Every NFL franchise covets having a top-flight quarterback, but few of those players exist. Some wonder how a player like Peyton Manning can earn a contract worth $96 million over five years, and the answer is that few field generals can perform at Manning’s level.

Selecting the best NFL quarterbacks is difficult and generally subjective. However, four names would appear on practically any list of the best NFL quarterbacks. These four include those listed below.

4. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

Many fans will find the sight of Peyton Manning in a Denver Broncos uniform to be unusual. Manning was the first pick of the 1998 NFL Draft and became the face of the Indianapolis Colts for more than a decade. The Colts regularly made the playoffs with Manning at the helm, and he led Indianapolis to two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl title in 2006.

Manning suffered a neck injury that required several surgeries during 2011. He never fully recovered during the 2011 season and missed the entire year. In his absence, the Colts fell apart, winning only two games. The season cost head coach Jim Caldwell his job, and Colts owner Jim Irsay did what some thought was unthinkable by releasing Manning in March 2012.

Manning visited several teams and found a new home by signing with Denver Broncos. Denver fans celebrated the move, and several have opined that the Broncos will be a playoff contender thanks to Manning. The question in 2012 will be whether Manning can return to normal at the age of 36 after missing an entire season.

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Brees has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league since he signed with New Orleans as a free agent in 2006. Brees runs one of the league’s best offenses, and in 2011, he set a league record by passing for 5,476 yards. He has led New Orleans to the playoffs in four of the last six seasons, and the team won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season.

Brees could have a tough time in 2012 because of the league’s punishment of the Saints. The NFL concluded that the Saints had operated a system through which players were paid for knocking opponents out of games. The system cost head coach Sean Payton, who has been suspended for the 2012 season. This will leave Brees without his offensive coach, and some question whether the suspension will cause too many distractions.

2. Tom Brady, New England

In his first four seasons as a starting quarterback, Brady won three Super Bowl titles. By then, he had cemented his position as a Hall of Fame player.

Brady has remained one of the league most efficient passers, and he threw for 5,235 yards in 2011. If it weren’t for Brees’ record-setting performance in 2011, Brady would have set the NFL record for passing yards in a season.

Brady has led the Patriots to two Super Bowl appearances in the past five seasons. However, in both of those Super Bowls, the Patriots lost to the New York Giants.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

Rodgers completely broke free from the shadow of Brett Favre as the Green Bay Packers quarterback. He led the Packers to a Super Bowl title in 2010, and he had a record-setting season in 2011. He is also the only quarterback on this list who is younger than 30.

Green Bay followed up its title by going 15-1 in 2011. The team had the best record in the NFL, and the team’s success was due largely to Rodgers’ performance. He set an NFL record by posting a passer rating of 122.5, and he currently owns the highest career passer rating in NFL history at 104.1.

The Packers return all of their core players in 2012, and many expect Green Bay to compete for another Super Bowl in 2012.