Hello again, reader. Are you ready to read another giant-post-in-waiting after my 6,800-word AFC Edition of this post topic? Wonderful. Let’s get to it.
For those new, let me reaffirm my position on this topic by slightly re-wording the first few paragraphs of my last post. Those already familiar can simply skip down to the actual list.
Football is a sport I enjoy quite a bit. I am actually half-watching football while writing the beginning sequence of this post. But if there’s one thing that beats my love of football, it’s the NFL’s love for promoting its biggest stars. Profiteering and all that; it’s pretty disgusting. Anyway, many are accustomed to the best—I simply wish to know more.
This (and the other) post is a document aimed at showcasing those who were good, maybe even great—just not the greatest. A project of historical combing, and assessing those that managed their own stretch of history, which may go overlooked if not detailed. People are likely to know the best. Would they go out of their way to know those further down the line? I would. Join me as we look at the second-best quarterbacks of every NFC-based NFL franchise.
A few things to note before diving in:
- This will feature franchises currently within the NFL and their history as chronicled on Pro Football Reference. The Decatur Staleys will not be getting their own spot outside the Chicago Bears, for example.
- The results of this post will be based on individual accomplishments, statistical proficiency, and personal opinion. I will elaborate on my choices as needed throughout.
- Eligible players are restricted to what they’ve done for one specific team, not their whole careers.
- I am 28. I have only been a fan of football for ten years. Some recency bias and over-gushing over statistical performances may apply, though I did try to actual find videos of these choices playing.
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay is one of the most spoiled franchises in NFL history. They have been a yearly contender for what seems like a billion years. In the last thirty years, they’ve had four losing seasons—FOUR! This stretch, along with multiple other stretches in their long history, was due in part to their incredible luck with quarterbacks.
Two quarterbacks have thrown for over 400 touchdown passes with Green Bay. If that isn’t insane enough, they have two others who have thrown for over 130. Specifically, those under consideration for this second-place spot are all legends, and whoever I choose is both right and wrong. Anyone can argue for any one of them to be first, second, or even third.
Now, for full transparency, let me admit that my personal pick for number one is Aaron Rodgers, and it’s not close. From 2011 to 2020, Aaron has thrown 325 touchdown passes to 57 interceptions. That is almost six touchdowns to every interception. For reference, when Peyton Manning was with the Broncos between 2012 and 2014 and basically played like a God in the regular season, he had 131 touchdown passes to 36 interceptions. That’s not quite four touchdowns to every interception. Aaron is the best.
Those vying for second place are Brett Favre and Bart Starr, two completely different styles of quarterback. Brett was a gunslinger in every sense, and at one point held the record for most major career passing categories. He also threw very, very, very, very bad interceptions at critical times. Bart Starr was more of a “game manager” type, executing the run-heavy offensive scheme of the ’60s Packers teams. He won a lot of championships with it.
It’s kind of like a Dan Marino vs. Bob Griese argument, where one is clearly a better pure passer with a lot of shiny numbers and the other is more subdued—sporting championship jewelry all the while. To Bart’s credit, his career quarterback rating is pretty solid for the era, and has more touchdowns than interceptions. He also did not throw a lot of interceptions, period. But like how I settled the Marino v. Griese argument in the AFC post, this will go in the same favor.
He threw a lot of bad interceptions, but he also threw for a superb 442 touchdowns with the team. Three-straight MVP seasons, a Super Bowl victory, nine Pro Bowls, and started every single game between early 1992 and 2007. Bart won more championships, but Brett was clearly more talented throwing the ball.
For all the drama Brett was involved with on and off the field, it’s hard to argue that he was a fantastic quarterback. When he was on, he was as good as anyone, past or present. When discussed as a potential Hall of Fame candidate, it reportedly took voters between six and nine seconds to make the call—yeah, 100% a Hall of Famer. It’s Brett Favre.
As one will soon find out (or already have if they read my other post), championships aren’t that much of a boost for me. They certainly help, but Brad Johnson was not better than Fran Tarkenton. Football’s a team game, and good teams win big games. Some quarterbacks are so good that they single-handedly improve a team’s chances from slim to Super Bowl favorite. Bart Starr had Hall of Famers everywhere on his team, and that hurt his case overall as an individual player.
Good ol’ Chicago. This one’s a little more personal for me, having been born and raised in the state of Illinois. If you aren’t a Packers fan, you’re a Bears fan… a couple weirdos are even Vikings fans! Throughout their very long history (over 100 years now), they’ve had many quarterbacks come and go. Like the Steelers, though, the Bears aren’t really known for their quarterback play—they’re known for blistering, unrelenting defenses.
With this context, you may be shocked to know that even after one-hundred years, their career leader in passing touchdowns sits at… 154. Yeah, kind of underwhelming after just covering a franchise that has had two quarterbacks throw for over 400. Even their sole Hall of Fame quarterback, Sid Luckman, could only squeeze out 137 touchdown passes. As stated prior, Chicago was never really a quarterback factory.
On the topic of Sid Luckman, he’s my (rather easy) choice for the top spot. Hall of Famer, five-time First-Team All-Pro, four-time champion, and threw more touchdowns than interceptions in the ’40s! He spent his entire career with Chicago, which is more than a lot of other quarterbacks that were drafted by the Bears can say. It’s… still kind of insane that someone from the ’40s can be considered a team’s best ever quarterback.
Now for second-best. Who’s it gonna be? A lot of people would pound the table for Jim McMahon, who has a starting record of 46-15. He was the starting quarterback for the legendary ’80s Bears teams that had one of the greatest defenses ever. However, he was also injured quite a bit; couldn’t quite break the habit of running around and trying for extra yards. And his passing stats are… eh… A Pro Bowler in ’85, there’s not much else that really speaks to me.
Instead, I’m circling back to the franchise’s career leader in most passing categories.
I can sense some Bears fans collectively vomited in their mouths.
This is a bit of a controversial choice, especially considering the tail-end of his time with Chicago. Watching his diminishing skill take place was ugly and slow, though some would argue he was always overrated. Carried by a good defense or by a great running back in Matt Forte. But you also have to consider that for a little while, he was playing with receivers like Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, and Devin Hester. Once he got Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, his stats improved.
And I remember watching those games, too. Just how good he could be in those individual games; his issue was always consistency. Some games he’s really good, others he looked like a third-stringer. While he never went to a Pro Bowl, he played well enough to be the undisputed starter for seven-straight seasons.
A lot of this doesn’t sound all that complimentary—it’s because it isn’t. Jay was never all that good, especially from an “overall” viewpoint, but what that implies is that I’m not fond of pretty much anyone else. Jim McMahon wasn’t all that great, Jim Harbaugh was “meh,” and both Erik Kramer and Mitchell Trubisky had one really good season, then flatlined. Cutler was the most consistently “Okay, we can trust this guy to not destroy our chances… I hope.” And that’s why he’s my second-best.
I’ll throw this spoiler out here real quick: Picking the first-best quarterback for the Vikings was easy. Picking second-best was especially difficult.
My choice for first is someone I’ve actually already brought up once in this article. I will let you go back through again and see if you can pick it up… All set? What’s your guess? Is it “Fran Tarkenton”? Good job! That’s it!
Outside of his tendency to scramble around in the pocket all the time, Fran was a very solid quarterback for a number of years—first for the Vikings, then the Giants, then back to the Vikings to close out his career. Several Pro Bowls, four Super Bowl appearances, an MVP award in 1975, and a Hall of Famer. With 239 touchdowns in 13 years with the team, spanning both the early ’60s and most of the ’70s, he’s an easy choice just for longevity and how good he remained late in his career.
Thus, we come to second. There are many names to humor, such as Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham, but only a couple to really consider: Kirk Cousins and Daunte Culpepper. Both of these quarterbacks have had some great seasons with the Vikings, even if they didn’t necessarily translate into wins. Their skill at the position made/make them a valuable asset for the teams they were/are on. There’s no denying that both are great, but who was better to me?
Prior to researching for this list, I had known Daunte for one reason: That the Dolphins chose him over Drew Brees in 2006. That may be what his legacy ultimately ended up as, which is unfortunate given the fact that he was, at one point, an excellent player.
Kirk Cousins, in three-plus seasons with the Vikings, has done tremendously well, and is playing at a consistent Pro Bowl level. Yet while his stats are gaudy and his talent is obvious, Daunte’s highs were just a bit higher. In 2000, he had 40 total touchdowns, throwing and rushing. In 2004, he had 41, and led the league with 4,700 passing yards. That was the same season where Peyton Manning threw for a then-record 49 touchdown passes, and Daunte beat him in passing yards.
Of course, having Randy Moss as your number-one receiver will help with this.
Nevertheless, the only thing that makes this choice more difficult is that Kirk has been more consistent, year after year. Daunte had a great 2000, then struggled a bit for two seasons, then had two-straight great seasons again before flaming out hard in 2005. A very short window for glory, which only resulted in two playoff appearances.
In time, Kirk may be a more suitable choice for number two. For now, I want to give the spotlight to someone probably more well known for being “The wrong choice.”
Let me recount a tale, one that revolves around my choosing the first-best quarterback in Detroit Lions history.
Before really diving into it, I was deadset on having it be Matthew Stafford. I’ve watched him for years, I know how good he is—I might be in the minority in thinking he’s been one of the better quarterbacks of the last decade. He’s been on a lot of bad teams and the Lions seem to be within another dimension, where happiness and success are sins against their culture.
And there’s no one else to choose. Who else is there? Scott Mitchell? I’m not picking Scott Mitchell. Greg Landry? Doesn’t impress. A majority of names underneath those already mentioned have more interceptions than touchdowns. It’s kind of a graveyard.
One name sticks out: Bobby Layne. The last quarterback for the Detroit Lions to win anything substantial. His infamous words when traded out of Detroit: “This team won’t win again in fifty years.” Lo and behold, the Lions never have since. If Bobby wasn’t all that great as a quarterback, he’d make a wonderful soothsayer.
The more I looked into his statistics, his impact, his presence within his timeframe… I started to sway. He’s won two championships, and while he’s thrown a lot of interceptions, he was consistently within the top three in every passing category in the ’50s. A Hall of Famer and a true gunslinger, just… don’t look at his passing stats for his playoff runs… yeesh.
Everything, eventually, came to a single conclusion.
I love you, Matthew. I really do. You’re such a good quarterback, and deserved more recognition than you received while in Detroit. But when it all comes down to it, you weren’t quite as dominant within your respective field the way Bobby was.
Admittedly, as I’m writing this, I’m getting a little more encouraged to swing things back in Matt’s favor. After all, Bobby wasn’t lighting things up in the way, say, Don Hutson was at the wide receiver position barely a decade earlier. He was just consistently one of the best quarterbacks in an era where quarterbacks weren’t expected to do too much. For that, and the curse he placed on the franchise out of petty malice, he’s just barely ahead of Matthew. The championship wins help, too.
Now I get the feeling someone’s gonna go back to my AFC list and start complaining that I didn’t put Jack Kemp over Josh Allen for a similar reason. Look, I’m a “gut-feeling” kind of guy, all right? Make your own list and link it to me. Show me how I’m actually a giant idiot.
Washington “Football Team”
Big air quotes because a) I don’t care to bring up the dead name, and b) I despise the name “Football Team.” If they keep it that, I will be very upset and probably make a strongly-worded blog post out of it.
When looking at the best Washington has ever had, most of the names are very old. The only name I would at least entertain the thought of being second-best from the 21st century is—what do you know—Kirk Cousins. Kirk had a few good seasons with the team upon taking the starting job from RG3, though I’d argue he’s been better as a Viking. He’s also Washington’s career leader in quarterback rating.
Outside of him, there’s also Joe Theismann, who is the franchise’s career leader in passing attempts, completions, and yards. Along with two Super Bowl appearances (one victory) and an MVP award in 1983, he’s certainly one could argue for. However, I think just based on the numbers, I’d have him snuggled at third.
The choice comes down to two Hall of Famers: Sammy Baugh, considered the quarterback to popularize the passing game in the NFL, and Sonny Jurgensen, a quarterback so skilled he often attempted passes behind his back. When comparing these two quarterbacks, it becomes immediately apparent that attempting to do so is a fool’s game.
Sammy was essentially the first gunslinger ever. Looking at his overall statistics, they are pretty mind-boggling for someone of his era. Consistently at the top in terms of passing attempts, completions, yards, and occasionally touchdowns, he was legendary for his “slingin'” nature.
Sonny was of that same pedigree, opting to pass and pass and pass whenever he felt like it. Despite being overweight, he, too, lit up the league at a pretty consistent basis through the air, although he had a shorter timeframe. His proficiency as a passer did not translate into wins, though, as Washington during that era was either average or mediocre.
Where do I go? Let’s just pick out of a hat; who cares?
My apologies once again to all the grandpas out there. I went with the old guy as second-best instead of the younger (albeit still old) guy. Alas, as a lover of good touchdown to interception ratio, that was what ultimately did me in between the two.
Sammy threw a lot of interceptions in his career. Hell, many individual seasons saw him throw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. How many, exactly? Four, with an additional two where he came close to it. And as much as he’s impactful for being an aggressive thrower and how he started the forward pass craze, all those interceptions don’t look too great.
Which is why, by comparison, Sonny Jurgensen’s 179-116 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions looks way better. How many times in Washington did Sonny throw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns? Zero. How many seasons did he have more interceptions than touchdowns when starting a majority of the season? Once. He may not have won in Washington, but he certainly played more than well enough to give the team a shot.
And hey, 160 touchdown passes in a seven-year stretch in the ’60s? That’s more than Bart Starr had in his entire career in the same era. That’s why, despite a very close gap, I went with Sammy as second-best.
New York Giants
Out of all the franchises I had to look at, the New York Giants’ history of quarterbacks remains among the most interesting. Because when you look at it closely, you’ll notice that many past Giants quarterbacks have been… good. Not great, but good. There are no Dan Marino’s or Peyton Manning’s or Joe Montana’s within Giants lore; the best they’ve got are long-tenured quarterbacks who did good enough.
Case and point, the three winningest quarterbacks in the team’s history: Eli Manning, Phil Simms, and Charlie Conerly. All three have participated in at least 160 games for the team at quarterback. All three have at least one championship win to their name. Yet combined, they have eight Pro Bowl seasons, zero First-Team All-Pro selections, and good-not-great numbers for their respective eras. They were all good quarterbacks—just not ones you’d expect to see regarded as “top dogs.”
With quality so muddled and indistinct, who exactly am I to go with for second-best? Better yet, who do I go with for first? None have a true edge, though Eli has bigger numbers than anyone by far. Seeing as I am also 28, I have personal experience watching Eli play, so there’s a little recency bias there… except I wouldn’t say he’s all that great. I’d call him a “borderline Hall of Famer.” Just by virtue of having watched him play, and that he’s been to more Pro Bowls than anyone else, I’ll go with him.
Between Charlie and Phil; a tough call. Most of what I see highlighted about Phil is when he had a very good game in the Super Bowl he started in (and won). Charlie… well, to be frank, I’d never heard of him prior to conducting this research. Maybe that makes the decision easier. Nevertheless, having more touchdowns than interceptions when playing your career in the ’50s is an achievement in and of itself. Who’s second-best?
Surprise! It’s neither of them!
This dude’s name was Yelberton Abraham Tittle. Was he born in 1926 or 1826? Also, quite the looker, he was.
But his beauty pageant looks aren’t what got him on this list. Those who have read the AFC version of this list know that I put Rich Gannon as second-best for the Raiders due to a small period of excellence at quarterback. Y.A. is here for that exact same reason.
Between 1961 and 1963, he went to three straight Pro Bowls, had two-straight First-Team All-Pro selections, won an MVP award, and led the league in touchdown passes twice. His touchdown to interception ratio was 86-46—in three years in the early 1960’s. That 1963 MVP season saw him lead the league in touchdown passes, completion percentage, yards per attempt, and quarterback rating. For that short window of time, he was undeniably one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
That complete quarterbacking dominance is something rarely seen in New York football (counting both the Giants and Jets). Though it only consists of three years, it was enough for me to go with my gut and crown him as second-best, just out of respect for what he did in that span. How can you not? It’s an incredible feat.
To end this on a sour note, though, he would go one-and-done in the playoffs all three of those years. Then in 1964, his skills diminished so drastically that he was benched near the end of the year for being awful. At least there’s 1963…
“America’s Team.” One of the most beloved and reviled teams in the league. A certain arrogance surrounds the organization based on their eras of dominance and the way they stay true to the honor of the star that is their logo. I exaggerate, of course, but I do hold just an ounce of hostility as I, too, once hated the Cowboys dearly. It’s just fun to do.
When it comes to quarterbacks, Dallas has been very spoiled, with six different players throwing for over 100 career touchdowns with them. But like many other teams, a lot of their more famous/legendary players are from decades past. Names like Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Danny White, and Don Meredith hang true with more recent stars like Tony Romo and Dak Prescott. All six of these quarterbacks could have a case made for them, though the strength of some may falter after a while.
Danny White and Don Meredith were both good at certain points; it’s just that, with hindsight, they aren’t likely to make many people’s top spots. Dak Prescott is also quite young. He’s shown considerable promise, and may eventually be considered among the very best, but for now, we’ll table him, too. Let’s talk about the big boys.
Troy Aikman. Roger Staubach. Two names that were easy candidates for the Hall of Fame. Incredible résumés consisting of many Super Bowl victories, last-minute heroics, and several Pro Bowls. They were the leaders of the offense that did nothing but win. On the ability to rally a team alone, these two have got it.
For me, I believe Roger is the better of the two. His stats are a tad better (especially considering his time period) and he was often scrambling around for first downs and/or trying to throw the defense off by going out of the pocket. This dual-threat ability gave him an edge when it came to games, and he ended up with a much higher winning percentage (regular season) because of it. And c’mon: “Captain America”? Corny as it is, I think it’s fun.
With that said, it wouldn’t only be obvious that second-best would be—
Here’s a very controversial take that I think is becoming less controversial as time goes on: Troy Aikman wasn’t that good. His passing stats were super pedestrian and, outside of a reputation for being a very accurate passer, did not particularly do very much. His playoff statistics are, interestingly enough, better than his regular season stats. This may or may not disprove me, but it’s worth noting!
Not to mention, Troy played with a super team for a decent portion of his career. I would argue the Cowboys of the early ’90s were some of the most stacked teams in NFL history, in terms of talent. Just hand it off to your Hall of Fame running back and let your Pro-Bowl caliber offensive line make giant holes for him. Or throw it to your Hall of Fame wide receiver or Pro-Bowl caliber tight end.
Tony, on the other hand, was an immensely talented passer who played for some lousy teams. He did basically everything with his arm because he had to. While he, too, had some talent on offense to work with, his defense was never really totally there, at least not late in his career. I (fondly) recall the season in which the Cowboys’ defense ranked last in the league, forcing Tony to score a billion points a game just to have a shot at winning.
And yes, part of this is influenced by my actually watching him play. He was terrific, to say the least. His statistical prowess eclipses just about everyone in Cowboys history, except perhaps Dak Prescott. Personally, I don’t care if he didn’t win anything—again, football is a team game, and you won’t win with your arm alone. Judging him purely as a quarterback, I think Tony is second-best.
Just to give one more passing shot—yes, Tony had a bit of a penchant for screwing up late in big games. I understand that. It happens.
Remember in the first paragraph of the Cowboys section when I stated I used to hate the Cowboys? Why do you think that is? Well, it’s because when I first got into football, my favorite team ended up being the Philadelphia Eagles. There was just something about ’em. I don’t know.
Anyway, Philadelphia’s had an interesting array of quarterbacks come and go as time goes on. Not many are so spectacular that you would think, “Yes, they’re absolutely a Hall of Famer,” but they have some gusto to them. As such, there’s much to discuss about who’s both first and second… and third, and fourth, and…
For this specific list, I narrowed it down to four names: Donovan McNabb, Ron Jaworski, Randall Cunningham, and Norm Van Brocklin. Kind of considered throwing Carson Wentz in there, but he kind of rose and fell in too dramatic a fashion for me to assess in good conscience. I will, however, shout out Nick Foles for being a bro. Thanks, dude.
Norm is being considered for a similar reason Y.A. Tittle was for the Giants. In a three-year span, he was a three-time Pro Bowler, one-time First-Team All-Pro, and handed Vince Lombardi his only career postseason loss. Unlike Yelberton Abraham Tittle, he has stronger competition. So while Norm had a great short-term stretch for the team, I’m going to let him slide.
Ron Jaworski took the Eagles to their first Super Bowl (and lost). Otherwise, he was a longtime “pretty good” quarterback that served Philadelphia a decent stretch of success before diving off a cliff. He made one Pro Bowl, though his numbers suggest that he was always at least considered for more.
So do I go with the Eagles’ leader in most passing categories in Donovan McNabb? Or do I go with the athletic freak of nature that was Randall Cunningham? It’s… well, it’s not that hard to guess, actually. No fake out this time, either.
Donovan McNabb has much better stats, more wins in the regular season and postseason, and was not hampered too much by injuries. Randall, unfortunately, was never that lucky.
But let’s focus on the positives. Randall was an incredibly exciting quarterback to watch, whether early in his career with the Eagles or that one magical season as a Viking in ’98. His flexibility made him an instant highlight reel at the quarterback position, the likes never seen before him. It gave the team a sort of entertainment factor that became easy to cheer for. That was all Randall.
It’s not like he was all legs, either. While he achieved many rushing touchdowns, he also passed for 150 touchdowns in 107 starts. He was certainly capable when it counted, but his knack for getting injured often thwarted the team’s chances for postseason success. That and fog.
This isn’t important at all, but I just love this stupid joke he made.
Donovan, on the other hand, is a six-time Pro Bowler and an easy choice to take the crown. Threw a substantial number of touchdowns and rarely turned the ball over. Also, going to four-straight NFC Championship games isn’t as sexy as four-straight Super Bowls, but it’s impressive nonetheless. His consistently great play for the team for over a decade is too much to look past.
Russell Wilson? Russell Wilson. Yeah. No discussion necessary for who’s first.
As for the second spot, there’s actually a surprisingly full list of candidates. And by “full,” I mean three. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but some of these franchises have, like, two good quarterbacks to their names, then a mother lode of mediocrity. The Seahawks, a relatively new franchise to the NFC, has had a decent collection of solid quarterbacks. Russell will undoubtedly be their first (and only, for now) major Hall of Famer, but I digress.
Those under consideration are Dave Krieg, Matt Hasselbeck, and Jim Zorn. Jim, bless his heart, automatically gets extra scrutiny because he’s thrown way more interceptions than touchdowns. However, points go to him for leading the Seahawks to their first winning seasons in ’78 and ’79. Otherwise, he threw 133 interceptions in 126 career games with Seattle. Ick.
I’ve stated many times that some of these decisions end up being difficult to make. Picking the Seahawks’ second-best quarterback may have been the hardest. Dave and Matt are so similar in numbers, individual awards, and success with the franchise that they may almost be the same person.
Dave played 129 career games with Seattle; Matt played 138. Matt had a 174-128 touchdown to interceptions ratio (46+ difference); Dave had a 195-148 ratio (47+ difference). Both were selected to three Pro Bowls. Dave went 3-4 in the playoffs; Matt went 5-6. Matt has a quarterback rating of 82.3 in Seattle; Dave has a quarterback rating of 82.2. Both had three separate seasons where they had a double-digit winning season with the team. Their similarities are almost terrifying.
When it came time to choose, I just went with my gut.
Look, as a fellow bald man, I can’t turn my back on a bald brother. It’s against our code.
Jokes aside, Matt got ahead for me for two reasons of mildly varying importance. One, Matt got the team to their first Super Bowl berth. Sure, he had Shaun Alexander, too, but I think getting to a Super Bowl is hard, so I’ll give people a smidge of credit for it. Two, Dave had a notable weakness: fumbling. He fumbled quite often—an alarming amount.
In 138 games, Matt had 55 career fumbles. In 129 career games, Dave had 108. Almost double the amount of fumbles in nine fewer career games with the Seahawks. That’s a hard statline to overlook.
When looking at the numbers on the surface, I almost wanted to go with Dave just because he has more touchdowns while playing a majority of his time with Seattle in the ’80s. Then I remembered he played with Steve Largent (Hall of Famer) for ten years, so that helps quite a lot. Who did Matt have at wide receiver? Uhhh… Darrell Jackson? Koren Robinson? Bobby Engram? They have solid numbers, but they’re no Steve Largent.
Despite my reasoning, I could justify either of these two men as second-best. I just went with my gut, but one could make the case for either of them—again, they’re similar enough as it is.
Los Angeles Rams
Something amazing just happened: While double-checking my choice by bringing up the Pro Football Reference pages for my selected candidates, I ended up changing my mind. Last second thing. The name I am going to award my silver trophy to is not who was originally going to receive it when I made up the list. How exciting!
Back to the point: The Rams franchise has also been somewhat spoiled throughout its history. While none of the quarterbacks they’ve employed have put up big numbers the likes of Fran Tarkenton, they’ve had six different quarterbacks throw for at least 100 touchdown passes, and a seventh who came just three touchdowns away. They’ve had their time in the sun, most often very early on, though pockets of time have seen some dominance by Rams teams.
Roman Gabriel, Norm van Brocklin, Jared Goff, Marc Bulger, Kurt Warner, Bob Waterfield, and Jim Everett are all names that have etched some manner of success with the franchise. Some names, for those aware of the game’s history, will not be seriously considered for this list—they’re notable simply because they’re near the top of the franchise’s statistical charts. Jared Goff, Marc Bulger, and Jim Everett are immediately out.
Now down to four, assessing them becomes trickier. Two are very old-school quarterbacks whose numbers are… unremarkable compared to today’s standards, though are Hall of Famers and champions all the same. Roman had very impressive statistical outputs for his era, an MVP award, and longevity on his side, though made only three Pro Bowls in eleven years with the Rams. Kurt had three years of sheer brilliance, before succumbing to injuries and poor play.
To narrow it down further, I ultimately decided to name Norm as the first-best quarterback for the franchise due to both individual achievements and some noteworthy (enough) statistics for his era. Specifically: yards per attempt. His 8.5 YPA stat is absolutely absurd for a quarterback playing in the ’50s, which implies he was throwing bombs with frequent effectiveness. (For reference, Aaron Rodgers’s career YPA is currently 8.4.) Six-straight Pro Bowls also help.
Kurt, Roman, and Bob. Who’s lucky number two?
Before I explain my choice, who do you think I originally chose? If your guess is “Bob Waterfield,” you are correct.
Bob has a couple championships, some gaudy individual seasons, and is a Hall of Famer. However, even given the time period, I find his effectiveness good, but not great. I also get a little leery about the media’s choices for All-Pro selections and such during that time; some of the selections I’ve seen seem… odd.
If you are a football fan, you will know the Kurt Warner story. You will know it all over again when the film about his rise to football stardom releases this Holiday season. To nutshell it, after going undrafted in ’94, Kurt went around and played in various minor-league football teams to keep his dream of being an NFL quarterback alive. He bagged groceries in his off time to support his family.
Then, in ’98, he was signed to the St. Louis Rams as a third-stringer. In ’99, incumbent starter Trent Greene suffered a season-ending injury in a preseason game, forcing Kurt into the starting line-up. He then played like the second coming of Dan Marino and won the Super Bowl. Wowza!
But this one season isn’t why I’m putting him at second (though it helps). It’s but one of three straight seasons where he was really, really, really awesome at being a quarterback. Two MVP awards, two First-Team All-Pro selections, two trips to the Super Bowl, three-straight season leader in completion percentage and yards per attempt, as well as two-time leader in touchdown passes, quarterback rating, and yards per game average. If you love numbers, he put ’em up.
It’s a short window, but evidenced by selections such as Rich Gannon and Yelberton Abraham Tittle, that doesn’t matter too much to me. Between 1999 and 2001, Kurt Warner was the best quarterback in the NFL. I think that’s enough to put him at second-best for the entire Rams franchise.
This was another tough franchise to decide a first and second-best starting quarterback for. And wouldn’t you know it, despite a Cardinals franchise that has lost way, way, way more than it’s won, it’s had some decent quarterbacks roll through town.
Jim Hart, Neil Lomax, Carson Palmer, Kurt Warner (hello again), and Charley Johnson all pop out at me, with Kyler Murray sitting in the back, waiting to see if one day he, too, will be called to the big boys’ table. Some of these seem like more logical choices than others, but for this franchise, we’re going to keep it simple. See ya, Charley. Thanks for your efforts, Carson.
Jim, Neil, and Kurt. These three were the ones I was most set on throwing in the mix. Jim is the Cardinals’ leader in basically every passing category; Neil had pretty impressive stats for his era—if only his career hadn’t ended to injury; Kurt’s late-career resurgence earned him his final Pro Bowl and a trip to the Cardinals’ first (and currently only) Super Bowl appearance. All three have some measure of justification for being among the Cardinals’ best at the position.
Very early drafts of this list had me putting Kurt Warner at second-best. However, after further consideration, I think his short window of success, despite the Super Bowl trip, wasn’t quite as amazing as his prior three-year stretch with the Rams. So I’ve decided to toss him out of the running.
Between Jim and Neil, which name sounds the most like it should be stuck at second?
Fun fact: Very early drafts of this list also had me putting Neil at first and Jim at third. Alas, after further research, running the numbers, and looking at a few highlight videos of each, I think Jim has an ever-so-slight edge.
How I ended up deciding this one was, as stated, highlight videos. I looked at the numbers and wanted some extra assurance. By the end of many touchdown throws by both, I came away more impressed by Jim. His throws were longer, more accurate, more “pristine,” if you will. No disrespect to Neil—his throws were generally great, as well. But Jim had that “oomph” to it.
Of course, it still remained slightly hard to justify Jim over Neil given Jim threw a billion interceptions. To this day, he is the 11th most picked-off quarterback in NFL history. He played with the Cardinals for 18 years, accumulating 209 touchdown passes in 199 career games. That was accompanied by a whopping 247 interceptions. He threw 20 or more interceptions in four separate seasons. And I think this guy’s better? Yes, I do. Barely.
Neil’s place at second is motivated by having his career cut short, resulting in a “What if?” position of conjecture. His numbers with relatively poor teams were really good, but he was only a major starter for six years and change. Apparently, he was forced into early retirement due to a “severely arthritic hip.” He was averaging 21 touchdown passes a year, and had two Pro Bowl seasons. Who knows how much more he could’ve built his career?
San Francisco 49ers
This one’s gonna be pretty short, because I’m going to cheat.
There are two names in San Francisco who matter: Joe Montana and Steve Young. Many would argue that Joe is better because he won more Super Bowls. Counterpoint: Steve’s stats are way, way, way better. I would argue he was a better pure passer, a better thrower, and harder to account for due to his running ability. His stretch between ’92 and ’94 was incredibly dominant at the quarterback position. Give Steve some respect.
Joe Montana was obviously very good, too. They’re both first-ballot Hall of Famers for a reason. Joe just happened to win more Super Bowls, and for that he’s beloved a little more fondly. He managed to execute coach Bill Walsh’s offense nearly flawlessly, and he was a quarterback that thrived in that system. No disrespect to him, even if Steve has gaudier numbers.
So here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m not putting either of them at second. They’re 1a and 1b. They’re co-leaders. Go ahead and complain, tell the world I excuse myself from difficult decisions. It is all probably true, but it’s also my desire to not cause any more strife with my decisions than I already have! (Who am I kidding; who’s reading this?)
Thus, the decision comes down to John Brodie versus Jeff Garcia. Both have value to the argument of them being
third second-best, only in different ways. John was a longtime starter for the franchise in its infancy; Jeff had three-straight very good seasons in the early 2000’s. John has over 200 career touchdown passes for the team, while Jeff has twice as many touchdown passes as interceptions.
Do I go with long and consistent or short, but great?
Let’s hear it for old dudes! (Apologies to fellow bald brother Jeff Garcia.)
John was reliable, though perhaps not entirely dependable. His play was pretty consistently good enough to keep him around for… 201 career games. He only has two Pro Bowls to his name, but he also has an MVP award, and has led the league in:
- Passing yards and completions three times.
- Passing touchdowns twice.
- Completion percentage twice.
- Quarterback rating once.
His tendency to throw picks was a concern. That is probably the only thing against him, though. Going through his entire body of work, I’m actually kind of surprised he wasn’t selected to more Pro Bowls. Probably because his teams never won much. Pity. His skill was easily identifiable, and it made it somewhat easy for me to put him as second-best in 49ers’ history.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees? Drew Brees. Yeah. No discussion necessary for who’s first.
An easy answer would be to put Archie Manning and be done with it. He’s synonymous with the Saints’ early years as their first real star attraction. While his stats are pretty putrid, one can chalk this up to the Saints themselves being really, really bad. After all, the team didn’t have a winning season until 1987—twenty years after the team’s first season.
Looking through the history, there is another intriguing option: Aaron Brooks. While he has no Pro Bowls to his name, based just on the numbers, it’s kind of weird that he doesn’t. Between 2001 and 2004, he threw for 98 touchdowns and ran for another nine. Even if he only has one barely winning season as a starter, Archie had zero winning seasons in eleven years and change.
From what it looks like, the organization simply gave Archie a lot (read: a lot) more time to turn the ship around, perhaps because he was such a high draft pick and the team was so young. Archie flashed some fractions of brilliance while basically playing in NFL Hell, so how much should that be put into consideration? Aaron has pretty nice numbers—much nicer than Archie’s. Should he be second?
Aaron may be cousins with Marcus and Michael Vick, but the Manning name is too powerful.
I ended up giving him all the benefit of the doubt. Most of the coverage I’ve seen of the early Saints years rave about Archie’s skills, how talented he was. And true, many of the (few) highlights of the Manning-led Saints did have him running around and escaping defenders in spectacular fashion. He was kind of a one-man team.
It’s also helped by the fact that the NFL has essentially ignored any other Saints quarterback not named Drew Brees. Archie is the only other Saints quarterback ever to be elected to a Pro Bowl, and he went to two of them. I suppose the NFL was just incredulous to see the Saints doing even respectfully average, and Archie willed it!
Still, he has way more interceptions than touchdowns, a 35-91-3 record, and a 67.4 quarterback rating. This is a selection based on legacy and impact on the franchise, as well as trusting that he really was that good, but hampered by a complete garbage supporting cast. Maybe I’m being too trusting; numbers have been my comfy fallback excuse for most of these. I’m in uncharted territory!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Many franchises have had some good quarterbacks come through. Even more have had at least competent quarterbacks fill up the higher reaches of its career passing chart. Even the Bears, a team mostly known for defense, has had some stable quarterback play in the last hundred years.
When I went through the Buccaneers’ quarterback history, I almost vomited. How many quarterbacks have thrown for more than 100 touchdowns? One: Jameis Winston, who was with them for five seasons, within the last decade. Otherwise, you have names like Josh Freeman, Vinny Testaverde, Doug Williams, and Brad Johnson. A stellar cast, let me tell ya.
How am I supposed to organize this? These are all pretty mediocre choices—even Jameis Winston, despite the statistical superiority over most others, was very back-and-forth in Tampa Bay. It’s especially difficult when you find every reason to not put quarterbacks near the top. “Well, he has more picks than touchdowns”; “He may have won a Super Bowl, but he had a legendary defense.” Things like this swirl around in the mind.
I’m going to do something kind of controversial, probably. I’m going to name my top quarterback right now: Tom Brady. Yes, Tom Brady. He has had all of one season and four games with the team, and I’m crowning him the best. I don’t care. His stats are substantially better than everyone, and he won a Super Bowl while being an effective offensive threat. (At 43 years old.) That may say more about the Buccaneers’ history at quarterback than Tom Brady; you decide.
That leaves the only reasonable option for number two (in my opinion, obviously).
In terms of talent, it’s not really that close. I kind of considered putting Josh Freeman up here, just because he had two solid, just not spectacular seasons. But Jameis Winston has the gaudy numbers to supplant him as second-best.
The franchise leader in pass completions, attempts, yards, and touchdowns, Jameis was able to do so in just five seasons. His final year with them saw his true disparity at play: 33 touchdown passes (career high) and 30 interceptions (career high). The true meaning of a gunslinger, willing to take extreme risks to win games. It’s almost too amusing not to behold.
He can certainly throw it, too. Two-straight seasons of 4,000 passing yards, and his final season with the Bucs saw him throw 5,100 yards! There’s definitely reason for his number-one draft pick status—he put it on display knowing it may be his last season with the team that drafted him.
Though short-lived, there’s really no one else to put above him. Trent Dilfer is the leader in games played at quarterback for them at 79, and while he had a Pro Bowl season, he was generally average at best. No one “wowed” more at the quarterback position for Tampa Bay than Jameis. My hand was forced. While it’s not a pretty choice, Tampa Bay has had very few pretty players throwing the ball for them, despite a 40-plus year history.
Another relatively recent franchise, the Panthers do not have a lot of quarterbacks within their history to justify too much debate over who’s best and who isn’t.
I’m confident few would argue with me over Cam Newton being in the top spot for the franchise. An undoubted starter for nearly a decade, he’s one of the greatest dual-threat quarterbacks to ever exist. On top of owning most of the Panthers’ franchise passing records, he also has 4,800 rushing yards and 58 rushing touchdowns to go with 29,000 passing yards and 182 passing touchdowns. An MVP award and getting the team to their second Super Bowl appearance also helps.
The second spot isn’t quite as clear, though the nice thing is that it’s only between two names: Jake Delhomme and Steve Beuerlein. Everyone else down the list is very, very unremarkable—fun fact: Kerry Collins is the only other person not otherwise named to start more than 20 games for the Panthers, as of this writing. Not sure what that says about the team.
Anyway, Steve and Jake. Fans of the team will likely better remember Jake, who was a starter longer and took the team to their first Super Bowl against the Brady-led Patriots. He has one Pro Bowl to his name, and was a generally capable starter for a six-year stretch, roughly.
Steve had a three-year stretch where he, too, was a capable starter, though he also led the league in passing yards and pass completions in 1999, as well as throwing for a franchise record of 36 touchdown passes. (From what I can find, his 4,436 passing yards is also a franchise record.) It’s an impressive season, despite the team only finishing 8-8, the likes neither Jake nor Cam Newton ever reached, at least from a passing perspective.
Where do I go?
I feel kind of bad for using this image, just moments after losing the Super Bowl, but well, few options.
Jake wasn’t the flashiest quarterback, nor was he ever under consideration for the league’s best. Nonetheless, he led the team to three separate double-digit winning seasons and has 120 touchdown passes with them, which is good for second all-time.
There was some consideration for Steve simply because his 1999 season was incredibly high. Unfortunately for him, his other two seasons were somewhat uneven. Jake has the benefit of consistency, as well as a prolonged opportunity due to his success in the win column. With a 5-3 record in the playoffs, he wasn’t a liability to them against stronger opponents either… at least initially.
He’s certainly good enough to be second-best, though that’s also due to him not having much competition.
Finally, we have the Falcons—a team with a very clear best quarterback and a lot of different options for second. Chris Chandler, Michael Vick, Steve Bartkowski, and maybe even Jeff George if you want a “pure-passer” consideration. No question, however, on who the most valuable quarterback in franchise history is: Matt Ryan.
Far and away the leader in most passing categories, wins, Pro Bowl selections, and with an MVP award and Super Bowl appearance to his name. (He didn’t give up 31 points.) While he’s not what he once was, there was a period in time where the Falcons were a yearly contender, in large part thanks to his stellar play (and myriad of weapons, but nonetheless). More than twice as many career touchdowns and interceptions, and the longest tenured quarterback in the franchise’s history.
Thus comes the decision for second. Most of the names I stated previously (with the exception of Jeff George, who was mentioned for the meme) are good contenders for it, as they all had time to show their talent.
Steve Bartkowski was one of the first truly good quarterbacks the franchise had ever seen. His #10 is retired by the team, and a part of the group for ten-plus years. Though when looking at the data specifically, his career with them essentially lasted for four years, as his first five years in the league were pretty mediocre. Not until 1980 did he really begin to flourish, throwing 91 touchdown passes in four years. With two Pro Bowls in that time, he showed why he was the number-one overall pick in 1975.
Chris Chandler is a bit of a more winding story. A third-round pick by the Colts in ’88, the Falcons were his sixth NFL team by the time he arrived in ’97. Once in Atlanta, he showed more promise than he ever had to that point, making back to back Pro Bowls and propelling the Falcons to their first Super Bowl appearance. While he didn’t play quite as well in the three years following, he was still a reliable starter for them until his release in 2002.
But to cut to the chase, my choice for second-best had many defenders chasing after him—unsuccessfully.
Some may not like this pick, for both objective and personal reasons. Michael Vick’s legacy is one that will forever be tied to his arrest for his involvement in dogfighting in 2007. The details of that crime paint a very gruesome image of Mike that many will never forgive. Awarding him any sort of recognition is simply ammo to bring up his past actions to put him back down. Such is the way of the world, and I won’t pretend I haven’t done the same.
Regardless, others may take issue with this because he also wasn’t an incredibly accurate passer with the Falcons. 56.4% is the highest completion percentage he managed for a single season in Atlanta, and his career percentage in the city amounted to only 53.8. Along with 71 touchdown passes in 74 career games, especially in an era where throwing was way more commonplace, he wasn’t one to be feared with his arm, so to speak.
What made him scary was his dual-threat ability. Look up Michael Vick highlights right now. You’re bound to find a million of them only showcasing his incredible speed and agility, looping and weaving around defenders in incredible fashion. His ability would pave the path for future dual-threat quarterbacks to follow, like Cam Newton (hello again), Colin Kaepernick, Lamar Jackson, and others. This isn’t to say he was the first to run as much as throw, but he was the first to make the running quarterback a viable threat.
While not as accurate he could be, he did have almost unfair arm strength. His deep balls were far and certainly catchable, as more highlight videos will show you. With three Pro Bowls in a four-year period and the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, his potential was undeniable. If only it wasn’t for… well, you know. At least he’s good enough for second-best.
And this is officially, as of writing—October 6th, 2021—the longest post on this blog. Beautiful.
Did any results surprise you? Did I put way too much thought into this? Please let me know if literally anything stuck out about this.
For more articles on this subject, check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.
One thought on “The 2nd Best Quarterbacks of Every NFL Franchise (NFC Edition)”
Maybe Layne’s curse led to the Lions becoming the first 0-16 team. So maybe it’s time to make history again… 0-17.