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6 of our favorite journeymen quarterbacks in NFL history

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In honor of Josh McCown’s illustrious career as “the” journeyman quarterback, we go through our personal favorites.

Quarterback is the most scrutinized position in football. In general, teams with franchise quarterbacks are regarded as more stable and successful. But sometimes teams put together other pieces first, and that can lead to applying a Band-Aid in the form of a journeyman quarterback.

Recently, one of the most well-known journeymen quarterbacks in the NFL retired. Josh McCown decided to hang it up after playing for 10 different teams (some only in the offseason) in 16 different seasons. He played much better down the stretch of his career and put together some truly impressive performances.

That got us thinking about our favorite journeymen quarterbacks who have made, or are still making, their way through the NFL. Some of them got their moments in the spotlight. Some of them never really got a fair shake.

But it’s always fun to root for the underdog, so which one is near and dear to your heart? Here are our picks.

Charlie Whitehurst, 2006-16

Played for: Chargers, Seahawks, Chargers (again), Titans, Colts, Browns

Charlie Whitehurst really didn’t play much until his late 20s and didn’t even take a single regular season snap from 2007-09. That means Whitehurst sat there for three years, watching Philip Rivers lead crazy comebacks and scream at referees.

Even though he had a cool comeback against the Giants when he was playing with the Seahawks, he finally got a real shot to shine when he was with the Titans in 2014. By then, he was already 32 and went just 1-4 as the starter.

Whitehurst only threw 11 touchdowns in his nine seasons in the NFL, but his playing career wasn’t the only part of his legend.

The allure of Whitehurst was his mane. He had extremely long hair and earned the nickname “Clipboard Jesus”. That has to be one of the top names in all of football. He was also featured in a Nashville lifestyle website, which feels like the most Charlie Whitehurst thing ever.

Matt Hasselbeck once called Whitehurst “the most interesting man in the world” and he’s right. Long live Clipboard Jesus. — Vijay Vemu

Shaun Hill, 2005-16

Played for: Vikings, 49ers, Lions, Rams, Vikings (again)

I remain enamored with J.T. O’Sullivan and the sad saga that led to him starting at quarterback for the 49ers. But it’s another journeyman quarterback who I’m particularly attached to — in a positive way: Shaun Hill.

Hill was never the best at any one thing, but he had a knack for surpassing expectations on the field. While there weren’t a whole lot of things about his personality that stood out throughout his career, he just always struck me as a guy who put in the work and it showed. He played smart and dependable football, which is exactly what you want out of a guy who was primarily a backup but found himself in the starting position quite a bit, especially later in his career.

Hill played with the Vikings, 49ers, Lions, Rams, and then the Vikings again ... and also the Amsterdam Admirals! He eventually finished his career with 49 touchdowns against 30 interceptions, with 8,295 yards and an 84.9 passer rating.

Plus, there was a time many, many years ago when I won a pair of free Steelers/Cardinals-themed Nike shoes from EA Sports due to my passionate arguments about Hill’s rating being too low in Madden. If that’s not the right reason to love somebody, then I don’t want to be right. — James Brady

Matt Cassel, 2005-18

Played for: Patriots, Chiefs, Vikings, Bills, Cowboys, Titans, Lions

Matt Cassel is a finesse hero.

Cassel leveraged one good season filling in for an injured Tom Brady into a career that paid him more than $65 million. Outside of playing for the Patriots, Cassel has also suited up for the Chiefs, Vikings, Bills (??), Cowboys, Titans, and Lions (and he might not even be done yet).

I had no idea Cassel even played for the Bills until I looked up his Pro Football Reference page, but there appears to be picture proof of this.

Indianapolis Colts v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Cassel further confirms my idea that the best gig in the NFL is being a backup quarterback. Cassel only needed one (1) season of throwing the ball to Randy Moss to turn in a career that’s created generational wealth for himself and his family.

Sure, failing as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback from 2009-12 stings a little bit, but he still made the Pro Bowl in 2010 and got to play with Jamaal Charles. That’s pretty neat! — Charles McDonald

Ryan Fitzpatrick, 2005-present

Played for: Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets, Bucs, Dolphins

There’s a lot of reason to feel for Josh Rosen, who had a relatively normal season as far as rookie quarterbacks go but got traded away by the Cardinals before getting to year two. To make matters worse, his competition for the Dolphins’ starting job is Ryan Fitzpatrick, the most unkillable journeyman quarterback.

Fitzpatrick is a fantastic-beard-having, Rubik’s-Cube-solving, Harvard-graduating passer who has spent his lengthy NFL career being either:

A) A mistake-prone disaster who can’t hold a starting job. He’s the only quarterback in the last 20 years to throw more than five interceptions and zero touchdowns in a game.

or

B) A deep ball demigod, who can’t be stopped. His 2018 season with the Buccaneers started with back-to-back games with over 400 passing yards and four touchdowns.

The latter form is best known as FitzMagic and he leans into it hard.

Fitzpatrick’s now on his eighth NFL team and — if history is any indication — he’ll probably light the league on fire for about a month with the Dolphins before the bottom falls out and he cedes the job to Rosen. Long live, FitzMagic. — Adam Stites

Vinny Testaverde, 1987-2007

Played for: Bucs, Browns, Ravens, Jets, Cowboys, Jets (again), Patriots, Panthers

My love of 1989’s Tecmo Super Bowl made me think every starting quarterback in the game was a borderline superhero — especially the elusive QB Eagles (#0). This was not the case. While the game included Hall of Famers like Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Dan Marino, and Troy Aikman, it also included some of the journeyist journeymen to ever journey.

There was:

  • Chiefs QB Steve DeBerg (six teams in 18 seasons)
  • Seahawks great Dave Krieg (six teams in 19 seasons)
  • Falcons Pro Bowler Chris Miller (four teams in 10 seasons)
  • Rodney by-god Peete (six teams in 15 seasons)
  • Billy Joe Tolliver, AKA short Brock Osweiler (six teams in 10 seasons)
  • Super Bowl champion Jay Schroeder (four teams in 10 seasons)
  • Former supplemental draft top pick Steve Walsh (six teams in 11 seasons)
  • Two-time NFL champion Bubby Brister (five teams in 14 years)
  • The outstanding Vikings double-barred blast of Wade Wilson (five teams in 17 years) and Rich Gannon (four teams in 17 years, somehow only getting good at age 34)
  • And nobody’s favorite Illinois alum Jeff George (five teams in 12 years).

And then, there was the king of the journeymen quarterbacks: Vinny Testaverde.

1989 Testaverde was a bright-eyed youngster whose status as the former No. 1 overall pick gave him carte blanche to throw the ball wherever he wanted, open receivers and accuracy be damned. Roughly 1 in every 13 of his passes in 1988 were intercepted, leading to the second-highest single season pick total in league history (35). He’d lead the NFL again in 1989 with a more modest 22, setting off a string of eight straight seasons where he had more interceptions than starts.

This did not hinder Testaverde’s job prospects. With nearly 13 yards per completion he was the league equivalent of baseball’s Pedro Alvarez, trading home runs and strikeouts with little space in between. And while this wasn’t typically good in a traditional football sense, it was mostly exciting to watch.

Testaverde bounced from the Buccaneers to the Browns, then became the first starting quarterback in Ravens’ history in 1996, even scoring the franchise’s first touchdown on a 9-yard scramble that fall. He’d later have three pretty good seasons — he went 12-1 in 1998! — in his late 30s with the Jets, then finished up his career with one last year as a full-time starter at age 41 in Dallas before retiring in 2008.

His final stats? At least one touchdown pass every season in the league for 21 straight years and 267 interceptions in 214 starts. He doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame as a player, but he certainly deserves a nice paragraph on a wall somewhere. — Christian D’Andrea

Josh McCown, 2002-18

Played for: Cardinals, Lions, Dolphins (offseason), Raiders, Panthers, 49ers (offseason), Bears, Bucs, Browns, Jets

McCown checks any and all boxes you could ask of a journeyman quarterback: He was a backup. He was a starter. The number of teams he played for reached double digits, hitting the Bucs-Browns-Jets trifecta. He had a stint in the UFL. His NFL career almost reached adulthood. He has a brother who was also a journeyman QB. He once signed a contract at a drive-through while satisfying a craving for a chicken sandwich and waffle fries.

But his most endearing journeyman trait is how much he leaned into it. As he wrote in his retirement letter:

I guess it just goes to show that you don’t always get to choose your own path. But looking back, I’m proud of how my career has gone. I don’t shy away from the journeyman label. I embrace it, full force.

Because it’s been one heck of a journey.

The McCown family has been all-in, too. He has a room in his house full of his framed jerseys, courtesy of his wife. A couple years ago, his daughter and her friends repped some — but not even all! — of his teams for jersey day at their school.

McCown ended up taking the field for eight of those teams. He finished his career with numbers that were solid if unspectacular. In 99 games, he completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 17,707 yards and 98 touchdowns. He made an impact in other ways, though.

Throughout his career, McCown earned a reputation for being a great teammate and leader in the locker room. He could hoop, mentor younger quarterbacks, meet with members of Congress to discuss police brutality and race issues, and even play slot receiver.

Now he can enjoy his retirement like so many other players before him: take that NFL expertise and earn some good TV money as an analyst.

Wait:

Nooooo. Is it too late to change my vote to Steve DeBerg? — Sarah Hardy

Who’s your favorite journeyman quarterback? Let us know in the comments.