At age 36, Peyton Manning starts a new chapter in his glorious career, going to the Denver Broncos. What is the likelihood of success for a quarterback at that age, with his injured neck, on a foreign team?
Probably good. He’s a heck of a quarterback; the Broncos are an historically-solid franchise. But what’s the history of great quarterbacks who change teams late in their careers? Does success follow?
I decided to look it up. I made criteria of quarterbacks who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or almost surely will be. Then I extended it to quarterbacks who most surely aren’t Canton-worthy but were/are solid QBs who were difference-makers within the original franchise.
Here are the 12 success stories of such quarterbacks making a major late-career change:
1. Fran Tarkenton: Drafted by the expansion Vikings in 1961, went 27-46-4 and was traded to the Giants, for whom he went 33-36 in five years. Traded back to Minnesota in 1972 at age 32, Tark hit his stride. Over the next seven seasons, Tarkenton went 64-27-2 and took the Vikes to three Super Bowls.
2. Y.A. Tittle: A solid 49er quarterback from 1951 through 1960, was traded to the Giants in 1961 at age 35 and over the next three seasons went 31-5-1 as the starter. He threw 86 touchdown passes in those three years, an extraordinary number for 50 years ago. The Giants won three straight division titles but lost the NFL title game all three years. Tittle retired after the 1964 season.
3. Norm Van Brocklin: A great quarterback with the Rams who had to split time early in his career with Bob Waterfield, Van Brocklin had a play-calling dispute with coach Sid Gillman and was traded to the Eagles before the 1958 season, at age 32. Philly went 2-9-1 in Van Brocklin’s first season, but by 1960 the Eagles were 10-2 and beat the Packers in the NFL title game. Then Van Brocklin retired.
4. Brett Favre: Quarterbacked the Packers to a 160-93 record and a Super Bowl title over 16 years, then was traded to the Jets in 2008 at age 39 and went 9-7. Signed with the Vikings in 2009 at age 40 and went 12-4 and all the way to the NFC title game. Retired after going 5-8 in 2010.
5. Kurt Warner: Had a late NFL start, age 27, and went 35-15 in six Ram seasons, including a Super Bowl title. Was cut by St. Louis in 2004 at age 33, signed with the Giants and went 5-4 as the starter. Signed as a free agent with Arizona in 2005 at age 34 and 27-30 as the starter but took the ’08 Cardinals to the Super Bowl.
6. Joe Montana: Quarterbacked the 49ers to four Super Bowl titles from 1981 through 1989 but traded to Kansas City in 1993 at age 37. In two Chief seasons, Montana went 17-8 as the starter, making the playoffs both years and the 1993 AFC title game.
7. Randall Cunningham: Quarterbacked the Eagles to a 63-43-1 record over 11 seasons but retired after the 1995 seasons. Cunningham returned to the NFL in 1997 at age 34 as a Viking backup, starting just three games, but in 1998 went 13-1 as the Minnesota starter and took the Vikes to the NFC title game. But over the next three years, Cunningham went just 5-6 starting for Minnesota, Dallas and Baltimore.
8. John Hadl: Quarterbacked the Chargers to a 59-55-9 record and the 1963 AFL title but was traded to the Rams in 1973 at age 33. Went 12-2 with the Rams in ’73 but suffered a first-round playoff loss and went 11-19 with the Rams, Packers and Oilers the rest of his career.
9. Ken Stabler: Few quarterbacks won with the frequency of Stabler in his 10 Raider seasons, when he went 69-26-1. But was traded to Houston at age 35 in 1980. Led the ’80 Oilers to an 11-5 record and a first-round playoff loss, then went 16-18 with the Oilers and Saints over the next three years.
10. Matt Hasselbeck: Quarterbacked the Seahawks to a 69-62 record over 10 seasons, including a Super Bowl trip, but signed with Tennessee in 2011 at age 36. Went 9-7 with the Titans.
11. Bobby Layne: Quarterbacked the Lions to NFL titles in 1952 and 1953; traded in mid-season 1958 to Pittsburgh, at the age of 32. Layne went 27-22-2 in 41/2 years as the Steeler QB, an excellent record considering Pittsburgh had just one winning season the previous 11 years.
12. Warren Moon: Quarterbacked the Oilers to a 70-69 record, plus six playoff appearances, then traded to Minnesota in 1994 at age 38. The Vikings went 21-18 under Moon but was 0-1 in the playoffs.
There were some failures, too, although frankly, they were from the non-Hall of Fame crowd:
* Sonny Jurgensen: Traded at the age of 30 from Philadelphia to Washington before the 1964 season, after seven Eagle seasons. Jurgensen was 17-22-2 as the Philly starter, then moved to a so-so Redskins franchise and was 41-49-5 over the next seven years. George Allen arrived as coach in 1971 to revive the Redskins, but by then Jurgensen was 37, and Billy Kilmer was the primary quarterback.
* Joe Namath: A Super Bowl hero at age 25, Namath quarterbacked just one playoff game after that, 1969. Went 60-61-4 with the Jets, then moved to the Rams in 1977 at age 34. Went 2-2 and retired.
* Johnny Unitas: An all-time great who quarterbacked the Colts to the 1958 NFL title and the 1971 Super Bowl title. Traded at age 40 to San Diego, for whom he went 1-3 and retired.
* Ron Jaworski: Left the Eagles at age 37 after a 69-67-1 record and a Super Bowl trip, but didn’t start for the ’88 Dolphins and made just three starts for the ’89 Chiefs.
* Archie Manning: Quarterbacked the hapless Saints for 111/2 seasons, then was traded to the Oilers in 1982 at age 33. But in 10 starts with Houston and Minnesota over three seasons, Manning never won a game.
* Bernie Kosar: Quarterbacked Cleveland to a 53-54-1 record over 81/2 seasons, then was released in mid-season 1993 and signed with Dallas. But Kosar made just three more NFL starts, losing them all.
* Roman Gabriel: Quarterbacked the Rams to an 86-64-7 record over 11 seasons but was traded to the Eagles in 1973 at age 33. Went 12-25-1 as the Philadelphia starter.
* Boomer Esiason: Quarterbacked the Bengals to a 62-61 record over nine years (that’s impressive), including a Super Bowl trip. Traded to the Jets in 1993 at age 32 but never got New York to the playoffs, going 15-27, then finished up with Arizona (3-5) and Cincinnati (4-1).
* Drew Bledsoe: Quarterbacked the Patriots to a 63-60 record over nine seasons, then after Tom Brady’s emergence, was traded to Buffalo in 2002 at age 30. Bledsoe went 23-25 with the Bills, then was 12-10 in two years with Dallas.
* Donovan McNabb: Quarterbacked the Eagles to a 98-62-1, not counting a hearty 9-7 in the playoffs. Then was traded to the Redskins in 2010 at age 34 and went 5-8 before going 1-5 with the 2011 Vikings.
* Jim Everett: Quarterbacked the Rams to a 46-59 record over eight seasons, then was traded to the Saints went 17-30 over three seasons.