The NFL is proud of pointing out each year that every team in the league starts with the same chance, that the draft and other systems are set up to help equalize competition, and, to buttress the case, puts out memos showing how many different teams make the playoffs each season.
All of that is true.
But it overlooks an essential point, and that is the biggest problem the league faces on the field these days.
And that is the remarkable lack of stability at quarterback. A QB shortage means that only about half the teams in the NFL are set long-term at the game's most important position.
Or maybe you think Matthew Stafford really is worth $27 million a year.
Now, if you live in New England or Pittsburgh or Green Bay, you might not realize it, but too many teams in the NFL either can't find a quarterback, can't develop one or don't know one when they see one.
So, while almost all attention is focused, reasonably, on the start of the regular season next week, it doesn't take the Hubble Telescope to peer into the future and see exactly why, aside from a few teams, the NFL power structure is in constant flux.
It's not the draft or free agency or scheduling, those items that most people credit for the balance in the league. It's simply that the quarterback shortage makes it hard to develop a dynasty (unless you're the Patriots).
It's remarkable that nearly half the teams in the league are going into the 2017 season not sure who their starting quarterback will be a year from now. But that doesn't even show the full extent of the problem. It does not account for a possible drop off by someone like Brady, who will be 41 before the 2018 season begins, or Drew Brees, who turns 39 before this season's Super Bowl.
Oh, yeah, some can say, well, if quarterback A develops as we expect, and quarterback B lives up to his promise, and if quarterback C plays the way he used to, blah, blah, blah. But this is a quarterback-driven league and yet so many teams really do not know what their future holds, no matter how much they may claim otherwise.
And we're not just talking here about the New York Jets, who last year used a second-round draft choice on Christian Hackenberg yet are still conflicted about his prospects. You wonder if many of these teams even have a plan for addressing their problem.
Actually, no, you don't wonder. It's obvious many of these teams have no plan.
Clearly, also, there is no consensus among teams about what or who is going to make the next great quarterback. Otherwise, we would not have had three teams trade up in the first round of the last draft to choose one, and no difference was more glaring than the quarterback-needy San Francisco 49ers trading the second pick in the draft to the just as quarterback-needy Chicago Bears, allowing the Bears to draft Mitchell Trubisky.
Now, admittedly, we have no clue whether Trubisky will be the next Peyton Manning or the next Ryan Leaf (the first and second picks, respectively, in the 1998 draft), but the Bears at least tried. The 49ers, whose new general manager John Lynch and new head coach Kyle Shanahan, were given six-year contracts, felt no compunction this year to fill their glaring need under center.
Well, that is discounting the third-round selection of Iowa's C.J. Beathard, who does have compelling lineage, not even considering father Casey's stardom as a country singer or even brother Tucker as a notable singer/songwriter. Just last week C.J.'s grandfather, Bobby Beathard, was nominated as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He helped four teams get to seven Super Bowls, albeit as general manager and personnel evaluator.
And then there is that 49ers history of finding a notable quarterback in the third round. The name Joe Montana comes to mind (1979). But as of last week, Beathard was struggling to compete for a backup job.
So, we must count the Bears and 49ers among those teams who cannot look into the future and say, "We're set."
Who can say that?
Well, leaving Brady, Brees and Stafford aside, it's not an extensive list: Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Joe Flacco (Baltimore), Cam Newton (Carolina), Andy Dalton (Cincinnati), Dak Prescott (Dallas), Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), Andrew Luck (Indianapolis), Eli Manning (N.Y. Giants), Derek Carr (Oakland), Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh), Philip Rivers (L.A. Chargers), Russell Wilson (Seattle), Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay), Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) and Kirk Cousins (Washington) all should still be in their prime years or entering them a year from now.
But even within that list, Roethlisberger has toyed with retirement, Cousins will be a free agent after the season, Luck is fighting an injury. ... you get the point.
Then there are others, like Carson Wentz of Philadelphia, who are still not fully proven. Or Carson Palmer of Arizona, who is coming up on his 38th birthday and is a tad shop-worn. And Alex Smith of Kansas City, who must look over his shoulder at first-round pick Patrick Mahomes.
Who knows what will happen in Miami, where Jay Cutler is a fill-in for injured Ryan Tannehill? Or in Denver, which really hasn't been able to find a long-term successor to Peyton Manning? Or Houston, which just keeps scrambling, although they were one of those teams that traded up this year and selected Deshaun Watson?
At any rate, the point is just this: There is no more important playing position in professional sports than NFL quarterback. And the line that separates the haves and the have-nots in this area is remarkably thin. And fleeting.
Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than five decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.