Quarterbacks are, without a doubt, the most important player on any football team. A good quarterback can take a team to the playoffs regularly, and a great one will give his team a shot at the championship. So it’s no wonder that many NFL teams will take a flyer on any number of unproven or inexperienced quarterbacks, just hoping to find a diamond in the rough. More often than not, it doesn’t pan out. Whether signed to be a starter or a backup, these 11 QBs signed free agent deals with big dreams, only to see them fizzle away in a cloud of fumbles, interceptions, injuries, and benchings.
11. Brock Osweiler – Houston Texans
After being Peyton Manning’s understudy in Denver for the first four years of his career, everyone thought Brock Osweiler was poised to take over as starter for the Broncos after the Sherrif retired. Except general manager John Elway balked at Osweiler’s contract demands (he was a free agent), committing most of the team’s available salary cap money to lock up key pieces of their ferocious and famed defense. So Osweiler bolted for the Houston Texans, signing a massive four-year, $72 million contract (with $37 million guaranteed).
Osweiler has started 14 games for the Texas, going 8-6, and throwing for more interceptions as he did touchdowns (16 INTs and 15 TDs). His quarterback rating was just 72.2, which to put in perspective, is lower than every single year of Tom Brady’s career. The Texans missed the playoffs and quickly decided the Osweiler era was over in Houston. They traded him and his hefty salary to the Cleveland Browns, who had cap space to spare. The search for a decent quarterback in Houston continues, and who knows what will happen with the Brock Lobster in Cleveland.
10. Neil O’Donnell – New York Jets
O’Donnell, who was drafted 70th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1990 NFL draft out of Maryland, started his career off with a fluorish. After assuming the starter’s role in 1992, the average-to-good QB steered the 11-5 Steelers through the 1995 AFC playoffs all the way to Super Bowl XXX against Dallas. It wasn’t to be a great debut on the big stage, as he would toss three interceptions, two of which ended up in easy TDs for Troy Aikman and the Cowboys during a 27-17 loss. A free agent in 1996, O’Donnell spurned an offer from the Steelers to sign with the New York Jets. He never did pan out for the Jets, posting an 0-6 record and a 67.8 rating in the ’96 season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He improved marginally in his second year, going 8-6 but still logging a mediocre 80.3 rating. By 1998 he was gone.
9. Elvis Grbac – Baltimore Ravens
As a big time college quarterback at Michigan, Elvis Grbac gained notoriety for flinging passes to Heisman Trophy winning receiver Desmond Howard. Though drafted really late (8th round, 219th overall) by San Francisco in 1993, Grbac was able to learn from Steve Young and by the time he was with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997, he established himself as a premier pivot. By 2000, Grbac would start 15 games, throw for 4,169 yards and 24 touchdowns (against just 14 interceptions). Grbac used that big year with the Chiefs to get a 5-year, $30 million contract from the Baltimore Ravens, $11 million of that pact guaranteed. Grbac would go 8-6 in Baltimore in 2001, throwing for over 1,000 yards less than his 2000 campaign and more INTs (18) than TDs (15). That would be his last season in the NFL.
8. Kerry Collins – Oakland Raiders
Collins had an illustrious NCAA career at Penn State in the early 90s, earning himself a first round selection (5th overall) by the Carolina Panthers in 1995. He was no Cam Newton with the Cats, but a subsequent move to the New York Giants via New Orleans in 1999 would pay dividends. He improved year over year in New York, beginning with a starting role in the Giants Super Bowl XXXV loss to the Baltimore Ravens. After setting a since broken (by Eli Manning) record for yards in a season in 2002 (4,073), Collins went downhill a little and was released in 2004. That didn’t stop the Oakland Raiders for throwing bags of money at him, though, $16.82 million over three years. What did Collins do to repay their largesse? A 7-21 record punctuated by bad starts. He was released in 2006 with a year remaining on that fat contract.
7. Jeff Garcia – Cleveland Browns
Garcia’s rise to quarterbacking prominence started in Canada with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders from 1994 to 1997. By 1998 he was named the MVP of the Grey Cup championship game and getting rave reviews from NFL scouts. His performance got him a contract with his hometown San Francisco 49ers, where Garcia would back up superstar Steve Young for a season, assuming the starter’s role in 2000. Garcia, who would make three Pro Bowls, was released by the 49ers after a so-so 2003 season and signed a four-year deal with Cleveland in the off-season. After one disastrous season with the Browns (10 starts, 1,731 yards passing, 10 TD, 9 INT) Garcia found himself with the Detroit Lions in 2005, bouncing around the NFL until appearing in what would be his last game with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009.
6. Michael Vick – Philadelphia Eagles
Michael Vick is not a feel good story for the ages. After going to jail for running an illegal dog fighting ring and being suspended by the NFL, Vick returned to football with the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2009 season. He was only so-so in six years with Atlanta (never throwing for over 3,000 yards or a rating over 81.6), so with two full years away from the game, not much was expected. He played sparingly in 2009 and in 2010 earned the starter’s spot and threw for over 3,000 yards for the first time in his career along with 21 TDs, which garnered him a fat new six-year, $100 million contract ($40 million guaranteed) just prior to the 2011 season. He would have his second 3,000 yard plus season, but throw just 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. In 2012 he was pretty much a bust and by 2013 he was gone.
5. Jake Delhomme – Cleveland Browns
The Browns sure can pick ’em. You would think that after the ill-advised free agent signing of Jeff Garcia six years prior, Browns’ management would have done their due diligence on Jake Delhomme in 2010. The Louisiana born Delhomme forged a pretty NFL good career out of Louisiana-Lafayette, signing as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints in 1997. He didn’t start much the Saints and eventually signed with Carolina in 2003, leading the team to Super Bowl XXXVIII, where they would lose a thriller to New England. He had five more decent years with Carolina, before things derailed in 2009, when he threw just eight TDs (18 INTs) in 11 games. That didn’t stop the Browns, however, from inking Delhomme to a two-year, $7 million contract. He went 2-2 in four starts, throwing just two TDs and seven INTs and was out of football by 2011.
4. Jeff George – Washington Redskins
Jeff George would be he poster boy for “Peaked in High School.” Well, maybe not high school but not longer after college. The Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year in 1985 went on to a decent college career with Illinois. He was the first pick in the 1990 draft by Indianapolis but wouldn’t shine to brightly with the Colts, bouncing around after the ’93 season with them to Atlanta for three seasons and then Oakland for two. Speaking of the Raiders, he enjoyed his best season as a QB with them in 1997, throwing for 3,917 yards, 29 touchdowns (just nine INTs) and a 91.2 rating. He would end up with Minnesota in 1999, where he would pass for 2,816 yards in 10 starts, including 23 TDs. The Redskins needed a backup in 2,000 and signed George to a whopping four-year, $14.8 million contract. He was completely underwhelming and by 2001, when he started two games and threw 0 TDs and three INTs, he was released and never to be seen in a NFL uniform again.
3. Scott Mitchell – Detroit Lions
As mentors go, there was no one better to apprentice under than Dan Marino. That’s who Scott Mitchell backed up after being drafted in the fourth round out of Utah in 1990. For parts of three seasons from 1991 to 1993, Mitchell patiently waited on the sidelines watching the living legend, eventually earning seven starts in the ’93 campaign. He did fairly well, throwing for 1,773 yards, 12 TDs (eight INTs) and a 84.2 rating. That was enough to pique the interest of the Detroit Lions, who signed him to a then massive three-year pact worth $11 million. Mitchell did not impress his first season, starting just nine games and throwing for just 1,456 yards. He rebounded between 1995 and 1997, leading the Lions to the playoffs twice, but in 1998 he started just two games for the Lions, tossing one TD and three INTs and logging a 57.2 rating.
2. Charlie Whitehurst – Tennessee Titans
Charlie Who? Yah, we said the same thing. Rest assured the long-haired Clemson grad is still quarterbacking in the NFL, getting in four games with the Indianapolis Colts in 2015. The mostly career back-up and practice squad quarterback was drafted in the third round, 81st overall by the San Diego Chargers in 2006. He got in two games in four seasons, bounced for two forgettable campaigns to Seattle and then back to San Diego to not start there again for two seasons (2012 and 2013). Yet, in March 2014, the Tennessee Titans inked the unproven pivot to a two-year, $8 million contract to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick as the backup. Whitehurst didn’t pay huge dividends on that investment, getting in seven games and throwing for 1,326 yards, seven TDs, 18 sacks and three fumbles. Needless to say, he started no games again in 2015 with the Titans before being waived and heading to Indy.
1. Josh McCown – Cleveland Browns
The quarterback carousel in Cleveland just goes round, and round, and round and round. The latest soon-to-be casualty to hop on his Josh McCown, who signed a three-year, $14 million deal ($6.25 million guaranteed) in 2015. McCown has never been a premier QB, but is being paid like it. The journeyman who started his career with Arizona in 2002 has never started more than 13 games (2004), thrown for more than 2,511 yards (again 2004) or more than 13 TDs (2013). He was just okay in the 2015 with Cleveland, with 2,109 yards in eight starts, along with 12 TDs and four INTs. The 2016 was even worse, as he lost his starting job and only appeared in five games, completing only 55 percent of his passes, throwing six interceptions to just six touchdowns and getting sacked 18 times.