10 Best NFL QB "Late Career" Changes of Scenery
Peyton Manning proved that a QB can be reborn with a change of scenery.
If your team makes a deal, either in free agency or via trade, to bring in a quarterback who's on the north side of 30, the immediate question is simple — does this guy still have a really good season or two in the tank? This will be the first question out of any Texans fan's mouth if Rick Smith is able to reel in Tony Romo over the next few weeks.
(Actually, that will be the second question, after confirmation that Romo's bones are still made of some sort of calcified substance, as opposed to, say, cotton or styrofoam.)
The good news, if you're looking for precedent, is that there are numerous examples of quarterbacks for whom a change of scenery has injected a B-12 shot into their career, and helped their new team reach heights for a season or two — heights that a younger, greener quarterback may not have been able to attain.
Looking back at recent history, here ten examples, grouped into four categories:
THE "TWO FACE" CLUB
Not only did the two quarterbacks in this section have their renaissance as Arizona Cardinals, but both of them could just as easily wind up on a list of "worst changes of scenery" as well, if you take into account a horrific detour on their way to the desert...
10. CARSON PALMER, Arizona Cardinals
Traded in 2013 (Age 34)
Best Season: 2015 (13-3, Pro Bowl, 4,671 yards passing, lost in NFC Title Game)
After nearly a decade in Cincinnati to open his career, Palmer was traded to the Raiders for a 2012 1st round pick and a 2013 2nd round pick before the 2011 season. Two years later, to give you an idea of how far his value fell in two seasons in Oakland, he was traded to the Cardinals (with a 7th round pick) for a 6th and 7th round pick. As it turns out, Cards head coach Bruce Arians was exactly what the doctor ordered, and Palmer nearly won the MVP award in 2015, leading the Cardinals to a 13-3 record at age 36.
9. KURT WARNER, Arizona Cardinals
Signed in 2006 (Age 34)
Best Season: 2008 (4,583 yards passing, Pro Bowl, lost in Super Bowl)
After leading the "Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis for five seasons, Warner signed with the New York Giants for the 2004 season while rookie Eli Manning watched from the bench for nine games. Warner had fumble issues all season, while getting sacked 39 times in ten games. He moved on in 2005 to Arizona, where he was 3-12 in his first 15 starts while settling into a backup role to Matt Leinart. Eventually, though, Warner would reclaim the full-time starter's job and lead the Cardinals to within two minutes of a Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XLIII.
THE "JOE COOL" CLUB
Joe Montana is so good, he gets his own level dedicated to his two-season run in Kansas City at the end of his career...
8. JOE MONTANA, Kansas City Chiefs
Traded in 1993 (Age 37)
Best Season: 1993 (8-3, AFC West title, lost in AFC Title Game)
Watch that video embedded above. It serves as a great reminder of just how the cool hand of Montana was so revered by teammates and opponents alike, even teammates to whom he was brand-new in 1993. In retrospect, with Tom Brady now having surpassed Montana as the "greatest ever," it would have been fascinating to see Joe Cool close the deal with the 1993 Chiefs team that made it to the AFC Title Game.
THE SIX DEGREES OF MINNESOTA VIKINGS CLUB
It's remarkable how these guys all have ties to the Minnesota Vikings, the one franchise that has carved out a history by recycling and rejuvenating veteran quarterbacks...
7. BRETT FAVRE, Minnesota Vikings
Signed in 2009 (Age 40)
Best Season: 2009 (12-4, 4, 202 yards passing, Pro Bowl, career low 7 INT, lost in NFC Title Game)
This was an amazing rejuvenation season for Favre, considering that he a) was fairly pedestrian in his one season with the Jets in 2008 (led the NFL in picks and dick pics) and b) followed that up with a season where he posted a career low in picks (and maybe dick pics) as a Viking. Ironically, it was a soul-crushing interception in the NFC Title Game that did Favre and the Vikings in.
6. WARREN MOON, Minnesota Vikings
Traded in 1994 (Age 38)
Best Season: 1995 (4,228 yards passing, 33 TDs, Pro Bowl)
Quite honestly, you could make a case that Moon's entire NFL career is one gigantic change of scenery after he led the Edmonton Eskimos to multiple Grey Cups in the CFL. Within the section of his bio titled "NFL," though, Minnesota was the change of scenery after Houston decided to build around Cody Carlson in 1994. (I know, as a Houstonian, that whole sentence sucks.) The Vikings didn't do much as a team with Moon under center, but he did make a couple of Pro Bowls.
5. RANDALL CUNNINGHAM, Minnesota Vikings
Signed in 1997 (Age 34)
Best Season: 1998 (13-1, 1st team All Pro, 3,704 yards passing, 34 TDs, lost in NFC Title Game)
Cunningham was actually out of football altogether in 1996, working in his granite business. However, Vikings head coach Dennis Green cajoled him back onto the field in 1997, and in 1998, Cunningham put up a career year that would have ended in a Super Bowl if Gary Anderson hadn't missed a chip shot field goal to close out the NFC Title Game against the Falcons.
4. RICH GANNON, Oakland Raiders
Signed in 1999 (Age 34)
Best Season: 2002 (4,689 yards passing, 1st team All Pro, MVP, lost in Super Bowl)
Gannon, a former Viking, had spent most of his first 12 seasons in the league as a backup before signing with Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders. From there, he strung together a four-season stretch where he went 41-23, culminating in an MVP award and Super Bowl appearance in 2002.
THE SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS CLUB
These three made it all the way to the summit...
3. DOUG WILLIAMS, Washington Redskins
Signed in 1987 (Age 31)
Best Season: 1987 (First black QB to win Super Bowl, Super Bowl XXII MVP)
On paper, Doug Williams was 0-2 as a starter in 1987, which means he did less as a starter than scab QB Ed Rubbert (3-0, baby!) to get the Redskins into the playoffs. However, Williams won three games along the way subbing for an ineffective Jay Schroeder, and was named the starter heading into the postseason by head coach Joe Gibbs. Williams became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, taking MVP honors in a 42-10 rout of the Denver Broncos.
2. JIM PLUNKETT, Oakland Raiders
Signed in 1978 (Age 31)
Best Season: 1980 (9-2 as starter, won Super Bowl, Super Bowl XV MVP)
It was a jagged route for the No. 1 overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft to finally climb to football's mountaintop, including failed stops in New England and San Francisco. However, a broken leg suffered by starter Dan Pastorini opened the door for Plunkett in 1980, and he grabbed the job and never let go, winning Super Bowls XV and XVIII as a starter, including MVP honors in XV.
1. PEYTON MANNING, Denver Broncos
Signed in 2012 (Age 36)
Best Season: (tie) 2013 (5,477 yards passing, 55 TDs, 1st team All Pro, MVP, lost in Super Bowl) and 2015 (7-2 as starter, won Super Bowl)
I don't need to recap this one — just know that it could have been Houston reaping the rewards of the four productive seasons Manning still had left in the tank after being released by Indianapolis following the 2011 season.
Don't do it again, Texans.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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