Quarterback play makes and breaks NFL teams each and every season. It’s for that reason that teams often pit two or even three players against each other in training camps and in preseason games in order to find out who will hopefully be a starting quarterback capable of winning a Super Bowl. Such decisions don’t always work out for teams, as you’ll see with the first example on this list.
Here are the 10 biggest NFL quarterback controversies of all time.
10. Cleveland Browns 1999-2014
Trying to pick a single quarterback controversy from the so-called “new Browns” is like trying to pick your favorite snowflake while using only your naked eye. They all look the same, and none of them stand out any more than do any of the others.
Tim Couch vs. Kelly Holcomb. Trent Dilfer vs. Charlie Frye. Charlie Frye vs. Derek Anderson. Derek Anderson vs. Brady Quinn. Colt McCoy vs. Jake Delhomme vs. Seneca Wallace. Brandon Weeden vs. NFL quarterback skills.
You get the idea.
History is set to once again repeat itself in the summer and (probably) the fall of 2014. Veteran Brian Hoyer, who has started all of four games in his NFL career AND who is coming off of a torn ACL, will be competing for the Cleveland starting gig with rookie phenom Johnny Manziel. The first-year pro QB known as Johnny Football will have to earn his playing time, as Hoyer is atop the depth chart at the start of summer.
9. Drew Bledsoe vs. Tom Brady
Some teams just have all of the luck. The Patriots already had a championship-caliber quarterback in Bledsoe, who had taken the club to Super Bowl XXXI, when they drafted Brady via the 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Brady served as Bledsoe’s backup in 2000, appearing in just a single game in his rookie campaign.
Brady would get his chance to shine early on in 2001 after Bledsoe was injured during New England’s second regular season game. Shine Brady did, winning 11 of 14 starts. Although Bledsoe played well when relieving Brady in the AFC Championship Game (Brady had suffered a knee injury), the second-year QB was given the start for the Super Bowl.
The rest, as they say, is history. Brady went on to be the MVP of Super Bowl XXXVI and of Super Bowl XXVIII, and he will be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
8. Bernie Kosar vs. Vinny Testaverde
Those outside of northeast Ohio and/or those who don’t follow the Browns cannot understand what Kosar has, for decades, meant to fans of the team. He rigged the 1985 draft process so that he would end up in Cleveland. Kosar went on to be the best quarterback to start for the Browns during the Super Bowl era, even though he never managed to get the team to the Big Game.
The skills of the beloved QB were admittedly dwindling by the time an unproven defensive coordinator named Bill Belichick was named head coach of the Browns in 1991. Belichick and Kosar clashed, which resulted in the team acquiring Testaverde before the 1993 season. The two split time that year until Kosar was controversially released halfway through the campaign, a decision that rocked the city of Cleveland and one that deprived a city of its hero less than two years before it was to find out that it was to lose its professional football team.
7. Jay Schroeder vs. Doug Williams
Schroeder unexpectedly became the first-choice quarterback for the Washington Redskins in 1985 after starter Joe Theismann suffered a brutal and career-ending leg injury during a game against the New York Giants. Schroeder settled in under center, and he led the ‘Skins to 12 victories the following the season.
The controversy began during the NFC title game. With Schroeder visibly shaken after being hit time and time again by the menacing pass rush of the Giants, Williams, a veteran backup, appeared to be set to enter the game. Schroeder ordered his backup to go back to the sideline, however, and Washington went on to get shut out.
Schroeder separated his shoulder in the ’87 season opener. He and Williams would split time during the season, and Williams went on to win three games in which he subbed for Schroeder. Williams was named the starter for the playoffs, a decision that resulted in the Redskins winning Super Bowl XXII.
Williams was named MVP for that game.
6. Rob Johnson vs. Doug Flutie
Johnson made noise in the opening game of the 1997 regular season, when he, while with the Jacksonville Jaguars, completed 20 of 24 pass attempts for 294 yards and two touchdowns in a winning effort. He suffered multiple high ankle sprains in that contest, however, and Mark Brunell took over for Johnson for most of the rest of the season.
The Bills acquired Johnson via a trade the following offseason, and the club gave him a $25 million deal. Buffalo had also signed Flutie, an undersized gamer who was Johnny Manziel before Manziel was Manziel.
Johnson went down to injury in a Week 5 game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Bills won four straight games under Flutie, who led the team to the playoffs that season. Flutie, a Buffalo fan-favorite for what he achieved in 1998, won 10 starts in 1999. Johnson was given the start in what was, for the Bills, a meaningless regular season finale, and he impressed head coach Wade Phillips so much that Phillips went with Johnson ahead of Flutie for the team’s Wild Card game against the Tennessee Titans.
Buffalo lost that game. The franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since.
5. Greg Morton vs. Roger Staubach
Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry found himself facing an old-school vs. new school dilemma when Staubach, who had to complete military commitments before he was able to play pro football, officially joined the Cowboys in 1969. Morton was a classic pocket passer, and a good one at that, while Staubach was a more mobile QB who could also win with his arm.
Landry would become so conflicted that, in a game against the Chicago Bears which took place during the 1971 season, he rotated Morton and Staubach on each offensive play. Staubach eventually won the starting job, one that he kept up through the 1979 season (minus 1972, during which Staubach dealt with a shoulder injury).
The two would face off in Super Bowl XII, with Staubach leading the Cowboys and Morton as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Morton had himself a horrible outing, and he was benched before the conclusion of the third quarter.
Staubach, meanwhile, won the Super Bowl on two occasions, and he is enshrined in Canton.
4. Phil Simms vs. Jeff Hostetler
A quarterback controversy that would benefit and also hurt the New York Giants arose near the end of the 1990 regular season. Simms, who had led the Giants to Super Bowl glory during the ’86 campaign, was having a banner year until he suffered a broken foot in the team’s 14th regular season game. Hostetler stepped in, and he, largely through the help of his defense, guided Big Blue to a Super Bowl XXV showdown versus the Buffalo Bills.
Hostetler played well on football’s biggest stage. He converted on three third-down plays during a 14-play drive that opened the third quarter, one of the greatest drives in Super Bowl history. The Giants famously won the game after Buffalo’s Scott Norwood pushed a field goal wide right at the death, and “Hoss” went on to be named the New York starting quarterback by then new head coach Ray Handley.
It all went wrong from there for the Giants. Hostetler, limited by injuries, appeared in just 25 games over the next two seasons before he was released by the club. Simms would go on to have a solid season in 1993, but shoulder surgery the following offseason ended his career.
3. Drew Brees vs. Philip Rivers
Fans of the San Diego Chargers could view this as the “what could have been” QB controversy. Brees, thought by many to be too small to excel as a NFL quarterback, had hardly shined in three seasons with the Chargers when the 2004 NFL Draft rolled around. The club used the first pick of that draft to take Eli Manning, who had made it clear that he would not sign for San Diego. Manning was eventually traded to the New York Giants for Rivers and for draft picks.
Brees ended up winning the starting job, however, thanks largely to Rivers only showing up during the last week of training camp due to contract negotiations. Rivers wouldn’t get his shot until 2006, while Brees, who had suffered a serious shoulder injury in the final contest of the ’05 campaign, went on to sign with the New Orleans Saints after that season.
Rivers has since had a very good career. Manning, meanwhile, is a two-time Super Bowl MVP. Brees was named MVP for Super Bowl XLIV.
2. Joe Montana vs. Steve Young
History tries to tell fans that this is the greatest QB controversy ever. As it would turn out, coach Bill Walsh and the rest of his staff perfectly handled the matter. Yes, Montana did play horribly enough in a 1987 Divisional Playoff Game to be replaced by Young, and there were definitely some whispers in the Bay Area that Montana’s best days had passed him by that offseason.
Walsh stuck with Montana, and the Niners won back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
The QB battle ended up being decided by a team other than the 49ers. Montana was badly injured when facing the New York Giants in the 1991 NFC Championship Game, and he would never be the same while with the Niners. Young, in time, settled in as the San Fran starter, and he eventually went on to have his own Hall-of-Fame career.
1. Brett Favre vs. Aaron Rodgers
It was the quarterback controversy that changed the public perception of one Hall-of-Famer, and jump-started the career of another. The story began in the 2004 NFL Draft, when Rodgers surprisingly plummeted down the board until he was selected by the Packers via the 24th overall pick. Rodgers settled in behind Favre on the depth chart, and Favre went on to have lacklustre campaigns in 2005 and 2006.
Then came 2007, when Favre had a magical season in which he led the Packers to a 13-3 record. His career seemingly came to a close when he threw a costly interception in overtime of the NFC Championship Game, a pick that put the New York Giants through into the Super Bowl and one that handed the keys to the offense over to Rodgers.
Or so we all thought.
Favre retired and then surprisingly unretired, splitting the fan base of the Packers and also putting Rodgers in a rather awkward position of wanting to play and also not wanting to alienate fans who loved their idol. Favre, after a long and public process, was eventually traded to the New York Jets.
While Favre hurt his reputation on and off the field over the next several years, Rodgers, who to this day has multiple chips on his shoulders, developed into one of the best in the business, a Super Bowl champion quarterback.