The Patriots will enter the 2020 NFL season in unfamiliar territory, with no known commodity at quarterback — Jarrett Stidham is expected to compete with veteran Brian Hoyer — following the departure of Tom Brady. While there is still plenty of time for Bill Belichick to shore up that hole in the coming weeks and months, there are lessons to be learned from what happened to teams when a Hall of Fame quarterback walked out the door due to trade, retirement or free agency.
What can be learned from said situations? To find out, BSJ did a deep dive into the swan song of Hall of Fame quarterbacks with their primary franchise over the past 30 years. How did it end? Why did it end? What came next? And are there any comparable situations to what the 2020 Patriots face right now? Let’s take a snapshot of each situation before honing in on any lessons that can be useful for the present.
NO GOOD REPLACEMENT PLAN
Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys
Final year: 2000 (4-7 record in 11 games, Cowboys went 5-11 on the season)
Stats in final season: 7 TD, 14 ints, 1,632 yards, 64.3 QB Rating (second lowest of career)
Analysis: Hadn’t been a Pro Bowl QB since 1996, retired after 2000. Not much to say here. The Cowboys were a bad team and Aikman was no longer a good quarterback at the tail end of his career thanks to his age and a long history of concussions. There was no clear heir apparent in place during his final seasons in Dallas as 37-year-old Randall Cunningham was Aikman's backup and an undrafted rookie Anthony Wright was the third-string QB.
Cowboys in 2001 post-Aikman: 5-11
QB situation: Four different starting QBs (Quincy Carter (primary), Anthony Wright*, Clint Stoerner*, Ryan Leaf)
Analysis: There isn’t a lot to be learned here that relates to the current Pats situation. The Cowboys were bad with and without Aikman as he hadn’t been a Pro Bowl QB since 1996. Tony Banks, who had starting experience with the Super Bowl champs in 2000 (Ravens) was signed in the summer but released before the regular season even began. Instead, Quincy Carter who was drafted to be a potential Aikman replacement in 2001 in the second-round was thrown into the fire as a rookie. He largely failed, starting just eight games due to injuries as a rotating cast of underwhelming replacements filled in including Wright and Leaf in his final chance at redemption. Carter remained QB for a couple more miserable seasons in the early 2000s before Bill Parcells came aboard and cleaned house by bringing in Drew Bledsoe, Drew Hanson and Vinny Testaverde.
Warren Moon, Houston Oilers
Final year with Oilers: 1993 (12-4)
Stats in final season: 21 TDs, 21 INTs, 3,485 yards in 14 starts, leading a top-5 offense
Analysis: Moon was the top dog of a run-and-shoot Oilers offense that pulled off 11 straight wins to close the regular season after a miserable start. The whole season was full of drama from the start as owner Bud Adams threatened to break up the team if they didn't make it to the Super Bowl, coordinators Kevin Gilbride and Buddy Ryan constantly clashed and an Oilers defensive player was fined for missing a game to be at the birth of his child, creating a firestorm of criticism. Moon and Houston overcame the drama during the regular season but were upset at the Astrodome by another Hall of Fame quarterback (Joe Montana) and the Chiefs during the divisional round 28-20.
Oilers in 1994 post-Moon: 2-14
QB situation: Career backup Cody Carlson took over, Bucky Richardson, Billy Joe Tolliver also got starts in a miserable season after Carlson got injured.
Analysis: Moon was traded to Minnesota as the Oilers owner followed up on his promise to break up this Houston team if they didn’t make the Super Bowl in 1993. The implementation of a salary cap in the NFL was the explanation for the move according to Adams. The loss of Moon and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan (left to coach Cardinals) turned a top contender into one of the NFL's worst teams in a disastrous season as no one could run the high-octane offense like Moon. Carlson had previously had some success as Moon's backup over the past six years in spot starts (10-4) while Moon was out. However, the 31-year-old was not ready for the main gig once Moon was gone, posting a 1–4 record and 44.7 completion percentage before he suffered an injury and missed the remainder of the 1994 season. He retired after the season and veteran journeyman Chris Chandler took over in 1995, allowing them time to groom Steve McNair (taken at No. 3 in 1995) before getting the starting gig in the late 1990s and leading the Titans to success.
FINDING AN UNDER-THE-RADAR VETERAN QB
Steve Young: (49ers)
Final year: 1999 (2-1 record, 49ers finish 4-12)
Stats in final season: 3 TD, 4 INT, 60.9 QBR (three games),
Analysis: A tough hit on Monday Night Football ended his season due to a concussion. Rookie Jeff Garcia (a CFL veteran) took over for the rest of the year and was solid for a rookie (77.9 QB rating) on a bad Niners team. Young was released and then retired after season despite having offers to play from multiple teams.