Watching NFL Live lately, there's been lots of talk about "franchise quarterbacks." They don't have one in Minnesota, they drafted one in New York, one just died in Tennessee, and they still don't know if they have one in Oakland. The term "franchise quarterback" has become one of the biggest cliches in sports commentary: The definition is vague and people throw it around as though it's a patch players wear on their jerseys.
Joe Montana was a "franchise quarterback"...until that franchise got rid of him. Brett Favre wasn't a "franchise quarterback," then he was, and then he wasn't again. For most fans of the other 31 teams, Donovan McNabb is a "franchise quarterback" who can win games; But to fans of his own team, he sucks and should be traded most offseasons. Chad Pennington was never a "franchise quarterback" in New York and was sent packing when the Jets acquired another former "franchise quarterback," making Pennington a "franchise quarterback" in Miami.
I love this 2005 photo gallery of "Top 10 Franchise Quarterbacks" from Sports Illustrated.
No. 10: Byron Leftwich, who less than two years later was sent packing.
No. 9: Matt Schaub, who was traded less than two years later.
No. 8: Daunte Culpepper, who was traded at the end of that season.
No. 7: Brady Quinn, whose QB rating in the league is 65.8 and who has started only four games.
No. 6: Michael Vick, whom I need say nothing about.
No. 5: Aforementioned McNabb.
No. 4: Eli Manning, who at least has a Super Bowl ring.
No. 3: Carson Palmer, who has struggled mightily with various issues since this list came out.
No. 2: Ben Roethsliberger, who has had a great career.
No. 1: Tom Brady.
NOT on the list in 2005, behind Brady Quinn and Byron Leftwich: PEYTON MANNING! Because, according to SI, he had his best year in 2004 and would slide from there. Ask the Miami Dolphins if they would have rather had Daunte Culpepper or Peyton Manning in 2006.
Players play the game as well as they can. Some stay for a while, some go. But no matter who gets this "franchise quarterback" label from chuckleheads like Mike Golic and Mark Schlereth (neither of whom, by the way, were "franchise quarterbacks"), if the quarterback plays well, he stays; If he plays like crap, he goes. But in the short-cut-happy world of Sports Illustrated and ESPN and sports commentary, it's easier to come up with bullshit permanent labels (usually before the player earns them) than react to what's happening in front of you.