The NFL's version of the search for the Holy Grail is finding a franchise QB. The position is a mystery, the most important in sports, yet the hardest to evaluate. Every year, a host of teams set out on this annual pilgrimage. The few lucky ones find the face of their franchise and win a championship -- some through the draft (Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes) and others through free agency or trades (Buccaneers and Tom Brady). The rest of the league returns from this search with hope, but ultimately comes up empty, year-after-year. Some are even lost in this wilderness for decades.
The search itself is fascinating. The Jets, for example, haven't had a franchise QB since Joe Namath. They've tried it all. They've signed veterans (Vinny Testaverde, Ryan Fitzpatrick), made high-profile trades (Brett Favre) and invested high draft picks (Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Sam Darnold, Zach Wilson). None of it has given them the long-term solution, or even a title in a small window. The Packers, meanwhile, have had an all-time great QB under center for three straight decades between Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
So, what is a franchise QB? No universal definition or secret formula exists. In my opinion, it's an above-average QB for an extended period of time for the same franchise. One that a franchise builds its team around with a legit chance at postseason success.
Measures like efficiency, accolades, longevity and postseason success all mattered in my selections, but efficiency carries more weight with close calls than team success like wins and losses, which is not a QB stat. You'll see me reference the stat ANY/+ (a better version of passer rating and era adjusted) and QBR (available 2006-22) in my arguments.
There are exceptions to my overall philosophy. I'd consider Tom Brady a franchise QB for the Buccaneers even though he only played three seasons because of the massive impact in such a short time. Hall of Famers, MVPs and multiple Super Bowl winners were automatic, regardless of tenure.
Let's dive in. Below you'll find the longest searches by every team for a franchise QB, their history of franchise QBs, and where they stand entering this offseason.
Bears (Drought: 72 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Sid Luckman
It's been 72 seasons since Sid Luckman retired, the only franchise QB in Bears history. Jim McMahon was a close call, leading them to a Super Bowl title in 1985, but he was never healthy enough to enjoy sustained success. Chicago is the only franchise in NFL history without a 30-TD passer or 4,000-yard passer in a season. Its hopes now lie in a 1,000-yard rusher, Justin Fields. One of the biggest questions of the offseason is whether the Bears will trade the No. 1 overall pick and build around Fields, draft a defender with the selection, or take a QB and trade Fields.
Jets (Drought: 46 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Joe Namath
The Jets haven't had a franchise QB since Joe Namath, who recorded the first 4,000-yard passing season in league history back in 1967. They haven't had one since. Their desperation to find "the guy" is best summed up with Mark Sanchez earning the nickname "Sanchise" in his time with the Jets. With a bad run on highly drafted QBs, from Sanchez to Zach Wilson, the Jets' hand is forced. They must get a veteran, Aaron Rodgers or Derek Carr, as win-now QBs who can take a quality roster to the next level.
Vikings (Drought: 44 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Fran Tarkenton
The only franchise QB in Vikings history is Fran Tarkenton, who last suited up for Minnesota 44 seasons ago. Since the 1990s, Minnesota's search has gone through big names like Warren Moon, Rich Gannon, Jeff George, Randall Cunningham, Brad Johnson, Daunte Culpepper, Brett Favre and more. Great name value; not great in terms of prolonged success with the Vikings. Kirk Cousins is the closest Minnesota has gotten to another franchise QB, but he isn't quite there yet after only five seasons in purple. His final pass of the 2022 season, a fourth-and-8 completion about five yards short of the chains in a playoff loss to the Giants, pretty much sums up the big-game concerns around Cousins.
Cardinals (Drought: 39 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Jim Hart
The Cardinals have the longest active title drought in the NFL (last title: 1947) and one of the longest droughts without a franchise QB. Jim Hart is the only QB in team history that fits the bill. He spent 18 seasons with the Cardinals and qualified for the league passing leaderboards 14 times. He ranked top 10 in ANY/+ in six straight seasons and made four straight Pro Bowls from 1974-77. Veteran QBs Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer recently gave Arizona a taste of what QB excellence looks like, but it was short lived, just a mirage. Now, the Cardinals' hopes lie in 2019 No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray. Major question marks surround Murray in 2023. Is he "the guy"? His stock is down after he signed a massive deal last offseason and had a down year in 2022, capped with a torn ACL. His top receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, might be on the move, and he has a new head coach in former Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
Commanders (Drought: 37 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, Joe Theismann
It's been a while since the Washington franchise felt good about its quarterback room. Its all-time leader in touchdown passes is Sammy Baugh, who last played in 1952. Its last franchise QB is Joe Theismann, who last played in 1985. It has five players with 100 touchdown passes in team history, and none have played since the turn of the century. I can't blame the team for moving on from Kirk Cousins if it didn't feel like he was the guy, but it's been painful since he left, with an NFL-high 12 different starting QBs. Sam Howell is currently QB1 with new OC Eric Bieniemy in the fold, but Washington needs to make a bold move in the draft or for a veteran QB to end the decades-long franchise QB search.
Browns (Drought: 29 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Otto Graham, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar
The Browns haven't had a franchise QB since Bernie Kosar, and have had one of the most miserable searches for one since returning to the league in 1999. Their laundry list of starting QBs over that span would pale in comparison to their current situation if it fails. Cleveland made the biggest bet in NFL history that Deshaun Watson is the answer, trading three first-round picks and giving $230 million guaranteed to the most controversial player in the league. The early returns have been problematic, as the Browns ranked 26th in EPA per play after Watson returned from suspension in Week 13.
49ers (Drought: 23 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie, Joe Montana, Steve Young
The 49ers' last franchise QB was Steve Young, whose career ended with a vicious hit and subsequent concussion in 1999. For a team that's been a QB away from a championship for the last few years, it's an uneasy feeling going into 2023 with an open competition between Trey Lance and Brock Purdy. Both are coming off season-ending injuries, but that's where the similarities end. San Francisco traded three first-round picks to move up for Lance in the 2021 NFL Draft, while it selected Brock Purdy with the last pick in 2022. Somehow, Purdy has more NFL starts under his belt than Lance; not exactly how John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan drew it up. Safe to say, this will be among the most polarizing QB situations to follow in 2023.
Dolphins (Drought: 22 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Bob Griese, Dan Marino
The Dolphins haven't had a franchise QB since Dan Marino, and their search includes swinging-and-missing on Tom Brady following the 2019 season. They have the longest active drought in the NFL without a Pro Bowl QB, as Marino's last selection was in 1995 and Tua Tagovailoa was somehow snubbed in 2022. Tagovailoa is trending toward franchise QB status while leading the NFL in passer rating last season, but nothing is certain with the head injuries he's suffered. For now, he will be the Dolphins' QB in 2023.
Texans (Drought: 21 seasons)
Franchise QBs: none
The Texans have never had a franchise QB in 21 seasons of existence. It's certainly debatable, though. Matt Schaub ranked top 11 in QBR in six of his seven seasons as their starter, making two Pro Bowls and winning one playoff game. However, availability was a problem. He started 12-plus games in a season just three times with Houston. Deshaun Watson was on an easy franchise QB trajectory until controversy and a subsequent trade request struck. Now, they are a virtual lock to draft their QB of the future with the No. 2 pick in 2023.
Jaguars (Drought: 19 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Mark Brunell
Mark Brunell earned the Jaguars only franchise QB spot by leading Jacksonville to four straight playoff appearances from 1996-99 and being its QB1 for nine seasons. Trevor Lawrence looks poised to take the torch after his leap in the second half of 2022, capped with a 27-point comeback win in the playoffs against the Chargers. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley's reinstatement should only help Lawrence take his game to another level.
Rams (Drought: 19 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Roman Gabriel, Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner only spent four seasons as the Rams' primary starter, but two MVPs and a Super Bowl MVP is more than enough to make him their last franchise QB. Matthew Stafford makes a case for another, but even with a Super Bowl title, it takes more than one successful season to be the face of a franchise.
Raiders (Drought: 18 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Daryle Lamonica, Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett, Rich Gannon
The Raiders' last franchise QB was Rich Gannon, who I feel confident giving that title to thanks to an MVP and Super Bowl appearance. That begs the question: how is Derek Carr not a franchise QB? After all, he is the Raiders' all-time leader in touchdown passes, was their QB for nine seasons, and you could argue he never won a playoff game due to an awful defense. While I myself have compared him to Matthew Stafford, who I do consider a franchise QB for the Lions, I think Carr falls just short. He's consistently been an average NFL starting QB, which I don't think meets the bar for franchise QB status. The highest he's ever ranked in ESPN's Total QBR in nine seasons is 10th. From 2014-22, his average season rank was 19th in QBR, 17th in passer rating and 17th in EPA per dropback. That screams average QB. While Carr's omission here is debatable, intrigue around the Raiders' 2023 QB situation is not. They can pursue a number of veteran QBs, from Aaron Rodgers to Jimmy Garoppolo, or make a move up the draft board for Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. They can even sit pat and perhaps end up with Will Levis or Anthony Richardson with the seventh overall pick.
Titans (Drought: 17 seasons)
Franchise QBs: George Blanda, Warren Moon, Steve McNair
The Oilers/Titans have had three franchise QBs in their history, from George Blanda to Warren Moon and most recently Steve McNair, who led them to a Super Bowl trip in 1999. Vince Young and Marcus Mariota didn't pan out, but Ryan Tannehill has experienced a career revival in Tennessee. Question is, do the Titans run it back with Tannehill or hit the reset button with a new GM? Here's one possibility: In his mock draft last week, our Josh Edwards had the Titans releasing Tannehill and trading up for Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Broncos (Drought: 7 seasons)
Franchise QBs: John Elway, Peyton Manning
Denver has employed two of the greatest QBs in NFL history between John Elway and Peyton Manning, but not much in between. Since Manning retired following Super Bowl 50, the collection of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater and Russell Wilson have failed to get Denver back to the postseason. Wilson's struggles in 2022 were among the biggest disappointments of the season, but hope is renewed after the Broncos hired Sean Payton as their head coach. The pressure is on as Denver has invested three first-round picks and then some for the Wilson-Payton duo.
Colts (Drought: 4 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Johnny Unitas, Earl Morrall, Bert Jones, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck's career was cut short, but I consider him a franchise QB with his production and playoff appearances as a No. 1 pick (four Pro Bowls and four playoff wins in seven seasons), as well as the trajectory he was on. It's certainly been a mess since he retired, too, as the veteran QB route between Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan hasn't worked. That well has run dry, and they are all but guaranteed to draft a QB at the top of the 2023 NFL Draft, especially with how owner Jim Irsay is talking. The question is, 25 years after drafting Peyton Manning with the first pick, does Indianapolis trade for the top selection?
Panthers (Drought: 4 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Cam Newton
Similar to the Colts and the post-Andrew Luck era, the post-Cam Newton era has been bone dry in Carolina. Its QB1s have been uninspiring since, notably with Teddy Bridgwater, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. The Panthers had their chances in the draft, notably opting to take CB Jaycee Horn eighth overall in 2021 rather than Justin Fields or Mac Jones, who were both still on the board. I'd expect they'll have another chance in 2023 with new head coach Frank Reich and the ninth overall pick. Will Levis and Anthony Richardson could be in play.
Chargers (Drought: 3 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Dan Fouts, Philip Rivers
The Chargers' search for a franchise QB has been more fruitful than the hunt for a Super Bowl title. Dan Fouts and Philip Rivers are both all-time greats, and Justin Herbert looks like he could follow in their footsteps. The hiring of new OC Kellen Moore, along with the return of OT Rashawn Slater, could mean a reboot for Herbert, who stunningly had one of the shortest average throw distances in the league in 2022. Time to let Herbert cook.
Patriots (Drought: 3 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady
Drew Bledsoe is a franchise QB. But it's not as obvious as it seems. Yes, he was the No. 1 overall pick in 1993, made a Super Bowl appearance, had nine seasons as their starting QB and signed an NFL-record $103 million contract in 2001. My hesitation was this: he put up volume numbers but his efficiency was lacking. His average ANY/+ rank was 17th from 1993-2000 and he ranked in the top 10, twice. No debate with Tom Brady. As for their current situation, you can't blame Mac Jones for falling off in 2022 with no offensive coordinator. Perhaps the Bill O'Brien hire gets Jones back on track.
Giants (Drought: 3 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Y.A. Tittle, Phil Simms, Eli Manning
Eli Manning may have a career record of exactly .500 at 117-117, but he'll forever be a legend thanks to two game-winning drives in the Super Bowl against Tom Brady, resulting in two Super Bowl MVPs. The Giants are now in a tricky position with Daniel Jones. The narrative has certainly changed since Jones' fifth-year option was declined last offseason. He had the lowest turnover rate among all starting QBs in 2022, plus set a franchise QB-record in rushing yards and won a playoff game with an unheralded group of pass-catchers. He's at least bought himself more time as the Giants starting QB until they can see what he does with a better supporting cast.
Saints (Drought: 2 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Drew Brees
Archie Manning was a tough omission. He made two Pro Bowls in 10 seasons as the Saints starter, consistently surrounded by one of the worst rosters in the league. I can't blame him for zero seasons with a winning record, but his average ANY/+ rank with the Saints was 19th in a 28-team league at its peak. Drew Brees' case goes without saying, and it's been a rough two years in New Orleans without him, plus it's not looking up. Andy Dalton was an average performer in 2022 and could return as the Saints' starter in 2023. They have a late-first-round pick, and it's unclear if a veteran quarterback outside of Aaron Rodgers would be much of an upgrade.
Lions (Drought: 2 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Bobby Layne, Matthew Stafford
Hall of Famer Bobby Layne is an easy selection as a franchise QB for the Lions. He won two championships and had a stint as the NFL's all-time passing leader. Matthew Stafford is not so easy, but he makes my cut. The biggest argument against Stafford (zero playoff wins) doesn't have much legs after he won a Super Bowl in his first season with the Rams, showing what he could have done in Detroit with a better supporting cast. The fact that he was dealt for two first-round picks speaks to his value, another thing that separates him from someone like, say, Derek Carr. Stafford also had a 5,000-yard season and ranked top eight in QBR in three of his last five seasons with Detroit. His replacement, Jared Goff, earned himself another look with his performance in the second half of 2022. Prior to that, Detroit looked like a lock to take a QB near the top of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Falcons (Drought: 1 season)
Franchise QBs: Michael Vick, Matt Ryan
The Falcons have had two franchise QBs: Michael Vick and Matt Ryan. Ryan is an easy selection, especially after an MVP season in 2016 when Atlanta made the Super Bowl. Vick earns the nod as one of the transcendent stars in the sport. Steve Bartkowski was a tougher decision and didn't make the cut. He made two Pro Bowls in eight qualified seasons as Atlanta's QB1 and ranked top 14 in ANY/+ in five straight seasons. Still, he was an average QB most of his career and had one playoff win. The question remains, though, who is the Falcons' next franchise QB? It's way too early to tell about Desmond Ridder, a third-round pick who made four starts as a rookie. Atlanta also has the eighth overall pick should it want to improve the position in this year's draft.
Steelers (Drought: 1 season)
Franchise QBs: Terry Bradshaw, Ben Roethlisberger
The Steelers' two franchise QB selections are easy: Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger. Which one of them is better is a debate for another day. Pittsburgh has to be optimistic with how Kenny Pickett finished the 2022 season. He threw go-ahead touchdown passes in the final minute against the Raiders and Ravens and threw one interception while winning six of his last eight starts.
Seahawks (Drought: 1 season)
Franchise QBs: Dave Krieg, Matt Hasselbeck, Russell Wilson
The Seahawks had two close calls, but I consider Dave Krieg and Matt Hasselbeck both franchise QBs, in addition to Russell Wilson. Krieg made three Pro Bowl appearances, won three playoff games and ranked top 10 in ANY/+ in four of his first six seasons as the Seahawks' QB1. Hasselbeck was Seattle's starter for 10 seasons and established himself as an above-average QB for a five-season stretch from 2003-07, when he led Seattle to a Super Bowl and had three Pro Bowl selections. Seattle now looks primed to sign Geno Smith to a multi-year deal after his breakout season, rather than use its fifth overall pick at the position.
Ravens (Drought: 0 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
Is Joe Flacco "elite"? That debate got tired about a decade ago. But was Joe Flacco a franchise QB? His numbers would suggest no chance. He only ranked in the top 10 in QBR once in 11 seasons as the Ravens starter. His average rank was 17th. He never made a Pro Bowl. His 2012 postseason tips the scales, though, and is good enough for me to make an exception. He threw 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions that postseason while outdueling Peyton Manning and Tom Brady en route to Super Bowl MVP. This is what separates him from QBs like Andy Dalton and Derek Carr, who had similar ranks in their careers, but no postseason success.
Bills (Drought: 0 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Jack Kemp, Jim Kelly, Josh Allen
Buffalo has three franchise QBs between Jack Kemp, Jim Kelly and Josh Allen. Allen has been a superstar for three seasons and absolutely has the trajectory of a franchise QB, if not a Hall of Famer. The only thing missing in Buffalo is a Super Bowl title.
Bengals (Drought: 0 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Joe Burrow
Like Allen, Joe Burrow is firmly in the franchise QB room thanks to back-to-back seasons as an MVP candidate and a Super Bowl trip. Andy Dalton didn't make the cut. He ranked 15th or worse in QBR in eight of nine seasons as Cincinnati's starter, and didn't win a playoff game. Carson Palmer just missed the cut. He was a top-five QB in 2005 and 2006 before his devastating knee injury in the 2006 postseason. Palmer only logged six qualified seasons with Cincinnati, was average after the ACL tear and never won a playoff game before getting traded.
Cowboys (Drought: 0 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Roger Staubach, Danny White, Troy Aikman, Tony Romo, Dak Prescott
The Cowboys have a starting five of franchise QBs from Roger Staubach to Dak Prescott. Prescott has already been Dallas' starting QB for seven seasons, and he ranked top five in QBR in three of his first four years. As disappointing as the playoff runs have been, he's still been an above-average quarterback for the better part of two contracts. Dallas didn't do him any favors by trading Amari Cooper last offseason, and needs to invest in his supporting cast, especially with Tony Pollard and Dalton Schultz as free agents.
Packers (Drought: 0 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Bart Starr, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers
The Packers are the only franchise in NFL history with three different QBs who have won a Super Bowl as a starter and won an MVP. They've had a nice three-decade run, too, with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. It's been unprecedented. Their 31 straight seasons with an MVP starting QB is the longest streak of its kind in league history. Now, we await one of the biggest mysteries of the offseason, again. Will Rodgers return to the Packers, or will he hand the baton to Jordan Love?
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Chiefs (Drought: 0 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Len Dawson, Patrick Mahomes
The Chiefs went through a fascinating list of veteran QBs before they found Patrick Mahomes. Names like Steve DeBerg, Dave Krieg, Joe Montana, Elvis Grbac, Trent Green, Matt Cassel and Alex Smith all tried to fill the void that Mahomes finally has. He is the only player in NFL history with two league MVPs and two Super Bowl MVPs in a five-season span, and he enters the second year of a 10-year deal.
Eagles (Drought: 0 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Tommy Thompson, Norm Van Brocklin, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Jalen Hurts
Sometimes it only takes one season to demonstrate why you're a franchise QB. Jalen Hurts finished as the MVP runner-up and validated that with one of the greatest performances in Super Bowl history, putting him firmly on the franchise QB path. He should ink a record-breaking contract extension this offseason. Question is, how much money will be left to pay Philadelphia's laundry list of free agents?
Buccaneers (Drought: 0 seasons)
Franchise QBs: Tom Brady
Tom Brady is the only franchise QB in the Buccaneers' 47-season history. He turned around one of the worst franchises in NFL history with a title in his first season there. He was an MVP runner-up in his second season in Tampa and led the NFL in completions and attempts in his third season, a down year, before retiring. He has nearly as many playoff wins (five) as all other QBs in team history (six). His three-year tenure, while short, was incredibly impactful.
Before you go, take a look at the franchise QB pyramid. Many of these selections are up for debate. Feel free to strike up a conversation with me on twitter: @doug_clawson.
Franchise QB List
Bears: Sid Luckman
Jets: Joe Namath
Vikings: Fran Tarkenton
Cardinals: Jim Hart
Jaguars: Mark Brunell
Panthers: Cam Newton
Buccaneers: Tom Brady
Saints: Drew Brees
Dolphins: Bob Griese, Dan Marino
Broncos: John Elway, Peyton Manning
Chargers: Dan Fouts, Philip Rivers
Patriots: Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady
Lions: Bobby Layne, Matthew Stafford
Falcons: Michael Vick, Matt Ryan
Steelers: Terry Bradshaw, Ben Roethlisberger
Ravens: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
Chiefs: Len Dawson, Patrick Mahomes
Titans: George Blanda, Warren Moon, Steve McNair
Seahawks: Dave Krieg, Matt Hasselbeck, Russell Wilson
Bengals: Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Joe Burrow
Bills: Jack Kemp, Jim Kelly, Josh Allen
Giants: Y.A. Tittle, Phil Simms, Eli Manning
Packers: Bart Starr, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers
Browns: Otto Graham, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar
Washington: Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, Joe Theismann
49ers: Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie, Joe Montana, Steve Young
Rams: Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Roman Gabriel, Kurt Warner
Raiders: Daryle Lamonica, Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett, Rich Gannon
Colts: Johnny Unitas, Earl Morrall, Bert Jones, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck
Cowboys: Roger Staubach, Danny White, Troy Aikman, Tony Romo, Dak Prescott
Eagles: Tommy Thompson, Norm Van Brocklin, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Jalen Hurts