Quarterbacks facing a referendum

Josh Freeman leads a group of 12 QBs who will be judged by new standards

Updated: May 30, 2013, 9:51 PM ET
By Chris Sprow | ESPN Insider

Josh FreemanBruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireTampa Bay QB Josh Freeman's true value may not reflect his historically impressive passing numbers.

For the first 30 years after the AFL-NFL merger, huge passing totals really were an indicator when it came to defining elite NFL quarterbacks. Only five pulled off a 4,500-yard passing season in that time. Dan Marino, Dan Fouts and Warren Moon are Hall of Famers worthy of any era, and Neil Lomax, whose career was wrecked by health, and Drew Bledsoe (44,611 career passing yards) weren't exactly imposters.

Over the past five seasons, the 4,500-yard mark has been surpassed 23 times, including 12 times over the past two seasons. The past two years gave us six of the top-10 single-season yardage totals in NFL history. Since 2000, the likes of Jon Kitna, Elvis Grbac, Trent Green, Jeff Garcia, Rich Gannon, Marc Bulger, Matt Schaub, Jake Plummer and Kerry Collins have all thrown for 4,000-plus yards in a season. Last season, Carson Palmer eclipsed 4,000 passing yards -- a total Joe Montana never came within 300 yards of -- while throwing to a group even devout fantasy experts barely know, and he was promptly shipped to Arizona for a package built around a sixth-round pick.

The bottom line: Pure totals are an outdated currency. Being impressed with recent passing totals is like being impressed by Don Draper's latest bonus. This explains the place that a dozen current QBs, led by Josh Freeman, find themselves. All 12 signal-callers fall under the referendum label for 2013.