Home > NFL > Summing up the Hall of Fame Case for Kurt Warner

Summing up the Hall of Fame Case for Kurt Warner

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There’s a lot of players whom I feel should be in the hall of fame who will never get the chance.

Let me qualify: I’m not talking about Russ Grimm or Ray Guy or other semi-finalists who get close to the hall of fame every season.  I’m talking about the Shawn Springs’ and Rich Gannon’s of the world: guys who have done remarkable things for the game of football over very short lengths of time, but ultimately don’t have the standard-level “hall-of-fame resume” and never really will.  I, obviously, favor a much more inclusive hall 0f fame as a solution to making the questionable decisions for selection.

In many ways, the Hall of Fame case for Kurt Warner falls into the same category of a career where his aggregate statistics don’t jump off the page.  Warner has thrown for fewer career yards than non-HOF bound active players such as Kerry Collins and Donovan McNabb, and he has thrown for fewer touchdowns than McNabb and Tom Brady, who despite being Hall of Fame bound, still has a good six or seven years left on his NFL career as a starter.

As recently as 2006, Warner would have been the perfect example of a player that, I felt, should have absolutely gone to the Hall of Fame, but had no chance.  In a five year period from 2002-2006, Warner played in zero playoff games, had only three fourth quarter/OT game winning drives, and watched his sack rate push above 9.0% for a five year period.  At age 35, there was every reason in the world to believe that Warner was done.  I would have pushed for hall of fame inclusion based only on his 1999-2001 seasons, but historically, three excellent seasons has never been quite enough to get anyone into Canton.

Nevermind that these seasons were beyond excellent: they were historic.  Warner led the league in yards per attempt each of those three seasons, in net yards per attempt, and in adjusted net yards per attempt each of those years.  Warner led the league in passing yards/game twice, and has never posted high interception totals, despite playing in a Dick Vermeil/Mike Martz offense.  Three Vermeil/Martz quarterbacks have led the league in INTs in the last ten years (Trent Green, Marc Bulger, Jon Kitna), but not Warner.

Yet, despite that awesomeness, history was on the verge of forgetting Kurt Warner, much like it will eventually forget Mark Brunell, who from 1996-1999 was as good as anyone in football, even Brett Favre.  Brunell had the same mid-career lull as Warner, where he really didn’t play all that well, before going to revive his career in Washington.  This is where their career paths diverge.

Despite periodic effectiveness in Washington, that trip has sufficiently derailed any shot that Brunell had at the Hall.  He actually threw for a career high of touchdowns when in Washington in 2005, and got off to one of his best career starts the next year, but ended up benched for good at mid-season because the team was uncompetitive, and the team had spent a first round draft pick on Jason Campbell prior to the 2005 season.  Brunell is remembered in Washington more for the failure of the 2004 season than the success of the 2005 one, and seems to still take an unfair share of the blame for a 2006 season that was de-railed by a league-worst defense.

For Warner, his decision to sign with Denny Green’s Cardinals certainly appeared to be the kiss of death for his career, but when Green was fired at the conclusion of the 2006 season it was the new hire, Ken Whisenhunt who went where no one expected: the graveyard of lost careers.

Over the last three years, Warner has arguably done the best work of his illustrious career.  Sure, he hasn’t quite won a Super Bowl for the Cardinals, and his numbers have lacked the MVP punch of his numbers from St. Louis, but he’s doing it this time around without multiple Hall of Famers on his offense.

The “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams featured at least five potential hall of famers: Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace, and Warner.  The 2008 Cardinals, who very nearly won the Super Bowl, have Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Edgerrin James, depending on how loose you want to get here.  James was hardly more than a replacement level player in the 2008 season anyway, while all of those potential hall of fame Rams were in their prime when Warner played for them.

Despite the obvious decline in quality of cast, Warner’s numbers from the last three years remain near the top of the league.  In fact, up until the last two seasons, the knock on Warner his whole career was that if you hit him hard enough, frequently enough, he could be pressured into coughing up the football.  Since 2008: Warner has been intercepted less frequently than 1 in 40 passes, and has been sacked on fewer than 1 in 20 dropbacks.

At age 38, Warner has no weaknesses.  According to the Football Outsiders DYAR statistic, Warner had the best game ever in the Brett Favre era with his unbelievable playoff performance against the Packers.  He became one of only two playoff quarterbacks in the last 15 years to throw for more touchdowns than incompletions in a given game.  And with retirement breathing down his neck, we could be seeing the final chapter of a guy who is perhaps one of the best ten quarterbacks ever to play the game, and a guy who still appears to be one of the five best quarterbacks in the game of football.  All this despite watching the amount of quarterback talent in the league triple over the time he has been a starting quarterback in the NFL.

At this point, the argument for Warner is simple.  Don’t worry about the counting stats.  He didn’t get his career started until 1998, and had a five year lull right in the dead middle of his career.  Doesn’t matter.  Warner threw for 20 or more touchdowns in six different seasons.  In 1982 and 1972, no quarterback in the NFL threw for 20 touchdowns.  In NFL history, only two quarterbacks have thrown for more yards per game than Dan Marino:  Peyton Manning, and Kurt Warner.  Warner’s career QB Rating of 93.7 is third all-time among quarterbacks drafted (or signed) prior to 2003, behind only Peyton Manning, and Steve Young.

More succinctly, here’s how you can sum up the case for Warner:  the two quarterbacks of the era most synonymous with hall of fame futures are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.  That’s perfectly fair, but just remember that the two best quarterbacks of the era are Peyton Manning…and Kurt Warner.

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