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How Often Do Teams Turn Over Quarterbacks?

Just 9 of 32 teams had a different player lead the team in pass attempts in 2015 and 2016. Take a look:

As you would suspect, some of the changes were intentional, and some were not. Denver saw their 2015 QB retire, while Minnesota lost their starting quarterback in the preseason…. which led Philadelphia to trade their 2015 starter and anticipated 2016 starter to the Vikings.

Three others were injury related. The Cowboys switched quarterbacks intentionally, of course, but still had their expected 2016 quarterback change due to injury. And Chicago lost Cutler early in the year, and he was limited to five starts.

The other four? The 49ers started 2016 with Gabbert, but benched him for Kaepernick. And the Texans, Rams, and Browns intentionally moved on from their quarterbacks, although McCown stayed with Cleveland and did wind up starting three games.

But is it typical to have 23 of 32 starters remain the same? Yes and no. That was a high number — 72% — but this isn’t part of an emerging trend. Remarkably, the amount of turnover at the quarterback position has been very consistent since 1950. I looked at the leader in pass attempts for each team1 in each season, and then checked to see if that passer also led that same team in pass attempts the following year. So 2015 gets 72%, since that’s the number that remained at QB1 in 2016.

I’m not quite sure what the takeaway is here, but as they say: sometimes a finding of no trend is just as interesting as a finding of a very real trend.

  1. Note: Three teams since 1950 have seen two quarterbacks finish with the same number of pass attempts. The 2012 49ers are the most recent, when Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith both had 218 pass attempts.  The other was the 1-10-1 1958 Packers had Babe Parilli and Bart Starr split the duties, each finishing with 157 attempts. In both cases, I went with the player who had more passing yards, which was Kaepernick and Parilli. []