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Former Cardinals QB Kurt Warner lands outside top 10 in ESPN GOAT Index

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner throws against the St. Louis Rams during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009 in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 31-10. (AP Photo/Matt York)

It’s a debate that will rage on forever.

Who is the best quarterback in NFL history? These days, the most common response would be Tom Brady. The New England QB just won his fifth Super Bowl last February, bringing his team back from a 25-point third quarter deficit to do so. It’s a pretty safe pick, really.

Before Brady, many would argue that John Elway, Joe Montana or Dan Marino was the best. Some still do.

ESPN’s Mike Sando commissioned a panel of 10 experts — current and former NFL coaches and executives — to rank the best quarterbacks of the modern era (since 1978). Brady finished first in the voting (although someone had him ranked sixth overall?), followed by Peyton Manning, Montana, Elway and Aaron Rodgers.

Just outside the top ten, however, is the only former Arizona Cardinal on the list. Kurt Warner, who is weeks away from induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, finished tied for 11th place on the panel’s pecking order. Warner tied with Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, whom he faced in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa in February 2009.

Sando points out that five of the 10 voters ranked Warner between seventh and 10th on their ballot, while the other half left him out of their personal top ten.

Here’s what some of the panelists had to say about Warner’s career:

It’s the strangest career you have ever seen. You just go, “Wow, how did that guy not get picked up earlier? Why couldn’t people see that ability to anticipate a throw before a guy was open? And the ability to play under pressure, making some of the big-time plays that most quarterbacks have no chance of making, and do it consistently?” The way he came up and the way he threw the ball with anticipation was impressive in a new era for the passing game. — former NFL head coach Mike Shanahan

I think of Kurt Warner playing in St. Louis when we had the Greatest Show on Turf. Certainly, he was surrounded by a great cast, but he was the one that really made that thing go. His anticipation and timing and rhythm was just so remarkably good. He got traded to New York and that system of offense — play-action and run the football — that is not Kurt Warner. And then he went to Arizona and got involved in an offense that revolved around him and his passing efficiency and getting the ball out of his hands quickly and being able to throw sights and hots and doing those kinds of things, and he, again, set the league on fire and took them to the Super Bowl. — longtime NFL coach Al Saunders

My biggest challenge was at the bottom [of the ballot] trying to decide between Warner, Fouts, Aikman and Roethlisberger. I went with Warner [at No. 10]. He had some great receivers and talent around him, but doing it in two different systems swung it for me. Fouts had a system that was ahead of its time and had world-class receivers. Aikman had a tremendous run game and defense, so he didn’t have to do as much. Same with Ben. All three were great talents and would have been dominant in any system, but to me they didn’t have to do quite as much as Warner. — former NFL coach Tony Dungy

One thing working against Warner in a tale of the tape against other great quarterbacks was the late stage in which he finally got an opportunity. After stints in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe, Warner was 28 when he stepped in for the injured Trent Green as the St. Louis Rams starter in 1999. He led the Rams to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl win while throwing for over 4,300 yards and 41 touchdowns and earned the first of his two league MVP awards.

Warner was 34 — and thought to be finished by many — when he signed with the Arizona Cardinals in 2005. Over the next five seasons, he helped the downtrodden Cardinals transform into a playoff team. In 2008 and 2009, Arizona won back-to-back NFC West titles — their first since the mid-70s. Warner’s 64-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald gave the Cardinals a 23-20 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers with just 2:37 left in Super Bowl XLIII, but the defense couldn’t hold that advantage in a heartbreaking 27-23 loss.

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