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.
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).
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.
|Rk||Player||From||To||No. Teams||No. Yrs||Pedigree||Pro Bowls||Playoff Starts||Playoff Wins||JM Score|
|21||Billy Joe Tolliver||1989||1999||5||10||2||0||0||0||37|
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.