A legendary quarterback, Unitas was the leader of the Baltimore Colts’ offense for 17 seasons. However, when the latter came around, the hero was no longer the same. After so long in the league, he was unable to produce the same impact as before with his battered body. The quarterback suffered so many injuries that they became too much for him.
Owner Robert Irsay went over coach Don McCafferty’s head and traded Unitas to the San Diego Chargers. Fans never forgave Irsay for this, but you could understand his thinking. Unitas only managed to play five games in this new uniform before the end came.
Credit where credit is due, Pennington is a fighter. The only two-time NFL Comeback Player of the Year award winner, he knew how to overcome adversity. When it looked like his decline was final, he bounced back. At least until his last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
In short, they were disastrous. After starting every game in 2008, he suffered a devastating shoulder injury. He barely played over the last two years of his career as injuries ravaged his body. To sum up, it was a sad but all-too-common ending to his career.
Young replaced Joe Montana in San Francisco but defied expectations to become a legend in his own right. The three-time Super Bowl winner was one of the most effective quarterbacks that the league has ever seen. In the end, his decline was rapid but not of his own making and mercifully didn’t last for long.
He only started three games in 1999, his final season as a professional. However, in those three games, he suffered two concussions. The 49ers didn’t feel comfortable playing him and said they’d release him if he didn’t hang up his cleats. Even though the Broncos wanted to sign him, he did the right thing and quit.
By no means terrible yet, Brady is still not the great powerhouse he once was. A pick-six in his debut for the Tampa Bay Buccanneers showed that at the age of 43, nobody can expect him to be a dominant leader in the same way. It’s not that he needs Bill Belichick, but rather that he’s just getting old.
There is no doubt that Brady is in decline. Of course, it’s almost laughable that we’re talking about it like it’s a surprise. His numbers dropped in 2019 but when you add in the disruption of the 2020 offseason, combined with a new playbook and his weary body, you can see why he may struggle.
Sometimes momentum can hide the warning signs from the fans. Tebow starred in the Denver Broncos’ playoff run in 2011 but the coaches had their doubts about him. In the end, they decided to trade him to the New York Jets, where he went into a swift decline.
In short, that was the end of his career as a starting quarterback. He made 12 appearances for the Eagles but only two from the start as opposition teams exposed his game. From there he trained with the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, but neither of them wanted him.
Culpepper is one of the most unfortunate players on this list because in another life he would have had a few more great seasons than he managed. He made the Pro Bowl three times during his time with the Minnesota Vikings before disaster struck. The talented quarterback blew out his knee and was never the same player again.
It was a massive shame because he was excellent before this. However, the injury ended his Vikings’ career and he went on a tour of the NFL. Ultimately, his career ended with a whimper as a member of the Detroit Lions’ 0-16 roster. In the NFL, a career can change in a split-second.
Coming in 2020, many fans expected the New Orleans Saints to go deep into the playoffs. That may still happen, but there is no doubt there’s a slump in their offense. Suddenly fingers are pointing at Brees who looks like the 42-year-old that he is.
Brees doesn’t have a cannon of an arm, so he relies on short passes to great effect. However, this depends on a significant pass completion rate and Brees isn’t reaching the same standard as before. Only time will tell what happens but the warning signs are there that a decline is finally setting in.
After a stunning career in Canada, the Houston Oilers brought Moon to Texas where he starred for many seasons. Selected for the Pro Bowl nine times, Moon never won a Super Bowl. However, all good things come to an end and Moon finally went on the decline.
He spent a few years in Minnesota and then a couple more in Seattle. But at the age of 43, he joined the Kansas City Chiefs as a backup quarterback. There is a time when you need to know when to stop. In the end, he only started three games for the franchise before retiring.
For a while, Favre seemed to blossom out of spite. Initially, it looked like he retired at the perfect time. The decline had yet to set in and he was a hero in the eyes of Packers’ fans. However, then he decided he wanted back in but Green Bay already dumped him for Aaron Rodgers.
He was excellent for a couple of seasons. After a spell with the Jets, he almost took Minnesota to the Super Bowl. But then he endured a few too many hits that took their toll on his aging body. Next, the interceptions increased and Favre’s career ended after a savage sack in his final game.
The New York Jets thought that they had themselves a future legend in the mold of Joe Namath. But that turned out not to be the case, as Sanchez started well but went into severe decline. He had three decent seasons at the top before the doubters made their voices heard and his career went into a downward spiral.
Sanchez did make an impact on the Eagles after Nick Foles suffered a serious injury. But from then on, teams consigned him to life as a back-up. Finally, he started just three games in his last three seasons as a professional. It was quite the fall from grace.
It’s a tragedy that Stabler didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame when he was alive. The former Raiders’ star was a brilliant quarterback. He was the Super Bowl XI MVP after a stunning performance. Furthermore, he made the Pro Bowl four times as a consistent leader in Oakland.
However, his decline was swift. Oakland traded him to the Houston Oilers where he was average at best. But there was still time for one more move in the NFL. The New Orleans Saints were still a poor franchise when he joined them. After a series of knee injuries, Stabler lacked the mobility of his younger days.
Statistically, McNabb had one of the best seasons of his career in 2009. However, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Coach Andy Reid decided that he had seen enough and that at the age of 33, McNabb was on the decline. It seemed ruthless because McNabb went to the Super Bowl with him and knew no other coach.
Nonetheless, the Eagles traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins. Then he spent the season feuding with Mike Shanahan, who dropped him twice. After a weird year in the capital, they moved him on to Minnesota. After a 1-5 start, the Vikings benched him and he never started another game in the NFL.
At the age of 39, Schaub currently sits behind Matt Ryan in Atlanta, but there’s no shame in that. However, his decline from his best days with the Houston Texans is stark. He guided the Texans to the playoffs twice before falling off the bandwagon and failing to produce the same impact.
Since the Texans cut him, Schaub was never a regular starter again. He couldn’t get past Derek Carr in Oakland and was Joe Flacco’s backup in Baltimore. Overall, backup quarterbacks have one of the loneliest jobs in football because they know the chances of them playing are so slim.
Beloved in New York, Namath is a Jets’ hero. However, Father Time took his toll on the legend’s body, most notably his knees. The Hall of Famer only started eight games in his final season with the franchise at the age of 33. But he wasn’t ready to hang up his cleats just yet.
They say that the number 13 is unlucky for some, and so it proved for Namath. He joined the Los Angeles Rams for his 13th season in 1977. First, it was extremely weird to see him wearing another team’s uniform. Secondly, he was horrendous, playing just four games and throwing the same number of interceptions in his final match.
One of the few players on this list with a redemption story, Newton is currently reigniting his career with the New England Patriots. However, this comes after an extraordinary decline that saw him spend significant time as a free agent. Finally, Bill Belichick decided to take a chance and brought him in to fill Tom Brady’s boots.
The 2015 MVP regressed significantly in 2019 as a combination of injuries and a lack of motivation affected him. After suffering a Lisfranc fracture, the Panthers placed him on injury reserve. There were big questions over his ability to convince a franchise that he should play but he has a second chance.
The Dallas Cowboys’ backup is near the end of his career. After eight seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Dalton finally moved on following the arrival of Joe Burrow. Dalton threw for over 3,000 yards in each of his first three seasons. Furthermore, he helped his team to the playoffs five times, which nobody can sniff at.
However, Dalton is also the definition of mediocre. He doesn’t do anything brilliantly to set himself apart from his counterparts. But he remains a model professional. Despite his decline, Dallas signed him to help Dak Prescott. By no means a worldbeater, he is still a solid athlete.
Rivers left the Los Angeles Chargers for the Indianapolis Colts after 16 years of service. The 38-year-old is perhaps the least-vaunted of the golden generation of elite veteran quarterbacks but has a cannon of an arm. Furthermore, he made the Pro Bowl eight times in his career.
But there is no doubt that his level has dropped. Rivers was awful in his last season for the Chargers. Of course, he didn’t have much protection or the greatest weapons, but it still felt like the right time for them to cut ties with him. Now he has to prove that his decline isn’t insurmountable with the Colts.
NFL fans remember McMahon for his thrilling Super Bowl season with the Chicago Bears. However, injuries decimated his career and caused him to abruptly fall into decline. In short, McMahon suffered an obscene number of concussions that affected his on-field ability and off-field life.
His form dropped dramatically and he never recovered. Eventually, the Bears had enough and traded him to San Diego. That kicked off a nomadic period for the quarterback and he only managed three more seasons as a franchise. To sum up, the game took its toll on the veteran.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers thought that Freeman was their franchise quarterback and the early signs were good. However, his decline was swift. For two seasons he was solid, but then it all went downhill very quickly. In 2013, he completed less than 50% of his total pass attempts in three straight losses.
Then the Buccaneers traded him to the Vikings and things didn’t get better. His single start for Minnesota saw him complete just 20 out of 53 passes. It was horrendous. Freeman only played one more game in the NFL.
When Winston entered the NFL, it looked like he had it all. After an excellent first season, he even made it to the Pro Bowl after Tom Brady withdrew from the showpiece event. Ironically, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would replace Winston with Brady just a few seasons later.
There is no doubt that Winston has the potential to turn things around. However, he throws far too many interceptions and has the most pick-sixes in an NFL season. His decline is stark and Winston now sits on the bench behind Drew Brees in New Orleans.
There’s no doubt that Cassel had a bizarre career. He served for years as Tom Brady’s backup before finally taking over the position in 2008 while Brady recovered from injury. This convinced the Kansas City Chiefs that he was worth bringing to Missouri, and it all started so well.
Cassel had the season of his life as he helped the Chiefs to the playoffs and even made the Pro Bowl. However, it was all downhill from there as he went into severe decline. He served as a back-up at every other franchise he played for and never lived up to his full potential again.
One of the most notorious figures in NFL history, Vick initially rebounded successfully from his time in jail. He helped the Eagles to an NFC East title. In sum, it looked like two years of warming a jail cell hadn’t damaged his abilities. But it wasn’t the case.
The following year, his turnover rate doubled. Just like that, he lost his place as the Eagles’ starting quarterback. From there he went on to become the Steelers’ back-up and floated around the NFL until the end of his career. Nobody wanted him as he sat as a free agent for his final year.
Poor Griffin. His career is ongoing but there’s no doubt that it has never recovered from the traumatic ending to his rookie year. A revelation with the Washington Redskins, he won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award to cap a brilliant season. But then the record-breaker tore ligaments in his knee.
In sum, the decline was immediate. Despite significant rehabilitation, Griffin was a ghost of his former self. Instead of becoming a franchise quarterback as the Redskins expected, he has drifted around the league as a back-up quarterback. Finally, he serves as a warning to all young quarterbacks how quickly things can change.
It’s very easy to forget that Kaepernick wasn’t good in his final season with the San Francisco 49ers. For all of his social justice work outside of football, his on-field contribution was in severe decline. Of course, people don’t like to mention that when they condemn NFL teams for not signing him.
If Kaepernick was elite like Patrick Mahomes, then they would be after him in a flash. But the reality is that he couldn’t nail down the starting QB slot ahead of Blaine Gabbert in his last two years in San Francisco. From 2015 on, he was never the same player as before.