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Where The Arizona Cardinals Can Search For NFL Quarterbacks

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Given the Cardinals will soon be in the market for a quarterback, Scott Howard explores where all the recent playoff teams are grabbing their QBs from.

Since the Cardinals didn't play last night, this column will probably be my most clear and succinct, primarily because Derek Anderson didn't drive me to drink at all yesterday. Although with Seattle's loss yesterday, the Cardinals will go into tonight's Monday Night Football contest just a game and a half back of first in the NFC West, pretty much the entire universe agrees that the team needs a new quarterback. That considered, I got to thinking about where most good teams starting quarterbacks come from.

As I'm prone to doing, I donned my research cap for this one. In an effort to look for a strong sample size, I trailed back the previous 10 years and looked at just the starting quarterbacks for playoff teams. 

What I found will shock and surprise you -- or not; really depends on how easily you are shocked and surprised.

The Basics:

  • As previously referenced, there have been 120 playoff teams between 2000-2009 (10 years). 12 playoff teams every year, 10 years -- simple math.
  • In another bit of shocking information, 120 playoff teams have 120 starting quarterbacks. You know, since each team had to have a starting quarterback.
  • Of those 120 quarterbacks, there were 63 repeat playoff performers, leaving us with 57 different signal callers.
  • For purposes of my investigation, repeat performers are guys who started multiple times for the same playoff team. Think Peyton Manning or Donovan McNabb.
  • The key for this column is the method of acquisition for the playoff team -- meaning a guy like Drew Brees counts twice among the 57 because the Chargers drafted him and the Saints signed him as a free agent.


  • 26 of our 57 heroes were drafted by the team they took to the playoffs. I counted Phillip Rivers and Eli Manning in this category since they were draft day swaps for each other in 2004.
    • 17 of the 26 were first round picks.
    • Five were second round picks.
    • One was a third round pick -- Chris Simms with Tampa Bay in 2005.
    • One was a fourth round pick -- David Garrard (Jacksonville). Fourth rounder Kyle Orton was the primary starter for the playoff bound Bears in 2005 but was benched late in the year when Rex Grossman returned from injury.
    • Two were sixth round picks -- Marc Bulger (St. Louis) and Tom Brady (New England) -- in the same year. 
  • Those 26 QBs accounted for 65 of the 120 playoff appearances.
    • Peyton Manning had the Colts in the playoffs nine times, missing just the 2001 postseason.
    • Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia) and Tom Brady made it seven times.
    • Eli Manning (NY Giants), Phillip Rivers (San Diego), and Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) each made the playoffs four times.
    • Chad Pennington (NY Jets) and Steve McNair (Tennessee) posted three appearances a piece.
    • Six drafted QBs showed up in the playoffs twice -- Carson Palmer (Cincinnati), Joe Flacco (Baltimore), Bulger, Daunte Culpepper (Minnesota), Michael Vick (Atlanta), and Rex Grossman (Chicago).
    • 12 QBs have been limited to a single appearance -- Mark Sanchez (NY Jets), Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Tarvaris Jackson (Minnesota), Garrard, Vince Young (Tennessee), Simms, Brees, Quincy Carter, Kordell Stewart (Pittsburgh), and Shaun King (Tampa Bay). At least three of those guys will probably be good for five each eventually. 
  • The draftees accounted for 11 of the 20 Super Bowl appearances in the decade, winning seven (P. Manning, E. Manning, Brady three times, and Roethlisberger twice) and losing four (P. Manning, Brady, Grossman, and McNabb).

Free Agents:

  • 24 of the 57 were acquired by their respective teams through free agency. In this arena, I counted quarterbacks that were originally undrafted free agents, but the team they took to the playoffs wasn't their first team. Basically, it's the Kurt Warner rule as, while the Rams were the first NFL team he appeared for, he was in camp with Green Bay in 1994.
  • The 24 quarterbacks accounted for 36 of the 120 playoff appearances.
  • Three quarterbacks made three separate playoff appearances -- Jake Delhomme (Carolina), Jake Plummer (Denver), and Rich Gannon (Oakland).
  • Six quarterbacks have two playoff appearances to their name -- Kurt Warner (St. Louis), Kurt Warner (Arizona), Drew Brees (New Orleans), Kerry Collins (NY Giants), Brad Johnson (Tampa Bay), and Jay Fiedler (Miami).
  • 15 of the QBs made the playoffs one time -- Favre (Minnesota), Pennington (Miami), Kerry Collins (Tennessee), Todd Collins (Washington), Jeff Garcia (Tampa Bay), Jeff Garcia (Philadelphia), Anthony Wright (Baltimore), Tommy Maddox (Pittsburgh), Kelly Holcomb (Cleveland), Vinny Testaverde (NY Jets), Elvis Grbac (Baltimore), Jim Miller (Chicago), Aaron Brooks (New Orleans), Trent Dilfer (Baltimore), Gus Frerotte (Denver).
  • This lot made eight of the 20 Super Bowl appearances, winning three (Brees, Dilfer, B. Johnson) and losing five (Warner, Warner, Gannon, Delhomme, K. Collins).

Trade Acquisitions:

  • Five of the 57 were acquired by their precious playoff team through trade and accounted for 14 of the 120 playoff appearances, though it was basically two guys.
  • Matt Hasselbeck was traded from Green Bay (along with a first and seventh pick) to Seattle in 2001 for a first and a third round pick. The bald one has since led Seattle to five playoff appearances.
  • Brett Favre (you may have heard of him) was dealt from Atlanta to Green Bay in exchange for a first round pick in 1992. Certainly Favre made his real hay in Green Bay during the 90's but still led the Packers to five playoff appearances in my 10-year sample size.
  • Trent Green was traded (with a fifth round pick) to the Chiefs from St. Louis in exchange for a first rounder and helped lead Kansas City to the playoffs twice.
  • Mark Brunell (Washington) and Steve McNair (Baltimore) each made one appearance after being dealt from Jacksonville and Tennesee respectively for third round picks.
  • Of those 14 playoff appearances, only one resulted in a Super Bowl -- Hasselbeck's Seahawks in Super Bowl 40.

Undrafted Free Agents:

  • Only two guys in this category took their first NFL team to the playoffs, and one of them is kind of cheating.
  • Tony Romo wasn't drafted out of Eastern Illinois in 2003, but was with Dallas right from the get-go. He has since led Dallas to three playoff berths.
  • Jeff Garcia went undrafted in 1994, but spent five years in the CFL before joining the 49ers in 1999 and leading them to a pair of playoff appearances. But since his first NFL team was the Niners, he qualifies.
  • Neither Garcia nor Romo made a Super Bowl.

Obviously, quarterback is only one position on the field and this isn't a perfect analysis. But can you really think of a good quarterback who's never even played in the playoffs? You look, I'll wait.

Looking at the results from this sample size, it's pretty clear that if you're going to have sustained success and consistency at the quarterback position, you are probably going to need to draft your QB.

Obviously, for every Manning, there is a Cade McNown and for every McNabb or Roethlisberger, there is an Akilii Smith or Matt Leinart, but it looks like if you want to win big, you've got to bet big on draft picks.

Sure, some teams -- even the Cardinals -- have had success in the free agency market, but most of the free agent QBs (15/24) only made the playoffs once and few spent more than five years with that team. The most successful of the free agent quarterbacks -- Warner, Brees, and Brad Johnson -- were not exactly acquired through the most common of circumstances.

Warner was fortunate to be a backup when he originally signed with St. Louis and was considered washed up when he signed with the Cardinals in 2005. Brees, on the other hand, was cut loose because the Chargers had to make a choice between he and Rivers while Johnson was one of the first casualties to the itchy trigger finger of Daniel Snyder and one of the last to be cast aside for the rifle arm of Jeff George.

As for the other two categories, anyone who follows the NFL knows that it's not exactly a big trade league, but if you can find yourself a Brett Favre, then by all means, have at it. For the undrafted category, maybe Max Hall is the next Tony Romo, but since we've actually seen the guy play, I'll go ahead and bet against it.  

So what does all the raw data mean? Well certainly, if you have the chance, you should probably try to draft a child of Archie Manning -- maybe he has an extra one hidden somewhere. 

Failing that, maybe the best move is to get yourself a rookie AND a free agent, but that would be a crazy idea that nobody here has suggested before.