Quarterbacks are the most important players in football. Every team dreams of finding that most precious treasure: a franchise quarterback that takes the team to new glory. These players aren’t ordinary signal-callers, but building blocks for a dynasty. Yet the reality is they are incredibly few in number.
The oldest NFL franchises have had literally dozens of quarterbacks on their rosters throughout their histories. However, the reality is that most fans only remember the two or three greatest quarterbacks who made the starting role their own for lengthy periods and/or brought glory to the team.
Today, let’s compare every NFL by their greatest franchise quarterbacks. We will rank them in order of success throughout the ages in this important position. One brilliant QB isn’t enough to earn a top position though, so there may be some surprises on this list. Check it out below via ESPN.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa has had dreadful luck as a franchise when it comes to franchise quarterbacks. The only one really worth mentioning is Brad Johnson. Solid, if unspectacular, he did the simple things very well and helped guide them to a Super Bowl victory in 2003. While his numbers were consistent, he definitely isn’t the greatest quarterback of his generation but is the most noteworthy in Bucs’ history.
Jameis Winston had a good first season but developed a notorious reputation for inconsistency and interceptions. Meanwhile, Doug Flutie had a solid start to his career in Tampa before leaving the franchise for bigger things. There are few franchises with as poor a record when it comes to the most important position in football. Drafting a 43-year-old Tom Brady is a testament to their lack of long-term planning.
Cam Newton’s superb 2015 sneaks the Panthers into second-last place on this list. His brilliant form before injuries made him one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the league for a couple seasons. Meanwhile, Jake Delhomme was consistently excellent for the franchise, throwing for almost 20,000 yards during his six years with the team. Things ended badly for him there, but he was solid in his heyday.
It’s important to remember that the Panthers are still a relatively young franchise. They’re only around since 1993, so it stands to reason they wouldn’t have massive depth here. Kerry Collins and Steve Beurlein had their moments for Carolina but never reached a consistently elite level. Meanwhile, in 2020, Terry Bridgewater is a shrewd acquisition until they finally get another young franchise quarterback.
Mark Brunell is without a doubt the best quarterback in Jaguars’ history. As another young franchise, they haven’t had a massive amount of success in the position, but Brunell stands out as their greatest-ever signal-caller. In fact, he helped ignite the franchise into one that actually entertained. He helped them to four successive postseasons during his time on the roster.
Brunell’s three Pro Bowl appearances also bump the Jaguars up this list. When it comes to Jacksonville the standards are still not very high. David Garrard is the franchise’s second-best quarterback. He spent his full career in Florida, enjoying nine years on the roster. Furthermore, he also made the playoffs with the Jaguars. That’s an achievement in itself. But the franchise wants to draft that potential superstar.
The Lions were once a brilliant team but that was back in the 1950s. Bobby Layne was their franchise quarterback during this glorious era when they won four Conference titles and three NFL Championships. Of course, Detroit’s front office is historically inept and traded him away too early. Because of this, they lose points on this list.
Their greatest quarterback of the modern era is Matthew Stafford. While the franchise failed to consistently give him the weapons he needs to be a success, Stafford has faithfully called plays for 12 seasons. During this time, he broke every passing record in team history and also helped the Lions into the playoffs on three occasions. Meanwhile, Greg Landry and Erik Kramer deserve mentions.
Matt Schaub, DeShaun Watson, and Derek Carr all show that the Texans know how to pick a quarterback. As the NFL’s youngest franchise, they have had extraordinary success with this. But their problem is that they don’t know how to use their signal-callers as building blocks. Carr was decent during his time in Houston if unspectacular (the story of his career).
Watson is one of the most talented of the current crop of play callers. Exceptionally dynamic, he is a brilliant talent and should take the Texans to the next level. Or at least he would if they didn’t trade away his best receivers. However, Schaub brought longevity and relative success to the position and remains the best in their history so far. If Watson sticks around and receives the support he needs then he should eclipse Schaub.
Joe Namath is alone as the greatest player in Jets’ history. He was also one of the most entertaining personalities in the NFL. Namath brought rare success to a franchise more usually associated with purgatory. The icon helped the unfancied Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III, the only time they have won the coveted prize. Meanwhile, he still holds most of their major records including wins and touchdown passes.
After Namath, the likes of Chad Pennington, Vinny Testaverde, and Ken O’Brien all jump to mind. They all had relative individual success with Pro Bowl appearances and in Testaverde’s case a Comeback Player of the Year award. It’s difficult for a quarterback to look good without quality support, but each of these men had flashes during their tenures as starters for the franchise.
In a few years, Joe Burrow may prove to be the greatest Bengals’ quarterback in history. That’s assuming they protect him properly and give him the tools to make a difference. But it’s far too early to talk about him yet. When it comes to the Bengals, Ken Anderson is probably their greatest franchise quarterback. If it wasn’t for Joe Montana, he would have even won a Super Bowl.
Boomer Esiason also suffered at the hands of Montana in the Super Bowl. Furthermore, like Anderson, he earned a first-team All-Pro selection. Finally, Andy Dalton spent nine seasons as the Bengals’ starting quarterback. Solid if unspectacular, he made three Pro Bowl games and guided the Bengals to the postseason on four occasions but failed to win a playoff game.
Steve McNair’s Titans almost won the Super Bowl in 1999 after their first year in Tennessee. Meanwhile, the franchise made the playoffs four times during his nine years as their starting quarterback. This makes him the most successful QB in recent history. However, throughout both incarnations of the franchise, there have been several quality signal-callers.
In 10 seasons with the Oilers, Warren Moon played himself into eight All-Pro teams. This shows just how talented he was after his late arrival to the NFL from Canada. Finally, George Blanda helped win the Oilers to win the only two Championships in their history during the 1960s. Furthermore, he made the All-Pro and Pro Bowl games on multiple occasions.
Kurt Warner did the same job for the Cardinals that Peyton Manning did for the Broncos. Supposedly past his best, Warner still had enough in the tank to guide them to a Super Bowl final which the Steelers cruelly won. But his relatively short tenure in Arizona brought their fans excitement and joy that can’t be underestimated. Their other quarterbacks historically didn’t have much success.
Jim Hart was their starter for 18 years but only made a single playoff appearance. That’s not exactly stellar by any realm of the imagination. It’s crazy but many fans believe that the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the year Kyler Murray is already in their greatest of all-time top-three. However, the competition isn’t exactly fierce so a couple of decent seasons and he should be up there.
One of the oldest franchises never to win a Super Bowl, Fran Tarkenton brought them very close on multiple occasions. Undoubtedly their greatest quarterback, Tarkenton was a nine-time Pro Bowler across two spells in Minnesota. Meanwhile, he set all kinds of passing records and won the NFL MVP award in 1975. Since his reign, the Vikings haven’t had the most exciting talent in the position.
Until his devastating knee injury in 2005, Daunte Culpepper was an athletic, powerful presence for the franchise. He was exceptional in 2004 and was also a three-time Pro Bowl selection. However, after this, the Vikings’ record becomes very patchy. Tommy Kramer was decent in an awful era for Minnesota. Meanwhile, Joe Kapp and Brett Favre weren’t with the team for long enough to be proper franchise quarterbacks.
Dan Fouts, Stan Humphries, and Philip Rivers stand out as the Chargers’ three greatest-ever franchise quarterbacks. Fouts was the first player in NFL history to throw for over 4000 yards in three successive seasons – an incredible achievement. A six-time Pro Bowler, fans even voted the former Offensive Player of the year as the greatest ever Chargers’ player. What an honor.
Rivers is an interesting case because he spent 18 seasons with the franchise. However, his numbers declined dramatically in his final couple of years and he failed to bring them coveted Super Bowl glory. But his commitment was undeniable as he showed by playing a Championship game with a torn ACL. Finally, Humphries transformed the Chargers from losers into winners and guided them to a Super Bowl.
Otto Graham inspired the Browns to three NFL Championships and was also a four-time All-Pro First-teamer. In short, he was stunningly brilliant. But you can’t say that about any of the Browns’ modern quarterbacks, although hopes remain for Baker Mayfield. However, before the merger, Cleveland had some outstanding talent in this most important of positions.
Graham aside, other players had a significant impact on the franchise. A three-time Pro Bowler, Frank Ryan also guided the Browns to an NFL Championship, their most recent title success, way back in 1958. After tanking multiple times, fans would expect them to have drafted the greatest college player in the history of the universe by now, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Kurt Warner guaranteed himself icon status in Rams’ folklore as he guided the franchise to an unlikely Super Bowl win in 2000. His postseason record is generally immaculate, although the Rams fell short in another Super Bowl against the Patriots. However, the MVP isn’t the only great quarterback to feature for the franchise in either of its iterations.
Norm Van Brocklin played a key role as St. Louis blasted its way to NFL Championship glory in 1951. Furthermore, he was a six-time Pro Bowl selection during his tenure as a starter for the franchise. Roman Gabriel and Jim Everett were also starters for lengthy periods, albeit without the panache or team success of their fellow franchise legends.
Sid Luckman brought four NFL Championships to Chicago and earned six All-Pro selections during a stellar career in the 1930s and 1940s. That’s the type of output most franchises would kill for now. The Bears are notorious for running with players who simply are not up to the task in the modern era. The best in recent history was definitely Jay Cutler.
Controversial but true, Cutler leads the Bears in basically all of their meaningful statistics. However, they only made the postseason once during his eight years with the franchise. Meanwhile, Jim McMahon helped the franchise to a Super Bowl, even though their defense was more important in that victory. When it comes to this position, the Bears are definitely a strange franchise.
Donovan McNabb never won a Super Bowl and endured a lot of criticism throughout his tenure as the Eagles’ franchise quarterback. Nonetheless, he was an excellent and underrated player. Throughout his 11 years as a starter, he led the team to four straight NFC Championship games. Furthermore, he brought within a field goal of winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Another stellar quarterback in Philly history was Tommy Thompson. Thompson lost an eye as a child but survived World War II and won two NFL Championships with the Eagles. His statistics aren’t special, but let’s repeat that: two NFL Championships with one eye. Finally, Norm Van Brocklin only spent three seasons with the franchise but still led them to their most recent title glory.
Matt Ryan’s in decline but there is no doubt about how good he has been for the Falcons. They should have won the Super Bowl, when he made the All-Pro team in 2016 and was an NFL Offensive Player of the Year. But he’s not the only great franchise quarterback Atlanta has had. Michael Vick should have built an incredible legacy with the Falcons, but the law caught up with him.
However, in three seasons he certainly revolutionized the quarterback position. It wasn’t their fault that his life imploded. Meanwhile, Steve Bartkowski is arguably the most important signal-caller in franchise history. Over the course of 10 years, he turned them from outsiders to postseason contenders. ‘Bart’ injected quality into the organization and raised their standards to a new level.
Jim Kelly’s shadow hung over the Bills for a long time. However, now that Josh Allen has evolved the Bills look like a different franchise. After 19 candidates, it’s good to finally get there. But it’s impossible to overstate just how good Kelly was for the Bills. He led them to four successive Super Bowl finals, although they infamously failed to win any of them. But as an individual, Kelly was incredible and a regular passing leader in the NFL.
Another great Buffalo quarterback, Jack Kemp also guided the team to a Super Bowl appearance and AFL Championships. Then, Jack Ferguson is the other franchise quarterback of note. He was their starter for 12 seasons and threw for over 20 touchdowns on five occasions. In short, they did have success before Kelly but after him, there was a gaping hole in their offense for many years.
Joe Flacco was a full-time starter for the Ravens for a 10-year spell. The Ravens’ legend never featured in the Pro Bowl and wasn’t an elite quarterback in terms of unusual ability. However, he was excellent in 2012 when they won the Vince Lombardi Trophy and he brought home the Super Bowl MVP Award. In sum, he did what many more celebrated QBs never achieved.
Nowadays, they have the defending NFL MVP Lamar Jackson as their franchise pick. His sophomore year is the stuff of legend after a tough start to life in the NFL. The Louisville product won All-Pro, Pro Bowl, and NFL MVP award honors for his superb 2019. It’s early to call him the greatest in their history because he has yet to inspire overall team glory. However, on a technical level, Jackson is in a different world.
Russell Wilson is one of the most underappreciated quarterbacks in history. But in 2020 people are starting to appreciate again just how brilliant he is. The Super Bowl winner is a totem of spectacular efficiency. A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, he is just a stellar athlete. He also stands out as the leading franchise quarterback in Seahawks’ history. However, the competition isn’t amazing.
Matt Hasselbeck enjoyed a decade as Seattle’s starting signal-caller. Hasselbeck injected confidence into Seattle’s offense and played an important role on the road to their first Super Bowl appearance. Dave Krieg and Jim Zorn also started for reasonably long periods and made Pro Bowl appearances. However, Wilson alone demonstrates the transformative effect of a franchise quarterback on a team’s long-term prospects.
Drew Brees is definitely the greatest franchise quarterback in Saints’ history. A Super Bowl MVP and winner, he came up trumps in the most clutch of circumstances on multiple occasions down through his 14 years with the team. Furthermore, he is a two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year. However, before Brees, the Saints have a mixed history when it comes to franchise QBs.
Archie Manning is undoubtedly their second greatest and a sentimental favorite of many older fans. He passed for over 20,000 yards across 13 seasons with the franchise. Longevity is something front offices want when they put their faith in a signal-caller. He also made the Pro Bowl twice. Finally, Aaron Brooks and Bobby Herbert had their moments but aren’t on the same level as Brees or Manning.
This entry will ensure that nobody can accuse us of recency bias. The former Redskins had some magnificent quarterbacks down through the years but it’s a pity that it feels like a million years since they had a truly great one. Sammy Baugh revolutionized the significance of the position in the 1940s, as the sport began to find himself. In fact, he was arguably the first modern quarterback.
In terms of team success, Joe Theismann helped the Redskins to win Super Bowl XVII and guided them back to the final a year later when they lost. However, he ensured that they were perennial contenders during his heyday. Meanwhile, Mark Rypien and Billy Kilmer also played important roles throughout their history. In recent years, Washington was unlucky with Robert Griffin III’s injury situation.
Now we’re getting to the good ones. The Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes now and it looks like he will evolve into their greatest quarterback ever. However, only recency bias could put them higher on this list. If Mahomes avoids injury and reproduces his sensational 2019 form over several seasons, he can claim to be the franchise’s best signal-caller in history.
Right now Len Dawson probably still edges it as the Chiefs’ greatest franchise quarterback. His numbers are ridiculous in comparison to every Kansas quarterback other than Mahomes. Furthermore, he helped blast them to their first Super Bowl victory. Honorable mentions go to an aging but game Joe Montana as well as Trent Green, who was consistent throughout the early 2000s.
As a personality, Ken Stabler was one of the most entertaining in the NFL. He was also a brilliant clutch quarterback and the greatest in the history of the Raiders’ franchise. Stabler helped them to beat the Minnesota Vikings to win the Super Bowl and even scored a touchdown during the victory. He was as good as any quarterback during his era and one of the league’s icons.
Then there was Jim Plunkett who won Comeback Player of the Year honors after reinventing himself in black-and-silver. Furthermore, he also helped the franchise to two Super Bowl wins. Statistics don’t tell the full story, as Plunkett actually threw more interceptions than touchdowns during his time in Oakland. Derek Carr is numerically one of the best in their history but hasn’t influenced the franchise as Daryle Lamonica did.
Dan Marino is one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks ever. One of the purest passers of a ball in football history, he guided the Dolphins into the playoffs 10 times. As franchise QBs go, he’s up there with the best ever. The NFL MVP award-winner and multiple-time All-Pro selection was a stellar player. Then there’s Bob Griese who won the Super Bowl twice with Miami.
This franchise has had some amazing signal-callers. Earl Morral spent a significant chunk of time as Griese’s back-up but was their starter in 1972 when the Dolphin became the only NFL team ever to go unbeaten. Now Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise’s great hope. It’s much too early to judge him yet, but there is little doubt that he has the potential to be up there with the best.
The Patriots are a tricky franchise to place on this list. On one hand, they had the single most effective franchise quarterback in history in Tom Brady. But if you play devil’s advocate, they don’t really have anybody else close to him. Furthermore, they only won their first Super Bowl in 2001. That’s a long time to go without the NFL’s biggest prize.
However, after drafting the famously unfancied Brady, they went on to win six Vince Lombardi Trophies. When it comes to other signal-callers, Drew Bledsoe, Babe Parilli, and Steve Grogan jump out. None of them had anywhere near the success of Brady but did make the Pro Bowl during their tenures. Only time will tell who will be their next franchise quarterback after the Cam Newton experiment.
The Broncos won three fewer Super Bowls than the Patriot,s but when it comes to overall franchise quarterback success they’ve arguably been more consistent. First, John Elway lives and breathes Denver. A two-time Super Bowl winner, Denver traded for him after he refused to play for the Colts. That was a magnificent decision because he is now synonymous with the franchise.
Then there was the inspiring decision to risk it all on the older, broken version of Peyton Manning. He did for the Broncos what the Bucs hope Tom Brady will do for them. Manning brought a winning mentality to the franchise and inspired them to Super Bowl glory. Elsewhere, Jake Plummer and Craig Morton brought consistency to the position and moderate success.
Eli Manning, Y.A. Tittle, and Phil Simms are the main reason why the Giants rank this high on this list. These three names include two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks as well as multiple MVP award winners. A two-time winner of the NFL’s biggest prize, Manning’s most iconic moment came in helping to defeat the undefeated New England Patriots in 2007.
Simms also won two Super Bowls and, like Manning, helped himself to the showpiece event’s MVP award. Finally, critics believed that Tittle was past his best when he came to the Giants, but he made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons with the franchise. He also led the league in passing touchdowns twice, showing how consistent he was. The Giants definitely had success with their franchise quarterbacks.
They have the same amount of Super Bowl wins as the Patriots, but they jump ahead of them in this list because they spread their success through various eras. Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls and played on a brilliant team alongside Franco Harris. This Steelers’ dynasty was one of the strongest in history and a truly unique team. Meanwhile, Bradshaw’s personal story is one of great redemption.
Then there is Ben Roethlisberger. A two-time Super Bowl winner, ‘Big Ben’ is statistically the greatest franchise quarterback in Pittsburgh history with six seasons of 4,000 yards or more. Meanwhile, Neil O’Donnell helped revive the storied team in the early ’90s. In sum, they enjoyed generational success as opposed to a single dynasty like the Patriots and were more consistent in their franchise quarterback picks.
‘America’s Team’ had some superb quarterbacks down through the years. Tony Romo and Dan White enjoyed very impressive years with major postseason success. However, they were still better than many teams’ best-ever quarterbacks. In fact, they are two of the most underrated signal-callers in NFL history. But the real reason the Cowboys rank this is high is because of Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.
These two men brought sustained class and Super Bowl glory to Dallas. First, Aikman threw for over 30,000 yards in a career that saw three Super Bowl wins. Meanwhile, Staubach’s Cowboys won the franchise’s first two Super Bowls in 1971 and 1977. Fans are divided over who they think was better, but one thing for certain is that both of them were brilliant.
As a franchise, the Colts have had unbelievable luck with their quarterbacks. Down through the years they have had success with many of their selections. For 17 seasons, Johnny Unitas was a force of nature, passing for almost 40,000 yards in a Super Bowl-winning career. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning is probably the first franchise quarterback who jumps to mind when fans think of Indianapolis.
He also helped bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy home as he became one of the NFL’s most iconic players. The eight-time All-Pro selection also won the MVP award four times. Furthermore, Andrew Luck was also stellar without the on-field success of Manning or Unitas. The likes of Bert Jones and Jim Harbaugh help show the Colts’ consistency in this position down through the years.
The Packers deserve to be right up there when it comes to the franchise quarterback discussion. Throughout their history, they’ve had extraordinary success in the position. First, you have Bart Starr who helped them win Super Bowls I and II. Meanwhile, Lynn Dickey also made the All-Pro team during his time in Green Bay. That’s before you even get close to the modern era.
Enter Brett Favre, who won the Super Bowl as well as three NFL MVP awards during an extraordinary 16 years with the franchise. Finally, we have Aaron Rodgers, who is one of the best of his era. He won the Super Bowl, made the All-Pro team twice, and was an eight-time Pro Bowler. Each of their star quarterbacks has enjoyed an incredible team and individual success. No pressure, Jordan Love.
The Packers push them close, but when it comes to long-term franchise quarterback success, the 49ers have an incredible history. Of course, Joe Montana jumps to mind immediately. With his four Super Bowl rings and two MVP awards, he was one of the most valuable players in the league. Meanwhile, Steve Young is another franchise icon who won Super Bowl XXIX and led the league’s passer rating charts for a record six seasons.
These two men stand out on their own as NFL icons but John Brodie and Y.A. Tittle deserve appreciation for their efforts during their eras. In short, the 49ers have an excellent record when it comes to selecting and sustaining quarterbacks for the longterm. However, only time will tell if they can find another franchise quarterback for the future because recent playmakers are not near the same level of Montana and Young.