What Ever Happened To These NFL Quarterbacks?
Flash in the pan? Shooting star? These NFL quarterbacks were a little bit of both. They entered the league with plenty of hype and left it largely forgotten in the minds of fans. Injuries, poor play, and some bad luck took their toll on first-round picks, college stars, and potential franchise quarterbacks. Here are some of those quarterbacks whose name triggers people to say, “Oh yeah, I do remember him! Wonder what he’s doing now?”
1. Joey Harrington
Despite being on the cover of a video game (NCAA Football 2003), Joey Harrington was never able to translate his college success to the professional level.
After leading an impressive four-year career at Oregon, where Harrington complied a 25-3 record (including bowl games), he declared for the NFL Draft.
He was taken third overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2002 NFL Draft, in what essentially marked the high point of his NFL career. According to Harrington, the four seasons he spent in Detroit were the worst of his life and made him resent football. Detroit certainly does have a way with people.
In total, Harrington lasted six unsuccessful years slinging the ball for three different teams, but his career after football has proven to be more triumphant. He opened a rather fancy sports bar that eventually went out of business, became a television personality locally and for Fox Sports, and is the founder of the Harrington Family Foundation, a non-profit geared towards alleviating the costs of higher education for students in Oregon.
2. Byron Leftwich
Byron Leftwich had a legendary career at Marshall and is fondly remembered for finishing a drive with a broken shin bone in a comeback bid against Akron. Injuries, however, would be a common theme that dogged the quarterback throughout his NFL tenure.
Leftwich was taken seventh overall in the 2003 NFL Draft by Jacksonville. He lasted four seasons there, but was never able to play a full season due to various injuries. Following his departure from the Jags, he bounced around to several teams, including Pittsburgh, where he won a Super Bowl ring as a backup in 2009.
After his playing days wrapped up, Leftwich found a more permanent home in Arizona, where he began his coaching career as a quarterback coach intern. One season later, he was hired on full-time for the same position.
The biggest test in his coaching career may have come as of April 26, 2018, when the Cardinals drafted Josh Rosen 10th overall. If Leftwich can guide the young quarterback to a successful starting role, he will more than likely garner serious consideration for head coaching position.
3. Jeff George
The man had a nasty arm and a nastier mullet. These two impressive forces, plus a decent college career, helped George become the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 NFL draft, when the Indianapolis Colts gambled on the gunslinger.
For a top overall pick, George’s NFL career was far from impressive. But he did manage to lead two separate teams into the playoffs. Despite flashes of success, George could never shake off his journeyman title – eight teams in 14 seasons — and only had four seasons where he started all 16 games.
Since calling it quits, George has made sporadic television appearances while keeping his once obnoxious personality in check. His son, Jeff George Jr., has followed in his footsteps and is a quarterback at the University of Michigan. And yes, he has a gnarly mullet to boot.
Despite never managing to live up to expectations, many people would consider George one of the purest passers in football history and a talent seldom seen before, albeit with a attitude bordering on cancerous.
4. Brady Quinn
One of the most hyped quarterbacks coming out of college, Brady Quinn’s NFL career never got off the ground. After leaving Notre Dame as one of the school’s most-decorated players in history, the Cleveland Browns elected to take the polished Quinn with the 22nd overall pick in 2007.
Quinn, however, would only last three seasons quarterbacking the Browns before moving on to four other teams. Throughout his seven-year career, Quinn never started more than nine games in a season and only threw for 12 touchdowns, compared with his 17 interceptions. His professional career was a drastic contrast from the success he found at the college level.
Outside of football, Quinn has turned things around. He’s married to Alicia Sacramone, an Olympic silver medalist in gymnastics, and is the founder of the 3rd and Goal foundation, a non-profit helping veterans find housing. When Quinn isn’t running his non-profit, he’s a television analyst on Fox.
5. Marc Bulger
Marc Bulger’s rise to NFL stardom was as remarkable as it was unexpected. He was drafted in the sixth round out of West Virginia by the Saints in 2000, but was waived before the season. He then signed with Atlanta as a practice squad player before being waived again. Finally, Bulger found a home in St. Louis, beginning as a practice squad player before being promoted to backup. Eventually, thanks to a rash of injuries, Bulger found his way into the starting lineup.
Bulger would retain the starting job and lead the Rams into the playoffs on two occasions while being named to two Pro Bowl teams. Bulger would also become the fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach 1,000 completions. His impressive numbers earned the former backup a new contract that made him the highest-paid player in Rams history.
Bulger, sadly, was never able to live up to his contract. Numerous injuries and changes to the coaching staff derailed his once-promising career. After nine years in St. Louis, Bulger signed for one year with Baltimore as a backup, never taking the field.
Since his retirement, Bulger has moved to Southeast Missouri, where he lives on a sprawling farm with his wife and children. He’s taken a liking to maintaining the farm on a day-to-day basis and founded the Marc Bulger Foundation, a non-profit that distributes money to organizations helping veterans and children alike.
6. David Garrard
David Garrard was one of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ only bright spots for a number of seasons. He captained the offense and was a Pro Bowler during the 2009 season. Drafted out of Eastern Carolina University in the fourth round in the 2002, Garrard’s time as a starter came in spurts, beginning his career as the backup to Byron Leftwich (more on him later). Although the circumstances weren’t ideal, only finding playing time due to injury, Garrard was often able to showcase his talents thanks to the injury-prone Leftwich missing chunks of playing time season after season.
Eventually, the starting job was given to Garrard. But he faced his own fair share of injuries playing behind an inept and decimated offensive line. The Jaguars, proving to be one of the NFL’s most incompetent franchises, selected Blaine Gabbert as Garrard’s successor in 2011. As you all know, this pick crashed and burned almost instantly.
The 2010 season would be Garrard’s last in the league; he signed with two different teams as a free-agent, but injuries prevented him from ever suiting up.
Post-retirement, Garrard hasn’t let the time off detract from his once-NFL ready body. He’s the proud owner of multiple Retro Fitness gyms and cites being a business owner as one of his greatest accomplishments. Garrard is also very active in raising awareness for Crohn’s disease, something he has battled his whole life. He’s seen as a mentor for children and professional athletes across America, including NBA player Larry Nance Jr.
7. Jason Campbell
The Washington Redskins have been a perennial dumpster fire representing the NFC East. They draft poorly, rotate coaches at an alarming rate, and are on the receiving end of criticism from many former players. So when the Redskins drafted Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell 25th overall in 2005, spirits were lifted. Management and fans thought they found their new franchise quarterback, a player who just led Auburn to a perfect season in of the SEC, capped with a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
Campbell, despite his best efforts, never managed to lead Washington to a winning record. A slew of coaching and personnel changes, combined with some unfortunate injuries, altered Campbell’s career in Washington. Campbell was traded to Oakland in 2010, where once again injuries would derail a promising season. After two seasons playing for the Black and Silver, Campbell moved to three teams in three years before hanging up his cleats once and for all.
Post retirement, Campbell has taken up golf and lives in Atlanta. As a side gig, he’s a quarterback coach for a local high school team. Among the solid advice Campbell can offer to the youngsters should be to avoid playing for Washington at all costs.
8. Kyle Orton
He’s one of those players that you grow into hating, and you grow into it very quickly. His odd neck-beard and strange haircuts never helped him out. Neither did his inability to show emotion and take over games. Yet somehow, this quarterback lasted in the league for 10 years and was a consistent starter for multiple teams.
Orton entered the league as a backup with the Chicago Bears in 2005, and got his chance to shine when starting quarterback Rex Grossman went down with an injury. Orton used this opportunity to jump-start his mediocre career. However, despite being a starter for numerous teams, Orton’s career never really amounted to anything significant.
When he did decide to wrap it up and retire, he did it in the most Kyle Orton way possible. He went into the locker room, grabbed some things, and, reportedly, told teammates he had a meeting to attend and would be back soon. Well, he never came back.
Since retirement, Orton has kept a low profile living in Baton Rouge with his wife and kids. The hilarious pictures of Orton getting wasted throughout college and the NFL have been replaced with family pictures, and the signature neck beard has been swapped for a clean-shaven look, but the peculiar Orton will forever remain one of the most frustrating quarterbacks in recent NFL history.
9. Jake Locker
Jake Locker’s NFL career should be called “The Hurt Locker,” for obvious reasons. The former eighth-overall pick in 2011 managed only four seasons in the NFL before injuries and a lack of passion took him away from the game he once loved.
Widely considered a top talent at the University of Washington, the husky Locker amazed scouts with his intangibles and potential. The Titans, still reeling from their disappointing pick in Vince Young in 2006, jumped all over Locker. However, Locker would only start 23 out of 64 possible games over four seasons. A combination of upper and lower body injuries prevented the former college star from every really developing at the professional level. Eventually, the pain wasn’t worth the paycheck. Locker retired from the game following the 2014 season.
Since his retirement, Locker has moved back to his home state of Washington and lives with his wife and children. He prefers the simple life, one without fans begging for autographs or cameras jammed in his face. Instead of throwing footballs, Locker spends his time hunting, handling animals on his farm, and being a good father.
Titans fans may wince when they think of what could have been. How they had to draft three quarterbacks in the top ten to find one that would pan out. But for Locker, stepping away from football has been a blessing in disguise.
10. Josh Freeman
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Josh Freeman 17th overall out of Kansas State in 2009, they envisioned a quarterback who would lead their squad deep into the playoffs. They envisioned that the 6-foot-6, 240-pound behemoth of a quarterback would strike fear into opposing defenses every Sunday. What they didn’t expect was a quarterback who would only last with the team five seasons and play in the league for a total of seven. They didn’t envision Freeman falling so far off the map that he’d wind up with the Brooklyn Bolts of the Fall Experimental Football League.
Midway through his fifth season in Tampa, Freeman was cut when the Bucs found zero suiters willing to trade for the former first rounder. He signed with the Vikings, playing in just one game. He then bounced around to the FXFL before signing with the Colts, also playing in just one game. That would mark the end of his NFL career.
Not much has been made about Freeman’s retirement other than he elected to hang up the cleats rather than play in the CFL, where he received a two-year offer from Montreal. As it stands today, Freeman is the Tampa Bay franchise leader for touchdowns thrown, which, barring a drastic turn of events, should soon belong to Jameis Winston.
11. Daunte Culpepper
Injuries, injuries, injuries. They are a common theme here and have the ability to instantly set back and alter a career. Some players get lucky and have a successful rehabilitation that allows them to return to a high level of playing. Other players aren’t so lucky. For Daunte Culpepper, he fell somewhere in between the two extremes, although he decidedly wasn’t the same player following a devastating knee injury.
The Vikings decided to take the UCF quarterback with the 11th pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. Culpepper, throwing to the great Randy Moss, would have some record-setting seasons as a Viking. He’d even be selected as the cover athlete for Madden 2002. However, with the honor of the Madden cover comes the Madden curse, and during the 2002 season Culpepper would see a drastic decline in his performance. During the 2005 season, the ever-present curse decided to make an unannounced appearance once more. Culpepper’s knee was shredded following a tackle by Chris Gamble, forcing the QB to miss the rest of the season.
After that injury, Culpepper would struggle to return to form and never played more than six games in a season again. He suffered numerous injury setbacks and often found himself at odds with management and coaches.
In an attempt to comeback to football, Culpepper signed with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL. Despite Daunte’s best efforts, this comeback bid fell short and no NFL teams extended a hand.
Retirement hasn’t, it seems, been so easy on Culpepper. He was forced to surrender one of his South Florida mansions in a foreclosure agreement and saw his eponymous restaurant in Florida close down.
12. Tim Couch
When the Browns re-entered the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, they were given the first pick in the NFL Draft. With it, they decided to address the quarterback position by selecting University of Kentucky product Tim Couch.
Couch is widely considered to be a massive bust, but the legitimacy of this claim can be questioned. He never had solid weapons around him, he was drafted to an expansion team that was building from scratch, and his offensive line was more porous than sandstone – a notoriously porous rock that arguably would have done a better job at blocking than his line.
Injuries played a huge role in Couch only lasting five years in the league. Out of those five years, Couch only had one season where he threw more touchdowns than interceptions.
Couch did make numerous comeback attempts with several teams but failed to make it out of the preseason.
Like many retired players, Couch has taken up announcing. He’s called SEC games and recently signed up to announce Browns preseason games. However the former first pick – the pick intended to bring the Browns back into relevancy – does at announcing, he’ll receive unwavering support from his Playboy-model wife Heather Kozar.
13. Rex Grossman
When the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI, many people were gushing over Peyton Manning following his first Super Bowl victory. And a whole other group of people – mostly Chicago fans — detested the game for sloppy, rain-infused play and Bears QB Rex Grossman’s performance, including throwing a game-sealing interception.
Grossman played six seasons for the Bears, only managing to play the full 16 games once. For his durability issues, he was given the name Rex Glassman. When the Bears finally decided to move on from their first-round project, Rex was a broken shell of himself. He signed with the Texans for one year and moved on to Washington after. As a Redskin, Grossman spent three out of the four seasons primarily as a backup and mentor, helping the likes of Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III.
Now that Rex is no longer in the league heaving the ball downfield to whoever is willing to catch it, he decided to occupy his time in the business world, founding Florida Medical Staffing, a corporation that assists traveling nurses who wish to find employment in Florida. Not sure how Rex ended up in this field, but so far he seems quite successful at it. Hopefully none of the nurses get intercepted on the way to their new jobs.
14. Jeff Garcia
Twelve seasons in the league, four Pro Bowls, and four playoff appearances. That’s not a bad resume, and for Jeff Garcia, these accolades make him one of the more accomplished players on this list.
Most people remember Garcia for his time with the San Francisco 49ers, where he started for five seasons. Prior to his time in the Bay, Garcia was making a name for himself in the CFL, proving to NFL scouts that he had the talent and arm to succeed.
Garcia’s time in San Fran was marked by both success and turmoil with star receiver Terrell Owens. One of Owens’ most famous remarks about Garcia’s sexuality was, “If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly it is a rat.” A statement like that succinctly reflects the type of relationship Owens had with QBs — sour, at best.
Garcia eventually left the 49ers before bouncing around to multiple teams, battling injuries while competing for the starting job. He did, however, find relative stability in Tampa Bay where he was selected to his fourth and final Pro Bowl while leading the Bucs to the playoffs.
Retirement, it seems, has been pretty good for Garcia. He is married to former Playboy Playmate of the Year Carmella DeCesare and manages, like many other athletes, a non-profit. He’s also been probing his way into the coaching scene, with stints in the CFL and as a personal QB coach for a few notable QBs, including Tyrod Taylor and Mark Sanchez.
15. Christian Ponder
The 12th pick in the draft should, ideally, last longer than four seasons with the team. The player, in theory, should have multiple seasons starting all 16 games. Well, for the Vikings and Christian Ponder, these hypotheticals never translated to reality.
An over-hyped quarterback coming out of Florida State in 2011, Ponder was pegged as the man who would right the Vikings’ ship. The problem was, he came into the league as a member of the notoriously weak draft, from a quarterback standpoint. Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Ponder all were featured in this draft, in the first round no less, and all of them struggled mightily.
When Ponder did take over for the Vikings, he showed flashes of huge potential. He set rookie records and garnered the respect of his teammates. Yet, as Ponder began to fully hit his stride, the injury bug promptly reared its ugly head. After his sophomore campaign, Ponder would never start more than nine games and was relegated to a backup position.
He would leave Minnesota and sign as a backup for two other teams before unofficially retiring from the league. His lack of arm strength and injuries have rendered the former first-rounder relatively useless.
However, not everything is so bad for Ponder. He married ESPN reporter Samantha Steele, and the couple has two children.
16. David Carr
The Raiders have a real star in quarterback Derek Carr, but before his name was ever even appeared on NFL scouts’ radar, there was his older brother, David Carr.
Coming out of Fresno State (like his younger brother), Carr was a hot commodity
Expectations of Carr were sky high entering the 2002 NFL Draft. The NFL’s brand new expansion team, the Houston Texans, used the No. 1 overall pick to select their quarterback of the future in Carr.
The Texans kicked off their first game in franchise history with a bang, taking down their fellow Texas team, the Dallas Cowboys, 19-10 at home.
That was about as good as it got for Carr’s rookie season, as the Texans finished 4-12.
The most telling sign of his career to come was a rough stat. Carr was sacked an NFL record 79 times his rookie season! He would go on to endure two more league-leading seasons in the sack department, which is definitely a record no one would ever be jealous of.
One highlight for Carr’s NFL career came on the sideline as the New York Giants backup QB when the G-Men took down the Patriots to win Super Bowl XLVI.
17. Jon Kitna
It wasn’t always pretty – sometimes it was downright ugly – but quarterback Jon Kitna endured quite a long NFL career.
Part of what made Kitna’s NFL journey so unique was that, coming out of Central Washington, he went undrafted in 1996.
After making the Seattle Seahawks practice squad and earning MVP honors in the NFL Europe, Kitna slowly worked his way up from backup to a starting role by 1999. Not only did Kitna work his way up from undrafted to starter, he finished the season with a winning record.
There have also been some tough lows — most notably the four games he started in 2008 as a member of the woeful Detroit Lions that finished the season 0-16.
Nonetheless, Kitna endured the test of time, as he always seemed to bounce from a backup to starting role in his 14-year career.
Kitna finally hung up the cleats in 2011, but that didn’t mark the end of his football career. Far from it.
The former quarterback returned home to Tacoma, Wash., where he took up a head coaching job at Lincoln High School. After three years, Kitna took up a head coaching job at Waxahachie High School in Texas before taking a coaching job at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix AZ.
18. Chad Pennington
Oh, what could have been.
Chad Pennington was an outstanding quarterback and all-around athlete who simply couldn’t do one critical thing – stay healthy.
From 2000-08, Pennington flashed signs of greatness with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, but that’s all we ever got.
Pennington first took over as the Jets starting quarterback in 2002, turning around a 1-4 team to 9-7 and leading them into the playoffs. The following season, Pennington suffered a rotator cuff injury, which required surgery twice, as it was re-injured the following season.
A phenomenal 2006 return earned Pennington the Comeback Player of the Year. After a rough 2007 outing, Pennington signed with the Dolphins and passed for a sensational 67.4 completion percentage, putting him in the MVP discussion and earning him the NFL’s only second-time Comeback Player of the Year award.
Fast forward through more injuries, another shoulder surgery, then a torn ACL (off-field in a game of pickup basketball) and Pennington decided it was time to give his body a rest.
Since retiring, Pennington settled down in Kentucky where he coached a middle school football team before taking helping restart a high school football program in Lexington, at the Sayre School in 2018.
19. Jared Lorenzen
The Hefty Lefty. Jared Lorenzen is one of the largest quarterbacks in NFL history. He looked more like a center than the guy receiving snaps from the center.
Lorenzen dominated at Kentucky and broke numerous school records, but when the time came to jump to the professional level, the 330-pound left-hander wasn’t able to find success. Although he won a Super Bowl as a backup to Eli Manning, he completed only four total passes in his career. Lorenzen then left the NFL and tried to rejuvenate his career in semi-pro leagues before officially retiring in 2013.
After retiring, Lorenzen’s weight ballooned up to an even unhealthier 500-pounds. It was at this point that Lorenzen realized he needed to change something before his weight consumed his life altogether. He launched a fitness program and documented his journey towards weight loss in The Jared Lorenzen Project. Since its inception, Lorenzen has shed over 100 pounds and is looking to inspire and educate the youth on healthy eating habits.
20. Vinny Testaverde
When talking about tough guys, Vinny Testaverde is a true iron man. After an incredible college career with the Miami Hurricanes, Testaverde was selected No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1987 NFL Draft, kicking off a professional career that defied time.
Testaverde played for seven teams spanning an unfathomable 21 years! It wasn’t until his 10th year in the league at 33 years old that the veteran QB earned his first Pro Bowl selection during his first year with the Baltimore Ravens.
Two years after his first Pro Bowl, Testaverde earned a second selection during his first year with the New York Jets in 1998, leading Gang Green to the AFC Championship game.
Fast forward to 2007 when Testaverde played his final season with the Carolina Panthers, taking the reins from an injured Jake Delhomme at the jaw-dropping age of 44.
Following his retirement, Testaverde settled down in Florida where his football career first took off. Testaverde took up a coaching job at Tampa’s Jesuit High School football where his son, Vincent, played through 2013.
Aside from that, it seems Testaverde has enjoyed staying out of the limelight after spending over two decades in it.