The Top 5 Quarterbacks in Philadelphia Eagles History
Some teams have had an embarrassment of riches at the most important position in sports: the quarterback.
The Green Bay Packers basically went from Bart Star to Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers went from Joe Montana to Steve Young. The Patriots have Tom Brady, who is better all by himself than all the quarterbacks that some teams have had in their entire history combined. Super Bowl wins and enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are normal for some franchise's quarterbacks. Not so much for the Philadelphia Eagles. If you look at the Hall of Fame, the Eagles don't have a single quarterback who spent the majority of his career playing for the franchise.
I was born in 1968, so while I have seen some great Eagles quarterbacks in my day, I spent far too many seasons watching the likes of Bubby Brister, Jeff Kemp, Rodney Peete, A.J. Feeley, Bobby Hoying, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Kolb, and the Detmer brothers, Ty and Koy, lead the Eagles absolutely nowhere. Oh, the humanity!
Anyway, let's forget that motley crew and instead focus our attention on the truly great quarterbacks who have led the Eagles, because there have actually been a few.
For the purpose of this list, I only included the statistics and accomplishments each quarterback accumulated while playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. That may upset some fans, but it's the only way to do a list like this. So without further ado, here are the top-five quarterbacks in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles.
5. Ron Jaworski
Eagles Quarterback: 1977-86
Drafted: Second-round pick by the L.A. Rams in the 1973 NFL draft out of Youngstown State
Acquired: Via trade with the L.A. Rams in 1977
Eagles Hall of Fame Inductee: 1992
Drafted in the second round of the 1973 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams, Ron Jaworski was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1977. "Jaws," as he was affectionately known, teamed with new coach Dick Vermeil to slowly build the Eagles into a winner. Jaworski led the Eagles to the playoffs in the 1978 and 1979 seasons, but the team had early playoff exits both years. Then came the magical season of 1980.
Jaworski and the Eagles started out the 1980 season 11-1, en route to winning the NFC East with a 12-4 record. The Eagles beat the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional round of the playoffs, before one of the biggest games in the history of the Eagles.
The Eagles had lost 20 of the previous 23 games they had played against their biggest rival, the Dallas Cowboys. Now, Jaworski was leading them into the NFC Championship Game against the Cowboys. The Eagles reversed their fortunes and beat the Cowboys 20-7, to reach the first Super Bowl in franchise history. The Super Bowl against the Oakland Raiders was not Jaworski's or the Eagles' finest hour, as they lost, 27-10, but it was still an amazing season.
Jaworski completed 57 percent of his passes for 3,529 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions for a 91.0 passer rating during that 1980 season. That earned him first-team All-Pro honors along with several other awards. He still has the record for the second-most yards (26,963) and second-most touchdowns (175) in franchise history.
He finished his Eagles career with a record of 69-67-1 and started all 16 games during five different seasons. He remains an icon in the city of Philadelphia to this day, and he fits nicely at No. 5 on the all-time list of the greatest Eagles quarterbacks.
4. Tommy Thompson
Eagles Quarterback: 1941-1950
Signed: Undrafted free agent signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the University of Tulsa
Signed with the Eagles: 1941
Anyone who isn't currently getting a senior citizen discount never got a chance to see Tommy Thompson play quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. As old as I am, I can honestly say that I included him on this list strictly on his accomplishments. I say accomplishments, because his statistics weren't exactly great.
While he was technically on the Eagles for 10 years, he actually only played eight seasons. Thompson missed the 1943 and 1944 seasons because he was serving in the Army during World War II. During those eight seasons, he was a part-time starter who threw for only 10,240 yards, with 91 touchdowns, and 100 interceptions. At this point you're saying to yourself, "How is this guy on any list of the greatest anything?" I get it. Here's why.
Thompson led the Philadelphia Eagles to three straight NFL Championship games in 1947, 1948, and 1949. The Eagles won the title in 1948 and 1949 in bad weather conditions, so Thompson didn't have great stats. But anybody who watched the Eagles lose two Super Bowls due to sub-par quarterback play can appreciate a guy who managed to win it all, even as a "game-manager."
That doesn't mean Thompson was never great. He led the NFL with 25 touchdown passes in 1949 and his statistics for the season were downright dominant for the time. He led the NFL in passer rating (84.4) and touchdown percentage (7.5), the third straight season he led the NFL in that category. He completed 54 percent of his passes for 1,727 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Keep in mind that the NFL was a very different game in the 1940s. Those stats were enough to earn Thompson an All-Pro nod and the No. 4 spot on this list.
Fly Like an Eagle
3. Randall Cunningham
Eagles Quarterback: 1985-95
Drafted: Second-round pick by the Eagles in the 1985 NFL draft out of the University of Nevada Las Vegas
Eagles Hall of Fame Inductee: 2009
Once dubbed "The Ultimate Weapon" by Sports Illustrated, Randall Cunningham redefined the quarterback position in the NFL. Quarterbacks were traditionally pocket passers before Cunningham burst onto the scene. His ability to throw the ball nearly the length of the field and scramble like a running back was just the beginning of the NFL's evolution at the quarterback position.
Cunningham played sparingly during his first two seasons, backing up Ron Jaworski, but he took over as the starter for good in Week 10 of the 1986 season. By the 1988 season, Cunningham was leading the Eagles to the NFC East division title and the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Eagles lost "The Fog Bowl" to the Chicago Bears, 20-12, but Cunningham threw for 407 yards. That was only the beginning of big things for the Eagles quarterback.
The 1990 season saw Cunningham win the NFL MVP Award by completing 58.3 percent of his passes for 3,466 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, for a 91.6 passer rating. He also had 118 carries for an additional 942 yards and five touchdowns. He led the team to a 10-6 record and another playoff berth.
Unfortunately, Cunningham's 1991 season ended in Week 1, when Green Bay's Bryce Paup sacked him and tore his ACL. The following season, Cunningham returned and won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. He threw for 2,775 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, for a 87.3 passer rating. He added another 549 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Cunningham capped the 1992 season by leading the Eagles to their first playoff win in 12 years. But it was obvious that the knee injury had robbed Cunningham of some of his mobility.
The following seasons were marred by injury, and a switch to the West Coast offense led to Rodney Peete taking over as quarterback. Cunningham soured on the game at that point and retired from football after the 1995 season. He came out of retirement with the Minnesota Vikings, but that's a story for another article.
Cunningham compiled a 63-43-1 record with the Eagles, but his playoff record was only 3-6. He is still third in passing yards (22,877) and sixth in rushing yards (4,482) in franchise history. His 4,928 rushing yards are still the second most in NFL history by a quarterback.
Cunningham's Eagles career didn't fully deliver on the promise of his unparalleled talents, and it ended on a sour note, but it was still plenty good enough to be considered the third best in franchise history.
2. Nick Foles
Eagles Quarterback: 2012-14 and 2017-18
Drafted: Third-round pick by the Eagles in the 2012 NFL draft out of the University of Arizona
I know what you're thinking. This is way too high to rank Nick Foles. To that I say, no. No, it's not. Let's just take a look at the numbers. Oh, and let's also not forget that Foles is the only quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles history to ever win a Super Bowl.
The Eagles drafted Foles in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft, but he didn't get into a game until Week 10 of that season, when Michael Vick got hurt. He made his first NFL start the next week and the unlikely legend of Nick Foles began. Even though Foles went 1-6 in 2012, he became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 240 yards per game while completing 60 percent of his passes. Breaking records would soon become the norm for Foles.
Foles lost a training camp battle to Vick in 2013, but Vick eventually got hurt in Week 6. Foles started Week 7, but the genius that was Chip Kelly decided to start Vick again in Week 8. Vick promptly got hurt again, and it was back to Foles for good. That's when one of the greatest seasons an NFL quarterback has ever had really took off.
Foles decided that he needed another NFL record so, in Week 9, he tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes against the Oakland Raiders.
For the season, Foles went 8-2 in his 10 starts and led the Eagles to a surprising NFC East Division title. He lost his first playoff start that year, but he left the field with a lead late in the fourth quarter, only to have his special teams give up a long return before the defense allowed a game-winning field goal to the New Orleans Saints. As impressive as that was, his stats were even better. He completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns, only two interceptions, and a league-leading 119.2 passer rating during that 2013 season.
The next season wasn't kind to Foles, as he had pedestrian stats before his season was ended early in Week 8 by a broken collarbone. Chip Kelly proved once again that he was in over his head, when he traded Foles to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford. Foles played for the Rams in 2015 and then the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016. He then re-signed with the Eagles in 2017 to back up Carson Wentz.
Every Eagles fan knows what happened next. Wentz got hurt in Week 14, and Foles led the Eagles to the first Super Bowl Championship in franchise history.
Foles completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in the Super Bowl. He also became the first player in NFL history to both throw and catch a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. His famous play call (Philly Philly) is still immortalized with a statue outside of Lincoln Financial Field today. I walk by it every home game on my way to my seats.
Nick Foles Stats (in only 48 starts)
- Highest career passer rating in team history (93.2)
- Highest single-season passer rating in team history (119.2 in 2013)
- 9th in franchise passing yards (8,703)
- 8th in franchise touchdown passes (58)
- Lowest interception percentage in a season in team history (0.63 in 2013)
- Most yards passing in a game in team history (471 on 12/23/18 vs. the Texans)
- Most touchdown passes in a game (7 on 11/3/13 at Raiders), which tied NFL record
- His 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions in 2013 was the best TD-INT ratio in NFL history at the time
- His 119.2 passer rating in 2013 is 3rd all-time, trailing only Aaron Rodgers' 122.5 rating in 2011 and Peyton Manning's 121.4 rating in 2004
Nick Foles may have only been an Eagle for five seasons, but they were five mostly magically seasons that included the franchise's only Lombardi Trophy. If you don't think Foles is the second-best quarterback in franchise history after all those stats and facts, then I don't know what to tell you.
Which brings us to...
1. Donovan McNabb
Eagles Quarterback: 1999-2009
Drafted: No. 2 overall pick by the Eagles in the 1999 NFL draft out of Syracuse University
Donovan McNabb didn't have the normal career of a franchise greatest quarterback, but that doesn't mean that he didn't put up the numbers and wins to earn this spot at the top of the rankings.
The Eagles took McNabb with the second overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft (thank you to the Cleveland Browns for doing the most Cleveland Browns thing, and drafting Tim Couch first overall that year). The franchise quarterback started off his Eagles career on the wrong foot as a busload of knuckleheads went to the draft to boo the drafting of McNabb. Unfortunately, McNabb never forgave Eagles fans, as a whole, for the misdeeds of a handful of fans. This thin-skinned reaction would become the norm for McNabb, and it kept him from becoming the beloved icon a franchise quarterback in Philadelphia should be.
McNabb's rookie year was uneventful, as he only started six games. The starter in those other games during the 1999 season? None other than current Eagles head coach and Super Bowl Champion, Doug Pederson. By the next season, McNabb was entrenched as the starter and would remain there for a decade.
McNabb led the Eagles to the playoffs in his first season as the starter in 2000 and even won a playoff game. In 2001, he led the Eagles to the playoffs again and the team advanced to their first NFC Championship Game since 1980. Losing to the St, Louis Rams "Greatest Show on Turf" team was certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, this would be the first of numerous failed attempts in the NFC Championship Game, as McNabb was only 1-4 in that game. Of course, at this point the fans had no reason to doubt that McNabb was going to lead the team to greatness.
The Eagles won the NFC East four straight years between 2001 and 2004, while McNabb was establishing himself as one of the stars of the league. The only problem was that he couldn't get that last win to get his team into the Super Bowl. That all changed in 2004 when head coach Andy Reid finally decided it would be a good idea for a passing offense to have a great wide receiver. The Eagles got Terrell Owens, who teamed with McNabb to lead the team to the promised land.
Unfortunately, McNabb once again couldn't come through in the biggest game of the season, as he "coughed up" the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots, in the heyday of their "Spygate" days. But that doesn't mean that 2004 wasn't a magical season. In fact, it was the best season of McNabb's career. In 2004, McNabb became the first quarterback in NFL history to finish the season with over 30 touchdown passes and fewer than 10 interceptions. He completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,875 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, for a 104.7 passer rating. He also added three rushing touchdowns on only 41 carries.
The Super Bowl hangover was real for the Philadelphia Eagles the next season. T.O. wanted a new contract and began feuding with McNabb. The whole circus ended up with Owens doing sit-ups in his driveway, while reporters tried to ask him questions about being banished from the team. McNabb ended the season on the Injured Reserve after only nine games. The 2006 season wasn't much better, as McNabb tore his ACL and only played in 10 games that season. The Eagles actually finished first in the NFC East in 2006 behind backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, who went 5-1 as a starter and even won a playoff game that season.
McNabb returned for the 2007 season, but the whole team struggled. Somehow, McNabb and the Eagles had a bounce-back season in 2008 that ended in yet another loss in the NFC Championship Game. He even set his career high in passing yards (3,916) that season. McNabb's last season in Philadelphia (2009) ended with a playoff loss to the rival Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional round of the playoffs. McNabb was traded that offseason.
Donovan McNabb Records:
- Winningest quarterback in Eagles history (92 wins)
- Most pass attempts in franchise history (4,746)
- Most completions in franchise history (2,801)
- Most passing yards in franchise history (32,873)
- Most touchdown passes in franchise history (216)
- Led NFL in quarterback wins between 2000 and 2004
McNabb finished his Eagles career with a 92-49-1 record (he famously didn't know NFL games could end in a tie). His playoff record was 9-7, while throwing for 3,752 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions for an 80.0 passer rating in those 16 games. He also ran for 422 yards and four more touchdowns in the playoffs.
McNabb may have had his issues in NFC Championship Games and lost his only Super Bowl, but he was only the second quarterback to even lead the Eagles franchise to a Super Bowl. That, and all of the team records that he still owns, make him the choice for the top quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles history.
These quarterbacks didn't quite make the cut for the top five, but they are listed here in order of their importance to the franchise.
Eagles Quarterback: 2016-Present
Drafted: No. 2 overall pick by the Eagles in the 2016 NFL draft out of North Dakota State University
I'm sure there are plenty of Eagles fans who are upset that Wentz didn't make the list of the top-five quarterbacks, but the truth is that he just hasn't played enough games yet to beat out any of the guys on the list. That being said, he has already amassed some amazing stats in 56 games.
Eagles records Wentz already holds:
- Fifth most pass attempts in franchise history (2,055)
- Fourth most completions in franchise history (1,311)
- Fifth most touchdown passes in franchise history (97)
- Second best career quarterback rating in franchise history (92.7)
- Second best career completion percentage in franchise history (63.8)
- Fifth most passing yards in franchise history (14,191)
- Most touchdown passes in a season in franchise history (33 in 2017)
- Most passing yards in a season in franchise history (4,039 in 2019)
The thing that is really holding Wentz back is that he wasn't able to finish two of his four seasons, due to injury. Plus, he has only played in one playoff game and he only threw four passes in that one, because, you guessed it, he got hurt.
Of course, Wentz had one of the best seasons of any Eagles quarterback. Sure, his 2017 ended in Week 13, and Nick Foles led the team to victory in the Super Bowl, but Wentz had the team at 11-2 when he got hurt. He completed 60.2 percent of his passes in 2017 for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a 101.9 passer rating in only 13 games. Those 33 touchdown passes broke a 57-year old record, previously held by Sonny Jurgensen, and were still the second most in the NFL that season. He was running away with the MVP Award before he blew out his ACL on a touchdown run against the Los Angeles Rams.
I'm sure Wentz will be on any list of the greatest Eagles quarterbacks starting next season and he might just challenge McNabb for the top spot one day. But for now, he just needs more time and good health to build his stats and his resume.
Norm Van Brocklin
Eagles Quarterback: 1958-60
Drafted: Fourth-round pick by the L.A. Rams in the 1949 NFL draft out of the University of Oregon
Acquired: By the Eagles in a 1958 trade with the Rams
Eagles Hall of Fame Inductee: 1987
Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee: 1971
I'm sure all the old-school fans out there are furious that Van Brocklin wasn't among the top five on this list. The problem is the same as it is with Wentz. Van Brocklin simply didn't play enough games for the Philadelphia Eagles to be ranked among the best.
The Eagles acquired Van Brocklin in a 1958 trade with the Los Angeles Rams, and he was the starting quarterback of the Eagles for three seasons. He had already established himself as one of the best quarterbacks of his era with the Rams, but we're only considering his Eagles career here. Of course, the highlight of Van Brocklin's Eagles career was the 1960 season.
In his final NFL season, Van Brocklin led the Eagles to the NFL Championship in 1960, over the Vince Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers. Amazingly, Van Brocklin was the only quarterback to ever beat the Lombardi Packers in the playoffs. It was also his best year as an Eagle statistically, with 2,471 yards passing, 24 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions for an 86.5 passer rating. That might not sound great, but in those days, defenses could actually hit offensive players and teams weren't throwing the ball on over 60 percent of their plays.
For his Eagles career, Van Brocklin threw for 7,497 yards, 55 touchdowns, and 51 interceptions. He was a Pro Bowler in all three of his seasons in Philadelphia and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
Eagles Quarterback: 1957-63
Drafted: Fourth-round pick by the Eagles in the 1957 NFL draft out of Duke University
Eagles Hall of Fame Inductee: 1983
Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee: 1987
Much like the other honorable mentions on this list, Sonny Jergensen didn't play for the Eagles long enough to make the top five. Sure, Jergensen was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983, but a lot of that had to do with his 10 years with the Washington Redskins. The Eagles traded him for Norm Snead, after an injury-plagued 1963 season.
Jergensen was the backup to Norm Van Brocklin for four years, and didn't get a chance to start until 1961. He made up for the lost time by leading the NFL in passing yards in back-to-back seasons, in 1961 and 1962. His 1961 season was especially great, as he led the NFL with 235 completions for 3,723 yards and 32 touchdowns. Those 32 touchdown passes were a franchise record for 56 years, until Carson Wentz broke that record with 33 touchdown passes in 2017.
Jergensen finished his Eagles career with 9,639 yards passing, 76 touchdowns, and 73 interceptions.
Well, there you have it. The official list of the top-five quarterbacks in Philadelphia Eagles history. It might not be the most impressive list among NFL teams, but for a franchise that only won three NFL titles (pre-Super Bowl era) and one Super Bowl, this will do just fine.