IN THIS SPECIAL PROJECT, SKOR NORTH’S MATTHEW COLLER AND PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS DATA SCIENTIST ERIC EAGER HAVE TEAMED UP TO INVESTIGATE THE GREATEST SEASONS EVER PLAYED BY JOURNEYMAN QUARTERBACKS. WE WILL RELEASE THE CREATION IN CHAPTERS… FOR CHAPTER 3, We COUNTDOWN FROM THE 10th TO 6TH BEST JOURNEYMAN SEASONS…..
The first four years of Tommy Maddox’s career were nothing short of disastrous.
Between four starts with the Denver Broncos and relief appearances as a St. Louis Ram and New York Giant, he completed 50.6% of his passes, threw six touchdowns, 14 interceptions and registered a 45.0 quarterback rating.
These are the statistics of a man who had no business playing in the NFL. And between 1995 and 2001, he wouldn’t see a snap at the highest level. What he would do in between was forge a legendary path back to the NFL.
A former first-round pick out of UCLA, Maddox found himself out of football just five years after being drafted. He worked as an insurance agent and volunteered as a coach for his high school alma mater. In 1999 an opportunity came knocking: The Arena Football League. Maddox sold his insurance agency to take a shot with the New Jersey Red Dogs.
Following a 64-touchdown season in the AFL, Maddox was given another chance, this time with Vince McMahon’s startup league that was hyped up as the type of football that old school fans had dreamed about. Of course, we know the XFL flamed out in incredible fashion after one year but Maddox (who was not originally expected to be his team’s starting quarterback) led the Los Angeles Xtreme to a championship in the Million Dollar Game.
While nobody in their right mind would have watched the championship game, the NFL took notice. The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Maddox following his XFL MVP season.
As the backup to Kordell Stewart, he didn’t see much action in 2001, only throwing nine passes on a 13-3 club that ultimately lost in the AFC Championship to the New England Patriots.
It wasn’t until 2002, 10 years after his NFL debut, that Maddox had a stroke of brilliance that can only be achieved by the all-time great journeyman quarterbacks.
Following an awful start to the ‘02 season in which the Steelers lost by a combined score of 31-60, Pittsburgh was struggling to move the ball against the lowly Cleveland Browns. Bill Cowher pulled Stewart in favor of Maddox, who led an 84-yard drive with under two minutes remaining to tie the Browns late in regulation. The Steelers won in overtime on a field goal and Cowher named Maddox the starter.
The Steelers lost Maddox’s first start 32-29 to New Orleans but he was in XFL form, throwing for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Over the next five weeks, the former insurance salesman would perform at a Pro Bowl level. He went 4-0-1, with a 64.5% completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 98.0 rating. Projected out to 16 games, Maddox was playing at a 4,100-yard, 35-touchdown pace through that stretch.
In a 34-34 tie with the Falcons, Maddox went blow-for-blow with Mike Vick, throwing for 473 yards and four touchdowns. He came one yard away from one of the great endings in NFL history. Maddox hit Plaxico Burress on a 50-yard pass that came just short of the end zone. Burress finished the game with 253 yards receiving.
He suffered an injury that caused him to miss two weeks but when he returned Maddox kept winning. While his numbers dipped to a 75.6 rating over the final four games, the Steelers won three and made the postseason — no easy task after starting 0-2.
Maddox then put on one of the most memorable performances in postseason history. In an Arena League-esque game, the Steelers trailed Cleveland 33-21 with 10:17 remaining in the fourth quarter of the AFC Wild Card game. Chasing Kelly Holcomb from behind, Maddox led back-to-back touchdown drives to defeat the Browns 36-33. He finished 30-for-48 with 367 yards passing and three touchdowns.
The incredible run for the ex-XFL’er would end the following week against the Titans but Maddox still led the Steelers offense to 31 points.
In 2003, it all came crashing back to earth. Maddox went 6-10 with a 75.3 rating and the Steelers turned to Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 draft. Maddox would remain a backup in Pittsburgh for the rest of his career. However, he did have one more notable moment. In 2004 the Buffalo Bills needed a Week 17 win over the Steelers to reach the playoffs. Pittsburgh played its backups, including Maddox, to rest starters for the postseason. Despite only throwing for 120 yards, Maddox beat the Bills and kept their playoff-less streak alive (one that lasted until 2017).
He received a Super Bowl ring in 2005 as Roethlisberger’s backup.
When the Steelers parted ways, Tommy wasn’t done. He signed a contract with the Philadelphia Soul of the AFL but never played another game for the (now defunct) indoor league.
Maddox’s career was briefly mentioned in a 30 for 30 ESPN documentary about the XFL but his comeback from first-round bust to a postseason winner is truly one of the most improbable runs at the quarterback position in NFL history.
The Minnesota Vikings’ history at the quarterback position has been one of the more interesting in the NFL. After being home to record-breaking, hall-of-fame signal caller Fran Tarkenton (twice), they have cycled through home-grown quarterbacks like Tommy Kramer, Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson (also twice), Daunte Culpepper and Teddy Bridgewater – all quarterbacks that eventually made the Pro Bowl (if not for the Vikings). They’ve also bought into quarterbacks who were previously successful in Archie Manning, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Kirk Cousins and, famously, Brett Favre – players who in many cases had success despite being on their career’s last leg.
This chapter is about a journeyman quarterback who was part of the former group with the Vikings, and the latter group for multiple other teams. Wade Wilson was a Vikings quarterback from 1981 through 1991, with easily his best season coming in 1988. Drafted in the eighth round in the 1981 draft, it took the Texas A & M-Commerce product until 1983 to start his first game and 1987 to earn any meaningful playing time for the purple, as he sat most-notably behind Kramer, the Vikings’ first-round pick in 1977, who made a Pro Bowl in 1986 by leading the NFL with a 92.6 passer rating (yes) and going 7-6 as a starter.
Wilson and Kramer shared the quarterbacking duties for the Vikings in the strike-shortened 1987 season. This Vikings club, who went 8-4 in union games, finished the season 8-7 because their replacement players went 0-3, and squeaked into the playoffs due to a Cardinals loss in Dallas against the Cowboys. Ironically, this was the last-ever game the Cardinals played as the St. Louis Cardinals, as they would move to Phoenix in 1988.
In the 1987 playoffs against the Saints, Wilson relieved an ineffective Kramer early and threw two touchdown passes in a 44-10 route. At the end of the first half he hit Hassan Jones on a 44-yard, Hail Mary pass to put Minnesota up 34-10, effectively ending New Orleans’ first-ever playoff game before it was even halfway done. In the divisional round in San Francisco, Wilson was even better, throwing for 298 yards and two touchdowns in his first-career playoff start, including another touchdown pass to Jones that put the Vikings up 27-10. Despite a late rally by then-49ers backup Steve Young, the Vikings held on to win 36-24, handing Joe Montana his first-career home playoff loss.
While the 1987 run ended in Washington, Wilson entered 1988 as Minnesota’s starting quarterback. After struggling in a 13-10 week 1 loss in Buffalo, Wilson was benched in favor of Kramer and would play sparingly for the next three games (all Vikings wins), before a separated shoulder would cause him to miss weeks 5 and 6 completely. With the Vikings trailing the 1-5 Green Bay Packers 16-0 at home, Wilson relieved Kramer and, after finishing the 34-14 loss to Green Bay, began one of the, up until that time, best stretches of quarterback play in Vikings history.
In his second start of the season, at Tampa Bay, Wilson completed 22 of 30 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns, earning NFC offensive player of the week in a 49-20 win. After a 24-21 loss in San Francisco, that many will remember for Young’s game-winning 49-yard touchdown run in which he broke multiple tackles and carried a Viking into the end zone, Wilson and the Vikings won five straight by an average of over 28 points. Wilson won NFC offensive player of the month honors for November, generating three-touchdown games in 43-3 and 45-3 wins over the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints, respectively. The Vikings defense was in year one of two consecutive seasons of being the league’s number-one-rated unit overall.
With two games remaining and in control of their own destiny for home field advantage in the NFC playoffs, the Vikings dropped their second game to the Packers, this time 18-6 in Lambeau Field. Wilson went just 20 for 41 in the game, failing to throw a touchdown. The Vikings’ leading rushers in that game, Alfred Anderson and Darrin Nelson, had a paltry 13 yards each. It was this lack of a running game in 1988 that led the Vikings to trade for Herschel Walker in 1989, gutting them of multiple first- and second-round picks, as well as a handful of players.
Interestingly, that Packers team, 2-12 at the time, ended up winning their final two games of 1988, losing out on the first pick in the 1989 NFL draft to the Dallas Cowboys, who ended up drafting Troy Aikman. In a top five that included Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders, the Packers ended up with offensive lineman Tony Mandarich out of Michigan State with the second pick of the 1989 NFL Draft – one of the biggest busts in draft history.
The Vikings’ loss to the Packers meant they, despite finishing 11-5 and with the second-best record in the NFC, would be a wild card team for the second-consecutive year. After defeating the then (and now) Los Angeles Rams 28-17 in the Metrodome during the Wild Card round, they lost their rematch in Candlestick 34-9 to a 10-6 49ers team that would eventually win the Super Bowl. Wilson was unable to repeat his brilliant 1987 performance in the Divisional round, going 23 of 47 for 255 yards while throwing two interceptions to just one touchdown.
Wilson’s 1988 performance earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl for the first (and only) time of his career. While going 7-3 as a starter, he completed a league-high 61.4 (yes) percent of his passes, with a career-high 15 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. After leading the league in yards per attempt in 1987 with 8.0, he bettered that mark in 1988 with 8.3 yards per pass, generating Pro Bowl seasons from wide receiver Anthony Carter and tight end Steve Jordan, and a breakout campaign from Jones. The receiving trio was the most-productive in the league.
Like many a journeyman quarterback, Wilson was unable to maintain this success in the following years. The 1989 Vikings were able to win the NFC Central with a 10-6 record, but Wilson largely struggled, completing only 53.6 percent of his passes and throwing for more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (nine). The Walker trade, as well as that for star linebacker Mike Merriweather, left the Vikings without a first-round pick from 1989 to 1992, and while Merriweather was very productive for the purple, Walker never fit into head coach Jerry Burns’ offense, failing to rush for over 1,000 yards in any of his seasons in Minnesota, often relegated to simply a kickoff-return role.
The 1989 Vikings lost in San Francisco in January for the second-consecutive year, this time 41-13. Wilson was benched in that game after going 9-17 for 84 yards and two interceptions. He would give way to youngster (and future NFL MVP) Rich Gannon as the Vikings starting quarterback, because of injury in 1990 and ineffectiveness in 1991, before joining the Falcons as Chris Miller’s backup in 1992. Wilson briefly popped up in June Jones’ system in Atlanta, completing over 68 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions in three starts (throwing for over 300 yards in each start).
His performance in 1992 earned him a starting nod with the Saints in 1993, replacing Bobby Hebert (who would earn a Pro Bowl bid for the Falcons, ironically, that season). He guided the Saints to a 5-0 start in 1993, before tailing off significantly and losing his job to John Buck and Steve Walsh the final two weeks of the campaign. The Saints would miss the playoffs with an 8-8 record, and after starting a career-high 14 games in 1993, Wilson would take in the 1994 season as a backup to former Rams quarterback Jim Everett, a quarterback who knows a thing or two about struggling against the 49ers in the playoffs. Wilson would spend another four years in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl ring with the Dallas Cowboys in 1995 and finishing his career in Oakland in 1998.
In 69 career starts, he went 36-33 as a starter (27-21 with the Vikings), throwing for more interceptions (102) than touchdowns (99) while completing 57.3 percent of his passes. He was as streaky a passer as they come, but none of his streaks were better, or longer, than his 1988 season, a season that many a Vikings fan will look back on as a missed opportunity for a franchise full of them.
Prior to 1987 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers enjoyed exactly three winning seasons. One of those seasons, 1982, was a 5-4, strike-shortened campaign in which they lost in the first round of the playoffs. Despite acquiring the services of former BYU and USFL star Steve Young, they were 2-14 in both 1985 and 1986, “earning” them the first-overall selection in the 1987 draft. They needed to hit on the pick this time, as their previous crack at the first-overall selection, Bo Jackson, would never play a down for the team after controversy surrounding a private jet ride shared by Jackson and Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse made him ineligible for his senior season at Auburn.
With Young traded to the 49ers, Tampa Bay made Miami (FL) quarterback Vinny Testaverde the initial selection in the 1987 draft. Testaverde’s credentials were impeccable, as he earned the Heisman Trophy in 1986 while setting a record for passing touchdowns by a Hurricane quarterback with 48.
Despite owning three second-round picks and three fourth-round picks in the 1987 draft, success was hard to come by for Testaverde and Tampa Bay. As a rookie Testaverde started the final four of a strike-shortened 15-game 1987 season, failing to win a game while completing just 43 percent of his passes. His first start, against the streaking Saints in the Superdome, was his best effort, as he threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-34 loss.
Testaverde’s second season was even worse, as 35 of his 466 passes were intercepted, while only 47.6 percent were complete. The 35 interceptions were second only to George Blanda’s 42 in 1962 in league history for a quarterback. He led the league in interceptions again in 1989 with 22, but he did throw for over 3000 yards and 20 touchdowns, while completing almost 54 percent of his passes and winning five of his 14 starts. While improvement was obvious, Testaverde was never embraced in Tampa Bay, with radio hosts and fans insinuating a lack of intelligence and poking fun at his color blindness.
By 1992 he completed over 57 percent of his passes, but was replaced by fellow journeyman Steve DeBerg for ineffectiveness at times. With free agency becoming the norm around the league, the Bucs allowed Testaverde, who won only a third of his starts with Tampa, to leave via free agency to join the Browns. With the Browns, Testaverde started Bill Belichick’s only playoff win as Cleveland’s coach, and was relatively effective, earning a 16-15 record in 31 starts, throwing 10 more interceptions than touchdowns.
After Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, Testaverde became the first quarterback of the Ravens franchise, and while team-level success was elusive, he had a 51/34 touchdown-to-interception ratio while in Baltimore. We are not focusing on his 1996 season in this chapter, but it was a Pro Bowl season for Vinny, as he went over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns for the only time in his career, despite the Ravens’ 4-12 record.
Vinny Testaverde ranks all time:
After a 4-8-1 record as a starter in 1997, Testaverde joined Bill Parcells on his hometown Jets. The Jets were coming off of a 9-7 season in the legend’s first as a coach, an eight-game improvement from the 1-15 1996 campaign coached by Rich Kotite. Testaverde wasn’t gifted the starting job in New York, though, and in the first game of the season Glenn Foley’s 415 yards and three touchdowns were able to get New York’s game at Candlestick into overtime opening day, before a 96-yard run by Garrison Hearst ended it, 36-30. In week 2, Foley’s three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown by hall of famer Rod Woodson, would down the Jets 24-10 at the hands of the Ravens. A rib injury to Foley opened the door to Testaverde in week 3, and he responded by throwing four touchdowns on just 12 completions to beat Peyton Manning’s Colts 44-6 at the Meadowlands. He won again in his second start against a hall-of-fame quarterback in Dan Marino, throwing for 185 yards and a 10-yard touchdown to star receiver/author Keyshawn Johnson in a 20-9 win against the Dolphins.
Parcells strangely gave the start in week 5 back to a healthy Foley against Dick Vermeil’s Rams in St. Louis. However, the young signal caller went 5 for 15 and threw two interceptions and went back to the bench in favor of Testaverde. Testaverde did throw a touchdown in the game (and avoided an interception), but the Jets fell to the woeful Rams 30-10. It was the Jets’ third loss in as many games not started by Testaverde, a trend they would rectify by starting him the remaining 11 games, of which they would win 10.
In wins against the Patriots, Falcons, Chiefs and Bills, Testaverde threw nine touchdowns to just two interceptions while taking just eight sacks. While Parcells was building a championship-caliber defense behind him, Testaverde and the Jets offense were clearing expectations by a mile, eclipsing 20 points in each of those games.
After a one-point loss to Manning’s 3-13 Colts in which Vinny completed just 12 of 28 passes, the Jets would win the last six games of the season, with Testaverde 13 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. He was efficient in a 21-point win in Tennessee against the (then) Oilers, and in a 48-21 win against the Panthers he completed seven of the eight passes he threw to Wayne Chrebet, with two resulting in touchdowns.
He needed 42 completions on 63 attempts, for 418 yards to defeat the Seahawks at the Meadowlands in week 14. In fact, he needed a little help from the officiating as well. Down 28-13 after a 36-yard interception return by Anthony Simmons of the Seahawks, Testaverde led the Jets on three touchdown drives, the last of which ended on a 4.5-yard run by the quarterback on fourth and goal from the Seahawks’ five yard line, with the last half of a yard coming courtesy of the official, Earnie Frantz.
After completing the sweep of the Dolphins 21-16 in Miami, they did the same thing in Buffalo the following week, dipping below 20 points for the only time in Testaverde’s 13 starts, but winning 17-10 due to a defense that held Doug Flutie to just 14 completions on 38 passing attempts. They finished the season with a 31-10 win over Pete Carroll’s New England Patriots, sweeping the Pats on the back of four more Testaverde touchdown passes. The 12-4 Jets would go 12-1 in Testaverde’s starts, and the veteran quarterback’s 101.6 passer rating was second only to Randall Cunningham’s outrageous 106 mark buoyed by the rookie season of Randy Moss in Minnesota. Testaverde’s passer rating slightly edged out that of the man he replaced in Tampa, Steve Young, who led the league in that metric each season from 1991 to 1997, save 1995. Testaverde would earn his second and final trip to the Pro Bowl, and a first-round bye for the Jets in the AFC playoffs.
In the Jets first playoff game since 1991, two Keyshawn Johnson touchdowns would put the Jets up 17-0 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and while the cats would give the Jets a run for their money, Johnson’ 121 yards receiving and star running back Curtis Martin’s 124 yards rushing and two touchdowns would be enough to prevail, 34-24. It was New York’s first playoff win in a dozen years and took them to Denver for the AFC title game.
The Jets would take a 10-0 lead into halftime on a one-yard touchdown run by Martin, but two interceptions and just 13 additional yards by Martin were enough to thwart the 356 yards through the air by Testaverde, whose Jets eventually fell 23-10 to the eventual Super Bowl champion. 1998 was a magical season for the Jets, but unfortunately it was also a magical season for the Broncos (and the Falcons, and even the Vikings if you squint hard enough). Testaverde was at the top of his game, but such magic was hard to sustain. He tore his Achilles tendon in week 1 of the 1999 season, Parcells’ last with the Jets, and struggled through a 9-7 2000 season with rookie first-rounder Chad Pennington behind him, throwing more interceptions (25) than touchdowns (21) and watching Martin rush for less than four yards per carry and Johnson leave for Tampa Bay. He rebounded a bit in 2000, propelling the Jets to a 10-6 record under Herman Edwards, but lost his job to Pennington in 2001, who compiled a 1998-Testaverde-like 104.1 passer rating in his 12 starts.
After one more year as a backup with the Jets, Testaverde surprisingly took over for Parcells’ 2004 Cowboys team after Bill released previous starter Quincy Carter prior to the season. Testaverde went just 5-10 as a starter, while leading the NFL in interceptions that season, before going back to the Jets to be a backup again in 2005. He joined the Patriots in 2006 to back up Tom Brady and Matt Cassell, keeping his NFL-record streak of seasons with a passing touchdown alive at 20 by converting one of his three pass attempts for a score. After injuries decimated the quarterback position for the Panthers in 2007, Testaverde would join the team to start the last six games of his career, going 2-4 as a starter while throwing five touchdowns and six interceptions. In 214 career starts, Testaverde was 90-123-1 as a starter, throwing for over 46,000 yards (15th all time) and, against all odds given the start of his career, more touchdowns (275, 16th all time) than interceptions (267… fourth all time). In an all-time journeyman-quarterback career, he was truly a star in 1998, and while neither he nor the Jets have achieved that level of success since, Testaverde, Parcells and company will always have that season.
A two-star recruit out of Wylie high school, Case Keenum became one of the best college quarterbacks to ever play. In his early NFL days, there were signs he could catch lightning in a bottle and win games as a starter. But nobody could have dreamed up his 2017 season with the Minnesota Vikings.
As a Houston Cougar, Keenum set nine NCAA records, including most passing completions, most passing yards, most career passing touchdowns and most games with 300-plus yards in a single season. Keenum’s gunslinging mentality would follow him from college to the NFL and both pay off and prove costly.
Despite his unprecedented college success, Keenum went undrafted. His NFL.com profile laid out the concerns bluntly.
“Keenum is an undersized prospect, which hurts his value. Like Russell Wilson, he will need to show he can throw effectively from the pocket. He also could be considered the product of an effective, high-octane collegiate spread offense.”
His hometown team (of sorts) the Houston Texans signed Keenum and he spent the entire season on the practice squad in 2012. In 2013 he made the squad as the third QB. Midway through the year he was named the backup over TJ Yates and got a shot to play in Week 7 when starter Matt Schaub went out with an injury.
The writing was on the wall that Keenum was capable of special things in his first two starts. Against Kansas City and Indianapolis, he combined to throw for 621 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and registered a 118.0 rating.
As is the trend for his NFL career, the success was short lived. He went 0-8 as Houston’s starter and posted a 66.1 rating over the final six games.
Keenum landed with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and beat out Number-one pick Jared Goff for the starting job in 2016, but his trend of up-and-down play continued. In a four-game stretch, he threw just two touchdowns and five picks and was benched for Goff.
With Teddy Bridgewater’s future uncertain, the Vikings signed Keenum knowing that starter Sam Bradford had a concerning injury history and they might need a backup with experience. Several weeks into camp, Keenum was behind undrafted QB Taylor Heinicke for the backup job. But in the team’s opening preseason game, he made several “wow” throws and led the Vikings’ offense up and down the field, solidifying his spot as the No. 2.
By Week 2, he was in the saddle as the starter. Bradford went down with a mysterious knee injury and Keenum was thrown into the fire against the Pittsburgh Steelers. After a miserable 20-for-37, 167-yard performance, talk of the Vikings looking elsewhere began.
Then Keenum hit his stride, finding incredible chemistry with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Over the next 14 weeks, he lost just twice and managed a 101.1 rating. In a game at Soldier Field against the Bears, he operated a second-half comeback win after Bradford started but was forced to exit the game with persistent knee trouble.
Week after week, everything came up Keenum. Following the victory in Chicago, Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr injured Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, opening the door for two Keenum wins over Minnesota’s arch rival (he was the first Vikings QB to sweep Green Bay since Brett Favre). A few weeks later, in a prove-it game, a screen pass to Thielen against the NFC-best Los Angeles Rams turned into a 65-yard touchdown to seal the game. In Detroit a blocked field goal was called back. In Atlanta the Vikings held the Falcons to nine points. And then over the final three weeks, they faced teams that were well out of the playoffs and the Vikings steamrolled their sorry opponents.
Bridgewater’s presence loomed. At one point defensive end Everson Griffen revealed that the team had a meeting in which the leadership voted to stick with Keenum because he had been winning. Unfazed by fans calling for Bridgewater at US Bank Stadium during a three-and-out series, Keenum ended up leading a “Teddy, Teddy” chant when Bridgewater stepped on the field for the first time in the fourth quarter of a blowout against the Cincinnati Bengals.
His season had already been a miracle before the Minneapolis Miracle. Head coach Mike Zimmer repeatedly questioned Keenum’s risk-taking but it never caught up with him. That continued in the opening playoff game against the Saints. Keenum flung a wobbling interception that opened the door for a Drew Brees comeback but with just seconds remaining the journeyman QB found Diggs on the sideline for one of the most improbable plays in NFL postseason history.
Keenum won an ESPY award for the Miracle throw.
The following week — as it always has — fate caught up with Keenum. He couldn’t recover from a pick-six against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Vikings’ season came to an ugly end on the road.
Afraid that their luck had run out, the Vikings moved on from Keenum, allowing him to sign with the Broncos and opting to sign former Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to the first-ever fully-guaranteed contract. After a 6-10 season in which he had just an 81.2 rating, they moved on too, trading him to Washington. After half a year as the Washington starter, he is slated to be former number one pick Baker Mayfield’s backup in Cleveland in 2020.
He might never catch lightning again but for 2017, it was like Keenum was a Houston Cougar all over again. There’s nothing quite like the wild ride of a journeyman quarterback leading his team to stunning success.
Kerry Collins’ presence on this list tells us something: Journeyman quarterbacks come in many different forms.
You could argue that Collins was a franchise quarterback who did enough winning to gain notoriety, but always disappointed his teams in the end. After all, he was the fifth-overall draft pick and spent three seasons as Carolina’s starter and four years as the Giants’ signal caller. But the unexpected highs, the incredible lows and starts for six different franchises solidify his journeyman status.
Let’s start with the high moments.
While Collins was statistically unimpressive (2,454 yards, 14 touchdowns, nine interceptions) in the second year of his career, he led the Panthers to a 12-4 season and the seventh best offense in the NFL in scoring. Under Dom Capers, Carolina was the darlings of the league when they defeated Dallas in the playoffs in just their second season of existence.
But Collins battled some demons with the Panthers. Just two years after playing in the NFC Championship game, he started 0-4 and told his head coach that his heart was no longer in the game. Turns out Collins had been struggling with alcoholism, and a year after being waved and playing seven very poor games with the Saints, he was arrested for drunk driving and sought treatment.
At that point Collins’ career could have been over. Between 1997 and 1998, he’d gone 8-16 with 23 touchdowns, 36 interceptions and a 58.7 QB rating. Like all great journeymen, however, he bounced back from tough times.
He signed with the Giants as Kent Graham’s backup in 1999 and showed very little improvement from the previous two seasons, throwing eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
In 2000 Collins once again found himself under center for a stacked team and raised his level of play. The Giants finished with the fifth best defense in yards and points against and rushed for over 2,000 yards between Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber. The bad quarterback performances — like Collins’ 40.6 rating in a 13-6 win over Atlanta in Week 6 — were covered up by defense and running. And he put together enough masterful games to carry the team at times, like his 321-yard, two-touchdown game in Week 17 against the Jaguars in a 28-25 victory.
A 12-4 record in a comeback season for Collins would have been mildly memorable on its own considering how poorly the former Penn State star played over the previous few seasons. But his second season in The Big Apple became unforgettable on January 14, 2001. Collins put together one of the greatest postseason performances in NFL history against the Minnesota Vikings, throwing for 381 yards and five touchdowns.
In classic journeyman fashion, he would go on to have one of the worst Super Bowl performances ever. The Ravens’ all-time great defense held Collins to a 38% completion percentage and 112 yards, four interceptions. Ah yes, the highs and lows.
Collins didn’t fall completely off the map after his Super Bowl loss. In 2002, he went 10-6 with similar regular season numbers to 2000 and five fourth-quarter comebacks. In the playoffs he had an outstanding 342-yard, four-touchdown game in a 39-38 loss against the 49ers in which long snapper Trey Junkin infamously botched the snap for the G-men’s game-winning field goal attempt.
But the Giants’ roster began to slip and so did Collins’ play. A 4-9 season as a starter led to his exit from New York. The Raiders signed him but did not get their money’s worth as he threw the most interceptions in the NFL in 2004. From 2003-2006, Collins played for three teams, went 11-33 as a starter and posted a 72.7 quarterback rating.
Again it probably should have been over at that point. He acted as Vince Young’s backup for two seasons and barely saw the field until Young got hurt in Week 1 against the Jaguars and Jeff Fisher turned to his 36-year-old journeyman.
Collins played some of the most conservative football imaginable during his time as Tennessee’s starter but it worked beautifully. He averaged 167 yards per game, just 6.4 yard per attempt and only threw 12 touchdowns, seven interceptions in 15 starts. But he went 12-3, partly by avoiding negative plays. Collins was sacked just eight times in 423 drop backs. The tandem of Chris Johnson and LenDale White gained nearly 2,200 yards rushing and the Titans managed the third best defense in the NFL.
While the Ravens ended Collins’ hopes again with a 13-10 win over Tennessee in the divisional round of the playoffs, Collins made the Pro Bowl after Brett Favre couldn’t play due to injury and first alternate Phillip Rivers pulled out of the game.
History, as you might expect, repeated itself. Collins started the ‘09 season 0-6 with a 65.5 quarterback rating and Young was given the job back.
Coincidentally Collins ended up playing a role in the Colts landing Andrew Luck. He went 0-3 as a starter in 2011 at age 39.
There is no better evidence that narratives are shaped by draft status than Collins. If he had been a fifth-round pick and had the same exact career, he might be a semi folk hero and a great comeback story from dark times in his early life. Instead he isn’t one of our lovable journeymen, he’s considered mostly a bust who could only take his teams so far.
But how many journeyman quarterbacks can say they went to a Super Bowl, two Pro Bowls and put together multiple double-digit win seasons?