Best Quarterback in Team History: NFC

Who are the best quarterbacks in the history of every NFL franchise? Inspired by the Y.A. Tittle section of this writing, I examined each team's history to determine its best-ever QB. In each section, you'll find a list of players' QB-TSP, an all-in-one stat-based method for evaluating regular season performance. You don't need to know how it works, but if you want to, click the link(s).

I'll list the top three in QB-TSP for the 10 teams that debuted after 1961, and the top five QBs for the 22 oldest teams. In every case, I used the team's name as of 2016, but included its entire history. Thus, the Tennessee Titans history also includes the Houston Oilers. The Arizona Cardinals also include the Chicago Cardinals, St. Louis Cardinals, and Phoenix Cardinals, etc. Last month, we covered AFC teams. Today, we're examining NFC teams. We'll go in alphabetical order by current location:

Arizona Cardinals: Jim Hart

1. Jim Hart (1966-83) — 16,073
2. Neil Lomax (1981-88) — 9,279
3. Charley Johnson (1961-69) — 7,265
4. Kurt Warner (2005-09) — 5,058
5. Carson Palmer (2013-16) — 4,400

Recency bias may cause some fans to overrate Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer. Warner got benched for both Josh McCown and Matt Leinart before rebounding to lead the Cardinals to the playoffs in 2009 and '10. Palmer was ineffective in 2013, injured in 2014, and pretty average in 2016. Jim Hart made four Pro Bowls and retired as the third-leading passer of all time, behind only Fran Tarkenton and John Unitas. The Cardinals had seven winning seasons with Hart, more than Warner and Palmer combined.

Some old-timers may wish to argue for Paul Christman, who led the Cardinals to their last championship, in 1947. Christman was highly regarded and the team was successful with him under center, but he only played four seasons in Chicago, and the only year he had more touchdowns than interceptions, or a passer rating over 60, was his injury-shortened 1948 season, when he passed for 740 yards and 5 TDs. Paddy Driscoll is a Hall of Famer, but he was a tailback in the 1920s, not a true quarterback. Driscroll was more famous for his kicking than his passing.

Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan

1. Matt Ryan (2008-16) — 12,753
2. Steve Bartkowski (1975-85) — 8,020
3. Chris Chandler (1997-2001) — 5,003

The top two here are obvious. Chandler is in a group with Chris Miller (4,951), Bob Berry (4,678), and Michael Vick (4,003), all of whom rate close to equal. I do think Chandler is the third-best quarterback in team history, but it's close.

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton

1. Cam Newton (2011-16) — 7,942
2. Jake Delhomme (2003-09) — 5,381
3. Steve Beuerlein (1996-2000) — 4,328

The clear top three. Kerry Collins (1,263) had his best years with the Giants.

Chicago Bears: Sid Luckman

1. Jim McMahon (1982-88) — 6,084
2. Johnny Lujack (1948-51) — 6,022
3. Billy Wade (1961-66) — 5,845
4. Ed Brown (1954-61) — 5,632
5. Jay Cutler (2009-16) — 4,421

Sid Luckman is one of the top 20 quarterbacks in history, maybe top 10, but the numerical ratings here are limited to the Modern Era, 1946-present, which excludes Luckman's best seasons. Among teams more than 50 years old, the Bears and Raiders are the only ones without a QB over 10,000 TSP, but the Raiders have two QBs over 9,800. Chicago's historical futility at the modern QB position is entirely unique.

Dallas Cowboys: Roger Staubach

1. Roger Staubach (1969-79) — 15,770
2. Troy Aikman (1989-2000) — 13,375
3. Tony Romo (2003-16) — 13,052
4. Danny White (1976-88) — 8,631
5. Don Meredith (1960-68) — 8,336

Ten current NFL teams began play in 1960 or '61. Among those 10, the top-rated:

#1 QB — Boston/New England Patriots — Tom Brady, 26,529
#2 QB — LA/San Diego Chargers — Philip Rivers, 15,819
#3 QB — Dallas Cowboys — Tony Romo, 13,052
#4 QB — Dallas Cowboys — Danny White, 8,631
#5 QB — Dallas Cowboys — Don Meredith, 8,336

Dallas has the top #6 QB as well (Craig Morton).

Detroit Lions: Bobby Layne

1. Bobby Layne (1950-58) — 10,751
2. Matthew Stafford (2009-16) — 8,033
3. Greg Landry (1968-78) — 7,073
4. Earl Morrall (1958-64) — 3,194
5. Charlie Batch (1998-2001) — 2,667

Dutch Clark — who played so long ago that he was a member of the Portsmouth Spartans before the team moved to Detroit — was a six-time all-pro in seven seasons, and first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he wasn't a quarterback in any modern understanding of the word. Bobby Layne had the strongest arm of his generation, he was a great runner, and his reputation in the '50s was similar to Tom Brady's today. Layne is the best quarterback in franchise history, and — numbers notwithstanding — Matt Stafford is nowhere near catching him.

Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre

1. Brett Favre (1992-2007) — 24,154
2. Aaron Rodgers (2005-16) — 16,976
3. Bart Starr (1956-71) — 13,829
4. Lynn Dickey (1976-85) — 6,873
5. Tobin Rote (1950-56) — 6,124

Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell were great Pre-Modern quarterbacks who aren't rated here. Aaron Rodgers is a wonderful quarterback, but he's only started 135 regular-season games for the Packers. Brett Favre started 253, almost twice as many. Favre made more Pro Bowls with Green Bay (9) than Rodgers has seasons as the starter (8). Rodgers has won two NFL MVP awards; Favre won three. Rodgers has passed for 36,827 yards and 297 TDs. Favre passed for 61,655 yards and 442 TDs.

Aaron Rodgers is a great player, but the suggestion that he's already been better than Favre is ill-informed. I don't think that's something educated fans can differ on at this point; I don't think it's close at all. Believing Rodgers already has the edge is not a tenable difference in opinion; it's a deficiency of knowledge and understanding.

Los Angeles Rams: Norm Van Brocklin

1. Norm Van Brocklin (1949-57) — 13,477
2. Roman Gabriel (1962-72) — 12,496
3. Jim Everett (1986-93) — 10,054
4. Kurt Warner (1998-2003) — 6,763
5. Marc Bulger (2001-09) — 6,364

If I included Bob Waterfield's 1945 season, he would pass Bulger, and probably Warner, on the list. Warner is arguably a case where this method breaks down: I imagine many Rams fans have fonder memories of Warner than of Everett. I also suspect that in 2017, many fans have no memory of Roman Gabriel, but he's a solid number two behind Van Brocklin. Warner went 35-15 (.700) as the Rams' starter. Gabriel went 49-17-4 (.729), and he was named NFL MVP in 1969.

Minnesota Vikings: Fran Tarkenton

1. Fran Tarkenton (1961-66, 1972-78) — 19,556
2. Tommy Kramer (1977-89) — 9,215
3. Daunte Culpepper (1999-2005) — 8,707
4. Wade Wilson (1981-91) — 4,492
5. Warren Moon (1994-96) — 3,663

Randall Cunningham (1997-99) ranks sixth, 3138.

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees

1. Drew Brees (2006-16) — 21,944
2. Archie Manning (1971-82) — 7,282
3. Bobby Hebert (1985-92) — 6,257

Brees has accumulated more Total Statistical Production with New Orleans than the next three Saints combined (Manning, Hebert, and Aaron Brooks add up to 19,767). That doesn't even account for Super Bowl XLIV or the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Brees is the greatest quarterback in Saints history, and it's daylight second, though Manning is pretty obviously next in line.

New York Giants: Charlie Conerly

1. Phil Simms (1979-93) — 12,333
2. Eli Manning (2004-16) — 11,831
3. Charlie Conerly (1948-61) — 11,431
4. Fran Tarkenton (1967-71) — 8,995
5. Y.A. Tittle (1961-64) — 7,263

The team that inspired this exercise. By the method used for career ratings, Tittle and Tarkenton are the greatest quarterbacks in New York Giants history. But tenure is so critical to team identity, I prefer accumulated TSP to value points when determining franchise leaders.

I suspect the list above approximates how most Giants fans feel: Simms and Eli pretty close at the top, with Conerly also in the mix for older fans. I don't think Giants fans want to hear that their best QBs were a Viking and a 49er — and I'm inclined to agree with them. Conerly's memory has dimmed with time, and he doesn't have a clear-cut case over Simms and Manning, but taking everything into account, I lean ever so slightly toward Conerly, with Simms second and Manning third. Tarkenton and Tittle were excellent as Giants, but only for a few years each. If you go back far enough, Benny Friedman is in the mix somewhere.

Philadelphia Eagles: Donovan McNabb

1. Donovan McNabb (1999-2009) — 13,162
2. Ron Jaworski (1977-86) — 10,193
3. Randall Cunningham (1985-95) — 9,017
4. Norm Snead (1964-70) — 6,760
5. Sonny Jurgensen (1957-63) — 6,177

Donovan McNabb was one of the best dual-threat QBs in history. Fran Tarkenton is the only QB with more passing yards and more rushing yards than McNabb. In the 2000s, McNabb had the lowest interception percentage of any QB, and he threw twice as many TDs as INTs. McNabb's statistical excellence is especially remarkable because, other than a year and half with Terrell Owens, he never had great offensive teammates. From 2000-03, McNabb single-handedly generated the offense on a team that won double-digit games every year.

Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders wrote a very good piece, McNabb Deniers, about the irrational hatred that seemed to follow Donovan McNabb. People accuse McNabb of being a choker, but he quarterbacked the Eagles to more playoff wins than Norm Van Brocklin, Ron Jaworski, and Randall Cunningham combined — and had a winning record in the postseason. The Eagles were bad in the late '90s: 6-9-1, 3-13, 5-11. When McNabb became the starter in 2000, they went 11-5. McNabb led the Eagles to five Conference Championship Games, as many as every other quarterback in team history combined — and that includes three by Tommy Thompson in the Bronze Age. Exclude Thompson and the Eagles' conference championship appearances are: 1960 (Van Brocklin), 1980 (Jaws), 2001 (McNabb), 2002 (McNabb), 2003 (McNabb), 2004 (McNabb), and 2009 (McNabb). McNabb is not only the best regular-season QB in team history, he's the most successful in postseason history, as well.

Other than maybe the Packers, there is no other team in the history of professional football to get meaningful production from so many good QBs. In the 1940s, Philadelphia had Tommy Thompson, who doesn't make the list because it's only 1946-present. In the late '50s and early '60s, the team featured Hall of Famers Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgensen. Bobby Thomason, in between Thompson and the HOF duo, wasn't half bad, either. Jurgensen was traded for Norm Snead, who was pretty good, and after a brief dry spell, Roman Gabriel and then Ron Jaworski took the reigns. Jaworski gave way to Randall Cunningham, who had Hall of Fame skills but trouble staying healthy, and he was followed in fairly short order by McNabb. When McNabb left town, Michael Vick briefly played at a high level. None of those players spent their whole careers in Philadelphia, but they were all good quarterbacks who had good seasons wearing an Eagles uniform.

San Francisco 49ers: Joe Montana

1. Joe Montana (1979-92) — 21,513
2. Steve Young (1987-99) — 19,977
3. John Brodie (1957-73) — 17,839
4. Y.A. Tittle (1951-60) — 8,476
5. Jeff Garcia (1999-2003) — 8,388

Combined scores for the 22 teams with five QBs listed, from highest to lowest:

1] 49ers — 76,193
2] Colts — 72,850
3] Packers — 67,956
4] Chargers — 60,539
5] Cowboys — 59,164
6] Patriots — 58,248
7] Browns — 55,794
8] Giants — 51,853
9] Rams — 49,154
10] Washington — 47,463
11] Vikings — 45,633
12] Eagles — 45,309
13] Steelers — 44,701
14] Broncos — 43,253
15] Cardinals — 42,075
16] Chiefs — 39,615
17] Titans — 38,267
18] Raiders — 37,454
19] Jets — 36,720
20] Bills — 34,969
21] Lions — 31,718
22] Bears — 28,004

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson

1. Dave Krieg (1980-91) — 8,933
2. Matt Hasselbeck (2001-10) — 8,303
3. Jim Zorn (1976-84) — 8,205

With one more good year, Russell Wilson (7,602) will move into first place statistically. The top four here are really close, and right now they all have an argument as number one. Zorn was quarterbacking an expansion team. Krieg played the longest and has the highest TSP. Hasselbeck's stats are just as good as Zorn's and Krieg's, and he didn't get to play with Steve Largent.

But Wilson has the highest TSP-based value rating (11.84), he's had the most good seasons, and he already has the most playoff wins. Plus, he's just a remarkable player, clearly the most talented of the four. If he's not clearly on top yet, it's just a matter of time.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Williams

1. Doug Williams (1978-82) — 6,054
2. Brad Johnson (2001-04) — 3,784
3. Vinny Testaverde (1987-92) — 3,243

The Seahawks and Buccaneers began play in the same year, 1976. Seattle has four QBs who rank higher than anyone from Tampa. In their 40-year history, the Buccaneers have never really had a franchise quarterback.

Washington: Sammy Baugh

1. Sonny Jurgensen (1964-74) — 14,051
2. Joe Theismann (1974-85) — 11,069
3. Billy Kilmer (1971-78) — 8,105
4. Mark Rypien (1987-93) — 7,211
5. Sammy Baugh (1937-52) — 7,027

Baugh is rated only on 1946-52, excluding the first decade of his career, during most of which he was the best QB in the NFL. No one else is close to these five; Kirk Cousins ranks sixth, with 3,966.

Highest fifth-ranked QBs:

1] 49ers: Jeff Garcia, 8388
2] Cowboys: Don Meredith, 8336
3] Browns: Milt Plum, 7562
4] Giants: Y.A. Tittle. 7263
5] Washington: Sammy Baugh, 7027

Even if we credited Baugh's whole career, Washington would still rank fifth, but with Mark Rypien (7,211).

Comments and Conversation

May 30, 2017

Tim Truemper:

Enjoyable and fascinating. I have followed your posts and articles on Football Perspective.

One thing back in the old Pro Football Reference days when it was a blog was a query I sent to Chase (I was assisting of sorts on HOF criteria). Anyway, with Romo’s retirement, it made me wonder about the stability at QB for the Cowboys. Per your list, the top 5 QB’s in that franchise’s history have only played for Dallas. I don’t think that exists with any other franchise and the summary above supports my hypothesis. Was wondering your take on this. Just an outlier for sure in the many possibilities that occur. But, as a biased Dallas fan, I found it interesting.

May 31, 2017

Brad Oremland:

Thanks, Tim. I think your read on the Cowboys’ stability at QB is accurate. Depending on how you set the definitions and parameters, there are really only four teams in the “best history at QB” discussion: the 49ers, Packers, Colts, and Cowboys.

If you include pre-Modern players like Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell, Green Bay can compete with anyone: Herber, Starr, Favre, and presumably Rodgers are all HOFers, plus pretty good players in Isbell, Tobin Rote, and perhaps Dickey.

The Niners have, from 1979-2003, this preposterous run of continuously great quarterbacks, plus Albert, Tittle, and Brodie before that.

The Colts have arguably the two greatest QBs in history, Manning and Unitas, plus Bert Jones and maybe Andrew Luck down the line.

But for sheer consistency, I don’t think anyone beats Dallas. From Meredith to Morton to Staubach to White to Aikman, then a blip before Romo, it’s remarkable. It’s too early for confident projections on Dak Prescott, but he’s obviously off to a good start. I’d never thought about your point that all of the Cowboys’ top five spent their whole careers in Dallas. Remarkable and unique.

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