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What Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl tells us about Matthew Stafford in Los Angeles

Super Bowl LV Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford are very nearly opposites. Brady is a noodle-armed former sixth-round pick who has achieved unparalleled success. Stafford is a cannon-armed former first-overall pick who has continually flirted with busting outright. I won’t belabor this. They’re little alike, but Stafford like Brady may benefit immensely from moving to another team.

The confounding but not at all contradictory fact is quarterback is both the most important position in the NFL and the most dependent position in the NFL. A great left tackle is a great left tackle. It’s a matchup position and a position which fails or succeeds largely in isolation. Our perception of how a left tackle is performing depends on his scheme and surrounding talent but mostly his performance does not. Backs are dependent, receivers are dependent, linebackers are dependent but quarterbacks are far and away most dependent. QBs can’t block for themselves, rarely ever receive their own passes and never intentionally, and apart from maybe Peyton Manning, do not scheme for themselves. There are innumerable analogies I could weave here but none would be particularly illustrative. History works better.

26 quarterbacks are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Eight needed to change teams, sometimes multiple times, before finding success: Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Warren Moon, Steve Young, Johnny Unitas, Len Dawson, Sonny Jurgensen and Bobby Layne. In a few years Drew Brees will also fit that description. Three didn’t swap teams but were rescued by a coaching change: John Elway, Dan Fouts and Bart Starr. Others were mediocre or much worse before they were great: Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman and Fran Tarkenton. That’s 14 of the 26 greatest quarterbacks of all time who failed badly before they succeeded greatly.

It doesn’t always go that way. Jay Cutler is a notable counterexample. And I don’t know Stafford’s game well enough to project how he will perform, but it’s not hard to understand why the Rams would go all in to acquire Stafford. L.A. has its own Don Coryell/Bill Walsh type. Stafford was once one of those curiously common “generational talents” the hype men posing as scouts are always telling us about.

(A generation is typically defined as 30 years and no fewer than 17. Which means, properly speaking, every Flavor Flav who calls Trevor Lawrence a “generational talent” over the next few months is really saying he’s the best quarterback prospect since 1991. Which is absurd, and should be discrediting, but until fans demand better and are willing to support those who work to produce good content, this is the future of sports journalism.)

I would never be so alarmist as to write something like “Seahawks fans should be scared.” Of what? The creeping ignorance and intellectual laziness which is destined to doom humanity to a second Dark Age? Well, of that, maybe, but football? Never. But Seattle’s going to have a helluva time taking a step forward this off-season. The Seahawks are strapped for resources. The defense is worryingly dependent on its oldest players. And Sean McVay’s former flunkies haven’t exactly set the world afire away from the nest. And, really, how often does a so-called “genius” head coach impart that “genius” to one of his coordinators?

The Rams correctly identified their greatest weakness. It took a grip of resources, but unlike Seattle’s innumerable headline-grabbing and praise-winning but often bad trades, Stafford has a real chance of dramatically changing the future of Rams’ football for the better. Just like Alex Smith’s excellence in KC should give us meaningful context for exactly how good Patrick Mahomes is, Jared Goff’s relative success should give us meaningful context for exactly how good Stafford could be.

Ultimately, calling a quarterback “cerebral” is about as justified as calling a football coach a “genius.” It’s a product of football-guy argot, at best. Brady’s appearance on WWDTM should forever clear up how cerebral the guy is. But certain skill sets age better than others. Brady is indeed noodle-armed. Quite a few high school quarterbacks with no chance of landing on a D1 roster could make every throw he made on Sunday. As long as Brady can read coverage, anticipate pass rush, and throw timely passes accurately, it doesn’t matter much.

Stafford’s never ever performed with a fraction of Brady’s skill. Neither has Russell Wilson. Undeniably Wilson has been better than Stafford but it’s unclear if he will be better. The style of play he relies on does not look likely to age well. I think Wilson knows that. Which means a race has begun. Wilson and Shane Waldron must develop something new, something which does not depend on breathtaking athleticism, something more Brady than Vick, for Wilson to take that next step. Because somewhere in La La Land an equally talented quarterback and a tremendously adept schemer and play caller are working overtime to get into the Hall of Fame.

This season Wilson’s often stated goal of being the best ever became not just grating and quixotically out-of-step with reality, but damaging to his team. Next season it could be difficult for Wilson to simply be the best quarterback in the NFC West. I’m not scared. Seahawks fans should not be scared. But Wilson should feel a greater urgency to improve than he’s ever felt before, and attack the offseason with the ferocious intensity of a sixth-round pick.