Every new free agency season puts players on the move, but it’s hard to remember an offseason that’s had this much of a shuffle of quarterbacks around the league. Long time veterans like Tom Brady and Philip Rivers will be throwing passes for a different team after long stints with the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers respectively. Some quarterbacks who many thought were dead and buried now have second chances with a new team. Ryan Tannehill (four years, $118 M) and Teddy Bridgewater (three years, $62 million) are now on squads who were previously headed by quarterbacks who were within the top two selected players in their respected drafts - Marcus Mariota (2015) and Cam Newton (2011).
What is odd from all the free agent activity this season is it reveals the true inability to sustain success as an NFL quarterback. Former top overall picks are now out of work. Even more strange is that many of those quarterbacks who made it to a second contract, ended up doing so with a different team. Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo both have big money deals, but they aren’t with the team that originally drafted them.
When you put everything out on the table, it just speaks to how challenging it is to land a quality quarterback in the league. So, when the Cowboys are sitting with a quarterback who has started every game since entering the league and is now on the franchise tag as he awaits his new contract - that should be a small clue that he might be one of the keepers.
To get a better understanding of this, let’s go back 10 years and see which quarterbacks made it through the gauntlet that is an NFL career. We’ll start at 2010 and finish at 2016 since all quarterbacks drafted after that are still playing on their rookie deals so it’s too early to have final data for those guys.
2010 - Tebow Mania!
In 2010, there were 13 quarterbacks drafted. Sam Bradford is the only quarterback from that draft class to start at least 30 games. Fans got teased a little bit with Tebow mania as Tim Tebow had a nice little run, but it served as a theme that would show up now and again throughout the years and that’s - the sun shines on a dog’s... well, what we mean is - many quarterbacks are capable of putting together one good season, but sustaining? That’s a different story.
2011 - Newton’s second law of mobile quarterbacks
For the first half of Cam Newton’s career, he was really good. In fact, often underrated. He won the league MVP back in 2015 and took the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl. But things have slowly declined and he missed all but two games last year with a foot injury. The Panthers appear to be moving on with Bridgewater as Newton is seeking a trade.
Andy Dalton has been the lead dog for the Cincinnati Bengals for the past nine seasons, but he’s never offered anything special. It’s like what Eli Manning would look like without the Super Bowls, but in all fairness to Dalton - his per game numbers are slightly better. With the soon-to-be top overall pick in the upcoming draft, LSU’s Joe Burrows, coming to Cincy, Dalton’s days as a Bengals starter is coming to an end. Like Newton, his 2020 base is more than what the team wants to pay, so he’s also a trade candidate.
Colin Kaepernick was the flash-in-the-pan quarterback. He looked good enough for the San Francisco 49ers to move on from former no. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, but then his performance started declining.
2012 - Big year for quarterbacks!
It’s strange when you look back at this draft and see that four quarterbacks started multiple games last season, yet none of them were Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Luck announced a surprise retirement right before the season started last year that messed up a lot of people’s fantasy teams. RG3 flamed out quick, but he’s been able to get backup work as he filled in for the Raven’s Lamar Jackson a little last season.
Nick Foles was your 2017 Super Bowl MVP. He’s well traveled as he’s played on five different teams (six if you count Philly twice). He keeps moving around as teams realize they’re not happy with the current quarterback they have. Whether it’s trades or free agency, Foles has been on the move quite a bit, and the quarterbacks he’s replaced come with some pretty expensive draft investments.
How hard is it to find a franchise quarterback? Nick Foles being traded to the Bears makes the fifth different team (sixth if you count Philly twice) he will play for.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) March 21, 2020
Look how many top 5 draft picks he's replaced/filled in for. pic.twitter.com/CXJBCUOOhK
The Washington Redskins failed with the RGIII trade, but didn’t stop there as they let Kirk Cousins walk in free agency.
Like we mentioned earlier, Tannehill just got a nice new deal after things were looking bleak for him in Miami.
The real winner here is Russell Wilson, who the Seattle Seahawks drafted in the third round. While Seattle paid Matt Flynn some good money in free agency to be their starting quarterback in 2012, it was the rookie that won the job and never let go.
2013 - There is nothing to see here
That pretty much says it. This draft was a big ol’ whiff in terms of producing an NFL starting caliber quarterback.
2014 - Day two value
It’s fun to think about how the Cowboys narrowly escaped drafting Johnny Manziel. Just kidding, no it’s not. While the first two quarterbacks selected in this draft didn’t pan out, the next three have had success. People forget, but Teddy Bridgewater was on the rise after a Pro Bowl season in 2015 for the Minnesota Vikings. A gruesome knee injury in camp the following season changed his career projection. He has a new opportunity in Carolina, so we’ll see how that goes.
Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo both got big second contracts. And while each of them have received criticism for not being the stars their contracts warrant, they remain steady fixtures for their teams.
2015 - Didn’t last long
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were thought to be the new face of their respective franchises after being the top two players selected in the 2015 draft. While they both showed promise early, it didn’t last. Winston is careless with the ball and Mariota can’t find the end zone. In fact, Winston has more interceptions than Mariota has touchdown passes. Either way you look at that, it’s not good. Both these guys no longer have starting quarterback jobs at the moment.
2016 - A new era begins
The Rams and Eagles traded away some precious draft capital to move up to the top two spots to select Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. The Cowboys caught a lucky break when their fourth-round compensatory, Dak Prescott, turned into their new franchise quarterback. Goff and Wentz have both got their new deals, and Dak’s is coming soon. Prescott joins Wilson has the only two quarterbacks mentioned above who have started 100% of the games since entering the league.