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The First Black Quarterback to Start for Each NFL Team

The Giants are the last team not to start a black quarterback.

It took until 2017 but all 32 NFL teams will finally have a black starting quarterback.

Jacoby Brissett’s fill-in duty for the Patriots in 2016 in the wake of Tom Brady’s suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo’s shoulder injury left the Giants as the only NFL team never to start an African-American under center. But with the Giants floundering and Eli Manning looking past his prime, the team decided it was time to give Geno Smith a chance.    

Below is a list of the first black quarterback to start for each team. 

1968 — Marlin Briscoe, Broncos

Briscoe was the first black quarterback to start a game in a major pro football league. He started his rookie season with the AFL’s Broncos in 1968 as a defensive back but moved to quarterback midseason. He started five games and was released after the season. He played eight more years in the NFL as a receiver, only throwing nine more passes. 

1969 — James Harris, Bills

Harris started the first game of the season for Buffalo in 1969, becoming the first black quarterback to start a season opener. It was his only start of the season. 

1973 — Joe Gilliam, Steelers

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Gilliam spent four seasons with the Steelers and two seasons battling with Terry Bradshaw for the starting quarterback job. He was released after the 1975 season. 

1974 — James Harris, Rams

After seeing limited action in three seasons with the Bills, Harris was released. He caught on with the Rams in 1972 but didn’t make his first start until 1974. He started nine of their 12 games and was named to the Pro Bowl. 

1975 — J.J. Jones, Jets

Jones made just one start in his lone NFL season. He completed one of five passes before yielding to Joe Namath. Jones was killed in a suspicious house fire in 2009.

1976 — Parnell Dickinson, Buccaneers

Dickinson saw action in eight games as a rookie, making one start. He was released before the start of the 1977 season and attempted to convert to receiver with the Patriots in 1978 but did not make the team. 

1977 — Dave Mays, Browns

Mays started his career in the World Football League before signing with the Browns in 1976. His first significant action came one year later, when he started four games. 

1977 — James Harris, Chargers

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Harris’s final NFL stop was with the Chargers, for whom he started 11 games in three years. After retiring, Harris began a career as a scout and player personnel executive.

1979 — Vince Evans, Bears

Evans spent two seasons as a backup before earning his first start in 1979. He started three games that year, 10 in 1980 and all 16 in 1981. 

1984 — Warren Moon, Oilers

Moon went undrafted in 1978 and spent six seasons with the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos. His NFL debut came in 1984 with the Oilers, and he spent 10 successful seasons in Houston. 

1985 — Randall Cunningham, Eagles

Though he would go on to become one of the Eagles’ best quarterbacks ever, Cunningham’s first start was a flop. The rookie completed just 14 of 34 passes with four interceptions. 

1986 — Reggie Collier, Cowboys

Collier’s career began in the USFL, but he joined the Cowboys in 1986. He made one start for Dallas and was released after the season. He played two games with the Steelers as a replacement player during the 1987 strike and later played in the Arena League. 

1987 — Vince Evans, Raiders

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Evans left the Bears in 1983 and spent two seasons in the USFL before returning to the NFL with the Raiders in 1987. He spent eight years with the team, mostly as a backup. 

1987 — Doug Williams, Washington

Williams established himself with the Buccaneers in the late 70s and early 80s. His first start with Washington came in 1987, and later that year he became the first black quarterback to start in and win a Super Bowl.

1989 — Rodney Peete, Lions

The Lions drafted Peete out of USC in the sixth round of the 1989. He injured his knee in the final preseason game that year and did not make his debut until Week 4. 

1994 — Jeff Blake, Bengals

Blake played two years with the Jets as a backup before joining the Bengals in 1994 and became the starter midway through the season. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1995.

(An earlier version of this post had Akili Smith as Cincinnati’s first black quarterback in 1999.)

1994 — Warren Moon, Vikings

The Vikings traded for the 38-year-old Moon and installed him as the starter. He spent three seasons in Minnesota. 

1997 — Warren Moon, Seahawks

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Moon was cut by Minnesota after a salary dispute and landed in Seattle. He led the league in passing yards per game and was named to the Pro Bowl as a 41-year-old. 

1999 — Tony Banks, Ravens

Tony Banks took over after Scott Mitchell and Stoney Case didn’t cut it and opened the 2000 season as the starter, eventually ceding the job to Trent Dilfer after a rough October. Dilfer would lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl win that year. 

(An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Randall Cunningham (2001) started before Banks.)

2000 — Warren Moon, Chiefs

Moon’s first start for the Chiefs, and his last in the NFL, came eight days after his 44th birthday. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. 

2000 — Jeff Blake, Saints

Blake started the season as the starter but broke his foot after 11 games. Aaron Brooks, another black quarterback, started the last five games. Brooks went on to start every game for New Orleans over the next four seasons. 

(An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Brooks started before Blake.)

2001 — Michael Vick, Falcons

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Atlanta took Vick with the first pick in the 2001 draft, and he started two games as a rookie before taking the reins full-time one year later. 

2002 — Rodney Peete, Panthers

The 2002 season was Peete’s first as a full-time starter since starting 12 games in 1995 with the Eagles. 

2002 — Ray Lucas, Dolphins

Lucas made 15 starts in his career—nine with the Jets in 1999 and six with the Dolphins in 2002. 

2002 — David Garrard, Jaguars

Garrard spent his rookie seasons mostly as the backup to Mark Brunell but made one start. He remained with the Jags until 2010. 

2003 — Tony Banks, Texans

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Banks spent six seasons as a starter with the Rams, Ravens and Redskins. He then spent four seasons as David Carr’s backup in Houston, making a total of three starts. 

2004 — Shaun King, Cardinals

King signed with Arizona to back up Josh McCown and made two starts in his only season with the Cardinals. He was released after the season and never played in the NFL again. 

2010 — Troy Smith, 49ers

After winning the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State, Smith saw limited action with the Ravens in three seasons. In his last NFL season, 2010 with the 49ers, he make six starts in place of Alex Smith. 

(An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Colin Kaepernick was San Francisco’s first black starter in 2012.)

2013 — Seneca Wallace, Packers

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A veteran backup, Wallace was forced to start in Week 9 after Aaron Rodgers was injured. He injured his groin in the game and missed the rest of the season. 

2015 — Josh Freeman, Colts

Freeman started the 2015 season in the Fall Experimental Football League and was signed by the Colts before their final game, following injuries to Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck. 

2016 — Jacoby Brissett, Patriots

The Patriots drafted Brissett as an insurance policy to serve as Jimmy Garoppolo’s backup during Tom Brady’s suspension. With Garoppolo injured, New England turns to the third-round pick from NC State. 

2017 — Geno Smith, Giants

Mired a lost season, the Giants benched Eli Manning to take a look at what Geno Smith and rookie third-round pick Davis Webb can do. Manning’s streak of consecutive games started, the second-longest in NFL history, will end at 210.