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The Broncos thought they had found their heir apparent.

The Giants, Saints, Steelers, and Chargers all have older franchise quarterbacks, leading many to speculate that one or more of those teams will spend an early pick on a quarterback. That could even include a first round pick, which made me wonder: how often do teams do that?

I looked at all teams since 1967 that:

  • Used a first round pick on a quarterback;
  • Had a QB on the roster the year before and that upcoming season who was at least 32 years old in the upcoming season;
  • That QB threw at least 100 passing touchdowns with that team.

There are 15 examples that fit those specific criteria.  Let’s review:

  • The Jaguars had veteran Mark Brunell on the roster when the team drafted Byron Leftwich in 2003.  Brunell was gone after the season, tho Leftwich only started 44 games for the franchise.
  • The 49ers had a 36-year-old Steve Young when the team thought it drafted quarterback of the future Jim Druckenmiller in 1997. That didn’t turn out to be the case.
  • The Broncos — or perhaps more accurately, Dan Reeves — weren’t sure about John Elway after the 1991 season, even though he had just made the Pro Bowl.  So in 1992, Denver drafted UCLA’s Tommy Maddox in 1992.  Denver still had several more years of good quarterback play, but it didn’t come from Maddox.

  • The Giants were planning for the future when they had a 36-year-old Phil Simms. So when Dave Brown decided to forego his senior year at Duke and enter the 1992 Supplemental Draft, New York used its first round pick on him.  That cost the Giants the 9th pick in ’93, and while Simms only started 20 more games for the team, Brown turned out to be a bust.
  • The Seahawks had relied on Dave Krieg for a decade, but then used a first round pick on Dan McGwire in 1991.  McGwire, who was 6’8 and had a pretty famous brother, wound up starting just five games in his career.
  • In 1984, the Bengals knew that 35-year-old Ken Anderson was on his last legs; Cincinnati selected Wayne Peace in the USFL Supplemental Draft.  The former Gators quarterback never played in the NFL, but a year later, the Bengals drafted Boomer Esiason.
  • Buffalo had long-time starter Joe Ferguson on the roster, who turned 33 that April, when the Bills wisely drafted Jim Kelly in 1983.
  • The Saints knew by 1981 that Archie Manning was just about done, so the team drafted Dave Wilson when eligibility issues at Illinois forced him to declare for the 1981 Supplemental Draft. That didn’t turn out to be a very good pick: Wilson injured his knee as a rookie and went 12-19 for the Saints.
  • The Steelers have been down this road before: planning for life after Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh drafted Mark Malone in 1980.  Malone started 45 games for the team, but wasn’t particularly good.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals had been quarterbacked by Jim Hart for over a decade when they selected local Missouri quarterback Steve Pisarkiewicz in 1977. He was a bust, starting just three games for the team.
  • With Fran Tarkenton at 37 years old, the Viking were ready to plan for the future in 1977.  As a result, Minnesota drafted Tommy Kramer at the end of the first round.  Kramer wound up starting over 100 games for the team, so that decision looks good in retrospect.  Remarkably, from 1971 to 1998, Kramer was the only quarterback drafted by Minnesota in the first three rounds.
  • The Jets were planning for the future and life after Joe Namath when the team drafted another Alabama quarterback —  Richard Todd — in 1976.  Todd was a decent player, though his 42-51-1 record with the Jets makes it a tough one to analyze.  He started for awhile but wasn’t particularly good.
  • The 49ers saw John Brodie coming off of a pair of bad seasons and entering his age 32 season when the team drafted Steve Spurrier in 1967.  Spurrier could never take the job from Brodie, who had a very strong back half of his career.

Some other examples that don’t really count, but came up in my research when looking for heir apparent quarterbacks.  In each of these cases, the veteran quarterback was not on the team the following season, so they don’t quite count.

Twice a team drafted a first round quarterback to take over for Peyton Manning: the Colts with Andrew Luck in 2012 and the Broncos with Paxton Lynch in 2016.

The Rams had Marc Bulger in 2009 before beginning the Sam Bradford era in 2010.

The Titans had Steve McNair for a long time before turning the page to Vince Young in 2006.

Washington moved on from the Mark Rypien era before drafting Heath Shuler in 1994.

The Cowboys closed the book on the Danny White era by using first round picks on Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh in the 1989 Draft, and 1989 Supplemental Draft, respectively.

With Ken Stabler on the roster but a holdout looming, the Raiders selected Marc Wilson in the 1980 Draft.  Oakland wound up trading Stabler to Houston before the season.

Johnny Unitas was traded by the Colts to the Chargers in January 1973; a week later, Baltimore drafted Bert Jones.

In Green Bay, Bart Starr was still on the roster when the Packers drafted Jerry Tagge in 1972.  Starr retired in July.

Finally, this doesn’t quite qualify but feels to meet the spirit of the question. Boomer Esiason had just turned 31 in April of 1992 when the Bengals drafted David Klingler  a week later.  Esiason was dealt to the Jets after the ’92 season. Also not on the list: the Kurt Warner/Matt Leinart situation. When Leinart was drafted in 2006, Warner was coming off his first season in Arizona, a 2-8 season (though his numbers were above-average). Similarly, Lynn Dickey wasn’t quite a franchise quarterback when Green Bay drafted Rich Campbell in 1981, though Dickey arguably turned into one.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Interesting retrospective, and the QB position continues to be difficult to evaluate. It’s been suggested QBs benefit from another year in college than other positions. Tommy Maddox and many others likely would have been helped staying in school another year. The Steelers passing on Dan Marino was a colossal mistake, the defensive tackle they selected played just one season before getting paralyzed in a car accident(he wasn’t wearing a seat belt).

    • Ryan

      Great back story regarding Elway and Marino:

      If I remember correctly, Gabe Rivera gets a mini-profile too.

      • sacramento gold miners

        Thanks. Rivera was starting to improve late in his rookie season, so who knows what his future night have been. Dan Marino had a disappointing senior season at Pitt, so that helped drive down his draft stock.

      • Ted Hurtz

        didnt read it but assuming its a back story about Marino having class and mr. ed feeling entitled ? no wonder he’s buddies with the mannings

  • AC2

    I feel sorry for the next QB to fill Eli Manning’s shoes there in NYC. The fans, the media, NY bias, carrying a franchise like the Giants in a city competing for headlines with tons of other sports.

    That this quiet unassuming leader held the city in his hands twice and reigns over it for over a decade with humility is unreal to me. Look at Odell acting and looking like a fool. Remember Favre’s retirement and how he was a complete pain in the arse? Most players when they reach icon status are let’s fact it, douches.

    Eli feels like a throw back sports icon to me. You Giants fans are not going replace him. Ever. You might find another you can contend with, and might even find one who can win a SB for you, but you won’t ever find another like this guy. Eli is first class all the way. And a HOFer.

    • Ted Hurtz

      shelie is a little bitch and does not belong in the NFL. throw back? to what? nepotism?
      she is a crap qb who was carried by the defense of a team to get to the dance. further, she is now found to be a fraud criminal. so yeah, kiss all those post career accolades goodbye. shelie will always be the best – at interceptions, premadonna entitled attitudes and sucking daddys big one.

  • Tim Truemper

    Uh, one of our commenters seems to have set an ugly tone for this respectful site.

    • Deleted. Thanks for the alert.

      • Tim Truemper

        Your welcome Chase. BTW. I noticed a non-important event in the history of QB consistency. With Romo retiring, this leaves an unusual trend regarding the Cowboys. Including Romo, of the Cowboys top 5 QB’s (Meredith, Staubach, White, Aikman)), all began and completed their careers only with Dallas. I spent a brief time looking at this and do not think any other franchise can make that claim. Its inconsequential but reminds me of the old days when y’all dabbled in these bits of minutiae.