Top 100 QBs Since the Merger (40-21)
Stat-wise, Morton’s not going to hope favorable to Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman in Dallas, nor would he come anywhere close to John Elway in the Mile High City. Morton could be kindly described as erratic, but that didn’t stop Tom Landry from having faith in the California alum. What Morton lacked in football’s equivalent of sabometrics, he made up for in will to win.
Six times in his career, Morton has played a role in leading playoff expeditions, with Dallas in 1970, and Denver in 1977 (where he went 12-2). Never one to take chances throwing excessively, Morton only threw 207 times in the Dallas Super Bowl run, and 254 in 14 games through his Broncos AFC Title reign, indicating that hubris never got in the way of leading a winning charge.
With some questionable stats, Morton was once considered Staubach’s equal by Landry, and the fedora’d coach would, at least early on, swap them out for one another before going with Staubach permanently. Nonetheless, how’s that for a legendary show of faith?
39. Ken O’Brien (1983-93, Jets, Packers, Eagles)
In his eleven year career, O’Brien had an unfortunate expectation that was continuous in its nature. Not only did the New York Jets select him over future Hall of Famer Dan Marino (which ESPN confidently declared a “draft blunder”), but O’Brien’s fellow first-round class included other to-be-enshrined greats in John Elway and Jim Kelly. How could O’Brien even measure up?
Although we know today that Ken O’Brien didn’t quite reach the heights of his 1983 peer group, he had as good a career as a quarterback could hope, without tasting Super Bowl grandeur. O’Brien turned heads in his sophomore year, throwing for almost 3900 yards and 25 touchdowns, while posting the highest rating in the entire league, a Pro Bowl-worthy 96.2.
For his career, O’Brien went over 3000 yards three more times, and retired at age 33, having posted an 80.2 lifetime rating. Don’t feel too bad for Ken O’Brien; at least he’s number 39. That’s more than you could say for Todd Blackledge, taken 17 picks higher in 1983, and isn’t even ranked.
38. Matt Hasselbeck (1998- , Packers, Seahawks, Titans)
Patience is a virtue, and Hasselbeck can relate to that adage. The brother-in-law of the only attractive woman on The View spent three years doing what a number of players had to do for two decades: sit patiently behind Brett Favre. From there, it was off to Seattle, where Hasselbeck wrested the starting job from Trent Dilfer, and began to forge his own respectable career.
Hasselbeck threw over 3000 yards in just ten starts in 2002, and that was enough for Mike Holmgren to have faith in him going forward. From 2003-10, Hasselbeck would clear 3000 yards six times in those eight years, while the other two seasons were shortened by injury. He also led Seattle to their only Super Bowl appearance in 2005, a game which infuriates their fans to this day.
At age 37, Hasselbeck is still putting up solid performances for Tennessee, and serving as a mentor for the up-and-coming Jake Locker. It speaks to Matt Hasselbeck’s resilience and consistency that he’s considered the front runner for a starting job against a man 13 years his junior.
37. Jeff Garcia (1999- , 49ers, Browns, Lions, Eagles, Buccaneers, Texans)
Quick, name the only quarterback to play in the CFL, NFL, UFL, and marry a Playboy playmate. The undrafted Garcia spent four years in the Great White North, and then made his NFL debut at age 29, taking over for the disoriented and battered Steve Young. It took Garcia a little bit of time to lead San Francisco back to winning ways, but patience paid off soon enough.
With Terrell Owens, and temporary Jerry Rice, to air it out to, Garcia put up 30+ touchdowns in back to back seasons, and led two playoff charges for the 49ers, which included the controversial comeback win over the Giants in 2002. In Philadelphia in 2006, Garcia took over for an injured Donovan McNabb, and nearly led the Eagles to the NFC Title game after finishing the regular season 5-1.
Garcia has yet to officially retire, most recently seeing action at age 40 for the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks, and as an unused backup for Houston last season. Jeff Garcia hasn’t thrown a pass in the NFL since 2008, but the man with the 2-to-1 TD to INT ratio is a phone call away.
36. Billy Kilmer (1961-78, 49ers, Saints, Redskins)
Remember all those old-timers in previous entries that got the short shrift from their pre-merger seasons being axed? Kilmer gets the better end of the deal, because with the 49ers and Saints (1961-70), he was no better than Joey Harrington or Akili Smith. While his early failures may have had to do with a leg injury sustained in a near-fatal car accident, he’d eventually recover.
When Sonny Jurgensen went down with a shoulder injury in 1971, Kilmer made a case for himself to be the starter, with the quarterback controversy splitting the fan base. Coach George Allen ultimately gave Kilmer his loyalty, and was rewarded with five playoff runs and a trip to Super Bowl VII, where the Redskins ultimately fell to the undefeated Dolphins, 14-7.
Kilmer’s stats with the Redskins aren’t eye-popping, but the quarterback won two-thirds of the games he started in DC, and he threw 103 touchdown passes in 78 regular season games. Kilmer remained a proud Redskin until he was replaced by the rising star of Joe Theismann in 1978.
35. Steve McNair (1995-2007, Oilers/Titans, Ravens)
“Air McNair” is, unfortunately, the only quarterback on this list as of now that has passed on, but his contributions to the world of football are fondly remembered. Along with Eddie George, McNair was one of the first true play makers on Bud Adams’ team when it moved to the Volunteer State in 1997. Two years later, McNair would lead the franchise to its first Super Bowl appearance.
Despite falling ‘one yard short’ to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, McNair would remain the face of the franchise for several more productive seasons. He would lead the Titans into the playoffs three more times in 2000, 2002, and 2003, the latter year which he co-win league MVP with Peyton Manning. That season, he threw 24 TDs, over 3200 yards, and held a rating of 100.4
After ending his career with two seasons in Baltimore (one in which they went 13-3), McNair was murdered in 2009 by a woman who had been his mistress. Despite his disturbing end, McNair will be remembered as one of the most dangerous and versatile quarterbacks of his era.
34. Ron Jaworski (1973-89, Rams, Eagles, Dolphins, Chiefs)
Despite going 3-0 as a starter for Los Angeles in limited action, not even counting a playoff win in 1975, “The Polish Rifle” couldn’t beat Pat Haden for the starting job in 1976. The following spring, the Eagles would trade tight end Charlie Young for Jaworski, where he and the finest team Philly had fielded in a decade and a half would jump start the fortunes of a suffering franchise.
The kind of man who would take a hit and keep getting up (“Jaws” played 116 straight games at one point), Jaworski developed a strong rapport with stars Wilbert Montgomery and Harold Carmichael en route to four straight playoff seasons, and a trip to Super Bowl XV. Jaworski remained the go-to guy in Philadelphia until Buddy Ryan platooned/replaced him with Randall Cunningham in 1986.
For a city like Philadelphia that is known for angrily berating those who couldn’t win the big one, and then chasing them out of town, Jaworski remains a beloved figure there, whose warmth, friendliness and knowledge of the game are always evident in any setting.
33. Jim Plunkett (1971-86, Patriots, 49ers, Raiders)
The ultimate dilemma in ranking these players: what happens when you come across a player who, statistically, was nothing special, but managed to win two Super Bowls as a starter? Plunkett is the ideal case study for that scenario; a mere mortal who struggled mightily in New England and San Francisco before destiny paired him with Tom Flores in 1979.
Plunkett rode the pine in 1978 in John Madden’s final year, but when Dan Pastorini injured his leg in 1980, the stars aligned for Plunkett and the Raider Nation. The fledging journeyman went 9-2 the rest of the way that season, leading the wild card Raiders into Super Bowl XV, beating the favored Eagles. Three years later, Plunkett would get his second ring, utterly destroying the Redskins.
So yes, he has 164 touchdowns against 198 picks in his career, and his stat line would make Peyton Manning wretch violently. But Plunkett didn’t let the math and science of the game stop him reaching the mountain’s peak twice, and isn’t that what’s most important?
32. Brad Johnson (1992-2008, Vikings, Redskins, Buccaneers, Cowboys)
It’s always good to see somebody on this list that is an affront to the supposed ‘genius’ of Daniel Snyder. Johnson led Washington into the playoffs in 1999, his first Pro Bowl season. One year later, after a 6-3 start, Snyder, supposedly, made the call to bench Johnson for the miserly Jeff George, who went 1-4. Johnson was released after the season, but it was for his own good.
The veteran quickly signed on with Tampa Bay in 2001, and one year later would make good on the signing by throwing 22 touchdowns vs. 6 interceptions, good for over 3000 yards, on the way to leading Tampa Bay’s evisceration of Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. That same year, Washington went 7-9 behind Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, and Danny Wuerrfel.
Johnson posted a career winning record of 72-53, won a Super Bowl, threw 166 touchdowns, and has a rating of 82.5. He’s rarely mentioned among the best in the game’s history, due to his quiet journeyman status, but for the sake of twisting the knife in Snyder’s back, let’s carry a flag for the guy.
31. Dave Krieg (1980-98, Seahawks, Chiefs, Lions, Cardinals, Bears, Oilers)
It’s funny how things in football work out. In 1983, when Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn was benched in midseason, Krieg, his back-up of three and a half years from a now-defunct private college in Wisconsin, took the starting job and refused to let go. By the time Krieg retired after 1998, the 30 year old Zorn that he replaced was now 45, and back in Seattle as an assistant.
In nine years as Seattle’s undisputed starter, he led to team to five playoff berths, including the AFC Title game in 1983, two months after taking over for Zorn. He threw 195 of his career 261 touchdowns in Space City, certainly aided by future Hall of Famer Steve Largent. When Krieg faltered, hints of replacing him (with the likes of Gale Gilbert and Kelly Stouffer) only reignited his fire.
Though younger fans remember Krieg better after he’d reverted to his original role as a backup, albeit an aged one, he led the Seahawks through perhaps their best era. He was also the last consistent year-to-year quarterback Seattle would have for a full decade, when Matt Hasselbeck came in.
30. Drew Bledsoe (1993-2006, Patriots, Bills, Cowboys)
When you get past Tom Brady shoving him aside and saying, “Fine, I’ll win it if you won’t”, as well as the fact that Bledsoe may have been wearing concrete shoes during the latter portion of his career, the No. 1 pick in 1993 was a fine player in New England. Although he wasn’t at the wheel when the Patriot dynasty began, he proved his mettle in other ways.
At the height of his Pro Bowl career in the 1990's, Bledsoe was good for 3500-4000 yards a season, peaking with 4555 in his sophomore year. His biggest hang-up was a lousy completion percentage for much of that run, which may have been spurred by 3 straight years of 600+ passes. He did lead New England to a Super Bowl, however, losing to Green Bay in the 1996 season.
As far as the Patriots’ first title, yes, Brady’s emergence should get most of the credit for it. But in the AFC Title game, Bledsoe was called off the bench when “Tom Terrific” was nursing a leg injury. Bledsoe threw the game’s only touchdown pass, and aided the trip into New Orleans.