NFL Quarterbacks: The Top 15 Retread QBs Since 1980
In the NFL, finding a quarterback can be a daunting task. Having the first pick in the NFL Draft is no guarantee that you have found your next signal caller for the next 10-15 years, but neither is signing an established NFL quarterback.
It's a risky business; selecting the wrong quarterback can set a franchise back years and cost a lot of people their jobs.
When all avenues have been exhausted, another team's trash can be your team's treasure. A retread at quarterback can save the day.
To qualify as a retread for this article, the quarterback had to at least participate in one offseason program of a team that was different from the team he flourished with. He had to be either stuck in a backup role, released without getting a shot or previously an average to bad starter.
How successful the quarterback was, statistics, impact, Pro Bowls and Super Bowl appearances were considered in determining the list.
Sometimes a quarterback moves on to a new location and something clicks. These are those quarterbacks.
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Steve Beuerlein bounced between four different teams before he put together three solid seasons from 1998-2000 after taking over for Kerry Collins in Carolina. He even threw 36 touchdowns in 1999, but his solid season was over shadowed by the numbers the Rams were hanging on the NFL.
Trent Dilfer was a first round pick out for Tampa Bay in 1994 and had a couple good seasons with the Bucs, but had a few bad seasons too. He eventually landed with the Ravens and won a Super Bowl, but was often criticized for being a game manager and was replaced. The Ravens haven't been to the Super Bowl since.
Elvis Grbac was an average player for the majority of his career and a backup for San Francisco for several seasons, but he did put together two solid seasons with Kansas City in 1999 and 2000. He made the Pro Bowl in 2000, his final season in K.C. The next year he was the man to replace Dilfer with the Ravens, but didn't do as well as he did with the Chiefs.
Matt Moore may be the next retread that climbs aboard a list like this. Undrafted out of Oregon State in 2007, Moore has already been on the Cowboys, Panthers and Dolphins. Last year, he filled in admirably when starter Chad Henne went down with injury. No doubt we will see Moore pop-up as retread somewhere else in the future.
#15 Jeff Blake
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Jeff Blake was a sixth-round draft pick of the New York Jets in 1992 after finishing his career at East Carolina, where he finished seventh in Heisman voting. Blake wouldn't attempt a pass with the Jets and was released during final cuts before the start of the 1994 season.
Blake was claimed by the Bengals and had a solid career with Cincinnati. He would go on to make the Pro Bowl in 1995.
After the 1990 season, the Bengals had double digit losses until Blake took over full time as starter. He led the Bengals to back to back seasons of 7-9 and 8-8. Those that watched the Bengals in the 90s realize what an accomplishment that is.
In his Bengals career he would throw 93 touchdowns, compared to 62 interceptions, along with over 15,000 passing yards.
Blake would bounce around the league after his tenure with the Bengals, but still finish with a career QB rating of 78.0.
All of this is good enough for #15 on my list.
#14 Doug Flutie
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Doug Flutie was a college football hero. We've all seen the "Hail Flutie" play—in which Flutie led Boston College past powerhouse Miami on a last second heave—so many times, it is embedded into our brains.
This moment defines Flutie, causing many people forget he was a pretty good quarterback in college. He was the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner and left school the NCAA all-time leader in passing yards.
He was drafted by the Rams in 1985, but had already committed to playing in the United States Football League (USFL). Flutie would have his rights traded to the Chicago Bears in 1986 and entered the NFL. However, the Bears would then move Flutie to the New England Patriots in 1987.
Flutie would only see extensive action in 1988, going 6-3 with the Patriots while throwing for 1,150 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Flutie crossed the picket line during the 1987 strike and had trouble shaking the "scab" label. Flutie would move on to the Canadian Football League in 1990, where he would do it all, even getting TSN's honor of being the greatest CFL player of the modern era.
However, Flutie wasn't done with the NFL and would return with the Buffalo Bills in 1998. He played admirably compiling a record of 21-9. He also had 47 passing touchdowns to 30 interceptions and added three rushing touchdowns in three seasons with the Bills.
Flutie would be forced out in favor of Rob Johnson but not before going to a Pro Bowl in 1998, leading the Bills to the playoffs in 1999—though he was benched in favor of Rob Johnson for the playoffs by Wade Phillips)—and endearing himself to a new generation of fans, having his own Flutie Flakes cereal.
Flutie could have stayed in Canada and remained an icon for a few more years, but he returned to the NFL and put on a decent show, becoming #14 in my top QB retreads.
#13 Matt Schaub
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It's odd to think that at one time Matt Schaub was destined to be forever stuck behind Mike Vick in Atlanta.
Schaub started two games in Atlanta over three years and lost both games. He threw for six touchdowns and six interceptions in his Falcon career.
People took notice in Schaub when he had a 298-yard, three passing touchdown performance against the New England Patriots in the 2005 season.
Schaub was traded to the Houston Texans following the 2006 season, replacing former No. 1 overall pick David Carr.
Schaub has been solid with the Texans, earning a Pro Bowl bid in 2009, when he also led the league in passing yards. He has helped lead the swing the team has experienced lately and started 10 games this season before getting injured.
The Texans went on to earn their first playoff berth in franchise history.
Schaub has thrown for 16,903 yards, 92 touchdowns to 52 interceptions, while compiling a 32-32 record with the Texans.
While some may not view him as a retread, for the purpose of this article he is. Atlanta saw what he could do and still decided to part ways with him. That makes Schaub a retread in my eyes, and #13 on my list.
#12 Marc Bulger
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Marc Bulger was a sixth-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints in 2000, but he didn't even make it through training camp before being cut.
He went on to spend time on the practice squad of the Atlanta Falcons, but was ultimately let go. Finally Bulger ended up on the practice squad of the St. Louis Rams towards the end of that season, and would go on to replace hero Kurt Warner, while carving out his own niche in the NFL.
Bulger's last three years with the Rams may make some forget that he was solid in a no-way situation, replacing Kurt Warner.
Bulger led the Rams to a 12-4 record his first full year as starter in 2003, but the team was eliminated in their first game of the playoffs.
While Bulger only had a record of 41-54 as Rams starter, he made two Pro Bowls, won a Pro Bowl MVP award, won one playoff game and threw for 122 touchdowns to 93 interceptions.
Not bad for someone cut twice before he played a down in the NFL.
#11 Trent Green
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Trent Green may be the most unlucky man on this list. He was "Wally Pipped" due to injury and gave way to Kurt Warner and "The Greatest Show on Turf."
Trent Green was an eighth-round pick for the San Diego Chargers in 1993. They don't even have eight rounds anymore, so it should come as no surprise that Green didn't see any regular season action before being waived in 1994.
After a stint with the BC Lions (CFL) which saw him cut, Green would sign with the Redskins as a free agent in 1995. He would only make one pass attempt until 1998, where he would start 14 games, going 6-8.
During those games, Green proved to be a capable starter throwing 23 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. He also threw for over 3,000 yards while completing 54.6 percent of his passes.
This earned Green a four-year, $17.5 million contract from the St. Louis Rams entering the 1999 season. However, Green would be injured in the preseason which led to the emergence of Kurt Warner.
Green would only see action in 2000 when Warner was injured, and Green was subsequently traded to Kansas City to join former Rams coach Dick Vermeil.
Though Green struggled at first, he found his footing with the Chiefs and made two Pro Bowls. He did lead the Chiefs to a 13-3 season, but lost in the second round to the Colts.
Green went 48-40, throwing 118 touchdowns to 85 interceptions in his Chiefs career.
After, he bounced to Miami and back to St. Louis before calling it a career and entering broadcasting.
Green even stayed with the Chiefs longer than Warner did with the Rams, a solid career from someone cut by a CFL team.
#10 Stan Humphries
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Stan Humphries was a sixth-round pick for the Washington Redskins in the 1988 NFL Draft.
The Louisiana-Monroe product saw extended action in the 1990 season, where he compiled a 3-2 record as a starter, threw three touchdowns, but had 10 interceptions and 57.5 QB rating.
The Chargers acquired Humphries in a trade before the 1992 after their starting QB, John Friesz, was injured. Humphries would lead the Chargers to the playoffs that year, ending a postseason drought for the team.
While Humphries never made the Pro Bowl and his career stats won't blow anyone away, he did compile a 47-29 record as a Chargers starter and led the team to two 11-win seasons.
A big reason Humphries makes the list is because he did something that Dan Fouts or Drew Brees never did, and something Philip Rivers hasn't done: He led the Chargers to a Super Bowl appearance.
While things didn't go the Chargers way in Super Bowl XXIX (they lost to the 49ers, 49-26) it is still the San Diego Chargers lone Super Bowl appearance.
#9 Chris Chandler
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When asked who quarterbacked the dirty bird dancing Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII against the John Elway-led Denver Broncos, you might draw a blank.
Well, the answer is Chris Chandler.
Chandler makes the list because he was the only QB to lead the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance, and because he essentially resurrected his career twice, with the Falcons and the Oilers.
Chandler started his career with the Colts in 1988, got traded to Tampa Bay in 1990, cut by the Bucs and claimed off waivers by the Cardinals in 1991 and finally signed with the Rams in 1994.
These were Chandler's first 7 seasons in the NFL. He compiled a record of 17-28 and threw for 41 touchdowns, but threw 50 interceptions.
Chandler had never thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in a season until he signed with the Houston Oilers in 1995. Chandler played for the Oilers for two seasons and finally started to turn things around.
He had more passing touchdowns than interceptions during his Oiler career and a passer rating of 83.9 during his tenure.
Chandler was then traded to the Falcons for a fourth and sixth-round pick and would enjoy his two best seasons his first two years in Atlanta.
Chandler would make the Pro Bowl in both 1997 and 1998, throwing 45 touchdowns and only 19 picks while leading Atlanta to the aforementioned Super Bowl appearance. Chandler would never reach that success again and soon gave way to Michael Vick.
The only man to start for eight different teams was left for dead by almost every single one of them, but still found a way to success in the NFL and for that, Chandler is my #9 retread.
#8 Jake Delhomme
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Newer NFL fans will remember Jake Delhomme as the guy who forgot how to throw in Carolina or the clueless Cleveland Browns signal caller.
But there was a time before that when Jake Delhomme was a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, who almost upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Jake Delhomme was never drafted, but was signed by the Saints to their practice squad in 1997. Delhomme became an NFL starter the hard way, as he was sent to NFL Europe in 1998 and 1999 before becoming the Saints third-string quarterback.
Delhomme played well in preseason action in 2001 and 2002, but was stuck behind starter Aaron Brooks.
Entering the 2003 season, Delhomme would sign with the Carolina Panthers as Rodney Peete's backup. Playing backup didn't last long as Delhomme took over midway through the first game of 2003 and never looked back.
He would lead Carolina to the playoffs three times, the NFC championship twice and to the team's lone appearance in the Super Bowl. The Panthers lost Super Bowl XXXVIII to the Patriots on a last second field goal.
For his Panthers career, Delhomme went 53-37 with 120 passing touchdowns and only 89 picks. He had a passer rating of 82.6.
Delhomme never seemed to recover from a five interception performance against the Cardinals in the 2008 playoffs. If he had, who knows, he may have moved further up the list.
#7 Vinny Testaverde
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Vinny Testaverde was a highly touted quarterback out of Miami. The former Hurricane would be picked first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987.
For parts of six seasons, Testaverde was mostly awful. Testaverde won 24 games and lost 48. He threw 112 interceptions to 77 touchdowns.
Vinny moved on to Cleveland in 1993, eventually replacing Bernie Kosar. He led the Browns to the playoffs in 1994, even winning in the first round against New England. He even stayed with the team when they moved to Baltimore in 1996.
In his first season in Baltimore, the 33-year-old would make his first Pro Bowl. He would throw 33 touchdowns and 19 interceptions that season. For his career with Cleveland/Baltimore, he threw for over 14,000 yards, 98 touchdowns to 71 interceptions, but a winning record still escaped him.
Vinny found a winning record when he was released by Baltimore and signed with the New York Jets. He would make the Pro Bowl in 1998, orchestrate the greatest comeback in Monday Night Football history in 2000, lead the Jets to an AFC Championship and go 35-26 with the Jets over parts of seven seasons.
Vinny finished his career playing for anyone who would call. He finished his career at 44 for the Carolina Panthers, who battled QB injuries all season.
Interesting note, Vinny would throw at least one touchdown in each of his 21 seasons in the NFL, with seven different teams.
Testaverde is also seventh all-time in career passing yards with 46,233.
Maybe it's sentimentality, respect for the longevity or Vinny's ability as the ultimate retread for so many teams, but, while lacking the numbers of some behind him, I still feel Vinny is deserving of #7 on my top retread list.
#6 Rich Gannon
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Rich Gannon waited until he was 34-years-old to became an NFL Pro Bowler and a great starting quarterback in the NFL.
Gannon was originally a fourth-round pick for the New England Patriots in the 1987 draft. They envisioned turning Gannon into a DB. Gannon didn't like this idea and had his rights traded to the Vikings.
With the Vikings, he would win more games than he lost (19-16), throw more touchdowns than interceptions (40 to 36) and even help the team to an 11-5 record during his last season in Minnesota.
Ultimately, he was replaced by Sean Salisbury going in to the post-season and traded to the Washington Redskins for a conditional pick.
He started four games with Washington, wasn't very good and was released at season's end.
He was out of football in 1994, but returned to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1995. He would play in Kansas City for four seasons, mostly as a backup. He seemed to be the same type of player he was in Minnesota, winning more than he lost (11-8) and throwing more touchdowns than interceptions (23 to 11). He didn't blow anyone away again but proved to be serviceable.
The Raiders signed him as a free agent after the 1998 season and Gannon took off. He made four straight Pro Bowls, won an MVP in 2002, led the Raiders to a Super Bowl, threw for 114 touchdowns compared to 50 picks, threw for over 17,000 yards, ran for over 1,200 more, adding 11 rushing touchdowns, had a record of 45-29 and led the Raiders to three straight playoff appearances.
Late bloomer Rich Gannon took a while to develop, but still ends up at #6 on my list.
#5 Drew Brees
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Drew Brees is another person that some might not consider a retread. After all, he did show flashes of being a solid starter his final two seasons in San Diego and even made the Pro Bowl once. He would be a lot higher on this list without being a solid QB towards the tail end of his San Diego career.
However, looking back, no one considered him an elite quarterback. There were only two teams chasing him at the time he was a free agent, the Saints and the Dolphins. The Dolphins opted for Dante Culpepper.
If Brees was the QB back then that we see today, over 75 percent of the NFL would have been chasing him.
Brees chose the Saints and all he's done is bring a Super Bowl to the city once ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, add five more Pro Bowls to his resume, rewrite the NFL record books and became one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
Brees has gone 62-33 with the Saints—that's 32 more wins and only 5 more losses than in San Diego. He's also thrown 201 touchdowns with New Orleans, compared to only 93 interceptions, while throwing for over 28,000 yards.
The only man to bring a championship to a team formerly known as the "Aints" has been elite as elite can be and shows no signs of slowing down in New Orleans.
#4 Green Bay Backups (Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Brooks)
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Matt Flynn won't be the first Green Bay backup to leave and start for another franchise. Green Bay seems to be a breeding ground for successful backups-turned-starters.
To avoid having every other person on this list a former Packer, I decided to lump a majority of them into one entry and place them at #4 on my list.
Matt Hasselbeck may be the most successful of the backups. He played two seasons with Green Bay before he was acquired by former Packers coach Mike Holmgren to accompany him with the Seattle Seahawks.
At first, Hasselbeck battled Trent Dilfer for the quarterback job, but Hasselbeck eventually won out. He'd go on to be a three-time Pro Bowler, lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl and set franchise records for the Seattle team.
He would throw for 174 touchdowns to 128 interceptions and over 29,000 yards with the Seahawks. He led the team to the playoffs six times over his 10-year career with them.
Aaron Brooks was on the Green Bay squad in 1999 behind Hasselbeck and Brett Favre. The next year he went to New Orleans and would take over after Jeff Blake got injured late in the season. He would hold the job until 2005.
With New Orleans, he threw for 120 touchdowns and for over 19,000 yards.
Brooks signed with Oakland for the 2006 season, but never made as big of an impact as he did with the Saints.
Lastly, Mark Brunell was a fifth-round pick by Green Bay in the 1993 NFL Draft. He wouldn't do anything of note with the franchise and was traded to the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995 for a third and fifth-round pick.
Brunell led the team to four playoff appearances and compiled a record of 63-54 with the Jaguars. Brunell still holds many of the team's career passing records including yards, with 25,698, passing touchdowns, with 144 and completions, with 2,184.
Brunell was instrumental in getting the upstart Jaguars to be taken seriously as a legit NFL contender.
Aaron Brooks, Matt Hasselbeck and Mark Brunell were three success stories from Green Bay, but there was another former Packer that deserved his own slot on this list at #3.
#3 Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner is another rare, double retread quarterback.
Warner was undrafted out of Northern Iowa, bounched around various leagues and bagged groceries before he landed on the St. Louis Rams in 1998. That season he was 4 for 11 for 39 yards as a third stringer behind names like Tony Banks and Steve Bono.
Warner entered the 1999 season backing up #8 on our list, Trent Green, who was a high profile free agent signing for the Rams. Green would go down with an injury in the preseason game. Rams owner Georgia Frontiere told the GM that perhaps Warner was the next Johnny Unitas.
Warner went on to have one of the greatest seasons in NFL history and led the Rams to their first Super Bowl title. The Rams were a joke until that 1999 season and suddenly became "The Greatest Show on Turf."
For three seasons, Warner put up solid numbers for the Rams. In 2002, he seemed to be a shell of his former self, and the next season was replaced by Marc Bulger after a six-fumble performance in the 2003 opener.
He was released by the Rams and went to the New York Giants as Eli Manning's mentor. It wasn't long before Eli replaced Warner and many thought Warner would fade into obscurity.
Warner signed with the Cardinals in 2005 and was replaced by rookie Matt Leinart in 2006.
Warner would eventually take the starting job back from Leinart in 2007 and finish the last three years of his career showing signs of the player that was a former two-time MVP.
Warner would even do the unthinkable and lead the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl. And if it wasn't for an amazing grab by Santonio Holmes in the final minutes, Warner and the Cardinals could have won Super Bowl XLII.
For his career, Warner went 67-49, passed for over 30,000 yards, threw for 208 touchdowns to 128 picks, was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time MVP.
The two-time retread also might one day find himself in Canton.
#2 Steve Young
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Steve Young was a standout at BYU and would sign a reported 10-year, $40 million contract with the USFL when he left college.
Obviously, the USFL didn't last and Young soon found himself the first pick of the supplemental draft featuring players from the defunct league.
Selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Young would go 3-16 with the team, completing only 53.3 percent of his passes and throwing 11 touchdowns to 21 interceptions.
Young would be deemed a bust and was traded to San Francisco for a second and a fourth-round draft pick.
With the Niners, Young was stuck behind the legendary Joe Montana from 1987-1990. Montana sustained an elbow injury that would knock him out for the 1991 season and most of 1992, and Young seized the opportunity.
Young would post back-to-back seasons with a passer rating over 100 and had done the impossible: He supplanted Joe Montana as the starter for the 49ers. Montana would be traded to Kansas City in 1993.
Young would go on to be a seven-time Pro Bowler, two-time NFL MVP and would win Super Bowl XXIX, finally getting that Montana monkey off his back.
In addition to being a great passer, Young was a force on the ground and ran for 43 touchdowns and over 4,000 yards in his career.
Young went from 1980s Buccaneers cast-off to hall of fame quarterback, a feat almost as improbable as him replacing Montana.
#1 Brett Favre
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Love him or hate him, Brett Favre is one of the greatest players to ever play the quarterback position. He was with the Packers for so long, you may forget that he wasn't even drafted by the team.
Brett Favre was the 33rd overall pick (second-round) by the Atlanta Falcons.
With the Falcons, he saw action in two games completing no passes on four attempts, throwing two interceptions.
The Packers' GM at the time, Ron Wolf, still saw something in the risk, acquiring Favre for a first-round pick.
And the rest is history.
To list the records that Favre went on to hold would be time-consuming and you wouldn't want to read through it. There are so many, they have their own Wikipedia page.
Favre would be a three-time MVP, 11-time Pro Bowler and one-time Super Bowl champ, defeating the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.
Though things ended badly for Favre in Green Bay, and in recent years he has become a punchline to a plethora of jokes, it's hard to deny the impact the gunslinger had on the Packers and the NFL.
Who did I forget? Who do you disagree with? Let me know in the comments section.
A special thanks to Pro-Football-Reference.com and prosportstransactions.com for information needed for this list.