Sportswriters are doggedly attempting to identify the Face of Baseball. Despite this, a consensus has yet not been reached. In fact, turning the debate into background noise is all that’s been achieved.
But who is the Face of Football? It’s a less pressing question for some reason partly because the answer seems evident. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady turned 40 yesterday. He stands alone among his peers when it comes to on-field accomplishments and name recognition. The more interesting question is, who will assume the mantle when Brady eventually retires? And retire he will, likely before he turns 45, like it or not.
When Brady, who assumed sole ownership of the role after Peyton Manning retired, rides into the sunset, the transfer of power won’t be as clear cut. To establish some parameters, let’s imagine Brady plays for two more seasons and retires after the 2018 campaign and we’re looking at the race come September 2019.
Longshots with high ceilings
Derek Carr: The Oakland Raiders quarterback will enter his sixth NFL season at 28. If he continues to improve, he’ll be in the conversation for best overall signal-caller. His team figures to be a playoff contender this year and in 2018, at the very least. He is deeply religious and humble but not in the captivating Tim Tebow way. He’ll be leading a team headed for Las Vegas and uncertainty. Hard to imagine him becoming a lusted-after pitchman.
Dak Prescott: The Dallas Cowboys quarterback will be 26 and entering his fourth NFL campaign. He’ll likely be part of a dynamic duo with Ezekiel Elliott on a talent-laden, marquee franchise. Prescott does not have the individual potential of Carr, but leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl would catapult his public perception to the upper echelon. As a rookie, he mostly kept his head down and didn’t embrace the spotlight. It will be interesting to see if that changes over time.
Perfect on paper but not in reality
J.J Watt: He is everything the NFL wants in a face. A tremendous talent. Handsome. Earnest. Unfailingly positive. His superhero act is so complete it turns people off. Watt will be 30 going into the 2019 season. As always, the fact that he plays on the defensive side of the ball is a major obstacle, no matter how dominant he proves to be. There’s something about Watt that leads me to believe there are great things in his long-term future. He has a certain Dwayne Johnson element to him that could be attractive politically. Something to think about but he can’t talk himself into this particular job.
Russell Wilson: 2016 was the worst statistic year of his career and the Seattle Seahawks’ window may already be closed. He’ll turn 31 in November of 2019. What kind of player will be be then? Certainly not the dual-threat that made him so exciting. But let’s not be too negative. Wilson will still be in the top-10, retain his good looks and, like Watt, do all the “right” things.
Life ain’t fair
Cam Newton: I’d like nothing more than for Newton to take the reins from Brady. I’m naive enough to think it will happen. When the Carolina Panthers quarterback was leading his team to a 15-1 record and Super Bowl berth, he still couldn’t win over the significant army of detractors. And it’s a damn shame because a 6-foot-6, 260 athlete with a rocket for an arm and fancy feet should be something we all enjoy. Newton simply rubs too many people the wrong way, no matter how many times he flashes his 10,000-watt smile or how many footballs he gives away. There’s also the more tangible concerns about his on-field product. He’ll be 30 and the future of the Carolina Panthers as contenders is unclear at best.
Odell Beckham: He is freakishly athletic, does things we’ve never seen before and plays in the media capital of the world. He is, however, a wide receiver in a fight for a crown usually held by a quarterback. Beckham will turn 27 during the 2019 season and there’s no reason to think he’ll be showing any signs of regression. For me, he hits the sweet spot of controversy, which is important. Like Brady, he is universally respected but not without his flaws. Part of being the Face of the NFL is having those who want to smack you. Beckham offends the old guard with his behavior. He upsets the apple cart. He is edgy. And you know what? Young people love it and are magnetically interested in what the acrobatic wideout does.
There is only one man more likely to assume the mantle …
Aaron Rodgers: Reasonable minds can disagree but he’s the best current quarterback. He still could be in 2019, even as he turns 36. Rodgers is incredibly intelligent on the field, beloved by a major fanbase and respected everywhere else. He has subtly rejected the script of what he should be, showing a certain amount of cynicism in demeanor. Some find this off-putting, others think it humanizes him more and is authentic — in contrast to the A-OK attitudes of Watt and Wilson. Commercial endorsements have come his way without an intentional effort to brand himself. Will things escalate in that department? Time will tell.
In summation, there’s several players who could conceivably play the role. A lot can happen in two years. Heck, a current college player could emerge as the chose one. But Rodgers and Beckham seem the most likely. It’s very possible two camps emerge, breaking along predictable demographic lines.