Greatest Eagles Quarterbacks of All Time
Some teams have had an embarrassment of riches at the most important position in the game: quarterback. The Packers basically went from Bart Starr to Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers went from Joe Montana to Steve Young. The Patriots had Tom Brady—who is better all by himself than all the quarterbacks that some teams have had in their entire history combined. Super Bowl wins and enshrinement in the Hall of Fame are normal for some franchise's quarterbacks.
Not so much for the Eagles. If you look at the Hall of Fame, the Eagles don't have a single quarterback who spent the majority of his career playing for the franchise.
I was born in 1968, so while I have seen some great Eagles quarterbacks in my day, I spent far too many seasons watching the likes of Bubby Brister, Jeff Kemp, Rodney Peete, A.J. Feeley, Bobby Hoying, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Kolb and the Detmer brothers, Ty and Koy, lead the Eagles absolutely nowhere. Oh, the humanity!
Despite this history, there actually have been a few truly great quarterbacks who have led the Eagles—and we will count down the top five here.
For the purpose of this list, I considered only the statistics and accomplishments accumulated while playing for the Eagles. This caveat may upset some fans, but it's the only way to do a list like this.
5. Ron Jaworski
- Eagles QB: 1977–86
- Drafted: Second-round pick by the Rams in the 1973 NFL Draft out of Youngstown State
- Acquired: Via trade with the Rams in 1977
- Eagles Hall of Fame Inductee: 1992
Selected in the second round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Rams, Ron Jaworski was traded to the Eagles in 1977. Known affectionately as "Jaws," he teamed with new coach Dick Vermeil to slowly build the Eagles into a winner. Jaworski led Philadelphia to the playoffs in the 1978 and '79 seasons, but the team had early playoff exits both years. Then came the magical season of 1980.
Jaworski and the Eagles started out the 1980 season 11–1, en route to winning the NFC East with a 12–4 record. The Eagles beat the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs before heading to one of the biggest games in the franchise's history.
The Eagles had lost 19 of the previous 23 games they had played against their biggest rival, the Cowboys. Now, Jaworski was leading them into the NFC championship game against that rival. The Eagles reversed their fortunes and beat the Cowboys 20–7 to reach their first Super Bowl in franchise history. The Super Bowl against the Raiders was not Jaworski's or the Eagles' finest hour as they lost 27–10, but it was still an amazing season.
Jaworski completed 57% of his passes for 3,529 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a 91.0 passer rating during that 1980 season. That earned him first-team All-Pro honors along with several other awards. He still has the record for the second-most yards (26,963) and second-most touchdowns (175) in franchise history.
He finished his Eagles career with a record of 69-67-1, and he started all 16 games during five different seasons. He remains an icon in the city of Philadelphia to this day, and he fits nicely at No. 5 on the all-time list of the greatest Eagles quarterbacks.
4. Tommy Thompson
- Eagles QB: 1941–50
- Signed: Undrafted free agent signed by the Steelers out of Tulsa
- Signed With the Eagles: 1941
Anyone who isn't currently getting a senior citizen discount never got a chance to see Tommy Thompson play quarterback for the Eagles. As old as I am, I can honestly say that I included him on this list strictly on his accomplishments. I say accomplishments, because his statistics weren't exactly great.
While he was technically on the Eagles for 10 years, he actually played only eight seasons. He missed the 1943 and '44 seasons because he was serving in the Army during World War II. During the eight seasons he played, he was a part-time starter who threw for only 10,240 yards with 90 touchdowns and 100 interceptions. These numbers may not sound very impressive, but here's why I believe Thompson deserves to be on this list.
He led the Eagles to three straight NFL championship games in 1947, '48 and '49. The Eagles won the title in 1948 and '49 in bad weather conditions, so Thompson didn't have great stats. But anybody who watched the Eagles lose two Super Bowls due to subpar quarterback play can appreciate a guy who managed to win it all, even as a game manager.
That doesn't mean Thompson was never great. He led the NFL with 25 touchdown passes in 1948. His statistics for the 1949 season were downright dominant for the time. He led the NFL in passer rating (84.4) and touchdown percentage (7.5); it was the third straight season he led the NFL in that category. He completed 54.2% of his passes for 1,727 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. It's also important to remember that the NFL was a very different game in the 1940s. Those stats were enough to earn Thompson an All-Pro nod—and the No. 4 spot on this list.
3. Randall Cunningham
- Eagles QB: 1985–95
- Drafted: Second-round pick by the Eagles in the 1985 NFL Draft out of UNLV
- Eagles Hall of Fame Inductee: 2009
Once dubbed "The Ultimate Weapon" by Sports Illustrated, Randall Cunningham redefined the quarterback position in the NFL. Quarterbacks were traditionally pocket passers before Cunningham burst onto the scene. His ability to throw the ball nearly the length of the field and scramble like a running back was just the beginning of the NFL's evolution at the quarterback position.
Cunningham played sparingly during his first two seasons while backing up Ron Jaworski, but he took over as the starter in Week 11 of the 1986 season. By the 1988 season, Cunningham was leading the Eagles to the NFC East division title and the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Eagles lost "The Fog Bowl" to the Bears, 20–12, but Cunningham threw for 407 yards. That was only the beginning of big things for the Eagles quarterback.
The 1990 season saw Cunningham win the NFL MVP Award by completing 58.3% of his passes for 3,466 yards, 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a 91.6 passer rating. He also had 118 carries for an additional 942 yards and five touchdowns. He led the team to a 10–6 record and another playoff berth.
Unfortunately, Cunningham's 1991 season ended in Week 1 when Green Bay's Bryce Paup sacked him and tore his ACL. The following season, Cunningham returned and won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. He threw for 2,775 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a 87.3 passer rating. He added another 549 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He capped the 1992 season by leading the Eagles to their first playoff win in 12 years. But it was obvious that the knee injury had robbed Cunningham of some of his mobility.
The following seasons were marred by injuries, and a switch to the West Coast offense led to Rodney Peete taking over as quarterback. Cunningham soured on the game at that point and retired from football after the 1995 season. He came out of retirement with the Vikings, but that's a story for another article.
Cunningham compiled a 63-43-1 record with the Eagles, but his playoff record was only 1–4. He is still third in passing yards (22,877) and sixth in rushing yards (4,482) in franchise history. His 4,928 rushing yards are still the third-most in NFL history by a quarterback.
Cunningham's Eagles career didn't fully deliver on the promise of his unparalleled talents, and it ended on a sour note, but it was still plenty good enough to be considered No. 3 in franchise history.
2. Nick Foles
- Eagles QB: 2012–14 and 2017–18
- Drafted: Third-round pick by the Eagles in the 2012 NFL Draft out of Arizona
Some may argue that No. 2 is too high a ranking for Nick Foles, but it's hard to argue with the numbers. Not to mention the fact that he is the only quarterback in Eagles history to ever win a Super Bowl.
The Eagles selected Foles in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but he didn't get into a game until Week 10 of that season when Michael Vick got hurt. Foles made his first NFL start the next week, marking the beginning of this unlikely legend. Even though he went 1–6 in 2012, he became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 240 yards per game while completing 60% of his passes. Breaking records would soon become his norm.
Foles lost a training camp battle to Vick in 2013, but Vick eventually got hurt in Week 5. Foles started Weeks 6 and 7, but the genius that was Chip Kelly decided to start Vick again in Week 8. Vick promptly got hurt again, and it was back to Foles for good. That's when one of the greatest seasons an NFL quarterback has ever had really took off.
Foles decided that he needed another NFL record to break. In Week 9, he tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes against the Raiders.
For the season, he went 82 in his 10 starts and led the Eagles to a surprising NFC East division title. He lost his first playoff start that year, but he left the field with a lead late in the fourth quarter—only to have his special teams give up a long return before the defense allowed a game-winning field goal to the Saints. As impressive as that was, his stats were even better. He completed 64% of his passes for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, and he had a league-leading 119.2 passer rating during that 2013 season.
The next season wasn't kind to Foles. He had pedestrian stats before his season was ended early in Week 9 by a broken collarbone. Chip Kelly proved once again that he was in over his head when he traded Foles to the Rams for Sam Bradford. Foles played for the Rams in 2015 and then the Chiefs in '16. He then re-signed with the Eagles in 2017 to back up Carson Wentz.
Every Eagles fan knows what happened next. Wentz got hurt in Week 14, and Foles led the Eagles to the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
Foles completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the Super Bowl. He also became the first player in NFL history to both throw and catch a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. His famous play call (Philly Philly) is still immortalized with a statue outside of Lincoln Financial Field today. I walk by it every home game on my way to my seats.
Nick Foles Stats (in only 32 starts)
- Highest career passer rating in team history (93.2)
- Highest single-season passer rating in team history (119.2 in 2013)
- 9th in franchise passing yards (8,703)
- 8th in franchise touchdown passes (58)
- Lowest interception percentage in a season in team history (0.63 in 2013)
- Most yards passing in a game in team history (471 on Dec. 23, 2018, vs. the Texans)
- Most touchdown passes in a game (7 on Nov. 3, 2013, at Raiders), which tied a franchise and NFL record
- His 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions in 2013 was the best TD-INT ratio in NFL history at the time
- His 119.2 passer rating in 2013 is 3rd all-time, trailing only Aaron Rodgers' 122.5 rating in '11 and Peyton Manning's 121.4 rating in '04
Foles may have been an Eagle for only five seasons, but they were five mostly magical seasons that included the franchise's only Lombardi Trophy.
1. Donovan McNabb
- Eagles QB: 1999–2009
- Drafted: No. 2 overall pick by the Eagles in the 1999 NFL Draft out of Syracuse
Donovan McNabb didn't have the normal career of a top franchise quarterback, but that doesn't mean that he didn't put up the numbers and wins to earn this spot at the top of this ranking.
The Eagles took McNabb with the second overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft. The franchise quarterback didn't receive the warmest of welcomes, however, as a busload of knuckleheads went to the draft to boo his selection. Unfortunately, McNabb never forgave Eagles fans, as a whole, for the misdeeds of a handful of fans. This thin-skinned reaction would become the norm for McNabb, and it kept him from becoming the beloved icon a franchise quarterback in Philadelphia should be.
McNabb's rookie year was uneventful as he only started six games. The starter in those other games during the 1999 season? None other than the current Eagles head coach and Super Bowl champion, Doug Pederson. By the next season, McNabb was entrenched as the starter and would remain there for a decade.
McNabb led the Eagles to the playoffs in his first season as the starter in 2000 and even won a playoff game. In 2001, he led the team to the playoffs again and they advanced to their first NFC championship game since 1980. Losing to the Rams "Greatest Show on Turf" team was certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, this would be the first of numerous failed attempts in the NFC championship game; McNabb would have a record of 1–4 in that game. Of course, at this point, the fans had no reason to doubt that McNabb was going to lead the team to greatness.
The Eagles won the NFC East four straight years between 2001 and '04 while McNabb was establishing himself as one of the stars of the league. The only problem was that he couldn't get that last win to get his team into the Super Bowl. That all changed in 2004 when head coach Andy Reid finally decided it would be a good idea for a passing offense to have a great wide receiver. The Eagles got Terrell Owens, who teamed with McNabb to lead the team to the promised land.
Unfortunately, McNabb once again couldn't come through in the biggest game of the season as he coughed up the Super Bowl to the Patriots. This was during the heyday of their Spygate days. But that doesn't mean that 2004 wasn't a magical season. In fact, it was the best season of McNabb's career.
In 2004, McNabb became the first quarterback in NFL history to finish the season with over 30 touchdown passes and fewer than 10 interceptions. He completed 64% of his passes for 3,875 yards, 31 touchdowns and 8 interceptions for a 104.7 passer rating. He also added three rushing touchdowns on only 41 carries.
The Super Bowl hangover was real for the Eagles the next season. T.O. wanted a new contract and began feuding with McNabb. The whole circus ended up with Owens doing sit-ups in his driveway while reporters tried to ask him questions about being banished from the team. McNabb ended the season on the Injured Reserve after only nine games.
The 2006 season wasn't much better, as McNabb tore his ACL and only played in 10 games. The Eagles actually finished first in the NFC East in 2006 behind backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, who went 5–1 as a starter and even won a playoff game that season.
McNabb returned for the 2007 season, but the whole team struggled. Somehow, McNabb and the Eagles had a resurgence in 2008 that ended in yet another loss in the NFC championship game. He even set his career high in passing yards (3,916) that season. His last season in Philadelphia (2009) ended with a playoff loss to the rival Cowboys in the wild-card round of the playoffs. McNabb was traded that offseason.
Donovan McNabb Records:
- Winningest quarterback in Eagles history (92 wins)
- Most pass attempts in franchise history (4,746)
- Most completions in franchise history (2,801)
- Most passing yards in franchise history (32,873)
- Most touchdown passes in franchise history (216)
- Led NFL in quarterback wins between 2000 and '04
McNabb finished his Eagles career with a 92-49-1 record (he famously didn't know NFL games could end in a tie). His playoff record was 9–7; he threw for 3,752 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions for an 80.0 passer rating in those 16 games. He also ran for 422 yards and four more touchdowns in the playoffs.
McNabb may have had his issues in NFC championship games and lost his only Super Bowl, but he was only the second quarterback to even lead the Eagles franchise to a Super Bowl. That, and all of the team records that he still owns, make him the choice for the top quarterback in Eagles history.
The following three players didn't quite make the cut for the greatest Eagles quarterbacks of all time, but they still made important contributions to the franchise. They are listed here in order of their importance.
- Eagles QB: 2016–Present
- Drafted: No. 2 overall pick by the Eagles in the 2016 NFL Draft out of North Dakota State
There may be plenty of Eagles fans who will be upset that Carson Wentz didn't make the list of the top five quarterbacks, but the truth is that he just hasn't played enough games yet to beat out any of the guys on the list. That being said, he has already amassed some amazing stats during his career.
Eagles records Wentz already holds (as of the 2019 season):
- Fifth most pass attempts in franchise history (2,055)
- Fourth most completions in franchise history (1,311)
- Fifth most touchdown passes in franchise history (97)
- Second best career quarterback rating in franchise history (92.7)
- Second best career completion percentage in franchise history (63.8)
- Fifth most passing yards in franchise history (14,191)
- Most touchdown passes in a season in franchise history (33 in 2017)
- Most passing yards in a season in franchise history (4,039 in 2019)
What's really holding Wentz back is that he wasn't able to finish two of his four seasons due to injury. In addition, he has only played in one playoff game—and he only threw four passes in that one because he got hurt.
Of course, Wentz had one of the best seasons of any Eagles quarterback. Sure, his 2017 ended in Week 14, and Nick Foles led the team to victory in the Super Bowl, but Wentz had the team at 11–2 when he got hurt. He completed 60.2% of his passes in 2017 for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and 7 interceptions for a 101.9 passer rating in only 13 games. Those 33 touchdown passes broke a 56-year-old record, previously held by Sonny Jurgensen, and were still the second-most in the NFL that season. He was running away with the MVP award before he blew out his ACL on a touchdown run against the Rams.
I'm sure Wentz will be on any list of the greatest Eagles quarterbacks starting next season, and he might just challenge McNabb for the top spot one day. But for now, he just needs more time and good health to build his stats and his resume.
Norm Van Brocklin
- Eagles QB: 1958–60
- Drafted: Fourth-round pick by the Rams in the 1949 NFL Draft out of Oregon
- Acquired: By the Eagles in a 1958 trade with the Rams
- Eagles Hall of Fame Inductee: 1987
- Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee: 1971
Old-school fans may believe that Norm Van Brocklin rightfully belongs among the top five on this list. However, like Wentz, Van Brocklin simply didn't play enough games for the Eagles to be ranked among the best.
The Eagles acquired Van Brocklin in a 1958 trade with the Rams, and he went on to be the starting quarterback for three seasons. He had already established himself as one of the best quarterbacks of his era with the Rams, but for the purposes of this list we are only considering his Eagles career. Of course, the highlight of his time with Philadelphia was the 1960 season.
In that season, his final one in the NFL, Van Brocklin led the Eagles to the NFL championship over the Vince Lombardi–led Packers. Amazingly, Van Brocklin was the only quarterback to ever beat the Lombardi Packers in the playoffs. It was also his best year as an Eagle statistically, with 2,471 yards passing, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions for an 86.5 passer rating. By today's standards these numbers may not seem impressive, but in those days defenses could actually hit offensive players and teams weren't throwing the ball on over 60% of their plays.
For his Eagles career, Van Brocklin threw for 7,497 yards, 55 touchdowns and 51 interceptions. He was a Pro Bowler in all three of his seasons in Philadelphia and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
- Eagles QB: 1957–63
- Drafted: Fourth-round pick by the Eagles in the 1957 NFL Draft out of Duke
- Eagles Hall of Fame Inductee: 1983
- Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee: 1987
Much like the other honorable mentions on this list, Sonny Jergensen didn't play for the Eagles long enough to make the top five. Sure, Jergensen was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983, but a lot of that had to do with his 10 years with Washington. The Eagles traded him for Norm Snead after an injury-plagued 1963 season.
Jergensen was the backup to Van Brocklin for four years, and he didn't get a chance to start until 1961. He made up for lost time by leading the NFL in passing yards in back-to-back seasons in 1961 and '62. His 1961 season was especially great as he led the NFL with 235 completions for 3,723 yards and 32 touchdowns. Those 32 touchdown passes were a franchise record for 56 years, until Carson Wentz broke that record with 33 touchdown passes in 2017.
Jergensen finished his Eagles career with 9,639 passing yards, 76 touchdowns and 73 interceptions.