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Favre's Age Would Haunt Him if He Attempts Another Comeback

May 9, 2009 – 9:17 PM
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JJ Cooper

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While the Brett Favre saga seems to be the story that won't end, even if nearly everyone wants it to. Now he's sending shoulder MRIs to the Vikings, and if everything goes well, maybe he'll still consider un-retiring for the second time.

But whether his shoulder is fine or not, the Vikings need to be aware of how unlikely it is that Favre will be the answer to the team's quarterback problems. The reality is that 40-year-old quarterbacks are very lucky if they make it through the season healthy, asking them to lead a team to the playoffs is too much. The Hall of Fame is filled with quarterbacks who retired as 38 and 39-year-olds, but there are very few 40-year-olds who ever suited up.

In the entire history of the NFL, I was unable to find one quarterback 40 years old or older who led his team to the playoffs as the team's primary quarterback. The only one who came close was Warren Moon in 1996. The Vikings were 4-4 in their first eight games, but he missed the second half of the season with a broken collarbone as Brad Johnson led the team to a first-round playoff loss.
Moon is the patron saint of old quarterbacks--he's the only 40+ QB to ever lead his team to more than six wins--he went 7-7 with the Seahawks in 14 starts as a 41-year-old in 1997. But looking back at the 36

But what jumps out after a little research is just how rare it is to even see a 40-year-old quarterback on the field. In checking the careers of the top 250 quarterbacks in NFL history in career completions, a number that effectively covers anyone with a significant career in NFL history (Charlie Frye is No. 250), there have been only two quarterbacks who ever started six or more games in a season at age 40 or beyond. Moon and Vinny Testaverde each did it three times. Of course Testaverde went 5-10, 2-5 and 2-4 in his three seasons of significant starting time as an over the hill quarterback, so he's not a great argument for Favre to give it one more try.

But the research shows that if you're trying to play quarterback in the NFL as a 40-year-old, it just becomes about impossible to stay healthy enough to go out there week after week. We saw age catch up to Favre last year, as his arm strength disappeared as the season went along. It's highly unlikely that he would avoid some kind of injury again this year. It's true that Favre was indestructible when he was younger, but time catches up to everyone, especially old quarterbacks.

If the Vikings are serious about bringing Favre in, it would make sense for them to sit him down for the first half of the season, then start playing him as the season hits November and December if Sage Rosenfels/Tarvaris Jackson are playing as expected. Or they could use him like Don Shula used Earl Morrall and Don Strock in the twilights of their careers--he would bring them in as relievers to pick up the team when it needed a lift. By doing that, they would be able to save the few bullets left in Favre's arm for when they counted the most.

But it's hard to believe Favre would ever agree to come back for anything less than the starting job from day one. If the Vikings are willing to take that risk, they better be aware that they shouldn't expect to see him quarterbacking the team when January rolls around.
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