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Today’s guest post comes from Damon Gulczynski, a longtime reader, Seattle sports fan, and part-time writer. He also wrote this book on baseball names. As always, we thank our guest posters for contributing.


A journeyman quarterback appears here

When the New York Jets exercised an option to void the contract of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in February, they paved the way for yet another stop on his already lengthy tour through the cities of the NFL.  If the hirsute Harvardian plays in at least one game this upcoming season with a new team, it will mark the seventh time he has done so.  To my knowledge, this would tie the all-time record among NFL quarterbacks.  That is, unless his replacement in New York takes a snap before him.  Josh McCown has already played with seven different NFL teams; the Jets will be his eighth.

At this point, both McCown and Fitzpatrick have surely already attained the venerated title of “journeyman,” but it goes beyond this.  I contend that by the end of the 2017 NFL season, McCown and Fitzpatrick will be the two journeyman-est quarterbacks in NFL history.  To support this contention, I introduce a new metric I developed called Journeyman Score (JM score).

The formula:

JM score = 5 * Number of Teams + Number of Years + Pedigree – 2 * Pro Bowls – Playoff Starts – Playoff Wins

The most important factor in determining journeyman-ness, in my opinion, is the number of different franchises with which a quarterback played an official game, so I scale this number by five in determining JM score.  Also, a journeyman should play in the league for many seasons, the more the better, so the number of years in which a quarterback plays a game is a term in JM score as well.

Pedigree is defined to be the round of the NFL Draft in which the quarterback was selected.  The reason I included this is to better differentiate between QBs like McCown and Fitzpatrick and those like Vinny Testaverde and Jeff George.  In my mind, the quintessential journeyman begins his career in relative obscurity, not as the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft.  However, I don’t want to weigh pedigree too heavily in JM score, so I capped it at five; anybody undrafted or drafted in the fifth round or later receives a pedigree value of five.  This way a quarterback with a good pedigree can still be become an elite journeyman, but he must be a bit stronger in the other criteria than he would need to be otherwise to do so.

Another defining characteristic of a journeyman is that he is good enough to warrant a roster spot and play somewhat frequently, but he can’t be too good.  He should be familiar to NFL fans – a low-end starter or decent backup – but not a star.  An easy proxy for stardom is Pro Bowl selections, so they count negatively in calculating JM score.  (I doubled them to give them a bit more weight.)

Finally, a journeyman quarterback should not be too successful as a team leader.  He is supposed to be the guy you see in a highlight on a random Sunday afternoon and think to yourself, “Wait, he’s still in the league?!  And he plays for that team now?!”  He is not supposed to be leading his team to the Super Bowl.  Occasionally one does (see Chandler, Chris), but this should be the exception, not the rule.  Thus, playoff starts and playoff wins count against a quarterback’s JM score.

Below is a table of the quarterbacks with the fifty highest JM scores of all time.

RkPlayerFromToNo. TeamsNo. YrsPedigreePro BowlsPlayoff StartsPlayoff WinsJM Score
1Josh McCown20022016714300052
2Gus Frerotte19942008715512051
3Jeff Blake19922005713510051
4Steve Bono19851999714511051
5Rodney Peete19892004615502147
6Ryan Fitzpatrick20052016612500047
7Steve DeBerg19781998617504147
8Chris Chandler19882004717323246
9Vinny Testaverde19872007721125246
10Dick Shiner19641974610500045
11Matt Cassel20052016612511044
12Steve Beuerlein19882003614412143
13Bill Munson19641979516100042
14Bubby Brister19862000514302139
15Earl Morrall19561976621125439
16Luke McCown20042015510400039
17Bruce Gradkowski2006201458500038
18Jon Kitna19972011414501038
19Kyle Orton2005201459400038
20Wade Wilson19811998517515238
21Billy Joe Tolliver19891999510200037
22Brian Hoyer2009201658501037
23George Blanda19491975426544237
24Steve Walsh19891999610103137
25Ty Detmer1993200358501037
26Charlie Whitehurst2006201658300036
27Dave Krieg19801998619539336
28Jim Ninowski19581969412400036
29Rudy Bukich19531968414200036
30Shaun Hill20052016411500036
31Dick Wood1962196655500035
32Doug Pederson19932004410500035
33Jason Campbell2006201459100035
34Jim McMahon19821996615116335
35Joe Ferguson19731990417304135
36John Friesz19902000410500035
37Mark Herrmann19821992411400035
38Matt Cavanaugh19791991413200035
39Jeff George19902001512103134
40Gary Cuozzo19631972410501034
41Jay Fiedler1995200558503134
42Jeff Kemp19811991410501034
43Kent Graham1992200149500034
44Kerry Collins19952011617127334
45Norm Snead19611976516140034
46Todd Collins19952010412201033
47Charley Johnson19611975315510033
48Doug Flutie19862005412512033
49Jeff Rutledge19791992313500033
50Scott Mitchell19912001411402033

One thing you probably notice about this table is that the clear majority of quarterbacks on it played a large portion of their careers in the 1990s or later.  This makes sense, as the rules controlling free agency in the NFL became a lot more lenient after a 1992 anti-trust case between the players and the owners was adjudicated in the former’s favor.  With players more easily able to switch teams, the number of journeymen quarterbacks exploded in a relatively short period, and this phenomenon seems to only be intensifying today.

Josh McCown is already the man at the top of the list, and this is before he receives any credit for playing another season and joining another new team.  Furthermore, if Ryan Fitzpatrick plays in a single game for a new team and doesn’t lead this team to a Super Bowl victory – reasonable assumptions (especially the latter) – he will leapfrog four players on the list into the number two spot, below only McCown.

That’s not all.  Current Tennessee Titan Matt Cassel is number 11 on the list; McCown the younger is still active at number 16; the imminently serviceable Brian Hoyer is number 23, in just his eighth season (and he will also be playing for a new team this year); current free agent Shaun Hill is number 27; active veterans Matt Schaub, Derek Anderson, and Kellen Clemens are lingering just off the list; and a new crop of up-and-comers like Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert, and Matt Barkley, are primed to represent the next generation of transient mediocrity.  It seems completely plausible – probably even – that in a few years this list will be very disproportionately populated by players on active rosters.

The NFL might be struggling with some aspects of their product, like oversaturation of the market and player safety, but one thing we can say with certitude is we truly are in the gilded age of the journeyman quarterback.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Don’t know what to make of Chase Daniel, yet. He’s rarely played, but has been impressive in limited action. Rodney Peete and Vinny Testaverde were outstanding college QBs, who disappointed at the NFL level. Many of the others were good college QBs who weren’t highly rated coming out of college.

    • Wolverine

      Despite his impressive college career, Peete was a 6th round pick, so It seems like teams didn’t expect much of him. In fact, his first team meant for him to be a stopgap (they tried to replace him one year later by spending a 1st round pick on a QB). I don’t know that a 6th round pick can be called “disappointing” when he hangs around the league for 16 seasons (unless you want to argue that Tom Brady is the standard against which all 6th round picks should be judged).

      • Richie

        I remember Peete in college (I’m a UCLA guy, not USC), and hated him (because he was good). That was a time when a black QB was still unusual. I wonder how much of him falling to the 6th round was simply due to the color of his skin.

        • Wolverine

          His skin color may have played a role (can’t assume it didn’t in 1989), but his team (Lions) did spend a 1st round pick on another black QB (Andre Ware) the very next year (turned out Peete was a much better player). I think his height was a factor, too (his bio says he’s 6’0′, but I’m positive that’s an exaggeration).

    • Andrew Orlovsky

      Vinny Testeverde was simply a very good Quarterback who spent the first part of his career on a very awful team. It was also a different era, which QBs on bad teams didn’t put up big garbage time stats a la Blake Bortes. Check out this article:

      http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/index3a5c.html?p=5449

  • vfefrenzy

    I’m going to guess that Tom Brady is the opposite end of this spectrum: only one team, tons of success. The only thing working against him is length of career, but since he seems to lose more than one point a year for all his #winz, it more than balances out..

    • Richie

      Yeah, I was hoping to see a list of the “bottom 50” as well.

      • A lot of this data I culled by hand, so I didn’t even consider the obvious non-journeymen. I have to think Tom Brady is at the bottom of the list. He had a long career and low Pedigree, but only playing for one team, plus all the Pro Bowls, plus all the playoff games and wins, I would suspect push him over the top.

        • Richie

          I calculated a few:

          Tom Brady -56
          Peyton Manning -41
          John Elway -31
          Joe Montana -27
          Dan Marino -21

        • Wolverine

          Want to chime in and agree with the others that this was quite an entertaining post. Would love to see an “anti-journeyman” list if you have the time!

      • vfefrenzy

        I did some quick math earlier and, because no stat is complete until it has been used to compare Brady and Manning, I figured up their scores: PM -40, TB -56.

        • Richie

          I forgot to subtract out Manning’s 2012 season when I calculated him at -41.

  • kingledion

    I think the ‘Number of Teams’ category (which you weight by a factor of five) is not a great indicator of true journeyman status. Guys that bounce around as backups on teams that have established starters, or who ride the bench as a 3rd option insurance policy, aren’t the same as guys who are repeatedly hired on to compete for starter. In my mind, the true Journeyman Quarterback is in the latter category. For example, plucking the names from the top of your list, Josh McCown was with 7 teams, but only got starts for 5 of those teams. Jeff Blake only got starts with 4 teams. However, Gus Frerotte got starts with all 7 teams, including two different stints with the Vikings. In my mind, the ‘number of discontinuous times with a team where they started at least 1 game’ would be a more viable number. In that case, McCown should be behind Fitzpatrick, for whom the Jets are his 6th team as starter, and Matt Cassel, also with 6 teams of starts, among active quarterbacks. I think you should, at very least, add some alternative measures of Journeyman-ness than simply number of teams.

    • Richie

      This is a fun list.

      But this was the thing that jumped out to me as well. Somehow actually playing for a team needs to get a heavier weight. For instance, Steve Bono is getting credit for 7 teams, but he only had 1,000+ career passing yards for 2 of them (KC, SF). Fitzpatrick has 1,000+ for 5 teams and 777 yards for a 6th team.

      • Thanks for the feedback. You and kingledion have some good points.

        A big part of the reason I went just with number of teams is that it’s simple, and I wanted the formula to be very easy to understand (I almost left off Pedigree for this reason, but felt I needed something to capture the difference between an undrafted free agent and the no. 1 overall pick). Mathematical modeling often involves a trade-off between accuracy and simplicity, and for something silly like “journeyman-ness” I thought it more appropriate to favor the latter.

        I think this formula does a very good job of capturing the overall essence of the journeyman QB. If you want to quibble about the placement of some QBs on the list — great! That’s where the fun is!

        • Richie

          Agreed on all points. Sometimes it’s worth losing accuracy if it makes the analysis simpler. Especially for something like this, where you care trying to quantify something that is a bit abstract.

      • I did think it was interesting to realize that there are certain things that feel like a journeyman quarterback to me that are obviously not universal. I think of a journeyman QB as being a starter on multiple teams, not just playing there, and I think of a journeyman as never playing anywhere too long. Fun post!

  • Josh Sanford

    This is one of the funnest posts of all time. Thanks!

  • Deacon Drake

    Not sure this distiguishes true Journeymen like Josh McCown (can start for anyone, anywhere, and provide replacement level competency) and Luke McCown, who has 10 starts in14 seasons and has thrown as many TDs the past 9 years as me.

    • Deacon Drake

      Jim McMahon may have been the original “Journeyman”. High profile run, but health issues made it hard for him to be reliable, so he was often pulled in to be a backup, but could always give you 2-4 good starts a year.

  • A lot of these guys wasted whatever talent they had for awful teams. Jeff Blake was a pretty good player for a few years on Bengals teams that couldn’t keep small children out of the end zone.