In the NFL, every team is looking for stability at quarterback, but few teams find it. In Tom Brady, the Patriots have had the gold standard for stability under center since 2001.
When Brady takes the field with the Patriots Sept. 7 in Miami, it will mark the 13th straight season opener he has started. It’s the longest such streak in the NFL.
But beyond that, Brady has been a rock for the Patriots at the same time that most NFL teams have had a revolving door for starting quarterbacks.
Since Brady made his first start on Sept. 30, 2001 (henceforth the “Brady Era”), the Patriots have started just two quarterbacks. Matt Cassel filled in for 15 games when Brady injured his knee in 2008.
Eighteen teams have started at least 10 quarterbacks in the same span. The NFL’s 32 teams have collectively trotted out 315 starters (among 190 different quarterbacks, many of whom started for multiple teams) since the Brady Era began, but the Patriots account for just .006 percent of that total.
The Browns and Raiders lead the starting quarterback race, having used 17 each. The Raiders will likely take sole possession of first place on opening weekend when Matt Schaub starts for them, but the Browns will also notch an 18th later this year if they give first-round draft pick Johnny Manziel his first start.
In the NFL, many teams — especially non-playoff teams — join what seems like an annual hunt for a new quarterback. In the Brady Era, 26 of the league’s 32 teams have used at least one first-round pick on a quarterback.
For some teams that pays off. The Giants, Chargers, Ravens, Falcons, and Steelers all found stability in rookie quarterbacks they developed into long-term starters. But very often drafted quarterbacks don’t work out, as shown by the records of the Redskins, Bills, Browns, Jaguars, Vikings, and Titans — who’ve all used multiple first-round picks on quarterbacks.
We can’t say outright that quarterback stability leads to wins, but the numbers certainly indicate that stability under center helps. For example, of the nine teams who’ve started fewer than eight QBs in the Brady era, eight have winning records (and seven have won Super Bowls). Conversely, of the 10 teams who’ve used the most QBs, only two have winning records.
|Starting QBs used in the Brady Era|
|Team||QBs||Record||Rank in wins|
|*entered league in 2002|
The Bears are a bit of an anomaly, with their 16 starters trailing the league high by just one. Yet despite all their turnover under center, they rank 10th in wins during the Brady Era — and even have an NFC championship. They’ve also reached the playoffs four times — with a different QB each time.
Interestingly, in the past couple of years more teams have been able to follow the Patriots’ lead. After reaching a high point of 64 different starters in 2007, the NFL has settled into a collective pattern of leaguewide quarterback stability. In 2012, there was a league-record 20 teams that had the same quarterback start every game (in 2007, there were 11) and the 47 overall starters were the fewest since the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002. Last year, 17 teams used the same starter all year, the third-most ever, and there were 53 starters overall.
The stability — and championships — that Brady has brought to the Patriots is an especially bitter pill for the Jets, 49ers, Ravens, Steelers, Saints, and Browns. They’re the six teams who selected quarterbacks in the 2000 draft before the Patriots chose Brady with the 199th pick. Four of those six are among the 315 starters: Chad Pennington (81 starts), Chris Redman (12), Marc Bulger (95), and Spergon Wynn (3 total starts, but 2 in this era). The two others, Giovanni Carmazzi (65th overall selection) and Tee Martin (163d overall), never made a start.
A brief look at the teams and their QBs in the Brady Era:
(Total starters in parentheses)
Browns (17): The last QBs to start games in three consecutive seasons for Cleveland were Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson. But finding a quarterback has been just one of many problems this franchise has had for a generation.
Raiders (17): When the Brady Era began, the Raiders were a model franchise and their QB, Rich Gannon, was on his way to being named NFL MVP in 2002. Ever since, the franchise has jumped from Plan B to Plan C to Plan Z in search of a signal caller.
Bears (16): The Bears have found some success — four playoff berths in 13 seasons — despite a revolving door at QB. Why? Defense. In each of those seasons, they had a top-four unit in scoring defense.
Dolphins (16): There is hope in Miami that the quarterback carousel has stopped. Ryan Tannehill last year became the first to start 16 games in back-to back seasons since Dan Marino in 1998.
Cardinals (14): Arizona has had pockets of stable QB play from Jake Plummer, Kurt Warner, and even Carson Palmer last season. But outside those pockets, it has been very rocky, especially in 2012 when the Cardinals started four QBs.
Rams (14): Drafting Sam Bradford No. 1 overall in 2010 was supposed to cure the Rams’ QB problems. Now they are faced with another season of uncertainty after he re-injured his left knee – he missed the final nine games of 2013 with a torn ACL – and will miss the 2014 season.
Vikings (14): Minnesota’s roster of QBs isn’t pretty. Spergon Wynn, Todd Bouman, Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, Joe Webb, Tarvaris Jackson, and Christian Ponder are among their starters.
Buccaneers (13): The Bucs have started three Johnsons (Brad, Rob, and Josh) in the Brady Era. This year they will add another McCown to their list as Josh (brother of 2007 starter Luke) takes the reins.
Redskins (13): Their list just missed increasing by one. But 2001 opening day starter Jeff George fell just outside the Brady Era because his last start came on Sept. 24, a week before Brady’s first start.
Cowboys (13): Tony Romo, despite his injury history, has brought stability to the Cowboys. Can’t say he’s done that with postseason success, though.
Bills (11): The turnover has been especially high in Buffalo since 2005. There have been eight starters in the last nine seasons.
Panthers (11): In a sign of how long Brady has been around, 1988 Heisman Trophy runner-up Rodney Peete was the Panthers’ primary starter in Brady’s first full year as a starter.
49ers (11): For a team that had an eight-year playoff drought in the Brady Era, it’s surprising they haven’t had more turnover.
Titans (10): Vince Young wasn’t the answer. Jake Locker hasn’t been the answer, though he’s getting one more shot this season. The Titans still are looking for their next Steve McNair.
Broncos (10): Denver has had stability, but in an unusual, baton-passing way. It’s gone from Brian Griese to Jake Plummer to Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow to, now, Peyton Manning.
Lions (10): The Lions are, by far, the worst team of the Brady Era. So it’s odd that they haven’t had more turnover under center. Hitching their wagon to Matthew Stafford in 2009 helped.
Jaguars (10): Like the Lions, the Jaguars have an awfully bad record for a team that’s only used 10 starting QBs. But as they have been with coaches (Jack Del Rio), the Jaguars have been extraordinarily patient with QBs (David Garrard).
Chiefs (10): For the first five years of the Brady Era, only Trent Green started for the Chiefs. Since then, they’ve been in a quagmire of mediocrity (Brodie Croyle, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, Damon Huard) that they hope Alex Smith brings them out of.
Ravens (9): Baltimore was on a path toward double-digit starters for the first eight years of the Brady Era. Then they drafted Joe Flacco. He hasn’t missed a start since.
Jets (9): A list that has some good names (Brett Favre, Vinny Testaverde) and some bad ones (Brooks Bollinger, Quincy Carter). But consistency from the likes of Chad Pennington and Mark Sanchez helped the Jets keep this number relatively low.
Eagles (9): From Donovan McNabb to Michael Vick to, now, Nick Foles, the Eagles have been largely stable under center.
Falcons (8): The Falcons were thrown into a tailspin by Vick’s dogfighting conviction in 2007. But that led them to Matt Ryan, who’s only missed two starts in six years.
Texans (8): The Texans were loyal to David Carr and Matt Schaub through their 12 seasons. Perhaps that’s why they have an all-time winning percentage of .411.
Seahawks (7): But for a one-year hiccup in 2011, the Seahawks have been able to rely on Matt Hasselbeck and Russell Wilson for stability.
Bengals (6): Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton have given the Bengals the type of dependability a franchise needs. They just have never delivered a playoff win.
Steelers (6): Ben Roethlisberger has been Super dependable — as in two Super Bowl wins — since becoming the starter in 2004.
Packers (5): The Packers’ swap of the never-miss-a-game Brett Favre for Aaron Rodgers will likely be remembered as one of the best transitions in NFL history. Yet this total jumped by two last year when Rodgers sat out two months with a broken collarbone.
Colts (5): Take away 2011, when Peyton Manning was injured, and the Colts have started just Manning and Andrew Luck in the Brady Era.
Saints (4): That Drew Brees has been a rock since arriving in 2006 isn’t a surprise. But it is a surprise that Aaron Brooks had a 77-game starting streak before he arrived.
Giants (4): Eli Manning is the reigning iron man among quarterbacks. Hasn’t missed a start (151 in regular season, 2 more in Super Bowl wins vs. Patriots) since winning the job in 2004.
Chargers (3): Philip Rivers is another iron man, with 128 straight starts since 2006. He, Brees, and Doug Flutie are the only starters for this team since 2001.
Patriots (2): The consistency reaches back beyond the Brady Era. Since 1993, Drew Bledsoe and Brady have started 94 percent of New England’s games.