I believe there are three elite, top echelon quarterbacks in the NFL today. These are three QBs that at this point will always have their teams in contention, will always be leading teams to wins, will always be putting up superstar statistics, no matter what seems to be going on around them. I'm big on team wins and massive TD-INT ratios, just so you know.
Since 2002, Manning's Colts have won 10, 12, 12, 14, and 12 games. Manning has NEVER thrown for fewer than 26 touchdowns and 3,700 yards in a season. Never. He is the best of the best.
Since Brady became the Patriots starter, the team has won 11, 9, 14, 14, 10, and 12 games. He's always had a winning record. They've been legitimate contenders for the Super Bowl in all but one of his years as starter. While leading his teams to wins, he's always thrown 12 or 14 interceptions in a season (sort of weird) and 23-28 TDs the last 5 seasons. The Pats will content for Super Bowls as long as he's there.
In my mind, Palmer ranks just below Peyton Manning as the stereotype ubermensch NFL stud quarterback. Big, strong arm, smart, always effective. It's early in his career, but based on his numbers the last two years (3,700, 32-12; 4,000, 28-13), I believe he's always going to be throwing 25+ TDs and keeping the Bengals in contention for the playoffs--and eventually more. You may not agree with my placement of Palmer in the top-3 NFL quarterbacks, but he is an utter stud at the position and in a year or two you will not question it.
There are three other QBs I consider a notch or two below these three. Here they are, and why.
It is only because he failed to finish the last two seasons due to injury that I'm not listing four elite QBs. From 2000 to 2004, his teams won 11, 11, 12, 12, and 13 games. The last two years when McNabb got injured his team was still contending at the time. He's got a good team and organization around him, to be sure, but he's a playmaking stud. If he stays healthy, he is among the elites.
Why Hasselbeck, you say? Because his teams have been to the playoffs four straight years. He's now a dependable quarterback that you expect to win; of course, he's not near Manning, Brady, or Palmer.
I don't trust him to be a consistently dominant quarterback yet. In the last three seasons his teams have won 12, 9, and 10 games, and he's thrown 27, 24, and 26 TDs (with very few interceptions); he's good. Another year like last year, and I'll rank him with the best.