He joined the Indianapolis Colts and played one season for them before retiring, leaving a big void for the Bolts.
But they instantly filled that void by taking Justin Herbert with the sixth pick in that spring’s draft.
Herbert quickly became a star in his own right, and he made the Pro Bowl last season while breaking into the elite class of NFL quarterbacks.
The Chargers look loaded on both sides of the football for this season, and more and more people are picking them to finish first in the ultra-competitive AFC West and even reach the Super Bowl.
Mike Martz, who himself coached an all-time great signal caller in Kurt Warner as the offensive coordinator and later the head coach of the St. Louis Rams, had the chutzpah to mention Herbert in the same breath as Tom Brady.
💯 Intangibles like Tom Brady
🚀 Can make throws like Kurt Warner
🔥 Fiery competitor
Mike Martz has high praise for Justin Herbert… and it's not hard to see why
— The 33rd Team (@The33rdTeamFB) August 16, 2022
“There’s something different about him that only comes along every 50 years, like a [Tom] Brady,” Martz said in a video on The 33rd Team. “Justin is in early in the morning with the coaches. He stays as late as they’ll let him. He just wants to be the best quarterback in the National Football League. That’s just who he is.
“When you get a guy that has all the talent, there’s no flaws to him. When you have that kind of commitment out of him and he’s very modest and humble, and yet he’s a fiery competitor that has that great skill, there’s really nothing that he can’t do. And he’s young.
“… He’s got great touch, anticipation, he lays the ball out there when he needs to. There’s just no quit in this guy.”
That is some extremely high praise for Herbert, especially since most consider Brady to be the greatest player in league history.
Herbert Is A Gunslinger
In just his second pro season, Herbert did things that Rivers never managed to accomplish.
The Oregon native piled up 5,014 yards and 38 touchdown passes, exceeding Rivers’ career highs in both categories.
He also showed clutch abilities that Rivers never quite developed, as he led five fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives, ranking third in the latter category.
GAME. Justin Herbert with another game winning drive pic.twitter.com/IjYNJrrdDa
— Pub Sports Radio ™ (@PubSportsRadio) December 18, 2020
In nine of the Chargers’ 17 games, Herbert exceeded the 300-yard passing mark, and he had seven games with at least three touchdown passes and two games with four touchdown passes.
“Dad how good was Justin Herbert?”
All in on the future MVP🔥 pic.twitter.com/Unjsqxn7S0
— Will Smith (@ChristianCeaser) August 16, 2022
398 passing yards
5 total TDs
42.82 Fantasy points
— NFL (@NFL) August 10, 2022
He will also now have a very talented defense that should be able to keep him on the field for more than half the game.
A growing number of people feel Herbert may win this season’s regular season MVP award.
NFL MVP odds, via BetMGM:
Josh Allen +700
Patrick Mahomes +800
Tom Brady +800
Justin Herbert +850
Aaron Rodgers +1000
Joe Burrow +1200
Dak Prescott +1200
Matthew Stafford +1400
Russell Wilson +1400
Lamar Jackson +2000
Kyler Murray +2200
Jalen Hurts +2500
Derek Carr +2500
— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) August 9, 2022
.@RealTannenbaum is ALL IN on Justin Herbert 👀
"This guy right here is going to be the league MVP. … This is the year that Justin Herbert gets over the hump and takes the Chargers to the Super Bowl." pic.twitter.com/MOnuOXXZUY
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) August 12, 2022
But in the end, there is another award that Herbert will need to win multiple times to prove that he is worthy of the praise Martz gave him.
It’s an award Warner won and one that Brady has won seven times.
He Has To Take The Chargers All The Way
In fact, they’ve been there only once – that came in the 1994 season, and it was a byproduct of what was then a weak AFC.
Yes, the Chargers won the league title in 1963, but that was before the AFL-NFL merger and the advent of the Super Bowl.
If owner Dean Spanos and executive Tom Telesco keep the cast around Herbert stacked in the years to come, the QB will have the opportunity to get the Chargers to the mountaintop.
If he racks up multiple world championships and Super Bowl MVPs by the time his Chargers tenure ends, he can join the rarefied air of legendary Los Angeles athletes such as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, and Sandy Koufax.