The complete history of Black NFL starting quarterbacks — ranked by franchise

***February 5, 2023 NOTE***

In light of the upcoming Super Bowl LVII becoming the first Super Bowl with two starting Black quarterbacks, I have updated the numbers for the entire 2022 season, with Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts updated through the conference championship games. Super Bowl LVII will give the Eagles 378 games (regular season and playoffs) started by a Black quarterback, and Kansas City 95 games.

IMPORTANT: This is a living document that is now going on three years old. As such, it’s not meant to be read straight through, and there are elements that are outdated, typically labeled as “2021 update,” “2022 update,” etc. I’ll update more this offseason but I wanted to get the numbers up for the Super Bowl. If you see something that looks off, it just might not be updated yet.

What IS updated is the list below (marked “The List”) through the 2022 conference championship weekend. All team sections are updated by numbers of starts but not percentages or other things like that. If you are a journalist or other member of the media and you have a question for me about the numbers, DM me @readjack or email at

***September 7, 2022 NOTE***

This article is about the numbers. Strip away the thousands of words below, and as I lay out in the introduction, the reason I started researching this in 2019 and published it in 2020 was to see the numbers — the team-by-team data around Black starting quarterbacks in the NFL. If you want to just explore the numbers, my spreadsheet is here, and I’ve added the list of teams in order, placed above the team-by-team writeups.

The spreadsheet is now updated with starts data through the 2021 season. As I noted a year ago, I suspect that the spreadsheet still has small errors here and there. I’m a team of one on this, manually pulling information into my spreadsheet from Pro Football Reference and checking it against newspaper reporting and other sources here and there.

I won’t be updating data through the season on any consistent schedule, so as always, if you want to use this piece as a source at any point in the 2022 season and need updated figures, please reach out to me at or DM me on Twitter. Thank you!

I started this project in 2019 to put numbers to the feeling that many Bears fans had that the franchise did not want a Black franchise quarterback. But over the course of this project, the Bears have actually been one of the NFL’s more progressive franchises with regards to race. Toward the end of that list are the Dolphins, Broncos and Giants, the named defendants in coach Brian Flores’s historic 2022 discrimination lawsuit

Flores’s suit is the latest puncture to the myth that just because talent is winning out for Black QBs on the field does not necessarily mean that NFL owners have turned a collective corner with regards to a century-worth of racist policies and personnel decisions. The Flores suit shined a light on racism in NFL coaching while, at the same time, more information and legal fallout around the NFL’s use of “race-norming” in its concussion settlement continued to build.

To me, those events — along with continued problematic scouting, as summarized by Bill Polian’s claim that Lamar Jackson should switch positions to wide receiver — are the reason why simply studying the basic data around Black quarterbacks remains important in 2022 even though on the surface, Black QBs today don’t appear to face the same levels of prejudice and restrictions as did their predecessors. This article is the continued, evolving study of these questions.

Lastly, rest in peace to Marlin Briscoe and Dwayne Haskins.



***April 30, 2021 NOTE***

I was already working to update this post, and planned to release new numbers after the draft. In light of the Bears selecting Justin Fields in the 1st round, I ran through my spreadsheet and updated everything there.

I will still update this overall story, but if you’re a journalist, radio/pod host, blogger, whatever, and you’re using this as a source, feel free to email me at or DM me on Twitter, but this spreadsheet is up to date. Thank you!





This all started last November, when a pair of Bears-related news stories intersected and sent me down a rabbit hole.

The first came Nov. 12, when Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer of the Tribune did a deep dive on Ryan Pace’s decision to draft Mitch Trubisky in 2017 over both Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, including the unsettling details that Pace and co. never met Watson for a private workout or dinner, and that they drafted Trubisky in part because Pace — who came from the Saints — was looking for “the next Drew Brees.”

The second came four days later, when Colin Kaepernick held a workout for all 32 teams, with only a handful sending representatives, seemingly not the Bears.

The Bears were 4-5 at the time, and would drop to 4-6 shortly after, with Trubisky struggling the year after what seemed like his breakout season. Trubisky’s struggles combined with the great play of Mahomes and Watson combined with the Tribune story combined with the Kaepernick workout led to a lot of conversation about the Bears’ quarterback decisions (what else is new).

But among many Black Bears fans, and plenty of white ones too, these events brought more debates on whether the Bears organization fundamentally did not want a Black quarterback to lead the franchise. I was involved in plenty of these debates, and had wondered about this myself, since the team has only had one long-term Black starting QB in my conscious fan life, Kordell Stewart in 2003, and only two in the franchise’s history, with Vince Evans the other.

As a result of this question, I wanted to see what the numbers said. This article is the results of that search.


To track this data, I started with Greg Howard’s invaluable two-part series on Deadspin in 2014, “The Big Book of Black Quarterbacks.” I wrote down all of those names, and then used Pro Football Reference to check their starts. I also followed a lot of the exemplary work from The Undefeated, including its 2017 story on the first Black starting QB per franchise.

(And though I did not use it in my research, I highly recommend this Football Outsiders from February called “The 100-Year History of Black Quarterbacks in the NFL.”)

For my list, I made George Taliaferro on the 1953 Colts the starting point of what constitutes a quarterback. 1950 was the year when the NFL changed its substitution rules, ending the era of the automatic two-way player and creating specialty around the quarterback position.

1953 was also the year that the Bears signed Michigan State’s Willie Thrower, who is credited as the first Black traditional QB in the league.

Once I had my list, I counted starts in both the regular season and playoffs. I also tabulated each franchise’s percentage of games that a Black quarterback started out of total games in franchise history, albeit starting in 1953.

I also looked at how each team has drafted quarterbacks in the first four rounds since 1995; the first four rounds, because you draft a QB that high, he’s your future starter. (I’ll explain the 1995 cutoff very soon, in the Titans/Oilers section.)

Lastly, if you’re interested, here is my spreadsheet. It’s not really made for public consumption — this is more a “peak behind the curtain” scenario. I will be updating it periodically, and there are also tabs that are very much works in progress. As such, if you want to cite it in a tweet, article, wherever, check with me first at, or hit me on Twitter.

Enough chatter. On the 100-year anniversary of the meeting that launched the NFL, and in the season when a record 10 Black quarterbacks started in Week 1, here are the results.

(Note: As of 9/7/22, numbers are through the conclusion of the 2021 season. Quarterbacks in all caps under each team’s profile added starts in 2021.)

THE LIST, entering Super Bowl LVII:

  1. Eagles — 377 games (350 regular season / 27 playoffs) — 2022 starts: Jalen Hurts (15 regular, 2 playoffs pre-SB LVII)
  2. Titans/Oilers — 341 games (322/19) — 2022 starts: Malik Willis (3), Joshua Dobbs (2)
  3. Seahawks — 247 games (230/17) — 2022 starts: Geno Smith (17 regular, 1 playoffs) [passed Buccaneers]
  4. Buccaneers — 234 games (224/10)
  5. Vikings — 213 games (201/12)
  6. Panthers — 173 games (166/7) — 2022 starts: Phillip “P.J.” Walker (5)
  7. Ravens — 148 games (141/7) — 2022 starts: Lamar Jackson (12), Tyler Huntley (4 regular, 1 playoffs), Anthony Brown (1) [passed Cowboys, tied Washington]
  8. Commanders — 148 games (144/4)
  9. Cowboys — 144 games (138/6) — 2022 starts: Dak Prescott (12 regular, 1 playoffs)
  10. Jaguars — 127 games (124/3)
  11. Saints — 111 games (109/2) — 2022 starts: Jameis Winston (3) [passed Lions]
  12. Lions — 109 games (109/0)
  13. Steelers — 102 games (98/4)
  14. Kansas City — 94 games (81/13) — 2022 starts: Patrick Mahomes (17 regular, 2 playoffs pre-SB LVII) [passed Bengals]
  15. Bengals — 83 games (83/0)
  16. Falcons — 77 games (73/4) — 2022 starts: Desmond Ridder (4) [passed Raiders]
  17. Raiders — 75 games (75/0)
  18. Rams — 74 games (71/3) — 2022 starts: Bryce Perkins (1)
  19. 49ers — 74 games (68/6) — 2022 starts: Trey Lance (2) [tied Rams]
  20. Cardinals — 73 games (72/1) — 2022 starts: Kyler Murray (11) [passed Bills, Texans]
  21. Bills — 68 games (67/1)
  22. Bears — 66 games (66/0) — 2022 starts: Justin Fields (15) [passed Texans]
  23. Texans — 65 games (62/3)
  24. Browns — 61 games (61/0) — 2022 starts: Jacoby Brissett (11), Deshaun Watson (6) [passed Jets]
  25. Jets — 46 games (46/0)
  26. Broncos — 36 games (36/0) — 2022 starts: Russell Wilson (15) [passed Colts, Dolphins]
  27. Colts — 34 games (34/0)
  28. Dolphins — 25 games (25/0) — 2022 starts: Teddy Bridgewater (2)
  29. Patriots — 17 games (17/0)
  30. Chargers — 12 games (12/0)
  31. Packers — 11 games (11/0)
  32. Giants — 1 game (1/0)

Philadelphia Eagles – 377 games (pre-Super Bowl LVII)

Donovan McNabb started 158 games for the Eagles, including a 9-7 record in the playoffs and a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1933
  • First Black starting QB: 1985 (Randall Cunningham)
  • Most starts: Donovan McNabb, 158
  • Percentage of franchise games 1953-2021: 33.5% (3rd in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 6 (5 playoffs)
    • Donovan McNabb: 158 starts (9-7 playoffs, 1x SB, 5x NFC title game)
    • Randall Cunningham: 112 starts (1-4 playoffs)
    • Michael Vick: 41 starts (0-1 playoff record)
    • JALEN HURTS: 37 starts (2-1 playoff record, pre-Super Bowl LVII)
    • Rodney Peete: 26 starts (1-1 playoff record)
    • Vince Young: 3 starts
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 2 (McNabb)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 8 (McNabb, Hurts)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: One question I am interested to answer is why certain franchises embrace Black quarterbacks more than others. I think it’s a combination of reasons, but two big ones seem to be:

  • Key people in the organization who pursue Black quarterbacks. Based on the numbers, and what I’ve seen throughout my life, once an organization has success with a Black quarterback, it seems to be more open to acquiring another in a high profile manner.
  • Organizational comfort with Black quarterbacks following one successful Black quarterback.

Both of those factors seem to be in play the Eagles, who had great success with Randall Cunningham, and three years after he was gone, spent the #2 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft on Donovan McNabb.

Randall Cunningham changed the game, reaching three Pro Bowls in Philadelphia and winning the 1990 Bert Bell Award in both 1988 and 1990 — and again in 1998 with the Vikings. (Photo source)

All told, McNabb and Cunningham combined for 270 starts for the Eagles, with 11 trips to the playoffs, one Super Bowl appearance and nine Pro Bowl selections.

Yet the Eagles also had Black QBs down the depth chart. Don McPherson and then Rodney Peete backed up Cunningham, Michael Vick backed up McNabb, and then Vince Young backed up Vick. Most recently, in 2020, the Eagles used a 2nd round pick on Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts.

As for a key person? Andy Reid was Philly’s coach when the team drafted McNabb; he brought in both Vick and Young; and when he went to Kansas City, he drafted Patrick Mahomes in the 1st round, just the second Black QB in that franchise’s history (after Warren Moon), and the first full-time starter.

UPDATE 2022: After backing up Carson Wentz for much of his rookie year, Jalen Hurts took over the starting job in Philly last year, amassing an 8-7 record as a starter and leading the Eagles back to the playoffs. Hurts’s playoff start made him the 5th Black QB to start a playoff game for the Eagles, the second highest total after six on the Vikings.

UPDATE 2/5/23: The Eagles are back in the Super Bowl for the second time in five years, led by Jalen Hurts.

Tennessee Titans / Houston Oilers – 341 games

Warren Moon spent the bulk of his Hall of Fame career leading the Oilers, taking them to nine postseasons between 1987 and 1993, and winning the 1990 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1960
  • First Black starting QB: 1984 (Warren Moon)
  • Most starts: Warren Moon, 148
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 34.0% (2nd in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 5 (3 playoffs)
    • Warren Moon: 148 starts (3-6 playoffs)
    • Steve McNair: 140 starts (5-4 playoffs, 1x SB, 2x AFC title games)
    • Vince Young: 48 starts (0-1 playoffs)
    • MALIK WILLIS: 3 starts
    • JOSHUA DOBBS: 2 starts
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 2 of 4 (McNair, Young)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 5 (McNair, Young, Willis)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: The Oilers and Titans have a similar story to the one I just laid out with the Eagles. Two years after Warren Moon’s great run with the Oilers came to an end, the franchise spent the #3 overall pick in the 1995 draft on Alcorn State’s Steve McNair.

This to me was a major turning point among Black quarterbacks in the NFL — just the year before, Charlie Ward went undrafted despite winning the Heisman and leading Florida State to the national championship.

Steve McNair was a winner, pure and simple, with a dynamite Super Bowl performance that came up, literally, just short. (Photo source)

With McNair at the helm, the Titans reached Super Bowl XXXIV, famously coming up one yard short in a 23-16 loss to the Rams. McNair’s performance that day is one of my favorites in NFL history, including the miraculous play he made one snap BEFORE the last paly of the game. All told, the Titans went 76-55 with McNair under center, reaching the playoffs four times and getting back to the AFC championship game in 2002. McNair followed that up by earning co-MVP honors in 2003 (tied with Peyton Manning at his peak), making him the first Black quarterback to win NFL MVP.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 234 games

Drafted by the Bucs in the 1st round of the ’78 draft, Doug Williams led the franchise to its first playoff berth, going 10-6 in 1979 and guiding Tampa to the NFC championship game. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1976
  • First Black starting QB: 1976 (Parnell Dickinson)
  • Most starts: Doug Williams, 71
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 31.4% (4th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 7 (2 playoffs)
    • Doug Williams, 71 (1-3 playoffs, 1x NFC title game)
    • Jamies Winston, 70
    • Josh Freeman, 59
    • Shaun King, 25 (1-2 playoffs, 1x NFC title game)
    • Josh Johnson, 5
    • Byron Leftwich, 3
    • Parnell Dickinson, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 2 of 2 (Freeman, Winston)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 3 of 5 (Freeman, Winston, King)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: I said earlier that one of the keys to a franchise embracing Black QBs is having someone in the organization pushing for them. One of these crucial gatekeepers was Joe Gibbs. As Tampa Bay offensive coordinator in 1978, Gibbs was instrumental in convincing the Bucs to spend their 1st round pick on Grambling quarterback Doug Williamsthe first Black QB selected with a 1st round pick.

In 1986, Gibbs was in his 6th season as head coach of Washington, while Williams had been out of the NFL since 1982, playing in the USFL. Gibbs brought Williams to D.C., and the next year the two men won Super Bowl XXII together.

Because of that win, Williams’ time in Tampa tends to be overlooked, but he was as good as advertised. Founded in 1976, the Bucs went 0-14 in year 1 and 2-12 in year 2; Williams went 4-6 as a starter in his rookie year of 1978, and led the Bucs to a 10-6 record in 1979, winning the division and reaching the NFC championship game.

The Bucs did not reach another NFC championship game for 20 years, and did so with another Black quarterback: rookie Shaun King of Tulane, who the team selected early in the 2nd round of a draft defined by Black QBs. Sixteen years later, the 2-14 Buccaneers spent the #1 overall pick on a Black quarterback: Jameis Winston of Florida State.

Seattle Seahawks — 247 games (Passed in 2022: Buccaneers)

Russell Wilson celebrates winning Super Bowl XLVII. In eight years with Wilson starting at QB, the Seahawks have only missed the playoffs once. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1976
  • First Black starting QB: 1997 (Warren Moon)
  • Most starts: Russell Wilson, 174
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 30.1% (5th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 5 (2 playoffs)
    • RUSSELL WILSON, 174 (9-7 playoffs, 1x champ, 2x SB, 2x NFC title game)
    • Warren Moon, 24
    • GENO SMITH: 21 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Tarvaris Jackson, 14
    • Seneca Wallace, 14
  • Black QBs, 1st round: no QBs selected in the 1st round
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 4 (Wallace, Wilson)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: Warren Moon was the first Black quarterback for four franchises: Oilers/Titans, Vikings, Seahawks, Chiefs. He came to Seattle in 1997 — and again, just trying to piece together any sort of decision-maker trends, Randy Mueller was VP of football operations, and then became GM of the Saints in 2000 when the team acquired both Jeff Blake and Aaron Brooks.

When Moon was leading the Seahawks, the franchise’s most successful QB to that point was Dave Krieg. Today, it is undoubtedly Russell Wilson, a 3rd round pick in 2012 who has played in and started every game of his career. The Seahawks have reached the playoffs in seven of Wilson’s eight, with two Super Bowl appearances and one win. Wilson has been named to seven Pro Bowls and has led the league in both passer rating and touchdown passes.

Wilson will almost certainly reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a distinction currently only held by one Black quarterback: Warren Moon.

UPDATE 2022: When a contract dispute in the 2021 offseason nearly ended with the Seahawks trading Russell Wilson to the Bears, Seattle fans knew the end was likely near for their time with the greatest quarterback in franchise history. And in a taste of things to come, Seahawks fans got a glimpse of life without Russ when Wilson missed the first games of his career due to a fractured on his throwing hand.

He still managed to start 14 games, with a 6-8 record as a starter, and on March 16, 2022, Seattle traded their franchise quarterback to the Broncos. At the top of their depth chart for 2022 is Geno Smith, who in 2021 went 1-2 in Wilson’s absence.

Minnesota Vikings — 213 games

Daunte Culpepper started 84 games for the Vikings, leading them to the NFC championship game in 2000 and leading the NFL in passing yards in 2004. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1961
  • First Black starting QB: 1994 (Warren Moon)
  • Most starts: Daunte Culpepper, 84
  • Percentage of franchise games: 21.6% (8th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 9 (6 playoffs)
    • Daunte Culpepper, 84 (2-2 playoffs, 1x NFC title game)
    • Warren Moon, 40 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Teddy Bridgewater, 29 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Randall Cunningham, 27 (2-2 playoffs, 1x NFC title game)
    • Tarvaris Jackson, 21 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Donovan McNabb, 6
    • Joe Webb, 3 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Spergon Wynn, 2
    • Josh Freeman, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 2 of 3 (Culpepper, Bridgewater)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 3 of 4 (Culpepper, Bridgewater, Jackson)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: The Vikings have a bizarre QB history. In 33 seasons starting in 1987, the team has reached the playoffs 18 times with 15 different starting quarterbacks. Six of those have been Black: Moon in ’94, Cunningham in ’97 and ’98, Daunte Culpepper in 2000 and 2004, Tarvaris Jackson in ’08, Joe Webb subbing for the injured Christian Ponder in 2012 and Teddy Bridgewater in 2015.

That makes the Vikings the NFL leader in Black QBs who have started a playoff game, a record they would still hold even without the Ponder/Webb switch.

Certainly one of the key gatekeepers in Minnesota for much of that run was Dennis Green, head coach from 1992 to 2001, and GM his final two years with the Vikings. As I’ve said, I would be very interested to chart the decision-makers in these franchises and learn more about why certain teams gravitate more to Black QBs than others.

Carolina Panthers — 173 games

2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton celebrates winning the NFC championship game. (Photo by Grant Halverson / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1995
  • First Black starting QB: 2002 (Rodney Peete)
  • Most starts: Cam Newton, 136
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 37.3% (1st in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 4 (1 playoffs)
    • CAM NEWTON, 136 (3-4 playoffs, 1x MVP, 1x SB, 1x NFC title game)
    • Rodney Peete, 15
    • Teddy Bridgewater, 15
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 2 (Newton)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 7 (Newton, Corral)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: The Panthers have had just two Black starting QBs since launching in 1995, but if I’m right on the power of comfort, Cam Newton’s success has changed this franchise. Its starting QB for 2020: Teddy Bridgewater.

UPDATE 2021: With Cam Newton in New England, the Panthers spent the 2020 season primarily with Teddy Bridgewater, who started 15 of 16 games. Phillip Walker started the one game in place of Bridgewater, who is on the Broncos for the 2021 season. Walker remains in Carolina, backing up Jets castoff Sam Darnold.

UPDATE 2022: Cam Newton’s Carolina exodus ended up being just one season. Following a productive but ultimately unsuccessful stint on the Patriots, the Panthers’ legend returned to his roots in November of 2021, throwing a touchdown in relief in his first game and making his first start of the season the following week. Cam started five games for Carolina, with the Panthers losing all five.

Phillip “P.J.” Walker also started a game for Carolina in 2021. He opens the 2022 season backing up new starter Baker Mayfield. As of this writing, Cam Newton remains a free agent.

Washington Commanders — 148 games

Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams set a then-Super Bowl record with 340 yards passing, and tied the then-record for passing touchdowns in one Super Bowl with four. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1932
  • First Black starting QB: 1987 (Doug Williams)
  • Most starts: Jason Campbell, 52
  • Percentage of franchise games since 1953: 13.9% (10th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 7 (2 playoffs)
    • Jason Campbell, 52
    • Robert Griffin III, 36 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Doug Williams, 17 (3-0 playoffs, 1x champ, 1x SB MVP)
    • Tony Banks, 14
    • Dwayne Haskins, 13
    • Donovan McNabb, 13
    • Josh Johnson, 3
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 3 of 4 (Campbell, Griffin, Haskins)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 3 of 6 (Campbell, Griffin, Haskins)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: In a league with a racist history — and a racist present — the Washington Football Team stands out.

Until this year, the organization had the most racist nickname in pro sports. Their team founder, George Preston Marshall, was such a P.O.S. that even his own franchise had to remove his presence from the stadium this year as part of its internal reckoning — a move his own granddaughter supported. Marshall played a central role in the league’s 12-year ban on black players in the 1930s and 40s, and dragged his feet for over a decade before becoming the final team in the NFL with a Black player.

But there are two areas around race where the franchise has been a leader. One is new: hiring Jason Wright last month as the first ever Black NFL team president. The other is ongoing: since 1987, Washington has had seven Black starting quarterbacks for a total of 142 games and counting. The team’s current QB, Dwyane Haskins, was the third Black QB the team has taken with a 1st round pick since 1995 — the most in the league.

Washington also was, famously, the first franchise to reach the Super Bowl with a Black QB, doing so with Doug Williams, who torched Denver for 340 yards and four touchdowns to earn MVP honors. His head coach, and the man who brought him out of football exile and back to the NFL: his offensive coordinator from his first NFL stop, Joe Gibbs.

UPDATE 2021: Haskins started the first four games for Washington, with the team going 1-3, and then demoting him all the way from starter to third string. He started two more games down the stretch — both losses — and was released before the end of the season, signing with the Steelers in January.

Dallas Cowboys — 144 games

Dak Prescott, who has started every game of his four-year career, has led the Cowboys to the playoffs twice, including 2018 and a wild card win over the Seahawks, seen here. (Photo by Ron Jenkins / Associated Press)
  • Franchise founded: 1960
  • First Black starting QB: 1986 (Reggie Collier)
  • Most starts: Dak Prescott, 102
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 12.96% (11th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 6 (2 playoffs)
    • DAK PRESCOTT, 102 (1-4 playoffs)
    • Quincy Carter, 32 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Anthony Wright, 5
    • Randall Cunningham, 3
    • Reggie Collier, 1
    • Rodney Peete, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: no QBs selected in the 1st round
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 3 (Carter, Prescott)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: The Cowboys started their first Black quarterback in the season finale of a lost 1986, giving fourth-year pro Reggie Collier his first and only NFL start. The franchise’s first full-time Black starter was Quincy Carter, whom they drafted in the 2nd round in 2001 as the replacement for the retired Troy Aikman.

And since 2016, 4th round surprise Dak Prescott has locked up the job, starting all 16 games in each of his four seasons, along with the first game of 2020.

[Correction Mar. 2, 2021: The original version of this story gave Quincy Carter 35 starts, instead of 32. I mistakenly credited his three Jets starts to his Cowboys total.]

UPDATE 2022: Dak Prescott recovered from his injury-plagued, five-game 2020 and returned to his industructible ways in 2021, starting 16 of 17 games and leading Dallas back to the postseason.

Baltimore Ravens — 148 games (Passed in 2022: Cowboys. Tied in 2022: Washington)

In just two years, Lamar Jackson has a 19-3 record as the Ravens starting QB, with one league MVP to his name. (Photo by Patrick Smith / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1996
  • First Black starting QB: 1999 (Tony Banks)
  • Most starts: Lamar Jackson, 53
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 29.3% (6th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 11 (4 playoffs)
    • LAMAR JACKSON, 65 (1-3 playoffs, 1x MVP)
    • Steve McNair, 23 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Tony Banks, 18
    • Anthony Wright, 15 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Jeff Blake, 10
    • TYLER HUNTLEY, 9 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Randall Cunningham, 2
    • Troy Smith, 2
    • Robert Griffin III, 2
    • Josh Johnson, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 3 (Jackson)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 4 (Jackson)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: In terms of understanding Black quarterbacks through the lens of a franchise decision-maker, the Ravens are the easiest team: For nearly all of their history, they only had one. Ozzie Newsome ran the organization’s personnel decisions from 1996 (the team’s first year in Baltimore) until his retirement in 2018. Among his moves were bringing in Tony Banks from the Rams in 1999, bringing in Steve McNair from the Titans in 2006 and, of course, drafting league MVP Lamar Jackson in 2018.

Newsome’s run as Ravens top executive is one of the most successful in the history of the league, accounting for two Super Bowl victories, a .543 winning percentage, more 10-win seasons than losing seasons and drafting two of the greatest ever at their positions plus an MVP. With Jackson now in his third season, Newsome’s legacy will continue to take shape even in retirement.

UPDATE 2021: Lamar Jackson followed his 2019 MVP season with another strong campaigning, helming 11 Ravens wins and leading Baltimore to a playoff victory (his first) over Tennessee.

UPDATE 2022: Former league MVP Lamar Jackson was well on his way to leading the Ravens to a fourth postseason in his four seasons as starter, but an ankle injury knocked him out of the final four games of the season, as the 8-5 Ravens dropped to 8-9 and out of the playoff hunt. Backup Tyler Huntley did secure his first win earlier in the season in place of Jackson, but could not keep the magic going, losing three of the final four games. He enters 2022 as Jackson’s backup.

The one other game on the Ravens schedule went to veteran Josh Johnson, who in 14 seasons since the Buccaneers drafted him in the 5th round of the 2008 draft has had roster spots with the Bucs, 49ers, Browns, Bengals, 49ers a second time, Bengals a second time, Jets, Colts, Bills, Ravens, Giants, Texans, Raiders, Washington, Lions, 49ers a third time, Jets a second time and Ravens a second time. He has also played for three teams in three other leagues, most recently as the XFL’s passer rating leader in 2020 with the Los Angeles Wildcats.

He enters 2022 backing up Russell Wilson in Denver. As for the Ravens, they are one of two teams (Browns are the other) entering the 2022 season in which every quarterback is Black: Jackson, Huntley, and Anthony Brown on practice squad.

Jacksonville Jaguars — 127 games

David Garrard celebrates Jacksonville’s 2007 season wild card win over the Steelers, one of Garrard’s two seasons with the Jaguars that ended in the playoffs. (Photo by Aaron Josefczyk / Reuters)
  • Franchise founded: 1995
  • First Black starting QB: 2002 (David Garrard)
  • Most starts: David Garrard, 78
  • Percentage of franchise games: 28.4% (7th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 3 (2 playoffs)
    • David Garrard, 78 (1-1 playoffs)
    • Byron Leftwich, 45 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Quinn Gray, 4
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 3 (Leftwich)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 6 (Garrard, Leftwich)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: Nearly 31% of all Jaguars have featured a Black starting quarterback, something that started in 2002, when the team selected David Garrard in the 4th round. Garrard started just one game for the Jags in ’02, but spent his entire nine-year career in Jacksonville, starting 78 games, reaching two postseasons and earning one Pro Bowl selection.

His main competition for the starting job for much of that run was another Black QB, Byron Leftwich, who the Jags selected 7th overall in 2003. The man who drafted Leftwich was the team’s new VP of Player Personnel: James “Shack” Harris, who starred at Grambling before Doug Williams and in the 1970s became the league’s first full-time Black starting QB, with the Rams.

Prior to his position in Jacksonville, Harris was director of player personnel for the Ravens from 1997 to 2002 under GM Ozzie Newsome. The Baltimore Sun reported both Harris and Newsome being enamored with Leftwich before the draft. Newsome’s Ravens were another key landing spot for Black quarterbacks.

Detroit Lions — 109 games

Rodney Peete started 47 games for the Lions, going 6-2 in their 12-win 1991 campaign. Here he is against the Bears in 1992. (Photo by Focus on Sport / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1930
  • First Black starting QB: 1989 (Rodney Peete)
  • Most starts: Rodney Peete, 47
  • Percentage of franchise games since 1953: 10.4% (13th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 4 (0 playoffs)
    • Rodney Peete, 47
    • Charlie Batch, 46
    • Daunte Culpepper, 10
    • Andre Ware, 6
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 2
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 4 (Batch)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: But for Greg Howard, I wouldn’t know that the Oilers were the first NFL team with multiple Black QBs on the roster, which they achieved when Brian Ransom backed up Warren Moon for three seasons. Ransom never played and isn’t even on Pro Football Reference.

To me, though, the first team with multiple Black QBs — at least the first I was aware of — was the Lions, who debuted Rodney Peete in 1989 and then drafted Heisman winner Andre Ware with the 7th overall pick in 1990. Ware only started six games in his career, all with Detroit, but Peete was a keeper.

New Orleans Saints — 111 games (Passed in 2022: Lions)

The Saints became a franchise in 1967, but did not win a playoff game until Aaron Brooks led them to an upset over the defending champion Rams in 2000. (Photo by Joseph Patronite / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1967
  • First Black starting QB: 2000 (Jeff Blake)
  • Most starts: Aaron Brooks, 84
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 12.4% (12th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 4 (1 playoffs)
    • Aaron Brooks, 84 (1-1 playoffs)
    • Jeff Blake, 11
    • Teddy Bridgewater, 6
  • Black QBs, 1st round: no QBs selected in the 1st round
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 0 of 2

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: As noted above, former Seahawks executive Randy Mueller came to the Saints as GM in 2000, and among his first moves was signing Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake to a four-year deal. In August, he traded for Aaron Brooks, a 2nd year QB the Packers had drafted in 1999 in the 4th round. Blake and Brooks paired to finish 10-6 in 2000, with Brooks putting the finishing touches on a division championship and guiding the Saints that year to the franchise’s first ever playoff win.

Teddy Bridgewater in 2018 and last year became the team’s first Black starting QB since Brooks; his 5-0 sub job last year in place of the injured Drew Brees secured his new deal with the Panthers.

UPDATE 2021: After spending the entire 2020 season backing up Brees and Taysom Hill, former Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston enters the 2021 season as the new Saints starter following Brees’s retirement.

UPDATE 2022: On the strength of a 5-2 record in 2021, Jameis Winston enters the 2022 as the starter. He will be backed up by ex-Bear Andy Dalton.

Pittsburgh Steelers — 102 games

After playing in Super Bowl XXX with the Steelers as a receiver, Kordell Stewart started 79 games at quarterback for the Steelers, with trips to the AFC championship game after the 1997 and 2001 seasons. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1933
  • First Black starting QB: 1973 (Joe Gilliam)
  • Most starts: Kordell Stewart, 79
  • Percentage of franchise games since 1953: 9.3% (15th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 6 (1 playoffs)
    • Kordell Stewart, 79 (2-2 playoffs, 2x AFC title game)
    • Charlie Batch, 9
    • Joe Gilliam, 7
    • Michael Vick, 3
    • Dennis Dixon, 3
    • Byron Leftwich, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 2
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 6 (Stewart, Dobbs)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: Pittsburgh’s first Black QB, Joe Gilliam, is one of the tragic “what if” stories in league history. After Gilliam’s run ended in 1975, the Steelers wouldn’t have another Black quarterback until Colorado Buffaloes star Kordell Stewart got to drop the “Slash” moniker and became the team’s full-time starter in 1997, leading the Steelers to two AFC title game appearances over six seasons.

[Correction Feb. 25, 2021: The original version of this story gave Kordell Stewart 84 starts. I mistakenly credited him for all of his starts in Pittsburgh, including five in which he was not at quarterback. He started 75 regular season games at quarterback, with a 46-29 record, plus four postseason games, going 1-1 in both 1997 and 2001, for a total of 79 starts. This brings the Steelers’ total down from 107 games to 102 games.]

Cincinnati Bengals — 83 games

Jeff Blake threw one of the prettiest deep balls I’ve ever seen, and became must-see TV in his Pro Bowl season of 1995. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1968
  • First Black starting QB: 1994 (Jeff Blake)
  • Most starts: Jeff Blake, 66
  • Percentage of franchise games: 9.65% (14th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 2 (0 playoffs)
    • Jeff Blake, 66
    • Akili Smith, 17
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 3 (Smith)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 5 (Smith)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: In August 1994, at the conclusion of preseason, the Jets waived third-year quarterback Jeff Blake, who’d spent the past month in a battle for the team’s third-string spot. Within days, Blake signed with the Bengals at the urging of first-year offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet, who previously had spent four years as head coach of, you guessed it, the Jets.

“For my first four weeks in New York, me and Bruce would meet every day, and not once did we talk about the offense,” Blake told The Undefeated in 2017. “It was all defense. He told me, ‘Jeff, if you can’t read defenses, you can’t play for me.’ And throughout my 13 years, no one could say that I couldn’t read a defense.”

Blake starred in Cincinnati until 1999 — with one of the prettiest deep balls this football fan has ever seen — when the team used the #3 overall pick to select his heir, Akili Smith. That was then end of Blake’s time in Cincinnati, as he headed to the Saints in 2000. Smith, meanwhile, famously struggled and was out of the league in four years. The Bengals have not had a Black starting QB since.

Kansas City — 94 games (Passed in 2022: Bengals)

In three seasons in the NFL, Patrick Mahomes has two years as a starter: MVP in 2018, Super Bowl MVP and champ in 2019. (Photo by David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
  • Franchise founded: 1960
  • First Black starting QB: 2000 (Warren Moon)
  • Most starts: Patrick Mahomes, 93
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 7.7% (17th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 2 (1 playoffs)
    • PATRICK MAHOMES, 93 (10-3 playoffs entering Super Bowl LVII, 1x MVP, 1x champ, 1x SB MVP, 1x SB runner-up, 5x AFC championship game)
    • Warren Moon, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 1 (Mahomes)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 3 (Mahomes)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: I mentioned Andy Reid earlier, and noted him as one of the gate-keepers. Here’s the data on that:

  • Andy Reid has coached 366 total regular season and playoff games, with the Eagles from 1999 to 2012 and then the Chiefs from 2013 to the present.
  • McNabb, Vick, Young and Mahomes started a combined 240 games under Reid.
  • That means Andy Reid has had a Black starting QB in 66% of his games. The Oilers/Titans top the franchise list, with 35% of their games.
  • Reid is the only coach in league history to coach two different Black starting quarterbacks to a Super Bowl: McNabb and Mahomes.

And with Mahomes signing a record 10-year, $503-million deal this offseason, and only 25 years old as of today, even starting just 10 games a year for 10 years would put the Chiefs in the top 10 on this list.

UPDATE 2021: Mahomes reached his third consecutive Pro Bowl in 2020 and led the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl, losing 31-9 to the Buccaneers.

UPDATE 2022: Pat Mahomes makes it all look routine. In what sticklers might consider a down season (passer rating below 100, more losses, 5, than prior to seasons combined: 4), Mahomes started all 17 games, made another Pro Bowl, finished in the top 5 in the NFL in both passing yards and passing touchdowns, led KC to another division crown and played in a fourth straight AFC championship game, all at home. 

I talk about Hall of Famers in a given sport through the lens of “The Bus Test”: If Player X were hit by a bus today and could never play again, are they a Hall of Famer? For me, Mahomes does not quite pass the Bus Test, but one more season even like 2021 and I think he does.

Las Vegas Raiders — 75 games

Jason Campbell had an 11-7 record in two years as the Raiders starter, including a 4-2 start in 2011 and a shot at the playoffs, before a broken collarbone put him out for the year and ended his run in Oakland. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1960
  • First Black starting QB: 1987 (Vince Evans)
  • Most starts: JaMarcus Russell, 25
  • Percentage of franchise games: 7.6% (18th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 7 (0 playoffs)
    • JaMarcus Russell, 25
    • Jason Campbell, 18
    • Terrelle Pryor, 10
    • Aaron Brooks, 8
    • Vince Evans, 7
    • Daunte Culpepper, 6
    • E.J. Manuel, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 1 (Russell)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 7 (Russell, Pryor)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: Considering the Raiders’ roots in the AFL, the franchise’s love of the deep ball and the organization’s maverick identity stemming from the great Al Davis, I’m actually surprised the organization hasn’t had more Black QBs. Its first was Vince Evans, who came aboard originally as a replacement player in 1987. The team’s first long-term Black starter was Jason Campbell, who was 4-2 in 2011 when he broke his collarbone, ending his season and his Raiders career.

In 2007, the Raiders spent the number one overall pick on JaMarcus Russell, whose struggles became iconic. At 15th in overall games and 17th in percentage of games, the Raiders are smack in the middle of the league in terms of Black QBs. They just don’t truly have a signature one, as some of the teams lower on this list do.

REGARDING ELDRIDGE DICKEY: As noted in the comments below, the Raiders drafted Eldridge Dickey in 1968 in the first round, 25th overall. I did not include him on this list because the Raiders moved him immediately to wide receiver and never made the move back, despite Al Davis’s claims during Dickey’s rookie year: “Dickey will play quarterback. He has great potential as a quarterback. … But we’re dedicated to winning the championship…” In the end, Dickey never attempted a pass in the NFL.

The Miami News, Sept. 25, 1968

Atlanta Falcons — 77 games (Passed in 2022: Raiders)

In all my years watching the NFL, I have never seen anyone like Michael Vick. (Photo by Elsa / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1966
  • First Black starting QB: 2001 (Michael Vick)
  • Most starts: Michael Vick, 71
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 8.2% (16th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 3 (1 playoffs)
    • Michael Vick, 71 (2-2 playoffs, 1x NFC title game)
    • Byron Leftwich, 2
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 2 (Vick)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 4 (Vick, Ridder)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: Other than two starts by Byron Leftwich in a failed 2007 season, the totality of the Falcons’ history of Black quarterbacks is one man: Michael Vick. The Falcons traded up with the Chargers to draft Vick #1 overall in 2001, making him the first Black QB selected with the first overall pick.

I don’t need to tell you how incredible Vick was in Atlanta (and later, Philly), other than to say that all Bears bias aside, his playoff win at Lambeau in the 2002 season is one of the most memorable QB performances I’ve ever seen.

Vick’s time with the Falcons ended infamously with the revelation of his dogfighting ring. He spent 21 months in federal prison, missing the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Falcons spent the #1 overall pick in 2008 on Matt Ryan and have not needed a starting quarterback since then. The team did draft D.J. Shockley in the 7th round of the 2006 draft (what would become Vick’s final season in Atlanta); Shockley and Leftwich are the only two Black quarterbacks who have made the Falcons since Vick.

Los Angeles Rams — 74 games

Tony Banks went 14-29 as Rams starter over three years. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1937
  • First Black starting QB: 1974 (James Harris)
  • Most starts: Tony Banks, 43
  • Percentage of franchise games, 1953-2021: 6.8% (20th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 3 (1 playoffs)
    • Tony Banks, 43
    • James Harris, 30 (1-2 playoffs, 1x NFC title game)
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 2
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 5 (Banks)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: In the conversation around Black quarterbacks, the Rams’ place in history is being the first team with a Black QB as full-time starter: the aforementioned James Harris, in 1974. Harris, who had made three starts with the Bills in 1969 and 1971, won the Rams job in ’74 and guided the team to a 10-4 record, division championship and an appearance in the NFC title game.

Harris spent three years with the Rams, who traded him to the Chargers in 1977. The Rams have had only one other Black starting QB since Harris: Tony Banks, who they selected in the 2nd round of the 1996 draft.

San Francisco 49ers — 74 games

Colin Kaepernick took the NFL by storm in 2012, leading the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII and setting several postseason rushing records for a quarterback. (Photo by Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1946
  • First Black starting QB: 2010 (Troy Smith)
  • Most starts: Colin Kaepernick, 64
  • Percentage of franchise games, 1953-2021: 6.6% (21st in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 2 (1 playoffs)
    • Colin Kaepernick, 64 (4-2 playoffs, 1x SB, 2x NFC title game)
    • Troy Smith, 6
    • TREY LANCE, 4
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 3 (Lance)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 6 (Kaepernick, Lance)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: It’s easy to forget this now, but Colin Kaepernick’s career began with controversy around his Blackness. Before he was known for taking a knee, and all that has come since, Kaepernick was viewed by some racist white fans and writers as denigrating perhaps the most hallowed position in sports. Why? Because of his tattoos.

Most egregiously and disgustingly, white columnist David Whitley penned this hideous piece in the Sporting News in November 2012, Kap’s first season as a starter, writing:

“Approximately 98.7 percent of the inmates at California’s state prison have tattoos. I don’t know that as fact, but I’ve watched enough ‘Lockup’ to know it’s close to accurate. I’m also pretty sure less than 1.3 percent of NFL quarterbacks have tattoos. There’s a reason for that.”

Whitley’s column was the most outrageous example of racism hurled at Kaepernick, who became a target for racist football “purists,” and became positioned publicly as the Black QB “bad guy” foil to Russell Wilson’s “good guy” persona.

In the meantime, Kaepernick played a little quarterback, too, dominating the 2012 playoffs — including 181 yards rushing and two touchdowns against the Packers — and bringing the 49ers back from a 28-6 deficit in Super Bowl XLVII to within one goal-line series of a lead.

After another great season in 2013 and an 8-8 campaign in 2014, Kaepernick’s fortunes declined when Jim Harbaugh took the Michigan job and the 49ers organization fell into disarray. Then came Kap’s protest in 2016 and a vastly misunderstood final season in the league. Just a reminder: No, Kaepernick did not screw himself in early 2017 by opting out of his contract. The 49ers told him they planned to release him, and he opted out to get a jump on free agency.

He’s been out of the league since then, and remains the only long-term Black starting QB in 49ers history.

UPDATE 2021: Colin Kaepernick remains out of the NFL. He is 33 years old.

UPDATE 2022: The 49ers used the #3 overall pick in the 2021 draft on Trey Lance of North Dakota State, and following his two starts in 2021, he enters 2022 as the team’s new starter ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo.

And yes, Kaepernick remains out of the NFL.

Buffalo Bills — 68 games

3Tyrod Taylor started 43 games at quarterback for the Bills in three years, reaching the playoffs in 2017. (Photo by Brett Carlsen / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1960
  • First Black starting QB: 1969 (James Harris)
  • Most starts: Tyrod Taylor, 43
  • Percentage of franchise games: 6.9% (19th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 4 (1 playoffs)
    • Tyrod Taylor, 43 (0-1 playoffs)
    • E.J. Manuel, 17
    • Thaddeus Lewis, 5
    • James Harris, 3
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 3 (Manual)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 6 (Manual, Jones)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: The Bills have had four Black quarterbacks in franchise history, and if you’re someone who does not consider George Talliaferro a true quarterback, then the Bills were the second team in AFL/NFL history with a Black starting QB, with James Harris starting once in 1969 and twice more in 1971.

The organization’s first big play for a Black QB came in 2013, when they drafted E.J. Manual 16th overall. Manual started 14 games over his first two years, after which new Bills head coach Rex Ryan signed former Ozzie Newsome Ravens draftee Tyrod Taylor.

“I actually tried to trade for (Taylor) when I was with the Jets,” said Ryan, who prior to becoming head coach of the Jets had been defensive coordinator for the Ravens. “I’m not going to say he’s Russell Wilson, but he’s got a little of that in him…”

Taylor started 44 games for the Bills, earning a Pro Bowl selection and guiding the franchise in 2017 to its first playoff appearance since 1999. Despite that, the Bills decided to immediately move on from Taylor, drafting Josh Allen in the 1st round of the 2018 draft. Taylor went to Cleveland, and then to the Chargers, where in 2020 he became that franchise’s first starting Black quarterback since its first: James Harris.

[Correction Sep. 8, 2021: The original version of this story gave the Bills 69 total starts instead of 68, and Tyrod Taylor 44 starts instead of 43. Taylor started Week 1 of 2015, but at wide receiver, not quarterback, due to a trick play. Matt Cassel started at quarterback; that first play was his only snap of the game in a season in which he did not attempt a pass.]

Houston Texans — 65 games

In three seasons guiding the Texans, Deshaun Watson has two Pro Bowl selections and two playoff appearances. (Photo by Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports)
  • Franchise founded: 2002
  • First Black starting QB: 2003 (Tony Banks)
  • Most starts: Deshaun Watson, 56
  • Percentage of franchise games: 19.6% (9th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 2 (1 playoffs)
    • Deshaun Watson, 56 (1-2 playoffs)
    • Tony Banks, 3
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 2 (Watson)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 4 (Watson)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: Since its founding in 2002, the Texans have had two Black starting quarterbacks, who are also the only two who have been on the 53-man roster: Tony Banks, from 2002 to 2005, and current superstar Deshaun Watson.

Unlike other examples above, there is no pattern or obvious catalyst I can point to as to why the Texans drafted Watson in 2017, other than what was obvious to nearly everyone (ahem), that he was a dynamic, experienced star-in-the-making. Possibly the city’s long run with Warren Moon back in the Oilers days is the presumed bridge? I can’t say.

UPDATE 2021: Since the close of the 2020 season, Deshaun Watson has been served with 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault. As a result of those pending suits, the Texans dropped Watson from their starting quarterback to #3 on the depth chart,  and presumably no plans to play him at all in 2021 barring injury.

The team’s new starter for 2021 is Tyrod Taylor, who will play for — and start for — his third team in four years since leading the Bills to the playoffs in 2017.

UPDATE 2022: The man with some of the worst luck in the NFL took another hit in 2021. Filling in for Deshaun Watson during his legal battles over a then-22 active civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints around a variety of sexual misconduct allegations, including sexual assault, journeyman Tyrod Taylor got his 2021 season off to an incredible start. He led the Texans to 37-21 win over Jacksonville in Week 1 and started smoking hot in Week 2 against the Browns: 10-11 passing with one touchdown and no turnovers.

But Taylor’s bad injury luck struck again, as he left the Browns game with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the linup until Week 9. All in all, Taylor started six games in 2021, with two wins. In the offseason he moved on to the Giants, where he will back up Daniel Jones.

Arizona Cardinals — 73 games (Passed in 2022: Bills, Texans)

The #1 pick in 2019, Kyler Murray started all 16 games of his rookie year. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1920
  • First Black starting QB: 2003 (Jeff Blake)
  • Most starts: Kyler Murray, 58
  • Percentage of franchise games, 1953-2021: 5.9% (22nd in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 3 (1 playoffs)
    • KYLER MURRAY, 58 (0-1 playoffs)
    • Jeff Blake, 13
    • Shaun King, 2
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 3 (Murray)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 7 (Thomas, Murray)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: Jeff Blake was the first Black starting QB for three franchises: the Bengals in 1994, the Saints in 2000 and the Cardinals in 2003. Shaun King got two starts in 2004 under coach Dennis Green.

And then last year the Cardinals made the unthinkable (and correct) move, drafting Kyler Murray #1 overall despite having spent the #10 overall pick on a QB the year before. Murray started all 16 games for the Cards in 2019 en route to the leagues Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and is healthy and winning thus far in 2020.

UPDATED 2021: Murray continued his improvement in 2020, increasing his passing stats nearly across the board, with more completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns, fewer sacks, and higher passer rating, completion percentage and QBR. The Cardinals won three more games in 2020 than 2019, and Murray reached his first Pro Bowl.

Chicago Bears — 66 games (Passed in 2022: Texans)

From 1977 to 1983, Vince Evans started 32 games for the Bears. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1920
  • First Black starting QB: 1979 (Vince Evans)
  • Most starts: Vince Evans, 32
  • Percentage of franchise games, 1953-2021: 4.8% (24th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 5 (0 playoffs)
    • Vince Evans, 32
    • Kordell Stewart, 7
    • Henry Burris, 1
    • Jason Campbell, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 4 (Fields)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 5 (Fields)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: Ah yes. The main attraction.

The catalyst for this research is my Bears fandom, and questions about our franchise’s history with Black quarterbacks, and where we ranked leaguewide. This came up, as I noted, due to our quarterback choices in 2017 in free agency (signing Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez over Colin Kaepernick) and the draft. Those questions came up again this year in free agency, when both Cam Newton and Teddy Bridgewater were available, and we signed Nick Foles.

In terms of the draft, we have used a first round pick on a quarterback three times since 1999. Each time, we took a white QB over a Black one:

  • 1999 — Traded down from #7, and a shot at Daunte Culpepper, to #12. We picked Cade McNown; Culpepper went #11 to the Vikings.
  • 2003 — Traded down from #4, and a shot at Byron Leftwich, for picks #14 and #22. We picked Rex Grossman at #22; Leftwich went #7 to the Jaguars.
  • 2017 — Traded up from #3 to #2 to ensure that we got our top choice at quarterback, Mitch Trubisky. Patrick Mahomes went #10 to Kansas City, Deshaun Watson went #12 to Hosuton.

In terms of our overall history, we have had four Black starting QBs for a total of 41 games, with two of those players — Henry Burris and Jason Campbell — each starting one game apiece, Burris in Week 17 of a 4-12 campaign, Campbell due to an injury to Jay Cutler. Unlike some of the other teams low on this list, we don’t have a recent Hall of Fame quarterback, nor a recent quarterback who led us to a Super Bowl victory.

Our two longest tenured Black starters are Vince Evans, who started 32 games between 1979 and 1983, and Kordell Stewart, who started seven games in 2003.

Some fans like to point to our signing of Willie Thrower in 1953 as proof of the franchise institutional open-mindness to Black QBs. But Thrower played only one game here, subbing in for starter George Blanda, and he drove the team to the 4-yard line late in the game, George Halas pulled him and two backs for Blanda and two other backs, thus ending Thrower’s NFL career.

“We had a particular play we wanted to call in that situation and Thrower, who has not yet learned all our offense, did not know it,” Halas explained two days after the game. The play was a run to fullback Fred Morrison.

“The ball was on our 35-yard line and coach Halas got mad at George and he put me in,” Thrower said for a January 1988 feature in the Boston Globe prior to Williams’ start in Super Bowl XXII. “I got the team moving and we got down to the 4-yard line. Right down the field to the 4. Once I got there, George Halas yanked me and put Blanda back in. He put the team in for the touchdown.

“Evidently, (Halas) felt I didn’t have the know-how to take the team in. I felt pretty bad. I know I would have gotten the team in for that touchdown.

Does any of this mean the Bears organization did not, or does not, want a Black starting quarterback? There is no way to know. There were football reasons for the recent draft moves; not signing Kaepernick could be part of the league trend against Kaepernick (which is not defensible, but also not a sign of blanket opposition to Black QBs); and the decisions around Thrower, Vince Evans, Newton and Bridgewater might just be part of the franchise’s broader failure around quarterback decisions, from Bobby Layne and John Lujack to George Blanda, Ed Brown, Rudy Bukich, Doug Flutie, Brian Griese and, some would say, Josh McCown.

But this exercise did yield the overall numbers I wanted to learn. The Bears are 23rd all-time in starts by a Black QB, and will likely soon be passed by the Chiefs and Cardinals, with the Colts a possibility, too.


It was the evening of April 29, 2021, and I was confident the Bears were not going to do anything to write home about. We were selecting at #20, we needed a quarterback, and we weren’t going to get one. So I didn’t sweat it when I fell asleep while putting my daughter to bed. When I woke up, I went downstairs and saw that the draft was at #19. Great, I thought, I didn’t miss anything.

In the immortal words of Charlie Murphy: “Wrong. WRONG.”

I looked at Twitter and saw that, in fact, I missed everything. The Bears had made a massive trade, moving from #20 to #11 to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. I don’t watch college football anymore and even I knew Justin Fields. Dynamite leader. Dynamic player. I was over the moon, as were Bears fans everywhere.

The added element here is that Fields is Black, making this not just a stunning, thrilling move in the present but a historic one for our franchise. This was the highest the Bears had drafted a Black QB since taking Vince Evans in the sixth round in 1977. Since people know my work on this subject due to this article, folks started hitting me up to talk about the history of this selection.

The amount of conversation around Fields being Black was minimal, which says something about the evolution (albeit slow and sad) of this ongoing conversation. I do get the sense that most football fans are past the “Black quarterback” moniker and are beginning to accept Black QBs as the norm, or at least a norm. Yet the conversation about race in the NFL remains a vital one, for coaching jobs, general manager positions, franchise ownership — and the racist concussion settlement, defined by “race-norming.”

UPDATE 2022: While few Bears fans were pleased with how head coach Matt Nagy ran the Bears offense around Justin Fields, the star rookie quarterback still had his moments. He looked strong in back-to-back wins over the Lions and Raiders, and was magnificent in back-to-back losses later in the year against the 49ers (10 rushes, 103 yards, 2 overall touchdowns) and Steelers (a season-high 291 passing yards in a near upset).

Fields looked noticeably sharper this preseason under new head coach Matt Eberflus, new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and surrounded by players brought in by new general manager Ryan Poles.

New York Jets — 46 games

In 1975, J.J. Jones became the first Black quarterback to start a game for the Jets when the team benched Joe Namath for a curfew violation. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1960
  • First Black starting QB: 1975 (J.J. Jones)
  • Most starts: Geno Smith, 30
  • Percentage of franchise games: 4.7% (23rd in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 5 (0 playoffs)
    • Geno Smith, 30
    • Ray Lucas, 9
    • Quincy Carter, 3
    • Michael Vick, 3
    • J.J. Jones, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 3
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 10 (Brad Smith, Geno Smith)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: Now we have a major dropoff, from Buffalo’s 69 games started by a Black QB to 49 games for the Jets. The franchise’s first Black quarterback was undrafted rookie J.J. Jones in 1975, who started one game in place of Joe Namath, who the team had benched as discipline for breaking an 11 p.m. curfew the night before the game. Jones completed just one of his five passes, with one interception, while getting booed, before Jets coach Ken Shipp subbed Namath back in with 9:31 remaining in the 2nd quarter.

That was J.J. Jones’s first and final NFL start, in his first and final NFL season. The Jets would not have another Black starting QB until 1999, when Ray Lucas won six of his nine starts only after starter Vinny Testaverde was lost to injury in Week 1, and backup Rick Mirer went 2-4 in his stead.

Testaverde returned in 2000 and started all 16 games, and the team drafted Chad Pennington in the first round, signalling the end for Lucas. He was the franchise’s career leader in starts for a Black QB, with nine, until the team drafted Geno Smith in the 2nd round in 2013. Head coach Rex Ryan named Smith the starter as a rookie, and Smith started all 16 games in 2013 and another 14 over three years.

He later made a startling piece of history with the Giants. (Scroll down.)

Cleveland Browns — 61 games (Passed in 2022: Jets)

Dave Mays started four games for the Browns in 1977, including this loss to the Rams. (Photo by George Gojkovich / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1946
  • First Black starting QB: 1977 (Dave Mays)
  • Most starts: DeShone Kizer, 15
  • Percentage of franchise games, 1953-2021: 4.4% (25th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 10 (0 playoffs)
    • DeShone Kizer, 15
    • Jason Campbell, 8
    • Seneca Wallace, 7
    • Robert Griffin III, 5
    • Dave Mays, 4
    • Tyrod Taylor, 3
    • Spergon Wynn, 1
    • Thaddeus Lewis, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 5
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 11 (Kizer)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: Since re-booting in 1999, the Browns don’t have a signature Black QB, but in the approximate words of Jerry Seinfeld, they don’t have a signature white QB either. (s/o to Derek Anderson though.)

What they do have is just a ton of quarterbacks, Black and white; the franchise’s eight Black QBs is second to the Vikings’s nine. The franchise’s first Black starting QB was Dave Mays, he started four games in 1977 in place of the injured Brian Sipe. Since 1995, the team has drafted an astounding five quarterbacks in the first round, all white, and 11 in the first four rounds combined, with 2017 2nd rounder DeShone Kizer the only Black QB in the bunch.

What is somewhat surprising to me is that the Browns weren’t a trailblazer on this front, considering that the franchise’s first coach, Hall of Famer Paul Brown, coached integrated teams with the Great Lakes Navy Blue Jackets, and then immediately integrated the AAFC’s Cleveland Browns in 1946 by signing Marion Motley and Bill Willis.

Brown coached the Browns until 1962, long after the Taliaferro / Willie Thrower days. Though of course, he took over the Bengals in 1968, and that club didn’t have a Black QB either.

UPDATE 2022: The Browns have not had a Black quarterback start a game since 2017, yet they enter 2022 as one of the most significant teams on this list. That’s because in March of this year, the team went all in on Houston castoff Deshaun Watson, trading an astonishing cache of draft picks, starting with their first round pick in 2022, 2023 and 2024. They then signed Watson to a fully guaranteed five-year deal for $230 million despite Watson’s legal problems (and that’s putting it mildly) looming over the season.

Ultimately the league suspended Watson for the first 11 games of the 2022 season and fined him $5 million for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy. He is scheduled to return Week 13 when the Browns travel to Houston to face Watson’s former team.

In the meantime, 29-year-old journeyman Jacoby Brissett will start for the Browns. He was 2-3 last year with the Dolphins. The Browns are his fourth team.

As noted in the Ravens section, the ex-Browns and the current Browns are the only two teams entering the 2022 season with an all-Black quarterback room. In Cleveland, along with Brissett and Watson are Joshua Dobbs and Kellen Mond.

Indianapolis Colts — 34 games

After a solid showing with the Patriots in 2016 during Tom Brady’s suspension, Jacoby Brissett came to Indianapolis, where he is now the starter following Andrew Luck’s retirement last year. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1953
  • First Black starting QB: 1953 (George Taliaferro)
  • Most starts: Jacoby Brissett, 30
  • Percentage of franchise games: 3.2% (26th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 3 (0 playoffs)
    • Jacoby Brissett, 30
    • George Taliaferro, 3
    • Josh Freeman, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 2
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 0 of 3

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: After George Taliaferro’s three starts in 1953, the Baltimore and then Indianapolis Colts did not have another Black starting QB until the final game of 2015, when Josh Freeman got the nod due to injuries to Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst.

In September 2017, the team traded for Jacoby Brissett following a season-ending injury to Andrew Luck. Brissett started 15 games that year, and then after Luck shocked the football world and retired during the 2019 preseason, Brissett started another 15 games last year. He’s back on the bench in 2020; the team signed free agent Philip Rivers this offseason.

UPDATE 2021: After leading the Colts to 7 wins in his 15 starts in 2019, Brissett spent the 2020 season on the bench behind Philip Rivers, who led Indy to an 11-5 playoff season before retiring. In a trade in February, the Colts replaced Rivers with Philly’s Carson Wentz; Brissett signed in March with the Dolphins, where he opens the year as the backup behind Tua Tagovailoa.

Miami Dolphins — 25 games

Ray Lucas ended his NFL career in Miami in 2002, starting six games for the Dolphins. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter / Getty Images)
  • Franchise founded: 1966
  • First Black starting QB: 2002 (Ray Lucas)
  • Most starts: Cleo Lemon, 8
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 2.5% (27th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 5 (0 playoffs)
    • Cleo Lemon, 8
    • Ray Lucas, 6
    • Jacoby Brissett, 5
    • Daunte Culpepper, 4
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 2
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 1 of 5 (White)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: We have another major dropoff here to Miami’s 18 starts. The Dolphins at least have the excuse of Hall of Fame quarterbacking for much of their run: Bob Griese was the team’s starter for most of 1967 to 1980, and Dan Marino held down the job from 1983 to 1999.

The team’s quarterbacking has been woeful since then, however, with Jay Fiedler and Chad Pennington the best of the bunch. They drafted Tua Tagovailoa #5 overall this year, so the QB job is locked in for a few years at least.

UPDATE 2021: Backing up Tagovailoa in 2021 will be Jacoby Brissett, who finishes his Colts tenure at 11-19 in four seasons, though only making starts in two of them.

UPDATE 2022: I’ve made this study about Black quarterbacks, against whom NFL owners, executives, coaches and scouts have placed unique barriers to opportunity. I’ve left out non-white, non-Black QBs — Roman Gabriel, Jeff George, and now Tua Tagovailoa — because they haven’t faced the same challenges. That’s not to diminish their struggles; it’s just to say that they’re in a different category than Black quarterbacks.

This comes into play with the Dolphins, who saw Brissett start five games in 2021, the fourth Black starting QB in franchise history. None has started 10 games. The Dolphins will open the season with Tagovailoa at quarterback, with Bridgewater backing him up.

Denver Broncos — 36 games (Passed in 2022: Colts, Dolphins)

Marlin “The Magician” Briscoe started five games for the Broncos in 1968. (Photo by Darryl Norenberg / USA Today)
  • Franchise founded: 1960
  • First Black starting QB: 1968 (Marlin Briscoe)
  • Most starts: RUSSELL WILSON, 15
  • Percentage of franchise games through 2021: 2.1% (28th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 5 (0 playoffs)
    • Teddy Bridgewater, 14
    • Marlin Briscoe, 5
    • Jarious Jackson, 1
    • Phillip Lindsey, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 3
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 0 of 7

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: In 1968, the Broncos became the first team of the Super Bowl era (albeit in the AFL) to start a Black quarterback, with Marlin “The Magician” Briscoe starting five games. The Broncos screwed Briscoe, as did the AFL and then NFL, forcing him into becoming a wide receiver. The only other Black QB to start for Denver was Jarious Jackson in the 2003 season finale, in place of starter Jake Plummer, who the team was resting for the playoffs.

UPDATE 2021: Following his season in Carolina, Teddy Bridgewater landed in Denver and beat Drew Lock for the Broncos starting job. He will be the fourth Black starting QB in franchise history and the first to start in Week 1.

It took the entire Broncos QB room getting felled by COVID-19 for the franchise to start its third ever Black quarterback, though “quarterback” is a stretch. When all three Broncos QBs were ruled out of the team’s Week 12 game against the Saints last year, the Broncos elevated rookie WR Kendall Hinton from the practice squad and tabbed him for the surprise and historic (in more ways than one) start.

Yet while Hinton did indeed take the majority of Denver’s QB snaps, finishing the game 1 of 9 for 13 yards and two interceptions, he did not get the start, as the Broncos ran their first play out of the wildcat. That meant RB Phillip Lindsay technically started at QB, making him the third Black starting QB in Denver history.

The irony is that 42 years after the franchise forced quarterback Marlin “The Magician” Briscoe to play wide receiver, the franchise was forced to play a wide receiver at quarterback.

UPDATE 2022: With regard to racism in the NFL, two interesting notes stand out to me about the Broncos. First, the Broncos are another major team in the Flores suit. But like the contradiction between the racist history of the Washington franchise and the club’s use of Black QBs, or the various contradictions in George Halas’s history, the Broncos made history in 2022 when the team’s new ownership group became the first with a Black woman, first with chairman of Starbucks Corporation Mellody Hobson, and a month later with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Second, as it pertains to this article, the Broncos added another layer to my “bridge” theory of Black QBs. After the five starts in 1968 for rookie Marlin Briscoe, the franchise did not have another Black quarterback start more than one game until last season, when Teddy Bridgewater came to town and started 14 of the team’s 17 games. Among those starts was the first game of the season, leaving just the Packers and Giants as the only NFL teams to never have a Black quarterback start in Week 1.

The team will follow Bridgewater with the latest in the franchise’s run of incredible quarterback acquisitions, trading for future Hall of Famer Russell Wilson in March of this year. Would the Broncos have traded for Wilson even if they never had Bridgewater? I assume so. But the pattern continued: one Black QB opens the door for another.

New England Patriots — 17 games

Jacoby Brissett started two games for the Patriots in 2016 in place of the suspended Tom Brady. (David Butler II / USA TODAY Sports)
  • Franchise founded: 1960
  • First Black starting QB: 2016 (Jacoby Brissett)
  • Most starts: Cam Newton, 15
  • Percentage of franchise games: 1.7% (29th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 2 (0 playoffs)
    • Cam Newton, 15
    • Jacoby Brissett, 2
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 1
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 8 (Davey, Brissett, Zappe)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: If not for Deflategate, the Patriots would not have had a Black starting quarterback until Cam Newton this year.

In 2016, the NFL suspended Tom Brady for the first four games of the season. Jimmy Garoppolo started in place of Brady, but got injured in Week 2, paving the way for two starts for Jacoby Brissett.

UPDATE 2021: Cam Newton had an average year in New England, leading the Pats to a 7-8 mark in his 15 starts (Brian Hoyer started the other game, a loss) while passing for full-season career lows in yards and touchdowns. The Pats used the #15 overall pick on Alabama’s Mac Jones, who enters the season as the starter following Newton’s release after missing five days of training camp due to COVID-19 protocols.

Los Angeles Chargers — 12 games

James Harris started 11 games for the Chargers in 1977 and 1978. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1960
  • First Black starting QB: 1977 (James Harris)
  • Most starts: James Harris, 11
  • Percentage of franchise games: 1.2% (30th in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 1 (0 playoffs)
    • James Harris, 11
    • Tyrod Taylor, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 4
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 0 of 6

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: The Chargers are a weird one on this list. In 1977, they became the 5th team in NFL history with a Black starting quarterback, when James Harris started nine games in place of the injured Dan Fouts, and another two in 1978.

The team had zero Black starters until Week 1 of this year, when Tyrod Taylor opened their season.

Like the Dolphins, and the four teams remaining, the Chargers had long runs with great QBs: Fouts from 1973 to 1987, and Rivers from 2004 to last year.

UPDATE 2021: That Week 1 start for the perennially unlucky Taylor was his only start of the season. Just prior to L.A.’s Week 2 game against the Chiefs, a Chargers team doctor accidentally punctured Taylor’s lung while attempting to inject him with pain-killing medication for broken ribs. Chargers 1st round pick Justin Herbert started in place of Taylor and ripped off one of the 10 best passing seasons in franchise history, becoming the only Chargers QB not named Fouts or Rivers to pass for 4,000 yards or 30 touchdowns.

Herbert enters his second season as the locked-in starter; Taylor signed with the Texans in March.

Green Bay Packers — 11 games

Brett Hundley started nine games in 2017 in place of an injured Aaron Rodgers. (Photo by Dylan Buell / Getty Images)
  • Franchise joined: 1921
  • First Black starting QB: 2013 (Seneca Wallace)
  • Most starts: Brett Hundley, 9
  • Percentage of franchise games since 1953: 1.01% (31st in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 3 (0 playoffs)
    • Brett Hundley, 9
    • JORDAN LOVE, 1
    • Seneca Wallace, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 1 of 2 (Love)
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 2 of 4 (Brooks, Love)

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: The Packers are two Aaron Rodgers injuries away from having never had a Black starting quarterback. Seneca Wallace had the franchise’s first start for a Black QB in 2013, and Brett Hundley started nine games in 2017.

The Packers, of course, have had some of the greatest quarterbacking play in league history, with three Hall of Famers winning a total of seven championships between 1961 and 2010. Bart Starr started 1956 to 1971, Brett Favre held it down from 1992 to 2007, and Rodgers has started since 2008.

The possible changing of the guard at Lambeau came this year, when the Packers drafted Rodgers’s heir apparent, Jordan Love*. This marks the first time the Packers have drafted a Black quarterback in the first round.

UPDATE 2022: Second-year quarterback Jordan Love started his first NFL game in 2021 in place of an injured Aaron Rodgers, and while Love may eventually assume the Packers’s starting quarterback role in a more lasting way, Green Bay has still only started Black quarterbacks due to injury, and all to Rodgers: Seneca Wallace in 2013, Brett Huntley for nine games in 2017 and Love once this year. That’s 11 games started by Black QBs since the franchise’s inception in 1919.

Of course, along with several of the other teams toward the bottom of this list, the Packers have a formidable explanation: They’ve had some of the best quarterback play in league history, with four Hall of Famers (Arnie Herber, Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Rodgers), one borderline Hall of Famer (Cecil Isbell), one All Pro (Don Majkowski) and one longtime competent starter in Lynn Dickey.

* Sep. 19, 2020 correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Jordan Love as white. I regret this error. Thank you Armed Jason.

New York Giants — 1 game

In 2017, the Giants benched Eli Manning, making Geno Smith the first Black starting QB in Giants history, the final NFL franchise to start a Black quarterback. (Photo source)
  • Franchise founded: 1925
  • First Black starting QB: 2017 (Geno Smith)
  • Most starts: Geno Smith, 1
  • Percentage of franchise games since 1953: 0.09% (32nd/last in NFL)
  • Total starting QBs: 1 (0 playoffs)
    • Geno Smith, 1
  • Black QBs, 1st round: 0 of 2
  • Black QBs, top 4 rounds: 0 of 7

JACK THOUGHTS 2020: The Giants have been a franchise since 1925, and have played 1,386 regular season plus playoff games, the third highest total after the Bears and Packers.

Just one of those 1,386 games featured a Black starting quarterback: Week 13, 2017, when coach Ben McAdoo benched Eli Manning during a 2-9 season and gave the start to Geno Smith. The Giants lost, and then fired McAdoo and replaced him with Steve Spagnuolo, who reinstated Manning as starter.

UPDATE 2022: The Giants were the third major team in the Flores lawsuit, adding another element to their place as one of the NFL’s most anti-Black franchises. Whether since their inception in 1925 or the start of my study in 1953, the Giants have started a Black quarterback exactly once: when Ben McAdoo benched Eli Manning for Geno Smith for one game. The Giants have also never had a Black head coach.

The team did add Bridgewater this offseason; he waits in the wings behind starter Daniel Jones. Mathematically, the Giants could move out of last place on this list this year. Whether they want to is another question.

Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, Bears historian at Windy City Gridiron, and author of the forthcoming “6 Rings: The Bulls, The City, and the Dynasty that Changed the Game.” His newsletter, “A Shot on Ehlo,” brings readers inside the making of the book, with original interviews, research and essays. Sign up now, and say hey at @readjack.


10 Replies to “The complete history of Black NFL starting quarterbacks — ranked by franchise”

  1. Didn’t Walter Payton start a couple of games at quarterback for the Bears? I can understand not counting them, but they shouldn’t count as games not starting a black QB.

  2. I know this is an older article, but I found it interesting. One little quibble, however. Under the Arizona Cardinals, you wrote “Jeff Blake was the first ever Black starting QB for three franchises: the Bengals in 1994, the Saints in 2000 and the Cardinals in 2003,” but I do not believe that is accurate based on other things you have written here.

    Warren Moon started for three different franchises earlier – Oilers in 1984, Vikings in 1994 and Seahawks in 1997. I also believe Rodney Peete would qualify ahead of him, as Peete was a starter for the Lions in 1989, Eagles in 1995? and Panthers in 2002.

    1. Thank you for reading Frank! I think this is a case where I could have written this more clearly. Regarding this line: “Jeff Blake was the first ever Black starting QB for three franchises: the Bengals in 1994, the Saints in 2000 and the Cardinals in 2003” — I’m saying that Jeff Blake was the first Black starting QB for the Bengals, first for the Saints and first for the Cardinals. I can see now through your response that this line can be misinterpreted as saying that Blake was the first Black QB to be start for three franchises total. My mistake! I’ll restate.

      Thank you!

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