have a running game or defense in Arizona. The sacks were too high, but Warner worked best in systems that utilized rhythm passing with three- to four-receiver sets. Once he got back to that, he had the three lowest sack percentages of his career in 2007-09 despite no stellar offensive linemen around him. In 2005, Warner actually ranked a respectable 15th in DVOA. With the Giants, he led the league in lowest interception percentage in 2004.

For all the bad memories we may have of 2002-06 Warner, in that time he completed 63.9 percent of his passes, averaged 7.2 yards per attempt and had a 2.7 interception percentage. Those are all above-average numbers. Eli Manning, to give one example, never consistently puts up similar numbers. Warner's biggest problem back then was that he just didn't throw many touchdowns. He moved the ball well, but it's hard to explain why the scoring was down. Eventually it picked back up for him.

It's true Warner did not have nearly as many good years as Favre, Marino, Joe Montana, Fran Tarkenton, or even the efficient version of John Elway. It's also true no one is going to say he's a better quarterback than those guys, but he still played at their level (or better) often enough to belong in the HOF.

How many years do we need to see greatness? Troy Aikman played 12 years and he was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL in three of them (1989-90 and 2000). Warren Moon played until he was 44, but he would have more efficient stats and a better record if we chopped off his first three seasons and his last two. Did those five years of going 12-34 with 41 touchdowns and 60 interceptions make him more HOF viable? We're better off looking at his CFL days.

Terry Bradshaw threw 48 touchdowns and 81 interceptions in his first five seasons. I like to think Warner's 1999 season was worth as much as those five Bradshaw years combined. Joe Namath had six throwaway seasons, and his other seven weren't nearly as good as Warner's top six. He's also famous for one Super Bowl while Warner played prolifically in three of the most exciting ever.

We've seen enough of Warner to know he wasn't a one-year wonder. He wasn't a product of one system or dependent on one coach. He's come closer than any quarterback in NFL history, including Peyton Manning last year, to winning Super Bowls with two different teams (a decade apart, too), which would be the ultimate vindication of an all-time great.

Some people might be satisfied with totals padded by seasons of 18 touchdowns and 7-9 records, but Warner gave us huge seasons only a select few quarterbacks are capable of having. Someone like Ryan Tannehill could look like Dan Marino on any given Sunday, but can he keep it up for a full season? How about three in a row? Six years total? Warner did that.

There's a small list of the greatest quarterbacks ever, who were able to sustain success for over a decade. Then there's a list of the next tier with players who were capable of a few elite seasons. That list includes HOFers. That list undoubtedly includes Warner.

The weapons and other surroundings

Warner played with some great supporting casts, but part of their greatness was fueled by Warner. Marc Bulger never threw more than 24 touchdowns in his career with those weapons. Fitzgerald has been wasting away in the desert, waiting for another opportunity at the postseason.

Here's a look at what those four primary wide receivers have done (regular season only) with Warner and with all other passers in their careers:

Kurt Warner and His Top Four Wide Receivers
Receiver Att. Comp. Pct. Yards YPA TD TD%
Warner to Larry Fitzgerald 539 345 64.0% 4,583 8.50 39 7.24%
Others to Larry Fitzgerald 944 501 53.1% 6,784 7.19 48 5.08%
Warner to Anquan Boldin 442 306 69.2% 3,905 8.83 27 6.11%
Others to Anquan Boldin 959 551 57.5% 7,439 7.76 38 3.96%
Warner to Torry Holt 373 219 58.7% 3,648 9.78 18 4.83%
Others to Torry Holt 1187 701 59.1% 9,734 8.20 56 4.72%
Warner to Isaac Bruce 362 230 63.5% 3,641 10.06 22 6.08%
Others to Isaac Bruce 1408 794 56.4% 11,567 8.22 69 4.90%
Warner Totals 1716 1100 64.1% 15,777 9.19 106 6.18%
Others Totals 4498 2547 56.6% 35,524 7.90 211 4.69%

As all four would agree, an accurate quarterback makes a huge difference. Warner also completed 67.2 percent of his passes to Steve Breaston, who had a 1,000-yard season in 2008. He completed 68.8 percent to Hakim and 70.9 percent to Proehl in St. Louis. Warner did what the greats do and that's make the players around them better.

As for things like schedules and playing indoors, those are fine topics for another day, but it's hard to imagine anyone would factor them into a HOF decision. They didn't keep Moon out on his first ballot even though he played most of his home games in the Astrodome (Houston), Metrodome (Minnesota) and Kingdome (Seattle).

The Super Bowls and lost comebacks

Warner could have been 0-3 in his Super Bowls just as easily as he could have been 3-0. He played in the three Super Bowls with the largest deficits erased (16, 14 and 13 points), and he erased the two largest fourth-quarter deficits, but still lost both games. Yes, the pick-sixes were killers, but he was clearly hit in the face by Mike Vrabel on the Ty Law play, yet there was no flag.

The lack of points in those three games is a concern, but Warner had to supply most of the offense with little-to-no help from the running game. Against the 2008 Steelers, Warner had to face the league's best defense with the help of 11 carries for 33 yards. Against the 1999 Titans, Warner handed off 11 times for 28 yards. In fact, out of 48 Super Bowl runs, no quarterback has won a championship with less help from his running game in the postseason than Warner, who only received 45 carries for 108 yards in three games in 1999.

Super Bowl Runs with Least Rushing Support
Rk Team Year Games Runs Yards TD YPC YPG
1 STL 1999 3 45 108 1 2.40 36.0
2 NE 2001 3 68 245 0 3.60 81.7
3 GB 2010 4 93 351 2 3.77 87.8
4 PIT 2008 3 86 277 4 3.22 92.3
5 BAL 2000 4 126 386 4 3.06 96.5
6 NO 2009 3 70 294 3 4.20 98.0
7 SF 1994 3 75 300 6 4.00 100.0
8 TB 2002 3 103 300 4 2.91 100.0
9 NYG 2007 4 110 405 4 3.68 101.3
10 OAK 1980 4 137 420 3 3.07 105.0

In the playoffs, teams rushing for under 40 yards are 2-53 (.036). Warner led the two wins in 1999. His 1,063 passing yards that postseason are still the record for a three-game postseason.

Warner had some red-zone issues against Tennessee, but the Rams also botched two easy field goals. At least he connected with Bruce on the 73-yard game-winning touchdown pass. That's the thing with Warner. People will remember his clutch moments in the postseason. He only had 14 game-winning drives, but three of them were game-winning touchdown passes in championship games. His records listed above are horrific, but people will remember the almost comebacks he had in Super Bowls. He erased New England's 17-3 lead, only to never see the ball again. He had the Cardinals -- come on, the ARIZONA CARDINALS -- one stop away from a 13-point comeback, only for Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes to snatch it away with 35 seconds left.

You need a lot of bad luck to have records like 1-37 and 0-42. If Gus Frerotte didn't convert a fourth-and-26 against the 1999 Rams, Warner would have had a nine-point comeback that day. He came off the bench against the 2007 Ravens and led a 17-point comeback to tie the game before never seeing the ball again. Overall, it's not that Warner was bad in those moments, but his teams just weren't successful.

Closing Statement

Whether or not we agree with them, the media has a major impact on shaping the narrative of a player's career. We have been told that certain elements carry more weight than others. We're supposed to value a player who has won a championship and plays well in big games. Media-voted awards like the MVP showcase the very best in the game. We're also pushed to be saps for rags-to-riches stories where a person overcame adversity to fulfill their dream. And in this country, when people fall down, everyone loves a good comeback story.

Warner passes all of that, and then some. He's one of the game's "good guys," clean of any arrests or nasty allegations. That matters too, even if voters are told not to consider off-field complications.

There are a lot of great careers with slack and fat tacked on to the beginning and end. Warner started late and walked away while he still could. Would he be a better candidate if he played another year or two to pad the totals? Maybe, or maybe he would have struggled as a 39-year-old quarterback and hurt his chances. We're sure Favre would have chosen not to return in 2010 if he knew how bad that season would go. Then Favre would be eligible this year in the same class as Warner. We know who the voters would pick first there, but it's not the duty of the HOF to try ranking players by who is the best at their position. They just have to figure out if a guy belongs in the ultimate elite group.

So what if he only gave us six seasons of relevance? So did The Sopranos. Enjoy excellence when you see it. Appreciate Kurt Warner more for what he was, and not what you thought he could be. If we can remember Gale Sayers that way on some mediocre Chicago teams, then we should remember that at his peak, Warner was one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.


144 comments, Last at 15 Aug 2014, 3:16am

1 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Great article. I support Warner for the HOF, but I usually prefer guys with awesome peaks over compilers.

And when speaking about Warner's great weapons, I would think Marshall Faulk deserves at least a mention.

3 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

[N]o multiple-MVP winner in the NFL/NBA/NHL has ever been kept out of the HOF.

For the NBA, it's even more drastic - every eligible player who's ever won even a single NBA MVP or scoring title is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Steve Nash is a lock.

4 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Hall of fame has always been a juggling act between peaks and longevity.

I am curious if I asked people who they thought was a better qb : Favre or Warner. What about Warner vs Philip Rivers?

6 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

> There's a small list of the greatest quarterbacks ever, who were able to sustain success for over a decade. Then there's a list of the next tier with players who were capable of a few elite seasons. That list includes HOFers.

That second list includes QBs who are in the HOF but should not be.

The threshold for QB induction has been lowered enough, and the last thing the Hall needs is to induct more borderline QBs to lower it further.

That said, if I could *swap* Warner in for one of those already-in bottom-of-the-pack QBs, I might be inclined to go for that. But obviously that's not possible, and that's the danger of inducting guys that you have to squint at to put in.

7 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I think Waterfield, Namath and Griese are the bottom tier. Also Blanda, but we know he's in there for more reasons than his QB years.

All of those guys have been in for over 20 years. The last 8 QBs inducted were all first ballot: Fouts, Montana, Kelly, Elway, Young, Marino, Aikman and Moon. Where did the standard lower there?

9 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I'm not an Aikman fan, but the success he had from 1991-96 made it obvious he was going to get in immediately. I'm not a big Moon guy either (unless it's defending his postseasons), but obviously what he did for black quarterbacks carries weight. He should have been drafted into the NFL and his CFL achievements deserve recognition.

17 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

But Warner has neither of those going for him. To me, longevity matters too, which is why I'm against TD getting in. Warner's stretch of peak was great if we don't hold him to the PFM Brady standard, but was it long enough? I think Rivers was actually a better overall qb and I highly doubt he will make it. Overall though, I'd be ok with Warner.

46 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

If Namath got in, how do you not put Warner in? Namath was an injury-riddled disaster that last six years of his career. Tanier put it best when he said Joe Namath was the Kurt Warner of his day, without the late-career peak. This argues against your presumption that "standards have been lowered" is a recent thing. The standards have always been lower for quarterbacks....especially quarterbacks with interesting backstories and championship rings.

49 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

We really shouldn't make a practice of thinking "every player better than the worst inductee into the Hall of Fame should also be inducted." There will be mistakes. It doesn't make sense to compound mistakes.
Namath is in the Hall because of the historical significance of Super Bowl III.

81 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Actually what I had meant is that I believe Namath belongs in the hall, because his early career was so impressive (adjusting for era of course...throwing for 4000 yards in 14 games in that era was an incredible accomplishment). And if Namath belongs, so does Warner, because his 1999-2001 was incredible statistically. Throw in a two super bowl appearances with one win, he becomes HOF discussion-worthy. Has late career resurgence in Arizona puts it over the top, I think. Namath is in the hall (and belongs there) even without the late career resurgence.

48 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Rivers isn't in the same class as Warner. He's been a stat compiler for years with almost no playoff success. More consistent than Warner, certainly, but the peak was much, much lower.

I've never gone into a game thinking "Oh, no, it's Philip Rivers!" As a Pats' fan, it's been more like "I wonder how Belichick is going to humiliate him this time?" (His only win vs. the Pats was a Matt Cassel game.)

54 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Rivers is the anti-Warner, at least in terms of playing style. While Warner was great with the intermediate game, Rivers' peak was when he threw deep passes to 6-foot-5 receivers and checked down to excellent receiving backs (LT/Sproles and now he has Woodhead). The only success in between was the underneath throws to one of the best TEs ever. He's struggled a lot against the Patriots and while the Steelers are usually awful against top QBs, they were fine against Rivers because he didn't spread them out. He held the ball longer to set up deep shots, so the pass rush was able to get to him. And we know when the rush gets there, Rivers is basically a statue. Warner was great at standing tall in the pocket with minimal protection. Todd Haley should have spread Pittsburgh out sooner in SB 43. When Rivers had good statistical games against PIT in 2008-09, he was getting his production in garbage time only.

69 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I've heard this term used before - Stat compiler - but I am baffled that it would be used here at FO. I guess even here, people pretend like Football is tennis and the success and failure of a team's playoff success is qb determined.

Stat compiler is a word that is used by people who want to diminish a player who is statistically excellent. I've heard it used against PM by Pat fans. I've heard it used against Aaron Rodgers by silly Brett Favre loyalists. Notice how they stop saying it(at least in Rodgers case), the moment AFTER they win the sb. It's like..."ok he USED to be a stat compiler but then HE FIGURED OUT how to win." Um...no that's not the case at all.

Philip Rivers has been an excellent qb when not being forced to play behind a trainwreck of an offensive line. This view that his receivers must be good to succeed is similarly false. He was playing well last year even before the emergence of Keenan Allen and Ladarius Green. He played well when Vincent Jackson was no longer on the team and it was just Gates and sproles. He's done this most of his career without a good run game or a particularly good defense.

Finally - hearing the arguments from RickD and Scott above - consider Tom Brady. If his career was inverted, he'd be excoriated as a stat compiler. In every one of his recent playoff losses, it's really been "his fault." Three playoff losses have come at home to boot, twice against teams with worse DVOAS. We might even invent reasons why. We might look at his struggles against Baltimore and decide they've exposed the "limitations" of Tom Brady.

I've told this to every person who's convinced the playoffs are the test of who is clutch and who isn't. Any argument you make about why a player is a choker can be applied to Tom Brady. If they are chokers, then so is Brady.

77 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

By "stat compiler" I mean a player who can rack up big numbers against weaker competition but is not capable of maintaining that level of production against better teams in the playoffs. And yes, for several years that's what Peyton Manning was. He had some horrible playoff games in his first few trips. He got better.

"Notice how they stop saying it(at least in Rodgers case), the moment AFTER they win the sb."

Is that supposed to be a "gotcha" point?

I don't see how one can excuse Rivers for "poor offensive line play" for basically his whole career.

"consider Tom Brady. If his career was inverted, he'd be excoriated as a stat compiler. In every one of his recent playoff losses, it's really been "his fault."'

It's ludicrous to blame the loss to Denver on Brady. Aaron went over the numbers after the game. The Patriots' defense was godawful. They literally couldn't get the Denver offense off the field after the first drive. By the third quarter, the Broncos' punter was drinking margaritas in the owner's box since he knew he wouldn't have any work to do.

The rest of the argument is "well, if you ignore Tom Brady's Super Bowl wins, and pretended his regular season statistics were all like 2007, he'd be a stat compiler". Yeah, and if my uncle had breasts, she'd be my aunt.

89 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

My problem with the argument is that judging a player by wins in the postseason because a) playoff wins are subject to a ton of randomness due to small sample size and b) a cruder measure of qb performance than standard passing statistics.

Brady has won 3 sbs. THat was supposed to "prove" he can get it done in the playoffs. So then, I ask, how do we explain his failures to get it done since? Suppose one of those spygate guys said without spygate, brady is a choker. Could you really argue back based just off wins?

And finally - what has the postseason done for Mark Sanchez as a qb? Did those two playoff runs signal any greatness? What about Rex Grossman's run to the sb?

107 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

The problem for Rivers is he statistically shines in an era where just about every really good QB at least gets to a Super Bowl, but he's only been to one AFC-C game. And even that only came after Billy Volek led a GWD.

Brett Favre 1-1
Kurt Warner 1-2
Tom Brady 3-2
Jake Delhomme 0-1
Donovan McNabb 0-1
Matt Hasselbeck 0-1
Ben Roethlisberger 2-1
Peyton Manning 1-2
Eli Manning 2-0
Drew Brees 1-0
Aaron Rodgers 1-0
Joe Flacco 1-0
Colin Kaepernick 0-1
Russell Wilson 1-0

That's 14 notable peers to Rivers who at least got to a Super Bowl. San Diego certainly had some teams capable of going that far too. The criticism Tony Romo gets should be equal, if not greater for Rivers.

111 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I agree that Rivers is a perfectly cromulent quarterback -- better than most, but in no danger of wearing a gold jacket. My comment was aimed at the suggestion that because Beady hasn't been the QB of a Super Boel winning team in 10 years that he hasn't accomplished anything (while understanding it isn't the posters opinion personally). Two other trips to the Super Bowl, Three additional trips to the AFCG, a fluke helmet catch from a perfect season, and as of one one year ago the owner of virtually every meaningful offensive record, and he's somehow been a underachiever since "spy gate".

In other news, I am thankful that the RNC break-in in the Nixon era didn't take place at the Waterpenis hotel.

114 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

My comment about Brady was to demonstrate the absurdity of judging a player by sb wins. If you believe Philip Rivers failures in the postseason make him a stat compiler, then do Brady's own failures in the postseason also mean he was a clutch qb in 01-04 and a stat compiler since?

90 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Pretty much everyone's production declines some against better opponents.

Rivers has faced an unusually tough set of defenses in his playoff games - by points allowed, they ranked 2nd, 8th, 1st, 4th, 7nd, 1st, 1st, 5th, 22nd. Last year's Broncos were the first playoff team he faced who ranked outside the top 8 defensively. So of course his raw playoff numbers aren't quite as good as his regular season ones).

His playoff numbers are still pretty good. 0.13 EPA/play for his playoff career (vs. 0.17 for his career in the regular season), 7.3 AY/A (vs. 7.8 regular season), 0.09 WPA/game (vs. 0.13 regular season). 4-5 record, against some very tough opponents (including a 2-3 record in games against Manning or Brady).

59 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

As opposed to every other player in the history of the NFL? That's like denigrating Montana or Young because they had Jerry Rice, or Rice because he had Montana or Young. Yeah, Aikman had great players and was in the perfect system to take advantage of his timing and accuracy, but so did Montana. It's not like I think Aikman is in the Montana-Unitas discussion, but I also don't think Curtis Martin is anywhere near the level of Walter Payton or Shannon Sharpe redefined his position like Kellen Winslow, but that doesn't mean they aren't HOF-worthy in their own ways.

For goodness sake, if we're going to rant about somebody's HOF induction this weekend, can't we all just make fun of Andre Reed?

79 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Aikman never had any seasons like the best Montana or Young seasons. The peak Cowboy teams relied on the run, and why not?

Longevity is also an issue. I'm looking at his "similar career" track at Football-Reference.com. After years 7 and 8, he's matching with Joe Montana. After year 12, he's matching Roman Gabriel and Drew Bledsoe. His career as a whole matches Mark Brunell and Donovan McNabb. That indicates a late career slide.

But I really don't have an issue with a QB whose won three SBs getting into the Hall. And it'd be hard to argue that Aikman wasn't a key part of those wins.

12 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

The threshold for QB induction has been lowered enough, and the last thing the Hall needs is to induct more borderline QBs to lower it further.

This would be my only addition to this article--that the Hall is egregiously lacking in inductees at other positions, and it is more important to recognize those players than to recognize Warner.

But that's a criticism of the HOF process, not of Warner's case, which I think is strong.

19 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Wow—Seth Joyner was my neighbor for the five/six months he played for the Packers. I recognized his name instantly as the Packer player who lived on my street but he was at the end of his career and I was just a kid, I had no clue he was potentially a HOF-caliber player.

61 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

If Mike Kenn had been drafted by any number of teams other than the Falcons, he would have been inducted many years ago. Younger people really can't comprehend how, in the time before ESPN and ubiquitous cable television, how little media exposure some franchises received. The Falcons were a team largely playing incognito for years, because they were very frequently bad, and Atlanta was not a huge t.v. market prior to the sun belt population explosion. A guy like Kenn could be great, year in, year out, but few noticed, and so many HOF selectors are and were guys who really don't watch that many games, especially back then. Dr. Z was a gigantic outlier; most selectors watched, at most 1 to 2 games a week in detail. They literally had no idea of what they were talking about.

63 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Of course Hall of Fame selectors only watched "at most 1 to 2 games a week in detail". They were (and mostly still are) beat men covering one team, and they were (and are) responsible for covering that team's game completely. In the days of two Sunday afternoon slots, one Monday night game, and no access to game film, two games was an entirely reasonable maximum for a weekend. If that meant Cowboy players were much more visible than Falcon players, that was true for fans as well as media.

Zimmerman was indeed an outlier; both his obsessiveness and his portfolio at SI allowed him to approach the game differently than the guy who had to be on top of everything the Chargers were doing. Yes, we benefited from Dr. Z's approach, and we also benefit from good beat reporters who cover our favorite teams. Researching Hall of Fame voting isn't the first priority in either case.

93 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I'd rather take a risk of bias from people who live in the film room than take a risk on guys who don't know what they are talking about, and if you don't think beat writers aren't biased against guys, or for guys, based on how the guys interacted with the beat writers, think again.

102 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I'm certainly not claiming that the selection committee is infallible. It's full of human beings with biases and differing opinions. Of course, that will be true of any group that selects Hall of Famers. The handful of electors whose work I follow seem to take it seriously, and talk to the people who live in the film room, as well as the guys who played with and against candidates. There's probably even a voter or two whose calls Bill Belichick takes to discuss these players, while Ernie Accorsi is happy to talk to anyone who asks. Maybe some of the people in the room are dead weight, but my impression is that those are the exceptions. And media members have a layer of independence that team employees don't.

What this comes down to too often is people who say, "The committee disagreed with me. Therefore, they must be 'clueless numbskulls' who had to be roused from their stupors to vote." Most years, there seem to be more qualified finalists than there are slots for induction, and reasonable people can disagree on who should fill those slots.

104 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I'm sorry, but when you don't vote for Fran Tarkenton, or Claude Humphrey, or Jimmy Johnson (the cornerback), etc., etc., into the HOF, when you have a vote, and the maximum number allowed each year aren't being voted in, it simply is an objective fact that a large percentage of voters are ignorant regarding that which they purport to have knowledge of.

108 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

And I'm sorry, but if you asked me to name great defensive linemen of the '70s, it would take me some time (and probably some prompting) to get to Claude Humphrey. I'm not complaining about his enshrinement, but his omission wasn't egregious, either.

The electors aren't perfect, and the process isn't prefect, but in the end Johnny Unitas is a Hall of Famer and Mike Tomczak isn't. (I don't know, or especially care, why it took Tarkenton a couple of years to get in, but he got there.) There are always going to be guys who are more marginal, and have the support of their team's fans, but the committee disagreeing with you, me, or anybody else about an individual doesn't mean they're incompetent.

109 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I dont want to speak for Will, but if you're someone who decides whos worthy of the HOF, I would think you bare a responsibility to watch some film breakdowns or talk to the right people. Anything less is just being lazy and irresponsible and you should be criticized. Tarkenton by any objective measure was either the best or near best qb of the 70s. That he didn't get in first try is an indication of their laziness.

112 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Yes, Claude Humphrey's omission was quite egregious. The only reason why he wasn't inducted sooner was because he played in Atlanta until he was 35.

Whether you care about something is irrelevant to the objective fact that a person who did not for Tarkenton when it was possible to vote for Tarkenton is extraordinarily incompetent in evaluating the quality of play among those who competed in the NFL.

115 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I disagree with you about Humphrey; therefore, you're a clueless fool. (That's how this works, right?)

Feel free to list the guys who got in while Tarkenton waited, and then you can argue with their partisans about who should have been elected when. Or, if it really bothers you that much three decades later, maybe you'd be happier paying less attention to the whole Hall of Fame process. Meantime, I've said what I have to say, so I'll duck out here.

116 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Humphrey being left out was egregious, but evaluating the play of linemen was difficult in the era prior to cable t.v., so, no you aren't a complete idiot if you whiffed on Humphrey.

In contrast, qb is the position that lends itself to being competently evaluated without seeing a lot of film, or at least being able to determine who is playing extraordinarily well. You thus would have had to have been extraordinarily incompetent at evaluating quarterbacks in 1984 and 1985 to not determine that Tarkenton was worthy of a vote, and it isn't even close. Furthermore, in neither year did the voters put in the maximum number of inductees allowed, so it wasn't a matter of having to leave another player out to put in Tarkenton. This isn't subjective. These guys don't have a clue, and if you want more examples, I can supply them.

16 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

On the other hand, the bar for consistently outstanding QB play has been set so high in recent years by Manning and Brady that there could be a danger of the argument moving the other way with what are, historically speaking, perfectly good candidates being overlooked. Snubbing a guy like Warner is easier when we know there are 3 monster first-balloters lined up at QB to take their place in the Hall over the next few years. In 10 years time, with those guys out the way, his candidacy may look stronger. Of course there is no reason why Warner couldn't be enshrined later, so maybe some more years of reflection on his career are required.

20 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Unless their careers suddenly nose dive, I imagine Brees and Rodgers are HOF candidates too. Among the younger guys, it's hard to say, but how do we compare those two with Warner? I think Rodgers' 6 years have been better than Warner's, although Warner's postseason success was definitely greater. Brees has had more time to perform and has been consistently stellar. Honestly, I thought he was a burgeoning talent with huge upside when he was in San Diego. If those four players are all consensus HOF preferences to Warner, as well as Favre, than how do we justify Kurt when there are so many worthy tackles and guards and safeties and special teams gunners and personnel guys, and return men, and heck, I don't know, punters and long snappers!

21 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I guess in a perfect world we would be position neutral when selecting for HOF, but that won't happen. What helps QBs going forward (and probably safeties, WRs) is that I can't see many RBs getting into the Hall for a while. Other than Peterson and Tomlinson, can't think of a guy that's played in the last 5-7 years worthy of the Hall at RB.

To me, Warner should be in. His career didn't really overlap with Rodgers apart from the 1 year, so his contemporaries would be Manning, Brady, Favre, Brees, and the beginning of Ben (who I think will get in eventually) and Eli (who I don't think should go in but will because of TEH RINGZ!). In the years where the NFL got increasingly pass heavy, it's probably not outrageous for that many HOF QBs to have played at once.

23 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I don't think Warner will be butting heads with the guys mentioned above. Brady and Brees seem likely to play at least 3 more seasons and Rodgers a lot more than that. Which means Warner will have plenty of tries before competing against them. I also think it's unfair to compare qbs either Peyton or Brady.

25 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I know Favre's coming up, but it's been a while since we had a QB in the HOF, so that might help Warner on his first ballot.

It doesn't concern me if he's behind 4-5 guys from his era. If you look at those seasons in the early 90's, I believe there were 8 active HOF QBs (I'm counting Favre).

From the very first paragraph here I was pointing out how Warner became a star even before Peyton. When people expected Manning to challenge Favre as the top QB, it was Warner on top. Once he faded away, Manning took over and that Brady guy emerged for what has become the greatest QB rivalry ever. Manning vs. Favre was really never a thing, and Warner's a big part of that.

29 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Manning posted a 34.0% DVOA in 1999, narrowly behind Warner's 36.9%. Peyton led the league in DVOA in 2000 (38.3%, Warner 6th at 28.0%). The only year in which Warner had a better DVOA than Peyton was 2001 (36.7% to Peyton's 14.7%). "Warner became a star even before Peyton" looks like the result of the terrible diseases known as "conflating team and quarterback performance" and "overvaluing postseason wins" to me.

37 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

1999 might be the greatest example of opponent adjustments closing the gap between the top two. By VOA, Warner is comfortably ahead of Manning, but DVOA tells a different story. Manning had great years in 1999-00; probably underrated in the context of how good they were for a 2nd/3rd-year QB. But Warner was just better in that time and I don't think anyone's ever really disputed that. Warner edged Manning out 33-8 in MVP voting in 1999. His postseason deserves all the praise it gets, because he accounted for 90.6% of his offense's production. Then the 2001 season was largely in Warner's favor. Manning didn't really ascend to the level we think of now until 2003. By that time Warner was in his decline.

38 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Was Warner really in his decline?

I tend to think Manning's true ascendancy to otherworldly really began in 06. He was an elite qb by 04 but 06 was the first year I noticed he could actually beat you while being forced to move from the pocket. The 06 regular season game V NE was my favorite Manning game and it was a game where his o line fell apart but he still played so well.

43 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Warner wasn't in decline in 2002, he was injured.

Manning really started turning the corner in 2003 and of course, 2004 was his most efficient season to date (including 2013). The problem is that the talent around him in Indianapolis immediately started to decline after 2004, so that his statistical production did not match his continuing improvement. I still think that Manning's 2010 is one of the most impressive adjusted-for-surrounding-talent seasons in the history of the NFL.

That team was awful.

99 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

One thing I noticed about Manning is that starting in 06 he seemingly changed how he thought about what it means to be successful on offense. Previously he was hyper efficient at scoring, but he added a dimension where he was more concerned with having efficient drives instead of efficient plays. To my eye he actually made drives take more plays than they probably "needed" and made them take a really long time. In doing so he tired out the opponent's defense and hid a lot of the flaws on his own team.

105 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

That team won 61 regular season games from 2006-2010. I firmly believe that with just a good qb, like, say, Matt Ryan, they win about 40. I think even with a great qb like Brees they likely only win about 50. Mr. Bundchen is the only guy I'd say who gets them into the same area. The 2009 team had no business playing in a competitive Super Bowl, and that 2010 team really just sucked, as we saw in 2011.

39 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

The Hall of Fame really perplexes me then. If we imagine that Warner is HOF along with Manning, Brady, Favre, Brees, and Rodgers, then let's see if we can figure out who the HOF tackles of this generation were, just as a for instance. We've got Jonathan Ogden, Willie Roaf, perhaps Tony Boselli, Orlando Pace, Lincoln Kennedy, Walter Jones, Chris Samuels, Willie Anderson, maybe Flozell Adams, Jason Peters, Joe Thomas, and that leaves out virtually all the stand-out right tackles, because who even remembers who they were. A lot of these guys redefined the tackle position for the modern passing league. I guess we can try to argue that some tackles are more stand-out in a given generation than others, but how do we distinguish? If, as seems likely, only Ogden, Roaf, and Jones make the HOF, then perhaps Brees and Rodgers and Warner don't belong either? Certainly Aikman doesn't belong, and you could make a case that Steve Young is marginal. It's all pretty weird. Shouldn't we imagine that the defining presence of a player is somewhat relative to the ratio of the number of people playing that position at a given time? In which case, 5 quarterbacks every fifteen years would more or less share HOF nods with 10 tackles and 10 cornerbacks, maybe 3-5 punters?

40 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

We should never try equating positions. This is a very unique era in that there's never been this many active quarterbacks with a SB ring. There are eight this year -- one in each division except the AFC South, and the AFC North has two. Hell, Andrew Luck's time might be coming if the Colts ever find some defenders.

We've never seen a NFL where so many top QBs actively have a ring, and of course the numbers are all up because of all the passing success. Quarterbacks have never been more crucial to a team's success either. Warner retired a few years before we've hit this era, but he was part of a great era too. I don't see any problem if we're saying there were 8 HOF QBs in the 2000's. There were 8 in the 90's as well. What's a problem is trying to say there should be 8 HOF left tackles or centers as well. It shouldn't work like that.

Some of my other thoughts on this I'll save for Friday's article, which is about the HOF in general. Like to keep this one focused on Warner as much as possible.

52 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I'm pretty sure that's his point; if you were to put in tackles proportional to quarterbacks, you'd get a lot of weak choices.

I don't agree with that point, though; quarterback is the most important position, so it stands to reason that more quarterbacks should make the Hall of Fame, relative to other positions.

57 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

No way Young is marginal, can you imagine the pressure to follow in Montana's footsteps and to be as good as he was with less talent around him (especially defensively). Throw in his rushing statistics (49 odd rushing TD's in th eregular season and 5,000 rushing yards). If Bill walsh had still been around, Young would be wearing 3 or 4 rings. He is a top 10 QB of all time easily.

65 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

If someone like Orlando Pace or Walter Jones is not in the HOF, then how can you legitimately argue for some of these qbs was my point. Young had 8 great seasons and 1 Super Bowl. Pace had 7 great seasons, and 1 Super Bowl, played in another Super Bowl, and was the cornerstone blocker for 3 mvps. Jones had 9 great seasons, more or less, played in a Super Bowl, and led the way for an mvp running back. My point was that there are a lot of great quarterbacks, absolutely. There is also excellence at many of the other positions, frequently overlooked entirely. For example, if we want to talk about the narrative of the NFL, someone like Larry Izzo played every bit as important a role in defining his position (gunner) as some of the quarterbacks we're discussing played in defining theirs. Is the HOF appropriately just a classicist shrine, remembering the glory guys and forgetting all but the absolutely most memorable of the rest?

68 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

No argument, really. I think my main idea here is just that the Football HOF is a weird apples and oranges comparison to a degree that most other sports aren't. We can try to figure out the relative significance of each position as a ratio of total value to the sport and then allot that many slots, including slots for all the branches of coaching, media, and personnel, but apart from something ludicrous like that, All Pro teams and the like make more sense than a catchall HOF wherein some positions, like say Gunner, which I think is an important job worthy of praise and esteem, are completely ignored, and other positions, regardless of how actually valuable they are, will always be overvalued as a percentage.

73 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

As an aside, of all the tackles listed : I think Jones and Pace are locks. I think Willie Anderson should make it. He keeps showing up on Dr.z's all pro teams. I doubt Samuels, Flozel, or Peters makes it. Thomas probably will, though he makes up the next generation.

78 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

"Certainly Aikman doesn't belong, and you could make a case that Steve Young is marginal..."

The Aikman hate here is incredible. I get it-- stats and Aikman never put up blistering numbers, even for his generation. But come on. It's not like he was the 90's Trent Dilfer, just managing a team with a historically great defense or something. And even using FO's metrics it's not like he was some middling QB graced by "true" HoFers like Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith-- he was 3rd in DYAR 1992, and in 1993, according to this link, "Aikman had an awesome 69.5 percent completion rate and the best DVOA rating of any quarterback with at least 150 passes that year." He was an elite QB according to various FO stats in 1994 and 1995 as well. Is that some chump football player?

Some time ago, Tanier wrote,

Aikman may be the last great quarterback in history who had his statistics severely hampered by the fact that he played for a great team. The 1990s Cowboys were heirs of the 1970s Steelers and Dolphins and 1960s Packers -- teams that didn't pass very often because they didn't have to. By the time Tom Brady came around, even a 14-2 perennial champion with a defense-minded coach was going to attempt 530 passes per season. Brady's numbers are certainly affected by his team's success, but it is nothing like the distortion seen in, say, Bob Griese's numbers. Aikman has more in common with Griese than Brady. We will never see a truly great quarterback throw 15 touchdown passes in one of his signature seasons anymore. By Aikman's era, we usually don't make the mental adjustments that we make for guys like Griese or Bart Starr, but for Aikman we must.

He was the star quarterback for the most popular team during a period where it was achieving epic success (4 straight NFC Championships, 3 Super Bowl wins in 4 years). It's hard to imagine a better definition of "fame" than that.

80 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Honestly, you really miss my point. My argument was relativistic. The Hall has 35 quarterbacks, 22 guards, 46 running backs or halfbacks (that doesn't include fullbacks), 12 safeties, 20 offensive tackles. My point was, 35 hall of fame quarterbacks were protected by at least 70 tackles, but only 20 of them were Hall worthy? Are quarterbacks really so much better at the sport, so much more distinctive in their play than safeties are? Yes, we remember them, and I don't disagree with selections like Aikman, or Kurt Warner; I was a huge fan of Warner as a player. But if these guys are all among the best, most memorable, distinctive, and elite players in the history of the sport, then we're weaving a very strange narrative, because we're suggesting that guards and safeties just sort of suck. Only lousy athletes play those positions...

83 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

This has nothing to do with how good at football a QB is relative to a tackle. It has everything to do about the relative importance of the QB position. This is why an above average QB will make more money today than an elite tackle. I'm honestly indifferent about whether this needs to change or not, but that's the way the HOF selection process is, and will probably continue to be.

84 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

OK, THAT is a fair enough point, and I agree. I'm a Cowboys homer and feel like Darren Woodson should be in the HoF as the real core of the Cowboys' defense during their 90's run. But he is a Safety and so his changes of getting in are quite slim (esp. since stats for defenders are limited and it's hard for someone who hasn't watched a lot of games to see the impact of such players). The same could be said, though, for scores of other defenders, offensive linemen, and so on.

"Fame" obviously goes to the QBs, RBs, WRs, and guys who get a lot of sacks on defense, leaving a lot of incredible guys looking in on the outside. If we wanted a more "balanced" HoF with fewer QBs, RBs, and players from Green Bay and Pittsburgh, then perhaps Aikman is out and one could add in any number of worthy players (Will Shields? Darren Woodson?). But I'd rather just be more inclusive as it is. I already feel like when I look at the list of finalist, almost all deserve to go in and trying to select FIVE (including coaches and executives?!?) among the list of 10 or so is just hair-splitting.

86 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

With that sentiment I am fully in accord. Joey's Piano says it's all about the relative importance of positions, and I guess it looks that way in the numbers--quarterbacks are becoming more important and running backs less so. I think there's another problem in the relative longevity of many of the positions. 6-7 years of great play is rare for a lineman, not so rare for a great quarterback. The Hall is just very odd for this sport because there aren't many sports where 50 odd guys play on a team doing such wildly different things. How do you really judge and compare? Then when we include coaches and personnel guys, etc. it gets that much more difficult. I mean, let's take a guy like Monte Kiffin. Is he a First Ballot guy? Would we accept him into the Hall over Steve Young or Kurt Warner? Would we say he was more important to the sport than Curtis Martin or Cris Carter? It's just really weird.

13 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

What a great article. I am so happy that the author included a "Can you tell the story of the NFL without him?" section. For too long there has been the "it's not the Hall of Very Good"-- an argument rendered worthless by the fact that "Fame" is on a completely different axis from that where "Very Good" exists.

Perhaps Warner's statistics don't match up with Montana or Young-- he nevertheless has SOME rather impressive stats, and by virtue of his (multiple) major awards, as well as the media attention he got, he was definitely at the peak of "Fame" in the NFL.

I have no horse in this race-- I'm not a Rams fan or anything-- but I do feel like Warner should be in.

18 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I admittedly am a Warner fan due to my having gone to Northern Iowa, but, even without that, the guy's got a heck of a resume. He was legitimately terrifying for a while, and . . . two MVPs in three years, a Superbowl MVP, heading one of the greatest offenses ever. The guy was absolutely great. His first year was the first year I wound up having NFL Sunday Ticket, and it's like the Rams were playing against high school teams that year. Yeah, he makes the HOF, and totally deserves it.

26 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I realize it's not the heart of your argument, but comparing Fitzgerald/Boldin/Bruce/Holt's achievements with and without Warner only works if you recall the QB's that he replace/replace him. Yes, Bulger and Green were good, but there's also a bunch of Tony Banks/John Skelton/Matt Leinart years in that group that are solidly below replacement level.

Also, I thought part of the reason Warner had issues in 2002 was that he was trying to play through a concussion, even before he injured his hand. I could be wrong about that.

27 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Fantastic analysis,and well written article. I hope writers in the room when deciding on who goes in the HOF use your analysis.

I also agree that you can't tell the story of the NFL without Warner. I guess you can also tell the league's story with negative chapters, but Warner's rags-to-riches story, playing for two historic horrible teams that share a common theme (one played in St. Louis, one plays in St. Louis), a good guy, now on the NFL Network, should all play in his favor a year from now.

Hopefully Bernie M at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch will cite this article in his column soon, and use your superb reasoning when he makes the case for Warner's enshrinement in Canton.

28 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

In a weird way, I think the 5 bad years actually doesn't hurt his case that much. The 6 good years are what they are. But if you followed the NFL from 2001-2005, you will remember a lot of "Warners deal with devil" "Warner possessed by aliens that have now left his body" etc jokes.

Jokes are jokes, but they're also very telling cultural phenomena. I'm pretty sure nobody made "he must be possessed by aliens" jokes about Rich Gannon, even if his peak was superficially close to Warners.

Warner was just an immensely more IMPORTANT QB, even for the first of the bad years.

If we were to split up the middle years into some bad years and some injury plagued ones, and then remodeled his career with a more convential arc with a few bad seasons to start, then the 6 peak seasons, and then 2-3 injury filled veteran seasons ... I'm pretty sure we're not having this conversation. Then he's just a clear HOF'er.

32 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I disagree with that. I don't think 2 All-Pro seasons in a 12 year career cuts it, regardless of the order. Admittedly, I'm one of the seeming minority (on this site anyway) who likes the HOF standards as tight as they are. I think it should be the best of the best, and I just don't view Warner that way, even though at his best he takes a back seat to anyone. I can't pretend 6 mediocre-to-atrocious seasons didn't happen. I can't pretend he didn't get benched for Bulger and McCown.

Telling the story of the NFL probably can't be told without Ickey Woods, Refrigerator Perry, Bo Jackson, and Pat Tillman. I think that's a poor measure of HOF-quality.

44 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I'll disagree with your disagreement. It's not the Hall of the Best of the Best...it's the Hall of Fame. It should house the famousest of the famous.

That's why Perry, Tillman, Jackson et. al. are in there.

Sounds like you want to make your own Hall that honors different things.

53 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

To begin, neither William Perry, Pat Tillman, nor Bo Jackson have been inducted in the Hall of Fame, which is what "in the Hall of Fame" means in this context.

With that said, they do belong "in the Hall of Fame", with a more literal definition, as the Hall of Fame has a museum portion that tells the story of the NFL. In that context, Perry, Tillman, and Jackson are all represented (or at least should be).

In my opinion, Warner merits plenty of mention in that part of the all, but should not be inducted. It's funny - I actually went into this article thinking Warner should be inducted, but Scott's case against swayed me more than his case for, and my mind has been changed.

55 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

One thing about the McCown benching: were the Cardinals right? Were they right with Leinart? Obviously not. Same way the Broncos drafted Tommy Maddox in the first round in 1992 when John Elway was only going to be 32. Dan Reeves had his beef with the QB, but we know who was right in the end.

Could also look at the 2004 Giants. They went 1-6 with Eli after a 5-4 start with Warner. 8-8 was good enough for the NFC playoffs that year, so you can say the Giants screwed their chances by going to the rookie. However, we know they were dying to get the kid out there, so Warner was always on a short leash, which carried over into Arizona. Fortunately Whisenhunt knew what he was doing as a rookie coach in 2007.

The team's not always right in who they decide to bench.

76 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I've never held him being benched for the #1 draft pick against him. I agree that Eli was going to play...unless Warner came back to 1999-2001 form, which he couldn't find with a GPS.

However,as I remember it, McCown outplayed Warner in camp and pre-season. He (or Bulger) wasn't a high-round pick that one had to justify getting on the field. Were the coaches wrong? Not in September. Warner improved as he either got healthier, more familiar with the offense, or simply better. And McCown didn't show well when the bullets were live.

Leinart goes quite nicely into the Eli category,without the improvement that Eli made from his rookie year.

31 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

The article mentions a broken finger, but I recall most of the discussion of his mid career issues with the Rams and Giants as relating to a thumb injury on his throwing hand which affected his grip.

I remember saying during the 1999 season he was the best quarterback I had ever seen. 2001 was even better.

Speaking of that, will someone please explain why, after kicking the winning field goal with 2 seconds left, the game was over without the Patriots having to kick off?

34 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

A very good article, and quite enjoyable.

However, there are several points where the author makes comparisons to players in the hall of fame. I do not support this logic as there are possibilities (likelihoods) of past mistakes, and far more importantly, there are more teams playing for Warners career than for any HoF QB. To stand out from a bigger pack requires more, even if it is only 1/8 more.

62 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I'd put him in, but you really need to do era adjustments, if you are going to start looking at things like completion percentages and turnover ratios from the early '70s to the past decade.

92 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

My criteria tend to be:

1) Did he either have a transcendent peak or sustained greatness?

Yes, Warner meets the peak.

1a) Did he accomplish anything outside his best two-three years?

Yes, he took Arizona to the Superb Owl, and it really was QB play making the difference to get them there.

2) Was he ever one of the one or two best at his position?

Yes, Warner was top-two during the Rams years.

3) Is there any compelling reason to discount his accomplishments?

No, even though his Rams teams were stacked, Warner clearly made those around him better.

4) Other factors?

Good rags-to-riches story, good redemption story, significant accomplishments with multiple teams, etc. They're mostly positive. Down years were partly due to injury and partly due to teams wanting to get high draft picks playing.

So, yeah, Hall of Fame.

117 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Thanks for the fantastic article, Scott...a thoroughly complete and wholly balanced analysis. Warner's pre-Hall of Fame story will appear from time to time over the next year and no one -- including Barnwell and Tanier -- will tell it so well. My prediction (as the biggest Warner fan that I know): he'll get in with ease on the first ballot due to his peak and resurgent excellence, competitive context (St. Louis and Arizona), unparalleled story, and off-the-field grace.

118 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

MVP voting has no place in a case for the Hall of Fame, but would be perfect for a prediction of who gets in.

MVP voters and HOF voters share many of the same blind spots: devaluing turnovers, adoring gaudy raw yardage, failing to consider opponents and teammates, hopping on bandwagons, etc. Football Outsiders should be a place to improve on flawed conventional wisdom, not to "me too" it.

122 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Nothing personal. Aren't you one of the main reasons there was an 'irrational' thread here to begin with (something a more rigorous site would never have sunk to)? Turnovers are one of the more random elements of quarterback performance rather than an indication of skill (although fumbles less so), and I think generally All-Pro and MVP selectors have a better record than any other tradition of honoring players (probowl voters being notoriously unreliable). They had no problem in 2011, for example, honoring the more efficient Rodgers versus the record-breaking Brees.

Warner, Brees, Favre, and now Manning (plus Cutler and Alex Smith a tier below them) have provided the opportunity to measure which aspects of performance are teammate dependent, versus which aspects the quarterback brings to the table (prior to the last 10 years it was virtually unheard of for elite quarterbacks to switch teams before they were washed up)

131 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Not everything is about your precious.

Really. If you twist everything to be about idolizing one player, as you do, that makes you the worst kind of fanboy. It would do you good to experiment with arguing the other side. But not now. Because we aren't talking about your hero.

Actually, that's good advice all around. Scott attempted that here, although not completely convincingly. But it's more interesting than just jumping down someone's throat for saying something about MVPs because you take everything as a threat to your guy.

God forbid I had mentioned pick-sixes in the Super Bowl as being part of a Hall of Fame narrative. You would have blown a gasgit.

137 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I try to give Scott the benefit of the doubt occasionally, in the hope that he will improve his stats work and overcome his biases. He often picks interesting topics. He writes clearly. He claims a fair amount of work compiling data, which (we can only hope) isn't too polluted by his personal agenda, consciously or otherwise.

I mostly comment on his stuff when I see interesting topics with strange or weak analysis. In this case, the emphasis on MVPs isn't strange. Counting MVPs is almost as common as counting rings. But it is, at least in my opinion, a weak analysis choice.

You're entitled to argue for counting MVPs as a useful tool.

144 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Because YOU have no biases or personal agendas, right? Every argument you make is twisted to favor Brady and the Patriots, including the thinly-veiled "MVP voters devalue turnovers". You're probably the most blindly biased commenter on FO, and also the most pompous, quarrelsome, and stubborn. Do us all a favor and stop commenting on Scott's articles. You add nothing of value to the FO community.

123 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Other than Mark Moseley stealing the 1982 MVP from Dan Fouts, the voters are rarely ever flat out wrong on that award. I would give a few RB MVPs to a quarterback and make sure the RB only won OPOY, but generally, this award has a better track record than All Pros and Pro Bowls.

Almost any QB who won MVP without a top 10 ranking in INT% did something more valuable like lead the league in TD passes or YPA. Or in the case of 2001 Warner, lead the league in comp. %, completions, yards, TD, TD%, YPA, YPC and passer rating.

132 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

M. Moseley beat out d. fouts 35-33 in AP voting. Marcus Allen was third ewith 6 votess.

Moseley also named mvp/player of yr by New yokr daily news and Miami touchdown club and The Sporting news.

Pro Football Writers of America slected fouts as did college and pro fotbal newsweely. Fouts also won Jim Thorpe nfl mvp award.

125 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Shawn Alexander winning MVP was pretty egregious, when you consider he wasn't even the best offensive player on his own team, there were a number of tremendous QB seasons, and Steve Smith had arguably the most impact any wide receiver has ever had on an offense.

126 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I think Alexander's came for three primary reasons. 1 was the Peyton Manning fatigue effect. 2 was that he had broken a significant record that year(well, his team did anyways) and 3 - He was on a team with the best record in the NFC.

I don't think it's egregious given how the voters vote, though I do agree that a football purist would have voted Steve Smith.

128 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Fatigue effects? RB wins?

Doesn't that say it all about the reliability of the MVP process?

But really, they often get it right, too. But for HOF discussions, there's no point in abdicating our analysis to dubious authorities. We can look at stuff ourselves. And should.

MVPs are a great way of predicting HOF votes. But they would be a piss-poor way to decide if you were a HOF voter. It would be like voting for president based on the polls rather than your own opinion.

130 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I wasn't responding to you directly, but I did disagree with the statement, "MVP voting has no place in a case for the Hall of Fame." MVP votes should matter, but like everything else, it has to be apart of the larger narrative and body of evidence. And frankly, it's no less or more flawed than judging off criteria like subjective strength of schedule, supporting talent, raw totals etc.

In Warner's case, the mvp's at the very least do point to his being a peak performing player for more than just a single year. Those are important points to consider.

135 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Warner's peaks speak for themselves, don't they? They would be just as high if the voters took a dislike to him and gave the award to someone else. They would be no different if the 2007 Patriots had played in 1999, or the 2013 Broncos in 2001.

Peak performance should matter. Timing your peak to other plays's peaks or to the vagaries of voters should not.

The good news is that Warner did get MVPs when he was playing at MVP level. Sometimes a weak analysis gets a correct answer.

138 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I don't disagree but doesn't it matter that even using objective measures, the MVP is generally given to the best QB when it is a QB?

In recent times, the only real hairy one for me is Manning in '09 (this despite being a Manning fan who thinks he deserves it for all of the non-statistical reasons). I would have given it to Rivers, who had a similarly poor running game, an average defense, and put up great stats, beat Manning in DYAR (barely) and DVOA (by a decent amount).

You can easily make the statistical argument for Manning in '08, as he finished #2 in DYAR (to Brees - who threw the ball ~80 times more) and #2 in DVOA in a virtual tie (.03% behind Rivers), for a team that had no running game and an awul o-line.

Of course, by QBR, a stat which I don't trust by don't hate either, he's far-and-away #1 in both years.

I have no arguments with other recent QB wins (Rodgers, Brady (x2), Manning (x3), Gannon, Warner, Favre, Young, Montana). I really don't know the last QB outside of those two years for Manning, who didn't deserve the MVP the year he won it.

The bigger issue is when they pass over a QB for a RB.

139 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Yes, I mostly agree. It might be better to say that if the MVP goes to a QB, he is usually at the top, certainly in the top three, and has at least somewhat cogent arguments to put him at the top.

You are right that Manning's '09 and '08 MVPs are the most problematic. This wasn't a huge injustice: he was near the top both years, and sensible arguments can be made for him. But it would be an injustice to use those years to argue against the possibly better (those years) QBs he got the award over in a HOF discussion.

And I also agree that it's the years where the voters decide it's time to go with a non-QB that really make MVPs a poor tool for QB HOF discussions.

140 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

I do think MVPs is far better than using QB wins of Playoff wins though. Equating those two isn't totally fair. Just went back and looked and you never brought up that comparison, but either way I'll continue my point. Just saying this isn't a response to you directly.

QB wins and Playoff wins can be completely independent from QB success. You can win a Super Bowl playing badly, or mediocrely (Dilfer in 2000, Brady in 20001, Ben in Super Bowl XL). You can't win an MVP that way. You'll never see a mediocre QB that had an amazing defense that goes 13-3 win an MVP. Heck, Russell Wilson is far better than a mediocre QB and get little MVP love last year (and yes, some of that was Manning's obviously dominant case for MVP).

Of course, the other side is true in that you will never see a QB on an 8-8 team win MVP I would imagine. That's another reason why Manning ran away with teh award in '08, was that he was on a team that pulled some wins out of their ass and went 12-4, when the 2 other top statistical QBs (Brees, Rivers) were on teams that went 8-8.

I agree that it isn't a great argument, but it is part of hte argument. I think it applies more to contemporary players. I get your point that if Warner's 1999 season happened in 2007, Brady would still deservedly win MVP and that doesn't make Warner's season any less valuable, but to me it matters that in playing in the roughly same era, Peyton won 5, Brady won 2, and no one else won more than 1 (Brees, Rodgers - for now).

I guess the issue comes when you have Player A who was, hypotheticaly since MVP voting doesn't go this way, the #3 in MVP every single year, and then Player B, who was #10 in every year but the two he won the award. Player A is still better. Other than guys like Gannon, though, that doesn't really happen with QBs. It might be luck that in the NFL most of the QBs to win MVP were great players for their entire career (mid-career Warner excluded), unlike baseball where every now and then you get a Miguel Tejada, but it is what happened.

141 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

Thanks. I hadn't brought up QB playoff wins.

But they do have some (but limited) value in a HOF discussion, much as a team's record has some relevance in a seasonal MVP debate. There are two reasons these win-loss records matter:

(1) Winning (or not) is one of the things a player can be famous for. This is especially true - and a bit more fair - for QBs, since they are a large part of most offenses. Yes, I know Scott thinks this is unfair. But, that's Fame for you.

(2) They are a useful signal of suspicious stats compiling.

By "suspicious" I mean the compiling of stats in a way that doesn't proportionately help your team win, and is therefore not as valuable as it might seem.

Examples include:
* Playing indoors a lot, or avoiding bad weather games. (Good conditions help both QBs' passing stats, but favor neither team)
* Playing on an offensively heavy roster. (Robbing the defense to stack the offense doesn't help on average, but does make QBs look good)
* Playing against offensively stacked and defensively weak rosters. (Similar effect in reverse)
* Making mistakes that don't show up in passing stats. (Fumbles, picks thrown with easy returns - depends on the stats you are using)

An unexpected low number of playoff wins doesn't prove anything. You have to go look. But that win-loss record tells you to look.

In a similar way, if a QB's playoff record looks better than his stats, look for these before dismissing the winning as a fluke:

* Playing outdoors and in bad conditions a lot. (It kills stats but helps neither team)
* Playing on or against defensively stacked rosters. (QB carries an offense to allow money/draft picks to go to the defense, or faces the tougher challenge so the defense can do its thing)
* Avoiding mistakes that don't make it to the stats. (Ball security of various sorts)

In Warner's case, his playoff record raises no warning flags about his playoff stats. He really was great in the playoffs, and helped his team a bunch.

143 Re: Kurt Warner: The Hall of Fame Case

By my count, Aikman had 6 great seasons, and 2 good ones. Kurt Warner had 4 great seasons and 1 good one (he was average in 2007). The case for Warner rests almost entirely on 2001. Phillip Rivers has only played 9 seasons, and already has had 6 great seasons. Based on numbers of good and great seasons (relative to other players at the same time; with, say, 1 great season equal to 1.5 good seasons, and a #1 season equal to 2 good seasons) if we induct Warner, we probably also have to induct Peyton, Brady, Brees, Rivers, Roethlisberger, Romo, and Ryan with Rodgers on pace to surpass him too. The thing that makes Warner stand out from 1999-2001 is that at the time he was great, everybody else except Manning was awful. The 3rd best quarterback in the league at the time was Rich Gannon, and it's really hard to choose a 4th. Slumping Favre? McNair? Garcia?

To say Warner is better than Rivers, we'd have to use some really weird standards like Warner's 2001 season is worth as much as River's 3 best seasons (including the ones where Rivers put up bigger numbers than Warner), or you must win X number of playoff games.

To induct Warner and not Romo or Roethlisberger, you'd have to put a huge premium on his 4 great seasons over their long string of good seasons.

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