These NFL Quarterbacks Held On For One Season Too Long

Darren - October 27, 2022

These NFL Quarterbacks Held On For One Season Too Long

Darren - October 27, 2022

Almost every young football player out there dreams of becoming their favorite team’s quarterback. It’s the most glamorous position on the field and many of them become superstars. But even some of the greatest top signal-callers of all time held on for one season too long instead of retiring.

It’s often a shame because sometimes it tarnishes their legacy and affects the fans’ overall perception of their careers. Few players like John Elway and Otto Graham successfully walk away with their heads held high. Read ahead to see the quarterbacks who held on for too long below.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick remained a popular figure throughout his lengthy career in the NFL. He tried to play for nearly every franchise before his retirement but he hung on for too long. The veteran’s numbers declined every season as he failed to establish himself as a consistent starter (via

He spent 17 seasons in the league with nine different teams but started 16 games only three times in his career. He played an important role for the Dolphins before his final move to Washington in 2021. However, he held on for too long and only made a single appearance.

Donovan McNabb

McNabb was the Eagles’ starting quarterback for 10 years before his numbers fell off a cliff. He’s a shining example of how things can go wrong very quickly for an established star. In 2008, he had his best statistical season but two years later the Redskins benched him.

Philly fans lost patience with him before the franchise shipped him to Washington. The team hoped that his experience would steady the ship but everything went wrong for McNabb. In the end, he became their third-string QB before playing six games in Minnesota (via Bleacher Report).

Troy Aikman

Aikman served as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback throughout one of the franchise’s most successful eras. However, he suffered 10 brutal concussions with the team and arguably hung on for too long. This may have long-term health implications because of the damage he sustained.

Incredibly, Aikman wanted to play for the Dolphins before they refused to sign him. His final game saw LaVar Arrington smash him into unconsciousness in front of the world. Some players take irresponsible risks with their health and Aikman was one of them (via Sportscasting).

Eli Manning

Manning enjoyed 16 seasons with the Giants and helped them to two iconic Super Bowl wins. However, his career came to an acrimonious end after he lost his place as the starting quarterback. Joe Judge favored Daniel Jones over the veteran despite the latter’s decent numbers in 2018.

The writing was on the wall for Manning in his final season with the franchise. He played only four times that season before saying goodbye to the fans. It would have been better if he walked away during the previous offseason because this didn’t make anybody involved happy (via Forbes).

Brad Johnson

Johnson will always be a Tampa Bay legend because he helped the franchise to a Super Bowl win. However, the end came too late for the quarterback after he held on for too long in the NFL. He found himself in Minnesota after the Vikings dropped him because of salary cap issues.

In his final season with Minnesota, he threw nine touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Fans called for his head and the franchise released him. Retirement was calling his name but he decided to prolong his career. Dallas signed him as a backup but he barely played for the team (via The Star).

Sports Illustrated

Jim Plunkett

There’s no doubt that Plunkett hung on for too long as an NFL starter. The former Raiders quarterback won two Super Bowls with the franchise despite posting mediocre numbers. Meanwhile, he regularly suffered over 35 sacks per season and they took their toll on him.

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Now he suffers from Bell’s Palsy and lives every day in a state of pain. It’s a tragedy because he could have avoided some of this damage if he retired earlier. He dealt with a lot of injuries for the last couple of seasons of his career. Unfortunately, some players don’t know when to quit (via Mercury News).

Steve McNair

McNair had a fabulous career with the Titans and became one of the most popular quarterbacks in the league. However, he should have retired after 11 seasons with his first franchise. But he decided to play for Baltimore before he retired.

The signal-caller had a reasonable first season with the Ravens but only made six appearances in his second year. He risked severe injuries because he wanted to maximize his career earnings before retirement. The late veteran arguably hung on for too long before walking away from the sport (via Tennessean).

Alex Smith

Smith knows more than anybody how football can change a person’s life for good or for bad. The former Niners quarterback moved to Washington in 2018 but brutally broke his leg. This injury threatened his life because he suffered multiple infections and doctors even considered amputation (via ESPN).

However, he incredibly recovered and returned to the playing field. Washington had a QB crisis in 2020 and Smith started six games with poor production. Nonetheless, his remarkable story saw him with the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. But perhaps he shouldn’t have risked his health again after such a devastating experience.

Rich Gannon

There’s a strong argument to be made that Gannon was one of the most underrated quarterbacks of his generation. However, he hung on for too long with the Raiders because injuries took their toll. These restricted his appearances on the playing field and affected his performances.

His quarterback rating plummeted from a career-high 97.3 in 2002 to 73.5 the following year. It rose again the following year but this came with the caveat that he played fewer games. Gannon had a decent career but everything went wrong quickly for him (via Yardbreaker).

Danny White

Many people forget about White when they think about the Cowboys’ greatest-ever quarterbacks. The underrated star enjoyed a Super Bowl and also made the Pro Bowl during his career. Nonetheless, he arguably held on for too long before retiring (via Sportscasting).

In 1986, White began to deteriorate and struggled with injuries. Dallas returned him as their starter the following year but benched him because of his decline. He should have retired because the writing was on the wall yet he stuck around for another year and played.

Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers is arguably the most talented quarterback of his generation. The three-time MVP became a controversial figure after he held the Packers to ransom in 2020. However, Green Bay made a mistake because he suffered a decline in the ensuing years (via Forbes).

Many analysts think that retirement was the best option for Rodgers because he lost his love for the sport. This became stark in 2022 after he lost star wide receiver, Davante Adams. His passer rating suffered a stark decline and fell below 100 in most games. Meanwhile, he struggled with longer throws and fell down the QB rankings.

Dan Marino

Many people think that Marino is one of if not the greatest players never to win a Super Bowl. The Dolphins’ defense never matched their offense and that’s one of the many reasons they fell short. Nonetheless, Marino was a superb pure passer and became a superstar in Miami.

However, he held on for too long because his form and the Dolphins deteriorated. Everybody knows about his notorious final game with the franchise against the Jaguars. Meanwhile, Marino’s numbers plummeted and he retired because his legs began to fail (via USA Today Sports).

Dan Fouts

Fouts remains one of the greatest quarterbacks in Chargers franchise history. Like Dan Marino, he never won a Super Bowl but everybody acknowledges his brilliance. However, the Hall of Famer arguably played for too long as the team and his body declined (via L.A. Times).

He played a full season for the final time in 1981 but didn’t retire for another six seasons. Furthermore, his numbers dropped each year after this. This isn’t surprising as he aged and suffered more injuries. Another issue was that the Chargers failed to refresh the roster during his time with the team.

Drew Bledsoe

It’s easy to forget that there was a time before Tom Brady was in New England. But Bledsoe was an excellent starter for the Patriots in his own right. He spent nine seasons with the franchise before Brady usurped him. Then he went to the Bills before finishing his career in Dallas.

Bledsoe’s performances were decent in his first season with the Cowboys but he held on for too long. The team benched him in favor of Tony Romo because he went through a rapid decline. Nobody saw it coming but the NFL is a cruel sport and this happens very quickly (via Audacy).


Charlie Conerly

It says a lot that Conerly retired for 18 months after he suffered a massive concussion. But then he decided that he was fine and returned to football. This was ludicrous behavior and could have cost him dearly. Health and safety standards were indeed different in those days but it still bemused.


Conerly had a great career with the Giants but he received more sacks than Santa Claus. In one game against the Steelers, he took a ludicrous 17 hits. The quarterback also served his country during World War II. Bizarrely, he never made it into the Hall of Fame (via Sports Illustrated).

Jay Cutler

Cutler was a quarterback with a lot of faults but nobody can say he wasn’t a tough customer. He endured many injuries during his time with the Bears. Yes, he struggled with consistency but he played through the pain barrier. He retired in 2017 but returned when the Dolphins experienced an injury crisis.

But this was arguably a serious mistake because he received even more punishment. Cutler had broken ribs and even concussions during his time in Miami. He had nothing left to prove but couldn’t resist the lure of the NFL. He held on for too long and it may cost him in the future (via Dolphins Talk).

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Terry Bradshaw

Bradshaw won four Super Bowls with the Steelers but he also caused the franchise a lot of problems. These were unintentional but came about because he held on for too long. Injuries marred the final couple of seasons of his career and meant that Pittsburgh didn’t enjoy the best version of him.

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This was a shame because he was brilliant during his prime. Furthermore, he retired on short notice without giving the Steelers time to make a succession plan. They missed out on Dan Marino because they thought that Bradshaw was going to continue playing (via Bleacher Report).

Kurt Warner

Nobody had a career like Warner’s after he belied his undrafted status to become a Super Bowl MVP. But arguably the quarterback held on for too long to his NFL dream. He was brilliant for the Rams before his form fell apart. Then he found himself in Arizona and had a career renaissance.

He helped the team to a Super Bowl appearance but they failed to win. Retirement beckoned for the signal-caller but he chose to play for another season. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but this was a mistake. In the end, he retired after the Saints took a bounty out on him (via The Guardian).

Sports Illustrated

Ken Anderson

The Bengals have quietly enjoyed some brilliant quarterbacks without experiencing the success of other franchises. Anderson was their star man for over two decades but arguably held on for too long. Sometimes players overstay their welcome and Anderson did.

In the end, he barely featured in his final two seasons for the franchise. Then he fell behind Boomer Esiason in the pecking order and never regained his place. The writing was on the wall for Anderson because he shouldn’t have risked injuries. But he continued playing because he loved the sport (via Bleacher Report).

Warren Moon

There’s no doubt that Moon and Kurt Warner are the two greatest undrafted quarterbacks of all time. Moon’s career was crucial because he helped to break down barriers as the first black QB to enter the Hall of Fame. He played for 23 years but he arguably held on for too long (via Yardbreaker).

The less said about his time in Kansas City the better. After all, he only played three times for the Chiefs across two seasons. It’s not even worth mentioning his passing record or his interception rate because of the sample size. It’s a shame he didn’t hang up his cleats after he left Seattle.

Randall Cunningham

Cunningham had a decent career with the Vikings throwing to Randy Moss. But the team wasted a great opportunity to win a Super Bowl and Daunte Culpepper replaced him. Then he bounced around the league as a backup quarterback with mixed success (via Bleacher Report).

Some people think that he held on for too long and should have quit earlier. He had a decent impact in Dallas as he stepped in for the injured Troy Aikman. But there’s nothing else to say about his later adventures with the Ravens. In short, he could have quit and saved himself from the physical trauma.

Russell Wilson

Some people may think that it’s crazy to include Wilson on this list already but there’s a good reason. He became a hero in Seattle as he won a Super Bowl. The quarterback earned a fortune on the field while his wife Ciara also has a superstar career. But he decided to move to Denver and throw everything into disarray.

The problem is that their coach, Nathaniel Hackett, didn’t match his system to Wilson’s abilities. It didn’t help that Wilson physically declined as he lost mobility. He received more sacks than ever before in his career. That’s not good for his long-term health because he has nothing left to prove (via American Football International).

Sports Illustrated

Johnny Unitas

There’s a strong argument to be made that Unitas was the first great modern quarterback. The 10-time Pro Bowler won NFL Championships and a Super Bowl during his glittering career with the Colts. It’s almost unfair to mention that final season in San Diego (via Retro Seasons).

Sports Illustrated

He spent 17 years in Baltimore before he decided to try something new instead of retiring. There’s still something wrong with Unitas wearing a Chargers uniform. Furthermore, his form immediately plummeted and he only lasted for a season in California before he retired.

Mark Sanchez

These days. most people think of the butt fumble when they hear Sanchez’s name. It’s a bit harsh because the quarterback wasn’t as bad as some fans think. He helped the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship games before everything went wrong for him and the franchise.

After he quit the jets he joined the Eagles and had the chance to be the starter. He didn’t play badly but failed to secure the jersey and this set him on a nomadic road around the NFL. It was unfortunate that he held on for so long but teams valued him as a backup option (via The Spun).

Bleacher Report

Vinny Testaverde

Fans paid tribute to Testaverde’s longevity after he finally retired in 2007 with the Panthers. He played for 21 seasons and accumulated the most losses by any quarterback in NFL history. Testaverde received a lot of opportunities because of his consistency (via Sportsnet).

But he suffered a natural drop-off toward the end of his career. The problem was that his age made him less effective and he endured injuries like torn Achilles tendons and strains. These prevented him from being the same player that he was in his prime as he held on for too long.

Steve Grogan

Grogan was the Patriots’ best quarterback before Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady. Fans loved him because of his toughness in the pocket and also because of his consistency. Unfortunately, the Patriots suffered a downturn toward the end of his career including a horrible 1-15 season in 1990.

It’s fair to say that Grogan also held on for too long because he became a rotation option. He was unable to irrefutably seal his place as the team’s starter for his final seven seasons. Grogan also threw more interceptions than touchdowns in each of these campaigns (via CBS Sports).

Tony Romo

The writing was on the wall for Romo after the Cowboys drafted Dak Prescott in 2016. He knew that his NFL career was on borrowed time but he held on for as long as he could. 2015 was a terrible year for the quarterback because he only made four appearances.

But he still opted to return the following year despite being unable to supplant Prescott. Meanwhile, injuries meant that he missed most of the season anyway. Dallas handed him the opportunity to say goodbye to the fans but he should have retired earlier (via Sports Illustrated).

Philip Rivers

Rivers spent 16 seasons with the Chargers before he signed a one-year deal with the Colts. He frustrated Chargers fans in his final couple of years as his output declined. That’s why the team released him at the end of his contract. Many people will point at his $25 million contract in Indianapolis and say it was a good idea to sign up.

However, Rivers allegedly earned over $200 million throughout his career. He also lives a simple life and drives a plain 2008 F-450. It’s clear that the money isn’t his biggest motivation but he continued playing. He endured mixed fortunes with the Colts before he finally hung up his cleats (via Sportscasting).

Boomer Esiason

Esiason remains a Cincinnati legend and was undoubtedly good during his time with the franchise. The quarterback starred for the team for nine seasons before he returned in the twilight of his NFL career. They traded him to the Jets during a typically turbulent period for Gang Green (via

He received a brutal hit that resulted in a massive concussion in 1995. This put him out of the game and many people thought that he would quit after this. Arguably, he held on for too long because he went to Arizona before his return to Cincinnati and risked his health.

David Carr

Derek’s older brother arrived in the NFL with a big reputation after a great college career at Fresno. But the Texans offered him zero protection and he received a lot of sacks. He left Houston after racking up a total of 249 and his body began to break down (via Pro Football History).

Nobody can blame him for trying to revive his career with the Panthers. But a back injury meant that he couldn’t make an impact on the team. Then he held on for too long as he played for the Giants and the Niners. Sadly, Carr never fulfilled his talent, but it wasn’t entirely his fault.

Michael Vick

Vick returned to the NFL in 2009 after he spent two years in jail. The quarterback deserves praise because he played well for Philadelphia after his comeback. But he hung on for too long because he lost a couple of years of his career. Perhaps he wanted to maximize his earnings or he didn’t know what else to do.

The less said about his time with the Jets or the Steelers the better. That’s because he didn’t capture the imagination with either franchise. Injuries stalled his progress in Pittsburgh and it became clear that he wasn’t at the peak of his powers anymore (via Sportskeeda).

Peyton Manning

Manning’s inclusion on this list may seem controversial or even ridiculous because he won a Super Bowl in his final reason. However, this ring came despite his presence on the Broncos’ roster because he suffered a stark decline. Their defense did all of the hard work throughout the season because he was garbage.

Furthermore, Manning had a miserable passer rating of 56.5 as he struggled throughout the game. It was lucky for Manning that Denver had an unstoppable defense and won because the postmortem wouldn’t have been kind to him. Luckily he managed to retire in style but he should have retired earlier (via USA Today Sports).

Andy Dalton

Dalton is an experienced NFL quarterback and a former starter with the Bengals. However, arguably he held on for too long as he entered the backup carousel. Many long-term starters refuse to consider sitting behind another player but Dalton didn’t have a problem.

Unfortunately, his performances as a backup in Dallas and New Orleans didn’t inspire the masses. He threw multiple pick-sixes and didn’t have the dynamism to bring the teams to the next level. In the end, the big contracts tempted him too much and cost his franchises (via Fox News).

Y.A. Tittle

Tittle was the subject of one of the most legendary and iconic football photographs ever. However, arguably this famous shot of the great quarterback should never have happened. The Giants suffered a stark decline in 1964 and age began to catch up with the signal-caller.

Then he suffered a brutal hit that left him with a concussion and broken ribs. It’s dangerous to play for too long in the NFL because things can go wrong in an instant. Players test their luck every time they step onto the playing field and risk their health (via USA Today Sports).

Ben Roethlisberger

Many front offices struggle with quarterback succession because they don’t want to move on too quickly. Most rookies aren’t capable of replacing an elite starter like Roethlisberger. But when the veteran suffers a physical decline it can be too late (via CBS Sports).

Roethlisberger was terrible in his final two seasons for the Steelers after his return from injury. He aged quickly and his arm began to fail him regularly. One horrible performance in the playoffs against the Browns summed it up. Unfortunately, the two-time Super Bowl winner began to cost his team games.

Joe Namath

Nobody wanted to see Namath play for the Rams after he left New York. He built up his reputation as one of the NFL’s most polarizing and popular quarterbacks. The Super Bowl winner was an icon in the Big Apple but he held on for too long and should have retired earlier.

He signed a contract in L.A. but this was a mistake because his body wasn’t the same. Injuries restricted him to a handful of appearances and he quit the sport after the season. It’s a pity that he didn’t retire after his final year with the Jets because they loved him (via N.Y. Daily News).

Brett Favre

Favre is one of Green Bay’s three greatest quarterbacks ever but his career came to a miserable end. Arguably he should have retired in style after he left the Packers. But he tried to return when they didn’t need him and this infuriated the Super Bowl winner.

Then he moved to the New York Jets before a short spell with the Vikings. His numbers plummeted and he failed to make a significant impact for either team outside of a near-Super Bowl appearance with the Vikings. Fans thought more about his sexual harassment case than his on-field displays. It’s a shame he didn’t hang up his cleats after he left Lambeau Field (via ABC).


Drew Brees

Brees set all kinds of passing records during his time with the Saints but that’s not why he’s on this list. He held on for too long in New Orleans to the starting jersey when he should have retired. His final season saw him suffer a stream of injuries and throw interceptions like they were going out of fashion.

Things go wrong very quickly for even the best quarterbacks because age catches up with them. It’s cruel and there’s nothing that they can do about it. Arguably, an earlier parting of ways would have been kinder for both Brees and the Saints (via USA Today Sports).

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Cam Newton

Newton had one of the great NFL seasons in 2015 when he won the MVP award. However, his decline was stark and he became a free agent after leaving the Panthers. Unfortunately, he hung on for too long and failed to retire. He signed contracts with the Patriots and returned to Carolina but it didn’t work out.

That’s because his body failed him and he couldn’t stay fit. Newton went 13-24 in his final starts for the two teams as his form deteriorated. It’s a shame to see such a gifted athlete suffer such a downturn in performance. But sometimes it’s impossible to recapture the old magic (via Sports Illustrated).

Tom Brady

It didn’t have to be like this for Brady because he had nothing left to prove. The quarterback gave up his wife because he held on for too long to his football career. His supermodel spouse Gisele Bundchen lost patience with the 45-year-old star after he came out of retirement to play another season (via FOX News).

However, it was pointless because the Buccaneers haven’t played well at all under new head coach Todd Bowles. Brady successfully created a fairytale when he won his seventh Super Bowl ring in his debut season with the team two years ago. But he risked devastating injuries and long-term trauma by continuing past his prime.