In the words of David Spade, don’t shoot me. I’m just the messenger. I know what you’re thinking. “The show is called Just Shoot Me.” But counterpoint: George Segal would have been a funnier reference. That’s the real error. Anyways, this is an intro paragraph about centers — perhaps the NFL’s most underrated position.
This week we found out that Seattle Seahawks center Justin Britt will require surgery to repair a torn ACL and miss the rest of the season. Additionally, it appears that Britt’s Seattle career could be coming to an end given his over-sized cap charge in 2020 that had already put his future with the team in doubt. Should Joey Hunt or someone else step up over the next eight games and potentially more, the Seahawks could be looking at their center of the future.
And I’m asking you not to shoot me because the relationship of Seattle’s potential for “more games” in January and February and the success of the new center may go hand-in-hand. Why? I recently went position-by-position for recent Super Bowl teams and ultimately found that there were more great centers in those games than there were great quarterbacks.
“That’s an important position. The relationship between the center and the quarterback is of course an important one,” said Bill Belichick after the Patriots lost David Andrews to blood clots before this season. He’s often referred to the importance of Andrews and the quality of his play.
I’ll give you the names and then you can tell me if I’m a lyin’ Segal.
Over the last three Super Bowls, the quarterbacks have been Tom Brady (3x), Jared Goff, Nick Foles, and Matt Ryan. Brady’s dominated his AFC competition, Goff had a good season last year but is ultimately bad, Foles replaced Carson Wentz towards the end of the year and then beat Brady in the Super Bowl, and Ryan was the MVP.
The centers those years were great in every single case.
The Patriots have had David Andrews all three times. The Rams signed John Sullivan in 2017, which correlated with their success under Sean McVay. Their offense hasn’t been as good without him this year. The Eagles of course had Jason Kelce at center when they won the Super Bowl with Foles. And the Atlanta Falcons acquired Pro Bowler Alex Mack in 2016, the year in question re: Ryan’s MVP award.
Go back another year to 2015 and you’ll see Cam Newton, that season’s MVP, vs Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. I’ll sidestep my desire to say that Newton was almost as overrated as Goff and say that he was quite dangerous that season, but Manning was completely finished. In Denver’s case, the center position was also iffy (Matt Paradis), but perhaps not as bad as Manning and Brock Osweiler. The Panthers had All-Pro Ryan Kalil.
In 2013-2014, the Seahawks went to two Super Bowls with Russell Wilson and Max Unger. They haven’t gone back since trading Unger for Jimmy Graham and other considerations included. The Patriots brought rookie center Bryan Stork (ultimately bad) and the Broncos had Manuel Ramirez, also nothing special.
2012 was Joe Flacco and six-time Pro Bowler Matt Birk vs Colin Kaepernick and Jonathan Goodwin.
2011 was Eli Manning and David Baas over Brady and Dan Connolly.
2010 was Aaron Rodgers and Scott Wells over Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey.
2009 was Drew Brees and Goodwin (that’s two in four years for Goodwin, including 2009 as a Pro Bowl season) over Peyton Manning and potential Hall of Famer Jeff Saturday.
By my count you see a lot of great quarterbacks, but also some underwhelming names like Eli, Foles, Flacco, Kaepernick, Goff, old Peyton. Centers have underwhelming names there too, but perhaps not as many and even still, the count could still be even.
Does not having a great center bury your odds? Probably not. But I did find it interesting that given that we overlook the position and that it is one of the lowest-paid in the game, I would have expected the names in the Super Bowl to be as random as they’d be in just about any other game. Instead, there’s a lot of greatness. I tallied every single position (though it’s not shown here) and I’m telling you that in my opinion, no other position came up with positive marks as center, quarterback, and perhaps number one receiver.
What can I say. I call a spade a Spade.