Have You Forgotten These Former NFL Quarterbacks?
Perhaps no single position in any American sport garners more glory than quarterback. Look no further than the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to see how star quarterbacks can transcend sport and permeate mainstream pop culture. But not all quarterbacks have the staying power of Manning or Brady. QBs who were once seemingly the brightest of stars have burned out — or at least withdrawn from the spotlight, often not by choice. Here’s where some of those quarterbacks are now.
As the quarterback at Notre Dame from 2003 through 2006, Brady Quinn had it all: the looks, the wins and the NFL scouts eyeing his every move. Quinn played in a number of big-stage games commanding the Fighting Irish football team, throwing for over 11,000 yards and 95 touchdowns during his collegiate career.
Quinn was drafted in the first round of 2007 by the Cleveland Browns, the team he grew up cheering for. But after disappointing stints with the Broncos and Chiefs, Quinn moved on to his second career as an analyst for Fox Sports.
Joey Harrington was a star in college at Oregon, but he never achieved that status in the NFL. In fact, he never came close to living up to the lofty expectations that inevitably come with being selected early in the NFL draft. It wasn’t all Harrington’s fault; the Detroit Lions teams he played on just weren’t that great.
After six underwhelming seasons in the League, Harrington left football, opened an upscale sports bar and embraced his role as an analyst for Fox Sports. He continues to work with his charitable Harrington Family Foundation, too.
Jared Lorenzen was known by the nickname “The Hefty Lefty” because he threw left-handed and was well above the weight for the typical quarterback. But despite well-known struggles with his weight, Lorenzen was able to lead the University of Kentucky to relevance in the Southeastern Conference — a rare feat for the school.
Lorenzen went on to serve as Eli Manning’s backup for three seasons as a member of the New York Giants. When he returned to the public eye, his weight had ballooned significantly and he was developing serious health issues. Lorenzen tragically died of heart disease in 2019.
Byron Leftwich is arguably the most important quarterback in the history of Marshall University, which is saying more than you might think. His iconic winning drive in which his offensive lineman carried him down the field because of his broken shin will forever live on in college football lore, but it wasn’t the end of his story.
After being drafted in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Leftwich went on to backup stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Later, Leftwich became the offensive coordinator for the Bucs.
Marc Bulger was always one of those quarterbacks who never said much but always seemed to put up strong statistical numbers, even though it was often for bad teams. The sixth-round draft pick outperformed expectations based on all metrics; making a Pro Bowl is rare for any sixth-round pick. Bulger made two.
Injuries eventually led to the end of his career, during which he threw for nearly 23,000 yards and 122 touchdowns. Bulger now lives on a sprawling farm in Southeast Missouri while managing the Marc Bulger Foundation for veterans and children.
Another former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback, and yet another underdog/overperformer, David Garrard carved out a nice little career as a hybrid starter-backup in the NFL. The Jaguars franchise cratered upon his departure in 2010, seemingly showing that Garrard was more valuable than the team recognized.
After his playing career, Garrard went on to own several gyms. He’s a franchise owner of multiple Retro Fitness locations — a seemingly logical career pivot for a former professional athlete. He’s also a vocal advocate for those who suffer from Crohn’s disease.
Jason Campbell won a National Championship at Auburn, and when he was drafted by the Washington Redskins with the 25th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the hope was that Campbell would help bring those winning ways to the District of Columbia. That didn’t end up happening, and Campbell went on to a journeyman-like career in the league.
Campbell later played for the Raiders before having a cup of coffee with a couple of other teams and retiring. He now lives in Atlanta, spending his time coaching high school football.
Kyle Orton never quite got the respect he may have deserved as a little-touted quarterback prospect from Purdue. But he went on to have steady stints with the Chicago Bears and the Denver Broncos, passing for over 18,000 yards in his career, with 101 touchdowns to 69 interceptions.
Orton reportedly retired by grabbing his stuff after a game and…never coming back. His retirement seems fitting of such a low-key exit, as Orton is thought to be living the life of a family man in Baton Rouge with his wife and kids.
Jake Locker is a cautionary example of what can happen when a high draft pick isn’t surrounded with talent. Locker was chosen in the 2011 NFL Draft and quickly took on the unfavorable nickname “The Hurt Locker.” Locker has admitted that he quickly lost his passion for football and took to drinking in unhealthy amounts.
Locker has returned to his roots in Washington after retiring from the game at an age that would generally be considered young for a quarterback. He spends his time now hunting, tending to his farm and hanging with his family.
Josh Freeman became one more in a slew of hopeful savior-quarterbacks drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the franchise selected him as the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Freeman was big and strong and had a powerful arm. He got off to a hot start by leading the Bucs to a 10-6 record in 2011.
It was pretty much all downhill from there as the Bucs strung together losing season after losing season. Freeman was soon playing football in Canada. He remains a mysterious figure in his retirement.
Daunte Culpepper was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when he was paired with Randy Moss on several Minnesota Vikings teams that were favorites to reach the Super Bowl. But Culpepper’s time in Minnesota was marred by the infamous team boat party involving “exotic dancers,” lots of booze and alleged drug use.
The remainder of Culpepper’s career was marked by injury and disappointment, and his post-playing career has had its fair share of trouble, too. He was forced to give up his South Florida mansion and close his restaurant due to tough financial times.
Browns fans, apologies are in order for even mentioning the name Tim Couch. But Couch will forever have a spot in football buffs’ memories, if only as a cautionary tale. Couch was always on terrible teams, and his career didn’t start off on the right foot — he threw 13 interceptions to only 15 touchdowns.
Couch’s career as a football announcer seems to be off to a better start, as he has taken to calling Southeastern Conference college games and even preseason games for the Cleveland Browns. Couch’s life path shows that you actually can come home again.
In Latin, “Rex” means “king,” and for a while, Rex Grossman was the king of the quarterbacks. In college at the University of Florida, Grossman earned a reputation as a winner, and the Chicago Bears drafted him and made him their starting quarterback. He led them to a Super Bowl and lost, and his career never reached the same heights.
After stints with the Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and others, Grossman eventually retired — having thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career. Grossman kicked off retirement by founding Florida Medical Staffing, an employment hub for traveling nurses.
Jeff Garcia played in a time before small-statured quarterbacks were considered just as capable of winning as those who are tall. The odds were against him, yet he managed to win starting positions in San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Philadelphia, to varying degrees of success.
Garcia is also known as an overachiever off the field; he married former Playboy Playmate Carmella DeCesare. He’s reportedly trying to break into the coaching ranks, which is not uncommon for former quarterbacks. In the meantime, he manages his own charitable foundation.
Jeff George’s arm was as powerful as his personality was brash, which is to say he threw the ball far and ticked off a lot of people. George was the number-one pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, as the Colts chose to take a shot on the loquacious QB who threw for over 6,000 yards in two college seasons.
Despite leading two teams to the playoffs, George moved around a lot in part because of his penchant for rubbing his own teammates the wrong way. He’s spent much of his retirement watching his son, Jeff Jr., play quarterback.
Christian Ponder was a first-round quarterback in the NFL, but he’s arguably less well-known than his sportscaster wife, which tells you what you need to know about Ponder’s career. It quickly became apparent that Ponder was going to be unworthy of draft position, and ultimately that he was a disappointment.
Ponder went on to serve a backup role for two teams after leaving Minnesota and eventually retired after teams failed to show interest. He’s now playing the full-time role of doting father to two girls as his wife Sam does television.
Jon Kitna’s career is the platonic ideal for a backup; he maximized his sub-in time to cash in and carve out a nice little NFL legacy. Kitna was undrafted out of Central Washington in 1996. He was signed to the Seattle Seahawks practice squad and won MVP in NFL Europe before returning to the NFL.
Though his Lions team went 0-16 in 2008, Kitna would ultimately turn in a number of quality seasons. Upon retiring, Kitna moved on to coaching high school football in Tacoma, WA. He’s also coached teams in Texas and Arizona.
Chad Pennington had a reputation as a winner coming out of Marshall University, despite having below-average arm strength by NFL standards. He became the starter for the New York Jets in 2002 and had a solid string of seasons between then and 2008. Eventually, Pennington gained a reputation as injury prone despite remaining a quality starter into his 30s.
Pennington’s Southern drawl was always a trademark of his persona as a quarterback, and he went back to his Southern roots after retiring. He moved to Kentucky and transitioned from coaching middle school football to high school football. Aw, shucks!
NFL fans know David Carr as the first quarterback drafted by the Houston Texans franchise, becoming the first overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Being drafted by an expansion team sometimes guarantees a rocky start to a career, and that’s exactly what David Carr got. He led the league in sacks for three consecutive seasons before moving onto a backup role.
Carr got a break from being pounded by opposing defensive players as he backed up Eli Manning in New York. He’s moved onto an even safer role as a commentator for NFL Network in his retirement.
Vinny Testaverde was a critical member of the Golden Era Miami Hurricane football teams, and it allowed him to be selected first by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1987 NFL Draft. It turns out that being drafted by the Bucs during the late ’80s and early ’90s was not amazing for anyone’s career.
Testaverde played into his 40s, earning Pro Bowl selections with both the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets. He played until he was 44, so you might say part of his retirement was spent being unretired. He’s now a high school football coach in Tampa.
Todd Marinovich was once heralded as the QB of the future, raised from birth by his father to be the ultimate quarterback specimen. For a while, it appeared that Marinovich would live up to his billing, as he was selected 24th overall in the first round of the 1991 NFL Draft (despite well-founded speculation that Marinovich was a party guy).
It turns out the rumors were true, and that the party phase was more than just a party phase. Addiction would plague Marinovich’s brief NFL career, and he now battles to stay sober.
Rich Gannon was one of those mid- to upper-tier quarterbacks who became a quasi-star once he teamed up with coach Jon Gruden on the Oakland Raiders. Gannon and the Raiders got to the Super Bowl and, in a twist of fate, played against their coach the previous year; Gruden had been traded to the Bucs the previous offseason.
Gannon and the Raiders got walloped, and it was the beginning of the end for Gannon’s career. He’s gone on to work as one of the more respected television announcers for Fox Sports.
Drew Bledsoe has become known as the man who allowed Tom Brady to be Tom Brady. He was the starter for the Patriots, and a pretty darn good one, before an injury allowed a little-known sixth-round pick named Tom Brady to take the position. And he never let it go.
Bledsoe had a solid career that began in 1993, defying the curse that seemingly strikes most quarterbacks picked first overall. But injury and, well, Tom Brady led him to lose a starting position earlier than he would have liked. Bledsoe has various entrepreneurial ventures as a retiree.
Doug Flutie is the squatty Boston College quarterback who was way under six feet but never let that prevent him from playing at the highest levels of football. He wasn’t given a real shot at the NFL out of college, so he went to the Canadian Football League…and dominated.
When he was given the opportunity to be an NFL quarterback in 1998 with the Buffalo Bills, he did well, but he was never seen as “the guy.” Still, he spent 12 seasons in the League despite also spending numerous seasons in the CFL. He’s tried his hand at announcing post-retirement.
When the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Kevin Kolb in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft out of the University of Houston, most casual fans collectively asked, “Who?” Kolb was not the biggest name, and he would spend multiple seasons backing up long-time Eagles starter Donovan McNabb, but Kolb looked solid enough for fill-in duties.
So when the Arizona Cardinals traded for Kolb and signed him to a massive contract, nobody was shocked. But Kolb exposed himself as a mediocre-at-best quarterback during the Arizona years. Now, he reportedly spends much of his free time hunting and fishing.
Troy Smith is in the lineage of Collegiate Hall of Fame quarterbacks to play at Ohio State University and got his team to the National Championship Game, where the Buckeyes lost to the Florida Gators. Smith would go on to a four-season NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, mostly serving as a backup.
Smith is now capitalizing on his significant stardom as a college QB and, to a lesser extent, as an NFL quarterback. He serves as an advocate for medical marijuana dispensaries in the Cleveland area. His post-playing career is a smokin’ success.
When the Minnesota Vikings picked Tarvaris Jackson in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft, experts viewed the small-school product as a likely boom or bust player. Jackson was surprisingly steady as a primary backup for 10 seasons in the League with the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks.
Jackson’s tale is not an uplifting one, as his 2015 retirement was followed by an ugly arrest in 2016. He was accused of pulling a gun on his wife with his children in the adjacent room. Worse, Jackson reportedly relied on a public defender because of poor finances.
Jimmy Clausen was a polarizing figure from the day he wore a white fur coat to his college commitment press conference as a high schooler. And, after being drafted in the second round by the Carolina Panthers, Clausen became known as a massive disappointment.
Since retiring following the 2015 NFL season, Clausen joined the American Flag Football league in 2017, playing on a team with fellow former NFLer Terrell Owens. Clausen reportedly lost his first flag game to a team led by Michael Vick, and now is retired from flag football as well as the NFL.
Jake Delhomme was an unlikely NFL star who actually reached the Super Bowl with the Carolina Panthers, setting the high-water mark for his career in the process. Delhomme was an unabashed Southern boy and an underdog who started only two games in the first five seasons of his NFL career before finding major success.
In retirement, Delhomme now breeds and sells horses, and word is that he has been quite successful in his new profession. He moonlights as an investment banker, too, showing that he’s much different than your average jock.
“Kyle Boller: So Much Hype, So Little Production.” Unfortunately, that would be a fitting tagline for Kyle Boller’s career, which started with him being a first-round draft pick and ended with a whimper. But it’s his post-playing life that makes him a true winner.
Boller is married to Carrie Prejean, a former candidate in the Miss California USA beauty pageant. The couple started their own health venture with PHIVEbar, a health nutrition consumable that Boller hopes will augment the money he earned as a starting and backup NFL quarterback.