clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ranking the Top 10 Saddest NFL Quarterback Competitions of the Century

Think the battles featuring Geno Smith vs. Drew Lock and Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold are depressing? We remember much worse. Much worse.

Getty Images/AP/Ringer illustration

A quarterback battle just sounds like it should be exciting. There’s a reason that movies like Any Given Sunday and shows like Friday Night Lights go deep in depicting QBs jockeying for depth-chart position: The potential for drama is so high. At the end of a game, the rivals part ways. But when the competitors play the same position for the same team, and it’s the most important position on the team? There’s no going home. The two players just have to keep squaring off, every day, with the fate of their squad on their backs. Everybody wants to watch.

But in reality, quarterback competitions are rarely the sort of edge-of-your-seat stuff that TV shows make them out to be. When a team can’t decide who should be their starter, it’s not because the Super Bowl is tomorrow and they can’t figure out whether to start Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. It’s generally August, with a hapless head coach unsure whether to go with the 28th-best quarterback in the league or the 34th best, knowing that a doomed season is creeping closer every single day.

With NFL training camps underway, there are three teams with active quarterback battles right now: the Panthers, Seahawks, and Steelers. (At least the Steelers’ current battle includes a first-round pick, Kenny Pickett, giving Pittsburgh fans reason to be curious, if not optimistic, about the franchise’s future.) The best odds you can get on one of these teams to win the Super Bowl right now is 70-to-1, and none is expected to have a winning record going by preseason win total odds.

But what’s really depressing about the type of quarterback battle in Seattle and Carolina isn’t just the participants’ poor quality of play. It’s the false hope of pretending that one of these two awful players can save your season. It’s the frustration of 51 other players on the roster realizing they might be good enough to win, but the 52nd and 53rd players are so bad that it will waste a year of their careers. It’s the despair of realizing Plan B is just as doomed as Plan A. It’s the angst of two men having the opportunity of a lifetime and letting it slip. The player who gets to start Week 1 is often called the “winner” of the competition, but they often lose their jobs and a lot of games.

For the purposes of this post, we’re considering only training camp battles acknowledged by a head coach as open competitions. That excludes situations where a QB gave way to a backup during the season, like when Tim Tebow usurped Kyle Orton with the Broncos in 2011, or situations where the media speculated that a QB might be competing for a job but the head coach clearly had no interest, like when Tim Tebow didn’t usurp Mark Sanchez with the Jets in 2012. (Something you’ll notice: The same bad quarterbacks keep popping up on this list.) This is a subjective ranking based on how depressed each competition makes me—apologies if I left off the battle that personally makes you the saddest.

Here are the 10 saddest battles since 2000. Get ready to think about Brock Osweiler more than you’ve thought about Brock Osweiler in years.

10. 2022 Seattle Seahawks: Geno Smith vs. Drew Lock

Look, I actually like Geno Smith—but the numbers don’t lie. Mike Sando of The Athletic produces an annual QB Tiers column, asking dozens of NFL coaches and executives to rank non-rookie starters on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being elite and 5 being backup status. This year, 35 QBs were on the list—and Lock and Geno ranked 34th and 35th, with Smith the only quarterback slotted into the fifth tier intended for backups. It’s only the second time in the nine years that Sando has done his preseason ranking that there has been a QB battle where any result would give a team the league’s worst option. (Get ready to read about the other one as well!)

The context of this year’s Seahawks helps here. Since 2012, Seattle has had Russell Wilson, a superstar who guided his team to eight playoff berths in 10 seasons, including the only Super Bowl victory in franchise history. More often than not, Wilson played behind a papier-maché offensive line, throwing to a mediocre receiving corps. But Wilson always made it work, thriving under less-than-ideal conditions … until he demanded a trade this offseason.

Seattle could have figured out ways to improve at QB after dealing Wilson. The deal was in March, ahead of the NFL draft. There were solid QBs available on the trade market, including Matt Ryan, and some passable ones available in free agency, like Marcus Mariota. Instead, Seattle didn’t do anything. They stuck with Smith, Wilson’s backup last season, and Lock, whom the Broncos were more than happy to send to Seattle in the Wilson trade.

Smith has not won a starting job since 2015, when he was slated to be the Jets’ starter for a third straight year until a teammate punched him in the face in training camp, breaking Smith’s jaw and forcing then head coach Todd Bowles to hand the starting job to Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Technically not a quarterback competition.) The one time he did earn a starting position, briefly overtaking Eli Manning for the Giants’ starting job in 2017, it resulted in New York head coach Ben McAdoo getting instantly fired. Lock is, in my opinion, worse. He led the NFL in interceptions in 2020, lost a quarterback competition to Teddy Bridgewater last year, and went 0-3 in his three starts in 2021. The Seahawks lost their preseason opener when Lock completely failed to notice a blindside blitzer, resulting in a strip sack:

Still, Lock was going to get a chance to win the job and he was supposed to start Seattle’s next preseason game against the Bears. But earlier this week Lock was ruled out of that game because of COVID-19 (he also missed two games while on the reserve-COVID list in 2021, and, famously, one in 2020 which led to the Broncos having to start a practice squad receiver at quarterback), so it’s fair to wonder if this might just be the way this whole thing ends. All the more depressing if so, because no matter how the Seahawks land with their starter, they’ll have the league’s worst QB1.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp
Luke McCown, Josh Johnson, Byron Leftwich, and Josh Freeman with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson during Buccaneers training camp in 2009
Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images

9. 2009 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Byron Leftwich vs. Luke McCown vs. Josh Freeman

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were geniuses in April 2009, according to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April 2009. Sure, outsiders might have thought they were aimless and confused after signing former Jaguars starter Byron Leftwich weeks ahead of the NFL draft, then trading up to use a first-round pick on Josh Freeman, but Freeman revealed the depth of the team’s brilliance in a chat with fans on (Remember when that was a thing?) “It was something they told me—they told me (signing Leftwich) was a smoke screen, everybody would think they didn’t want a QB. … I think it worked out great.” This was presumably news to Leftwich, who signed as a quarterback, not as a smoke screen. Same with Luke McCown, who had signed a contract extension in February. (This is Luke McCown, not Josh McCown, who miraculously avoided being on this list despite being in roughly 17 QB competitions.)

Unfortunately, the Buccaneers were probably lying to Freeman. When training camp began, it became clear that Leftwich and McCown were fighting for the starting job. “I’m not worried about what might happen after this year, what might happen during the season,” said McCown. “I’m focused on right now, this opportunity I have to be the starter.” One reporter speculated that the quarterbacks were close enough that the competition might carry on through the season, prompting a troublingly defensive comment from rookie head coach Raheem Morris: “That’s hard for me to think like that,” Morris said. “That would be talking about failure and I’m not interested in talking about failure right now. You pick a guy and you pick him for a reason.”

That reporter may have been on to something. While Tampa Bay initially committed to Leftwich, naming him the Week 1 starter after trading away McCown, Morris benched Leftwich and never played him again after an 0-3 start. (Maybe Leftwich was a smoke screen all along!) Freeman should’ve been up next, considering the team had traded up to pick him—but instead Tampa Bay went with Josh Johnson, who had seemed like the fourth-string QB in training camp. He, too, lost his first four starts. (Yes, the same Josh Johnson who is currently backing up Russell Wilson in Denver after the Broncos traded Lock to the Seahawks.)

The Buccaneers told Freeman that they had a grand plan, but it became clear that they were frantically freestyling. Morris acted like he would never have to talk about failure, but the team started 0-7 and finished 3-13. The good news is the Buccaneers’ brain trust has gotten a lot smarter: Leftwich helped the team win a Super Bowl two seasons ago as their offensive coordinator.

8. 2010 Carolina Panthers: Matt Moore vs. Jimmy Clausen

There’s nothing more exciting than when your team uses a top draft pick on a quarterback. Your franchise has a new future! Next year is now! But what if he sucks and everybody hates him? That’s the situation the Carolina Panthers found themselves in after drafting Jimmy Clausen in the second round in 2010. Here’s a thorough roasting of Clausen from—while it might be the meanest thing that has ever been written about any quarterback, it would turn out to be completely accurate.

We’re told that Clausen already has pissed off multiple receivers and at least one tight end by “barking” at them during minicamp practice, and that receiver Steve Smith “basically thinks Jimmy is a punk.” Though Clausen is regarded as “smart” and unlikely to make mental mistakes, the initial thinking is that he uses excessive confidence (to the point that it’s being perceived by some as arrogance) to compensate for lack of arm strength, size, and overall athleticism.

So this guy sucked, but he was also annoying, and the Panthers’ best player hated him. Is that it? I feel like we could’ve gotten a few more lines in there about how he tips badly and has awful musical taste and can’t stop farting, but Florio had to lay off. So the Panthers went with Matt Moore, a former undrafted free agent who had won supporters in Carolina by going 4-1 as a starter to end the 2009 season.

But it was immediately clear that something was broken with this Carolina team. They somehow went the entire four-game preseason without scoring a single offensive touchdown. (They did get scores on defense and special teams, though!) “There are throws that I missed that are unacceptable,” said Moore after his final preseason game.

Moore won the job over Clausen, but he threw three end zone interceptions in a Week 1 loss and was benched after Week 2. While Smith denied that he hated Clausen after the Florio report in May, he was spotted screaming at the rookie QB during his debut. In one game, Clausen apologized to the defense for his poor play, which somehow infuriated Smith further, believing he should’ve also apologized to his offensive teammates. “If you’re going to apologize, you should apologize to the people in the huddle with you. … He ain’t at Notre Dame anymore.” At one point, head coach John Fox benched Clausen for Moore, and Clausen finished the season with three touchdowns and nine interceptions, and would win only one of the 14 games he started in the NFL. Luckily, Carolina’s awful season allowed them to draft a QB who everybody didn’t hate: future MVP Cam Newton.

7. 2002 Carolina Panthers: Rodney Peete vs. Chris Weinke

Plenty of quarterback battles feature a recently drafted youngster and an older, more experienced player—like this year’s Steelers, undecided between rookie Kenny Pickett and veteran Mitchell Trubisky. The problem with the Panthers is that both their recently drafted youngster and their older, more experienced player were both old … and neither of them knew they were in a QB battle.

In 2001, Carolina drafted Chris Weinke, a former minor league pitcher in the Blue Jays’ organization who had just won the Heisman Trophy at age 28 while throwing to teammates 10 years younger than him at Florida State. (Look at the photos from the Heisman ceremony; it truly looks as if a balding middle-aged man has been dropped a few seats down from young LaDainian Tomlinson.) Weinke won the starting job as a rookie, but the Panthers lost 15 consecutive games. The next offseason, they brought in 13-year NFL veteran Rodney Peete to help back up Weinke and tutor him. (Peete had also been drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays … in 1984.) The Los Angeles Times wrote that the Panthers were looking for a “mature, even-keeled veteran” who “would not be threatening to Weinke.” Peete missed most of training camp—injuries, paternity leave, a death in the family—but he wasn’t supposed to play. Peete had contemplated retirement in the offseason, but coming to Carolina seemed like an easy enough gig. How much “mentoring” did a middle-aged guy really need?

But Weinke struggled deeply in preseason, throwing one touchdown and four interceptions. Then–Panthers head coach John Fox announced a shocking QB change just days before the season opener: Weinke had lost the job to the guy who was supposed to be mentoring him. “It’s tough to swallow when you don’t know it’s coming. I didn’t foresee this. I had no idea,” Weinke said. Peete, who wasn’t even supposed to be competing for the starting job, called the situation “awkward.” Not exactly the first reaction you’re looking for when you announce your new starter at QB! It was Peete’s first starting job since 1996. Carolina’s Week 1 game was against Baltimore, allowing Ray Lewis to get jokes off at Carolina’s expense. “I don’t think I ever faced Rodney Peete. I was probably too young when Rodney Peete was playing,” said Lewis. “Which Classic Sports is he on? The ‘Where Are They Now’ Classic Sports?” (The Panthers actually won that game, 10-7, and Peete completed 12 of 19 passes for 136 yards, with one touchdown.)

Luckily, the Panthers realized they needed to move on from their dueling dads. In the 2003 offseason, they signed Jake Delhomme, who quickly took over Peete’s job and led Carolina to the Super Bowl that same season.

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans
Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett before a preseason game in 2015
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

6. 2015 Houston Texans: Brian Hoyer vs. Ryan Mallett

There is a reason the 2015 edition of Hard Knocks had to be on HBO. Only on premium cable can they show something as arousing as the sight of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork wearing nothing but denim overalls. And nobody wants their children to be exposed to something as upsetting as the primary focus of Texans training camp that year: a deeply disturbing QB competition between former Tom Brady backups Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien once had a reputation as a quarterback whisperer—a reputation he attempted to destroy with season after season of horrendous QB play under his watch with the Texans, doing stuff like signing Brock Osweiler to a $72 million contract. (Here’s your first Osweiler reference!) It was never worse, however, than in 2015, his second season in Houston, when O’Brien brought in a pair of players he was familiar with, Hoyer and Mallett. O’Brien had already worked as quarterbacks coach with both players during a stint in New England, but seasons under O’Brien and playing behind Tom Brady did little for their skills or football IQ. Here’s a clip from Hard Knocks where Mallett keeps doing impossibly dumb stuff like attempting a QB sneak on third-and-3, or somehow getting called for a false start at QB. O’Brien doesn’t seem like much of a QB whisperer—he’s mainly yelling, furious that a player he coached for years seems baffled by the basic rules of football.

Hard Knocks made the most of its access, showing viewers the meeting when O’Brien announced his decision to start Hoyer—an unprecedented glimpse at a moment we’d all imagined, but never actually seen.

At the end of the video, O’Brien urges Mallett to “be a professional about it, prepare like a starter, and be ready to play.” Mallett did not listen. He told the media that he was disappointed and angry with the decision, then missed practice the next day after oversleeping. “He’s 27 years old,” O’Brien said on Hard Knocks. “He doesn’t need to do that shit.” But despite all of Mallett’s inconsistencies, O’Brien couldn’t count on Hoyer. The Texans benched Hoyer for Mallett in Week 2, then re-benched Mallett for Hoyer in Week 5. Hoyer only truly locked down his job as the team’s starter when Mallett missed a team flight to a road game in October, after which he was cut. Sadly, Hard Knocks cameras had already departed, robbing us of the opportunity to see Mallett scrambling through airport security in a doomed attempt to save his job.

5. 2012 Arizona Cardinals: John Skelton vs. Kevin Kolb

Someday, the Arizona Cardinals will pay for their sins against Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona had one of the greatest wide receivers of all time for 17 seasons. Fitzgerald finished his career ranked second all time in receptions and sixth in touchdown catches, and he somehow did it mostly without good quarterbacks, which you’d think would be important for a wide receiver. While he did spend a few happy years with players like Carson Palmer and Kurt Warner, he spent the majority of his career going deep for players like Josh McCown, Max Hall, and Drew Stanton, waiting for passes that never came. The Cardinals should be widely criticized for first-round picks like Matt Leinart and Josh Rosen—but at least in those situations, they were in theory trying to get him someone good. What they did in 2012 is actually worse.

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals
Kevin Kolb and John Skelton during a preseason game in 2012
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After making the Super Bowl in 2009, the Cardinals failed badly at replacing the retiring Warner. In 2010, they signed Derek Anderson, which went poorly. In 2011, they made a horribly lopsided trade that seemed like a bad idea at the time and got worse, dealing a second-round pick and talented young corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kevin Kolb, an Eagles backup QB with more career interceptions than touchdowns. The Cardinals got off to a 1-6 start with Kolb, and actually improved after former fifth-round pick John Skelton took over midway through the season.

With Fitzgerald in his prime and only a few years removed from an NFC championship, the Cardinals should have felt an obligation to do something significant—and drafting Ryan Lindley in the sixth round doesn’t count—to improve at QB. And yet they chose to run it back with the Skelton-Kolb tandem that had doomed them in 2011. They went into the 2012 season with the same two guys who sucked in 2011, apparently hoping they would simply get better. They didn’t. Here’s ESPN’s breakdown:

Neither Skelton nor Kolb has managed anything close to a breakthrough performance in their brief time on the field in the first two games. Kolb is just 2 of 9 for 25 yards, his playing time reduced when he left the Hall of Fame Game against the New Orleans Saints in the third series with bruised ribs…Skelton has completed 7 of 12 for 67 yards with one interception…

Neither has thrown a touchdown pass.

Sadly, this article was simply credited to “ news services,” meaning we cannot properly thank the author who decided to put a dramatic paragraph break before dropping the hammer.

Arizona actually chose Skelton, the late-round pick, over Kolb, the player they’d given up so much to acquire. But Skelton didn’t work out. He threw two touchdowns and nine interceptions, and never played in the NFL again. After benching Skelton and watching Kolb get injured, the Cardinals wound up starting Ryan Lindley, a rookie picked in the sixth round. They traded for Carson Palmer in the offseason and won 10 games in 2013 and were back in the playoffs in 2014. It’s almost like they needed a good quarterback instead of hoping for magic from guys they’d already seen fail.

4. 2022 Carolina Panthers: Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold

Look, we’re still in the moment here. Maybe Mayfield, famously dependent on grudges for success, can tap into the disrespect of the Browns trading him away—disrespect he simply couldn’t find after becoming the no. 1 pick in the draft. Maybe Darnold can achieve Zen and reboot his career as a backup. Maybe the Panthers will have an OK season.

But I’ve got a feeling this is going to be an all-timer. Mayfield and Darnold were the first and third picks in the 2018 draft. Just four years later, they’ve both been discarded by the teams that drafted them, while quarterbacks picked below them have won an MVP (Lamar Jackson) or signed one of the richest contracts in NFL history (Josh Allen). Funnily enough, Carolina’s current offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, didn’t agree with Mayfield’s draft position—he ranked Baker sixth out of the quarterbacks in the 2018 draft, behind Mason Rudolph, giving a thorough breakdown of why he thought Baker would be a bust. It’s believed to be the first time two former top-five picks have ever competed for a job—and it’s stunning that it is early in their careers.

Although Mayfield is expected to win the job, head coach Matt Rhule says that he fears he’ll “start one guy and then realize after two games we made the wrong decision and go back to the other guy.” And the early reports are not good. The Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler wrote that, “Neither QB could move the ball worth a darn” after one practice, and that “the difference was more about who made the big mistake, and that was Darnold.”

There have also been an oddly suspicious number of comments about murder. Mayfield said the competition is “not about trying to stab one another in the back,” and McAdoo seemed to imply that cannibalism is on the table:

If these two quarterbacks do end up killing and/or eating each other, we will adjust these rankings accordingly.

3. 2008 Chicago Bears: Rex Grossman vs. Kyle Orton

In college football, programs often maintain the same on-field identity for decades at a time, but in the pros, teams tend to flip-flop philosophies as draft classes and coaching staffs change. Not the Bears, who have been the same damn team for near 50 years, like a damn Big Ten team pumping out 17-13 losses on grisly Midwestern afternoons. The Bears defense is generally good-to-great, and their piss-poor quarterback du jour is the leading cause of broken hearts in the greater Chicagoland area.

Perhaps no era defined this better than the mid-2000s teams coached by Lovie Smith. On defense, they had Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, who powered the team to a Super Bowl appearance after the 2006 season. On offense, they had Grossman and Orton, who jockeyed back and forth at quarterback for half a decade. In a 2021 retrospective on The Athletic, long snapper Patrick Mannelly called it a “shitshow of who’s starting, who’s injured, who’s trying to get back.”

Grossman was a first-round pick in 2003 and won the starting job in 2004, but suffered a season-ending injury in Week 3; 13 weeks of horrible backups like Chad Hutchinson and Craig Krenzel prompted the team to draft Orton with a fourth-round pick in 2005—a decision that paid off, I guess, when Grossman broke his ankle in preseason. Orton started as a rookie; the Bears had the best scoring defense in the league but Orton had the league’s worst passer rating. Grossman finally had a healthy season as a starter in 2006, but they might have actually won the Super Bowl with a good QB. In 2007, Grossman, veteran Brian Griese, and Orton each started games for the Bears, and with Orton showing promise late in the seaon, the 2008 competition between Orton and Grossman was on.

Smith wanted to be extremely clear that the two quarterbacks were completely even in his eyes. He alternated between calling the pair “Rex and Kyle” and “Kyle and Rex,” to be clear that neither came first. He flipped a coin to decide who would play with the 1s at the beginning of camp. Orton started the first preseason game; Grossman started the second. Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated noted that Grossman was “world-class” in practice, but that players seemed to prefer Orton, something Mannelly attributed to Orton’s willingness to go out drinking with the guys after games. (Yeah, I could’ve guessed that.) Orton won the job, but the Bears missed the playoffs in 2008.

Amazingly, the Orton-Grossman debate still rages. In recent years, Urlacher and running back Thomas Jones have weighed in, insisting that Orton should have gotten more playing time.

There’s a reason that Bears fans are still caught up on this. For one, the Bears had a legit shot to win the Super Bowl with those defenses. It’s fair to wonder whether the right buttons were pushed. But also, Chicago’s quarterback history is so dismal that Orton and Grossman are actually among the better passers in team history. Last year I ranked the 45 quarterbacks the team has had since 1985, and Orton and Grossman ranked ninth and 10th, respectively. The rest of us are horrified by the concept of debating Rex and Kyle, or Kyle and Rex. But in Chicago, these were happy times.

2. 2016-17 Denver Broncos: Trevor Siemian vs. Paxton Lynch vs. Mark Sanchez

The Broncos’ quarterback situation was dreadful enough in the late 2010s that we’re combining multiple seasons into one overall ranking. It’s tough to replace a legend, which the Broncos had to do after Peyton Manning retired in 2016. But Denver didn’t need someone as good as record-setting, game-changing Peyton. After all, Manning was pretty firmly finished in his final season, throwing nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions, and the Broncos’ Von Miller–led defense was still good enough to carry Peyton off into the sunset with a Super Bowl victory. The Broncos just needed someone to be as good as nearly 40-year-old, barely functioning Peyton. Instead, they had a trio of quarterbacks who couldn’t even manage that.

When Peyton retired, the Broncos also let backup Brock Osweiler walk in free agency. (Osweiler reference no. 2.) They used a first-round pick to draft very tall quarterback Paxton Lynch, a favorite of general manager John Elway, who despite his own massive success at quarterback was quite bad at assessing quarterback talent. They also traded for Mark Sanchez, a former first-round pick and starter with the Jets who was supposed to easily win the starting gig. Instead, he couldn’t beat 2015 seventh-round draft pick Trevor Siemian, who threw seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his senior season at Northwestern. After a preseason game where both quarterbacks committed awful turnovers, Sanchez sounded distraught to be neck-and-neck with Siemian:

“I squandered a great opportunity to separate myself, and put the team in a bad situation,” Sanchez said. “No excuse for that; poor, poor quarterback play. … I know I’m in a tough spot right there, and Coach wants to see what I do. … I just let one go tonight. That’s really too bad.”

The Broncos picked Siemian and cut Sanchez. With Siemian under center, the reigning Super Bowl champs missed the playoffs entirely despite fielding the league’s no. 4 defense.

Instead of getting a new QB the following season, Denver continued operating under the assumption that Lynch would grow into an NFL starter. He never did. A dispatch from Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson:

Things aren’t going according to plan with Paxton Lynch. As much as general manager John Elway might say publicly that things are working themselves out and Paxton is a better pro and Trevor Siemian is competing, this all feels very familiar and very undone. … [Siemian] is ahead in this race basically by default. … Lynch’s bad days have been exponentially worse. Most notably, a practice in which he threw three straight interceptions and left Elway clench-jawed.

Siemian won the job again in 2017, but after a three-interception game in late October, the Broncos benched him for … Brock Osweiler, in his triumphant return to Denver after failed stints in Houston and Cleveland. (Osweiler reference no. 3!) Then Osweiler was benched for Lynch, who almost immediately got hurt and brought Siemian back into the mix. The Broncos went 5-11, including an 0-6 record in games started by Osweiler and Lynch.

Things ended badly for everybody here. Sanchez never threw an NFL touchdown after the Broncos cut him, although he did throw five more interceptions in stints with Washington and Dallas. Lynch lost the job to be Case Keenum’s backup in 2018 to Chad Kelly (famous for being Jim’s nephew, 2017’s Mr. Irrelevant and getting arrested after Von Miller’s Halloween party while dressed like a cowboy) and never played in another NFL game. He was recently the last quarterback picked in the USFL draft. Siemian is still hanging on as a backup, now with the Bears. And the Broncos still haven’t made the playoffs since Manning retired. While Denver fans are likely happy with the one championship, the Broncos could’ve contended for more with competent QB play. Instead, they wasted a championship-caliber defense with a crew of QBs who couldn’t cut it.

2017 Cleveland Browns OTA
Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, and Brock Osweiler during OTAs in 2017

1. 2017 Cleveland Browns: DeShone Kizer vs. Brock Osweiler vs. Cody Kessler

You knew it had to be the 0-16 team. You knew it had to include Brock Osweiler.

Osweiler’s performance with the Texans was horrendous, and Houston wanted desperately to move on. Unfortunately, his contract was also horrendous. Houston needed to find a team willing to acquire an awful, expensive quarterback … and stunningly found one in Cleveland. The tanking Browns happily took on Osweiler’s salary, with a few draft picks to sweeten the deal.

But people still assumed that the Browns were trying to put together a football team. Head coach Hue Jackson said that Osweiler was “outstanding” and “a pleasant surprise.” It was assumed that Osweiler would compete for the starting job with Kessler, the best QB from a team that had gone 1-15.

The best scenario for Cleveland would have been to roll with Osweiler. This would’ve allowed them to potentially wheel-and-deal and include him in another trade to another QB-starved franchise, and would’ve prevented the embarrassment of admitting that they had taken on Osweiler to help the Texans out because they didn’t care about winning. But Osweiler was so aggressively bad that they couldn’t play him. Osweiler went 12-for-22 for 67 yards with no touchdowns and an interception in preseason play—not only was he averaging just 3 yards per attempt, but he had a turnover to boot. “It’s no secret the Browns want Osweiler to win the job,” wrote WKYC’s Ben Axelrod, “he just hasn’t done anything to allow them to justify it yet.”

Rookie Kizer came out and won the job instead. The Browns went 4-0 in preseason behind him, and there was a strange sense of fun in Cleveland. The Browns celebrated their undefeated exhibition slate, “hooting and hollering” in the locker room for 15 minutes. “A year ago we were 0-4, so these guys came back with a different mentality,” said Jackson. “I can see something building in the locker room, and that’s what you want.” Even Osweiler, who had lost his job to a rookie, seemed like a team player. “I’m just super-excited about this great preseason,’’ he told

But there was nothing to be excited about. Kizer led the NFL in interceptions. The Browns paid Osweiler $16 million to simply leave, indicating they didn’t really care at all about the on-field results of the 2017 season. The Browns became the second team in NFL history to go 0-16. And there wasn’t even a silver lining with Kizer, who wasn’t part of the team’s long-term plans. He led the NFL with 22 interceptions, tied for third most by any QB in the past 10 seasons. The Browns quickly jettisoned him to the Packers, where he struggled as Aaron Rodgers’s backup for a season. He hasn’t played an NFL game since 2018. The Browns did earn a no. 1 pick for their struggles, but that was Mayfield. Even that wasn’t a win in the long run: Mayfield is now in Carolina, assuring the press that he isn’t planning on killing Sam Darnold.

Most of this post is dedicated to quarterback battles that immediately looked and felt awful—preseason games filled with fumbles, scrimmages that left head coaches shaking their heads. But there’s nothing sadder than undeserved hope. When the Browns went 4-0 in preseason play with a rookie QB, it felt like there was something to be excited about. But when multiple quarterbacks are battling for a starting job, there are no winners. You might even go 0-16.