It has been highly subjective debate for which there was no clear-cut answer. But I think we all can agree the aforementioned five belong in the team photo.
And I think we also can all agree that at some point in the not too distant future, Tom Brady could end the debate.
The imagination need not be stretched too far to assume that Brady and the Patriots will go undefeated and win the Super Bowl. So if he does, he will have been the author of the greatest single season in NFL history by a quarterback, whether he is judged by individual or team accomplishments.
He also will have won four Super Bowls. The only modern era quarterbacks in his league in that department are Terry Bradshaw, who won four Super Bowls, Bart Starr, who won two Super Bowls and five NFL championships and Montana, who won four Super Bowls.
Bradshaw’s Steelers might have been the greatest assemblage of talent ever, as eight of his teammates have been inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And if the Steelers weren’t the best team ever, Starr’s Packers might have been. Starr shares space in Canton with nine inductees from those teams. Montana's 49ers set the template for today's passing offenses.
It is highly unlikely Brady’s Patriots will have anywhere near as many hall of famers. Randy Moss and Junior Seau probably are sure things, though Seau’s best years were in San Diego. Rodney Harrison, Adam Vinatieri and Richard Seymour would be possibilities.
So a larger share of the credit for the Patriots’ accomplishments probably will go to Brady, as well as coach Bill Belichick. Without either, the Patriots probably wouldn’t even be sniffing the playoffs.
It’s probably unwise to compare the career numbers of modern quarterbacks to their predecessors because of the way the game has changed. But Brady’s statistics do provide a valuable gauge when compared to the statistics of his contemporaries.
This has been an incredible year for top end quarterbacks, but Brady has been clearly better than Brett Favre, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning and the rest. He leads the NFL in all of the traditionally cited passing categories — yards, passer rating, touchdown passes, completion percentage and yards per attempt.
If it’s coming through in the clutch matters, Brady is at the top of that list too. He has led the Patriots to victory when they have been tied or trailed in the fourth quarter 28 times, including four times this year. And he has been sharp in the red zone with a 110.1 passer rating this season.
The thing about Brady is he’s still young. At 30, he’s just rounding into the prime of his career. It’s very possible — maybe even likely — he’ll become an even better player and win more Super Bowls before he is ready to retire.
What we have observed thus far from Brady might only 60 percent of his career. Brady has won 76 of his first 100 regular season starts, which ties him with Roger Staubach for the most victories in a quarterback’s first 100 starts since the beginning of the Super Bowl era.
Even if Brady retires in February, the argument could be made that no one ever did it better.
PFT: Tom Brady, who turns 36 in August, says he has "never felt better throwing the football" and his confidence is peaking.
Pats poised for record-breaking week
Dec. 26: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick talk about the records on the line this week and their matchup against the Giants on Sunday.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Next step towards total dominance for NFL
ProFootballTalk: The NFL and the NFLPA are reportedly close to finalizing a new offseason schedule that would move the scouting combine, draft and OTAs up a month. Mike Florio thinks this will help further the NFL’s dominance over the other sports in the American landscape.
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.