With the 2012 NFL season beginning in a few short weeks on March 13, there is a lot of speculation about who is going to be released, franchised, tendered, and/or resigned. Much of the speculation is surrounding the future of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Will Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Isray, who stated publically that Manning will choose whether or not he returns to Indianapolis based on his contract needs, release the player responsible for putting the Colts back on the map for the past 10 seasons? If that is the case and Manning is released, many teams will try to sign Manning hoping that he still has some magic left in his arm to lead his new team to a Super Bowl victory. But is Manning worth it? Is it worth it for a team to allocate their resources to signing a quarterback who is not only recovering from neck surgery, but is clearly on the down slide of his career? There have been many teams in the past who have acquired big name quarterback in hopes they would lead them to a Super Bowl Victory, but it rarely works out. In fact, many of the great quarterbacks that moved to another team only stayed for a couple or a few years before hanging it up permanently. In those years, teams lose out on the vital draft picks either during the trade, or passing on players because they have their savior. Teams are better off drafting and developing a young quarterback.
Here are a few examples of big name quarterbacks (in no particular order) that changed teams via free agency or trade. Please keep in mind that I'm not referring to any free agent quarterbacks. Jim Plunkett is not on this list because he was labeled a bust after his time with New England and San Francisco and recharged his terrible career with the Oakland Raiders. And Trent Dilfer is not on this list because, although he won a Super Bowl, he wasn't exactly a high profile free agent when he left Baltimore. Dilfer signed as a back up quarterback with Seattle Seahawks. This list focuses on the future Hall of Fame quarterbacks signed by teams expecting them to win them a Super Bowl. History will show, that teams my want to temper their expectations when trading for or signing a veteran All Pro quarterback.
1. Joe Namath (1964 – 1977, New York Jets, Los Angeles Rams)
Joe Namath was an NFL icon. He changed the league in more ways than one. Namath (or Broadway Joe as he came to be known) was legendary with the New York Jets. He broke and set most most of the Jets' passing records and led them to a Super Bowl III victory in 1969, a game in which he was named MVP. In 1977 Namath was waived by the Jets and moved to the eager Los Angeles Rams in an attempt to revitalize his career. Unfortunately, Namath's past knee injuries took their toll, and Namath retired after that lone season taking with him the hope of the Los Angeles fan base who were counting on the magic from Broadway to continue on Sunset.
2. Joe Montana (1979-1994, San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs)
The best quarterback to play in the NFL period. A four time Super Bowl winning QB, three time Super Bowl MVP, and a 2 time League MVP in 1989 and 1990, Montana is the pinnacle of what every current and future NFL QB aspires to become. Comeback Joe never broke any of the major passing records. What he did was win. From 1979 until he retired in 1995, Joe Montana plagued the NFL with his accurate arm and his smart decision making. Montana missed almost the entire 1992 season, returning only in the Monday Night finale against the Detroit Lions where it seemed as though he never missed a beat. But by that time, Steve Young had already led San Francisco to the playoffs, and was poised to take over for an aging Montana. The 49ers traded Montana after the 1992 season to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs saw mild success with Montana at the helm, as they made the playoffs in 1993 where they lost the AFC championship game to the Buffalo Bills and lost to the Miami Dolphins in round one of the 1994 playoffs. Montana retired in April of 1995, ending the most storied career in NFL history. Why is he on this list? The Chiefs made the playoffs, but never won or made it to a Super Bowl with Montana playing QB. Although Montana gave them hope, he didn't push them over the hump. KC also missed out on crucial draft picks, passing on possible franchise quarterbacks because as far as they were concerned, they had one.
3. Brett Favre (1992-2010, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings)
Brett Favre's history is pretty recent and is a perfect example of how a team trying to push themselves over that hump can fall flat. Favre, a former 4 time NFL MVP, had a very productive career for the Green Bay Packers -- breaking many different NFL records, including most wins and most touchdown passes. Favre led the Packers to their first Super Bowl win in 28 years by defeating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXIX. Many will throw up a red flag because Favre was acquired via trade by Green Bay from the Atlanta Falcons. At this point in his career, Favre was not an established, successful NFL QB, but a potential draft bust. In 2008 Favre decided to hang up the cleats, but had a change of heart and wanted to return. The Packers had already committed to Aaron Rodgers, the NFL's current MVP. Favre was traded to the Jets, who were eager to bring in such an established NFL icon in the hopes that he would get them a Super Bowl victory. The Jets ended the season a paltry 9-7 and missed out on the playoffs. Favre retired again, and was released by the Jets in early 2009. The Jets went on to draft quarterback Mark Sanchez in the 2010 NFL draft. In 2010 the Minnesota Vikings jumped at the chance to sign Favre, a former division rival. Minnesota saw some success with Favre leading the offense, but a very poor decision to throw back across the field (which is considered the most dangerous throw for a quarterback to make) to wide receiver Sidney Rice in the 2009 NFC Championship Game resulted in an interception, and a Minnesota loss. Favre would return to the Vikings in 2010, but Minnesota would go on to finished 6-10 and miss the playoffs. Both the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Jets got caught up in hype that a big name QB, who had success in the past, was available. Both teams got let down.
There are many names that can be placed on this list. The Viking got burnt again in 2011 when they signed free agent quarterback Donovan McNabb , who also burnt the Washington Redskins. McNabb had some success during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles, and was considered a top free agent quarterback in 2010. Johnny Unitas can also be placed on this list. After one of the most memorable quarterback careers for the Baltimore Colts (who wouldn't have another great quarterback until the drafted Peyton Manning number one overall in the 1998 draft), Unitas was traded to a terrible San Diego Chargers team in 1973, who turned to Dan Fouts in the middle of the 1993 season. Unitas retired in 1974 having never truly contributed to San Diego. And the list goes on! Players like Drew Brees and Steve Young did not make this list. Brees was released by the San Diego Chargers in 2005 who decided to commit to Philip Rivers, and although Brees had some mild success while in San Diego, the jury was still out on whether or not he would end up being a great quarterback. Brees had durability issues coming off of an elbow injury, and teams were concerned about his short stature. He made San Diego regret their decision by winning Super Bowl XLIV with the New Orleans Saints. Steve Young was not an established QB either when he was traded from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the San Francisco 49ers in 1987. Although he went on to be one of the best quarterbacks of all time, he was brought to San Francisco as a back up to Joe Montana, not to save the team.
It is true that really great quarterbacks are hard to come by, and the temptation to grab one when they are available is hard to resist. When looking at the history, though, NFL teams may want to think twice and/or temper their expectations when going after former big name quarterbacks.