A few years out of college, I found myself in a career tailspin.
Floating from one temporary office gig to the next, the following phrase started to surface in doomed interviews: JOB JUMPER.
Sending my scattered resume to a friend from home who was, by now, years into a serious career as a recruiter, he told me point blank: "You look like someone running from the law -- at least running from something."
Not everyone signs up for a permanent role at DataChrome Industries at age 22 and sits at the same desk for four decades before shuffling off to Vero Beach.
Maybe that's why I've always felt a soft spot for the journeyman quarterback. Bouncing from town to town with nothing but a change of clothes and a toothbrush in his pack. No attachments to the world. All is possible.
The definition itself -- journeyman QB -- is hazy. For this exercise, though, I'm looking for signal-callers who played for at least four teams with impactful, memory-spinning moments along the way.
Let's take a look:
Dallas Cowboys (1977), San Francisco 49ers (1977-1980), Denver Broncos (1981-83), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1984-87), Kansas City Chiefs (1988-1991), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1992-93), Miami Dolphins (1993), Atlanta Falcons (1998)
Killer turnovers kept employers looking elsewhere, but Steve DeBerg morphed into a watchable play-action tactician whose finest hour came with the Chiefs in 1990. Lighting up the enemy for 23 scores to just four picks, DeBerg tugged Kansas City into January while showing old-school grit along the way. He finished the year wearing a massive cast over his left hand to protect a fractured pinkie, with Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated noting "the DeBerg Digit had been smashed so nicely in a game against the Houston Oilers that the bone poked through the skin." Armed with his polypropylene mitt, DeBerg could barely take snaps. Still, he carved out a 13-3 lead against Miami in the Wild Card Round before tumbling to Dan Marino and friends. Retiring after the '93 campaign, DeBerg took a coaching role with the Giants under Dan Reeves before authoring one last dance of his own in '98: Returning from the wilderness to play a backup role for Reeves in Atlanta, the 44-year-old DeBerg took the field in Week 8 against the Jets to become the oldest starting quarterback in league history.
Denver Broncos (2010-11), New York Jets (2012), New England Patriots (2013), Philadelphia Eagles (2015)
Another player with Tebow's numbers wouldn't make this list, but anyone who lived through the experience recalls the fervor. His magic-drenched Broncos campaign of 2011 was stuffed with intrigue.
Tebow looked hideous in his second start that season, a 45-10 drubbing by Detroit, leaving play-caller Mike McCoy to toss the playbook in the circular file and press on with an option-style, run-doused attack that turned Denver into the talk of the league:
The nation swooned in Week 11 when Tebow bobbed and weaved for a 20-yard scoring scamper with a minute left to knock off the Jets 17-13 in a Thursday night classic. Sitting later at 8-5, the Broncos went on to lose their final three games, back into the playoffs at 8-8 and somehow deep-six the 12-4 Steelers in overtime with Tebow finding Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard game-winning score -- giving him a blessed 316 yards on the day. Detonated by the Patriots one week later, Tebow would go on to double as a media magnet, minus the football skills, with Rex Ryan's Jets before short-circuited stints with New England and Philly gave way to a minor league role with the Mets.
Chicago Bears (2005-08), Denver Broncos (2009-2011), Kansas City Chiefs (2011), Dallas Cowboys (2012-13), Buffalo Bills (2014)
It was unclear to me if Kyle Orton really wanted to be there. Often resembling a down-on-his-luck drifter experimenting with new developments of neckbeard growth, Orton never struck me as a tape-dog type burning the midnight oil to unearth that one hidden flaw in Miami's nickel defense. Still, he enjoyed moments in the sun. As a rookie in 2005, Orton replaced an injured Rex Grossman and carved out a 10-5 starting record for the Bears. In 2009, Orton looked like MVP fodder for a Broncos outfit that opened 6-0 and had first-year coach Josh McDaniels fist-pumping after Denver bumped off Bill Belichick and the Pats in Week 5. Those Broncos would go 2-8 down the stretch, though, and Orton would eventually lose his job to, you guessed it, Tim Tebow.
Arizona Cardinals (2002-05), Detroit Lions (2006), Oakland Raiders (2007), Miami Dolphins (2008), Carolina Panthers (2008-09), Hartford Colonials (2010), San Francisco 49ers (2011), Chicago Bears (2011-13), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014), Cleveland Browns (2015-16), New York Jets (2017-18), Philadelphia Eagles (2019)
McCown bounced around for nearly two decades as a sometimes-starter capable of mighty moments. His five starts for the Bears in 2013 led to a starting gig in Tampa, but the leading-man opportunities -- often with talent-poor, dysfunctional squads -- never lasted for long. McCown rolled from one town to the next, using his size, athleticism and toughness to make do. At every stop, the 40-year-old was touted as a classy teammate with a future in coaching. If last season marked his final run, it's fitting McCown went out waging an uphill battle for Philly in a playoff loss to Seattle. Without a complaint, the ol' cowboy spent the afternoon scrambling from trouble and flinging darts with his hamstring torn off the bone. His postgame words say everything about what burns inside the man:
New Jersey Generals (1985), Chicago Bears (1986-87), New England Patriots (1987-89), BC Lions (1990-91), Calgary Stampeders (1992-95), Toronto Argonauts (1996-97), Buffalo Bills (1998-2000), San Diego Chargers (2001-04), New England Patriots (2005)
He won the Heisman Trophy and lobbed the most-storied Hail Mary in college football history, but Flutie's doubters remained. Flushed from both the USFL and NFL, the former Boston College star thrived up north in Canada, winning three Grey Cups and producing eye-popping numbers.
By 1998, Flutie was prepared to retire. Then came a call from the Buffalo Bills. The plan was for the 36-year-old to play behind pricey offseason acquisition Rob Johnson, a design that unraveled when Johnson went down in the opener. In came Flutie, darting around, juking behemoths and shooting lasers en route to a playoff berth.
One year later, Flutie did it again, tugging the '99 Bills to a 10-5 record and another January invite. Problems struck in Week 17, though, when Johnson played brilliantly in a meaningless tilt against the Colts. Bills owner Ralph Wilson pressured coach Wade Phillips into starting his highly paid passer in the upcoming wild-card clash with the Titans. As Flutie watched from afar, Johnson was squashed during a nail-biter that morphed into the Music City Miracle.
Playing until age 43, Flutie's final play was poetic: Toiling for the Patriots in 2005, he drew a rare giggle from Belichick by converting the NFL's first successful drop kick since the 1940s.
Memorable. Resilient. Versatile. Flutie was all those things and more.
Philadelphia Eagles (2012-14), St. Louis Rams (2015), Kansas City Chiefs (2016), Philadelphia Eagles (2017-18), Jacksonville Jaguars (2019), Chicago Bears (2020-present)
On the morning after beating the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, Foles -- the game's unlikely MVP -- delivered one of the more engaging news conferences of the decade, a sea-poem on the merits of struggling toward a goal. "I think the big thing," said Foles, "is don't be afraid to fail."
Those words ring true from a quarterback strapped to a career roller coaster. Climbing toward the sun, Foles tossed 27 touchdowns to just two picks for Chip Kelly's Eagles in 2013. Screaming toward earth, Foles endured a painful turn with the Rams in 2015 that left him "100 percent" certain retirement was next. He's never started more than 11 games in a single season and lost his job in Jacksonville last autumn to a zeitgeist-shaking sixth-round rookie in Gardner Minshew. History suggests more bumps lie ahead in Chicago, but find me another journeyman passer with a statue built in his honor:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1987-1992), Cleveland Browns (1993-95), Baltimore Ravens (1996-97), New York Jets (1998-2003), Dallas Cowboys (2004), New York Jets (2005), New England Patriots (2006), Carolina Panthers (2007)
Making 214 starts for a laundry list of franchises, Vinny is a favorite for three reasons:
- I was in mild awe of Testaverde whipping an unholy 35 interceptions -- second-most in league history -- for the Creamsicle-clad Bucs in '88. It was later discovered the first-round passer was colorblind.
- Both Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick harbored a Testaverde fetish. Belichick jumped at the chance to sign him in Cleveland in 1993, a move that led to the controversial, late-season release of hometown hero Bernie Kosar. That didn't sit well with this lifelong Browns fan, but I grew to adore Vinny in '94 as he guided the club to its last recorded playoff win in a 20-13 sideswiping of the Parcells-led Patriots. A well-tread subplot that season was Vinny's father, Al, growing so nervous watching his son play that he was forced to wait in a quiet room for the final score.
- Testaverde became more powerful with age. At 35, he tugged the Jets into the AFC title game under the watch of Parcells. Playing his final snaps with the Panthers in 2007, the 44-year-old Testaverde came within a hair of topping DeBerg for the title of oldest starter in league history.
New York Jets (1992-93), Cincinnati Bengals (1994-99), New Orleans Saints (2000-01), Baltimore Ravens (2002), Arizona Cardinals (2003), Philadelphia Eagles (2004), Chicago Bears (2005)
Lost in the sands of time, Blake started 100 games over 13 seasons and loomed for a stretch as a legitimate starter. His Bengals run peaked with a 28-touchdown campaign that triggered a Pro Bowl berth in '95. Shake-N-Blake roamed as one of the NFL's most exciting deep-shot artists, finding Cincy's Carl Pickens for a league-leading 17 scores that autumn. The uber-confident Blake won the job away from banged-up first-overall pick David Klingler, telling The Undefeated in 2017: "You could never bring me around your young quarterback. Because I was gonna take their job." The same happened to him, though, when the Bengals lured back Boomer Esiason in '97 before signing Neil O'Donnell the following year. Blake resurfaced with the Saints in Y2K, going 7-4 and helping set the table for a playoff berth before breaking his foot. Stops with the Ravens and Cardinals added another 23 starts, but Blake never topped his fancy flight in Cincy.
St. Louis Rams (2005-06), Cincinnati Bengals (2007-08), Buffalo Bills (2009-2012), Tennessee Titans (2013), Houston Texans (2014), New York Jets (2015-16), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2017-18), Miami Dolphins (2019-present)
The glorious Fitzpatrick remains the only human being to topple Belichick's Patriots as a starter for every other team in the AFC East. Last season, at age 37, he joined Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray as the only passers league-wide to lead their teams in rushing (yes, it was merely 243 yards on a Fins squad with a sub-zero ground game, but get out of my way). This is the fellow who led the Jets to a 10-6 record in 2015, the equivalent of a deep-state coup! The Fitzy tidbits are endless. I'd argue he was the best quarterback in the AFC East last season, a campaign that wrapped with Miami's heroic slaying of New England and scenes such as this from the rambunctious, thick-bearded magician who makes football fun:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2008-2011), San Francisco 49ers (2012), Sacramento Mountain Lions (2012), Cleveland Browns (2012), Cincinnati Bengals (2013), San Francisco 49ers (2014), Cincinnati Bengals (2015), New York Jets (2015), Indianapolis Colts (2015), Buffalo Bills (2015), Baltimore Ravens (2016), New York Giants (2016), Houston Texans (2017), Oakland Raiders (2018), Washington Redskins (2018), Detroit Lions (2019), Los Angeles Wildcats (2020-present)
With just eight career starts since 2009, Johnson hasn't exactly made a permanent imprint on the NFL. Still, hats off to the man for toiling with 15 clubs over 11 seasons -- not to mention a proud stint with the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions. Landing with Washington in 2018, Johnson admitted to a crash course in Madden to learn the names of his teammates. Johnson diehards were delighted to see him turned into a centerpiece of the XFL's Los Angeles Wildcats, but seemingly minutes later, an international pandemic struck our planet. The guy can't catch a break.