Has there been a harder position for this franchise to fill than quarterback? Yeah, it’s perhaps the most important position in the NFL but dang, it’s like trying to turn lead into gold. And yes, we as fans are part of the problem.
Ranking the top 10 greatest Eagles Quarterbacks of all time may not be nearly as difficult as actually trying to determine if 10 quarterbacks belong on this list. The franchise only has six quarterbacks who accrued over 10,000 passing yards in their careers.
Here’s a fun fact about how many QBs we’ve had over the years: Eli Manning went 10-21 against the Eagles in the regular season. Those 21 defeats came against EIGHT DIFFERENT QBS!!!! (yes, we’ll likely rank them all someday as well, maybe in a podcast. Yes, you can prove how hardcore an Eagles fan you are if you can name all of them.)
Top 10 Greatest Eagles Quarterbacks of All Time
This list has attempted to weigh all the achievements in a player’s career, both good and bad. We’ll try to consider all eras of the team and balance the stats against contemporary standards (it was harder to throw for as many yards in 1949 with a 12-game season versus 1999 with 16 games, e.g.).
10. Rodney Peete
Rodney Peete had one nice season with the Eagles in 1995, helping the team make the playoffs as a wild card. His numbers weren’t eye-popping, as he threw more picks (12) than touchdowns (8). However, he went 9-3 in 12 starts, including a league-leading four game-winning drives and three fourth-quarter comebacks.
Yes, he was the beneficiary of Barry Switzer’s atrocious call on “Fourth and a ding-a-ling.” However, when faced with his former team Detroit in the wild card round, he delivered a terrific game, going 17 for 25 with three TDs and 270 yards in a rout.
Unfortunately, like many Eagles QBs, Peete couldn’t sustain the success. He started 96 with a 3-2 record but lost his job to Ty Detmer. He stayed in the picture during the Ray Rhodes tenure, finishing with a 15-9 record as a starter. By 1999, he and the quarterback carousel (along with the head coach running it) were all out of town.
Peete probably will go down as the most famous QB in Eagles history for off-field reputation, after marrying actress Holly Robinson (shoutout to my readers who watched Hanging with Mr. Cooper on ABC back in the day).
9. Sonny Jurgensen
So it appears that trading a young, injured quarterback is a hallowed tradition in South Philly. Sonny Jurgensen waited in the wings for four seasons after being drafted in the fourth round of the 1957 draft out of Duke University. When he got his chance following Norm Van Brocklin’s retirement, he proved ready for the big time.
Jurgensen led the league in completions, passing yards, TDs, INTs, and fourth-quarter comebacks, earning first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. The yards and scores set league records (in 14 games). The Eagles went 10-4 and finished second in the East behind the Giants.
After that? Well, not so good. Jurgensen again led the league in passing yards (500 less) and INTs (2 more) as the Eagles went 3-10-1 and finished in last place. The next year, he was injured and the Eagles finished in last place again.
Following the 1963 season, the Eagles traded him to Washington for QB Norm Snead. Snead didn’t improve the team’s fortunes. However, Jurgensen returned to four more Pro Bowls and racked up more 3,000+ yard seasons. He would finish his career in 1974, having made the Super Bowl in 1972 and landing in Canton.
8. Michael Vick
Michael Vick was at one point the most exciting player to watch in the NFL. While he lit up the league with the Falcons, he couldn’t quite solve the Eagles defense, dropping two playoff games in 2003 and 2005.
Vick’s career took an unexpected turn after he sat out the season finale in Philly in 2006. He went to federal prison on dogfighting charges. After serving his time, the Eagles signed the former #1 overall as a backup to Donovan McNabb in 2009. On Easter 2010, McNabb was off to Washington and Philly was Vick’s town.
In his first year as a starter, Vick went 8-4 as a starter and dazzled at times. He torched Washington on Monday night and led the thrilling comeback at MetLife Stadium that all but sealed the NFC East. He threw for over 3,000 yards and added nine rushing scores to 21 through the air, on his way to the Pro Bowl.
Vick went 20-20 as a starter over four seasons. His play was up and down but most Eagles fans remember he JUST KEPT GETTING HURT! Notably, he suffered multiple injuries hitting his throwing hand on offensive lineman’s helmets with his follow-through. His time in the spotlight ended in October 2013, when an injury against the Giants opened the door to a name we’ll see later on this list.
7. Carson Wentz
Will this be the biggest “what could have been?” in franchise history?
The Eagles made two major deals to move up to #2 in the 2016 draft to take Wentz from North Dakota State. After sending Sam Bradford to Minnesota, the rookie won his first three starts. The team finished 7-9 after losing multiple games without Lane Johnson, serving a PED suspension.
2017 was Wentz’s strongest season, as he won 10 of the team’s first 12 games with highlight throws and leading a dynamic offense. An ACL injury against the Rams ended his year but the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
Wentz came back in 2018 but got hurt again, watching the Eagles make the playoffs without him – again. He made it through all 16 games in 2019, including closing the season with 4 divisional wins to take the East. However, he exited the Wild Card game with concussion symptoms as the Eagles lost to Seattle.
2020 was when the wheels came off for Wentz. After a good first few drives against Washington, he threw interceptions, lost fumbles, and looked lost. The team benched him and Wentz decided he no longer wanted to stay in town. He left in February for the Colts as the team’s fourth-highest career yardage leader.
6. Norm Van Brocklin
“The Flying Dutchman” is one of the great names for yesteryear that would probably be considered too offensive for anyone today. Plus, no one really cares anymore about European ethnicities.
Van Brocklin played nine seasons in Los Angeles, facing the Eagles as a rookie in the 1949 championship before winning one with the Rams in ‘51. At 32, folks wondered if the multi-time Pro Bowler had anything left in the tank.
Van Brocklin led the league in passing completions and attempts in 1958, likely because the Eagles were terrible. The team improved to 7-5 in 1959 and Van Brocklin went to a second consecutive Pro Bowl. Like many QBs of the day, he also handled punting duties.
1960 was the year everything came together. He threw for 24 touchdowns and almost 2500 yards (in 12 games). Leading four game-winning drives for the 10-2 Eastern champs, he was All-Pro, a Pro Bowler, and shared the AP MVP with linebacker Joe Schmidt of Detroit.
He led the Eagles to the NFL title against Green Bay and decided, that’s it, I’m done. He left the game on top, like a boss. His bust deservedly sits with the game’s immortals in Canton.
5. Nick Foles
Ok, I know this will be the most likely to upset others, although probably not as much if it were this time last year.
Foles joined Philadelphia as a second-round pick out of Arizona in 2012. When Michael Vick got hurt in 2013, Foles took over and led the Eagles to a division title and had the fourth-best single-season passer rating in NFL history.
Upon his return in 2017, he entered the game in Los Angeles, and helped secure another East crown and the top seed in the playoffs, where he won three games and the team’s first Super Bowl.
Foles has been at times sublime. He threw seven TDs against Oakland and made it look effortless. The Philly Special seemed a given with his cool demeanor. He’s got that frickin Bud Light-bequeathed statue.
So why so low on the top 10 greatest Eagles quarterbacks list? Just couldn’t be consistent enough to stay a starter, here or elsewhere. After the 27 TDs in 2013, he threw just 13 in nine games of the 2014 season, against 10 INTs. He went down with an injury against Houston and got traded in the offseason.
Foles again took the reins in 2018, led the Eagles to the divisional round but could not be the Saints. Again, he left town, traded to Jacksonville. Hopefully, he can find an opportunity somewhere to prove he belongs as a starter.
4. Tommy Thompson
Tommy Thompson joined the Eagles after the 1941 season. He immediately made the Pro Bowl but then missed the following two seasons as he was in the Army during WWII.
After returning, he became one of the top passers in the league. In 1948, he led the league with 25 passing TDs (12 games in a run-first league) and the team won the NFL championship. He followed up with another solid season and another league title.
In eight years, Thompson eclipsed 10,000 passing yards. After the down year in 1950, the 34-year-old left the team, finishing his career in the CFL.
There isn’t much footage surviving of Thompson’s days at Shibe Park with the Eagles in the 40s. He has not yet been elected to the Hall of Fame. However, his accolades and productivity deserve recognition.
3. Ron Jaworski
Ron Jaworski joined the Eagles in 1977 after being traded from the Rams. The team was starting to crawl out of a decade-plus of poor play and needed a steady hand under center.
Things started auspiciously as the Eagles went 5-9 the year Jaworski replaced Roman Gabriel. However, the 1978 season, highlighted by the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” saw Philly go 9-7, and make the playoffs for the first time, while 1979 was the first of three straight seasons with 10 or more wins.
1980 was the high mark of Jaworski’s career. He threw for over 3500 yards and 27 TDs, making the Pro Bowl as the Eagles went 12-4 to win the East and the NFC Championship over Dallas. His performance at Super Bowl XV was tragic, as three INTs doomed the Birds as Oakland won 31-10.
After the strike-shortened 1982 season, his career took a turn for the worse. 31 sacks in nine games preceded 53 in 1983. Interceptions and losses were more common, By 1986, the man responsible for reviving the franchise was handing over the reins to an exciting young man from the desert.
2. Randall Cunningham
There are few men in the history of the NFL who made the game look like art more than Randall Cunningham. The long, lithe 2nd-round pick from UNLV wasn’t a guarantee when he came to town and eventually replaced Ron Jaworski.
Cunningham took over as the starter in 1987, going 7-5 in the strike-shortened campaign. At that point, he was more known for his high sack numbers than his elusiveness.
1988 was when Randall took flight. That season started three straight years with over 3,400 yards and 10-or-more wins. Cunningham lit up the NFL with highlight throws, loping runs, and made three consecutive Pro Bowls. However, none of those seasons includes playoff success.
For those who believe in alternate universes with slight alterations of past events, many might want to visit the one where Randall Cunningham completes Week 1 of the 1991 season. In this one, Bryce Paup hit the Eagles QB at Lambeau Field and shredded a knee, ending his campaign in the first half. Had Cunningham played the whole season, perhaps the team would make the postseason a fourth time and the phenomenal defense ends a title drought.
Cunningham would return in 1992 and even win a Wild Card game in New Orleans before falling to Dallas the next week. However, the electric playmaker was not the same. He retired after the 1995 season, only to return after a “gap year” to light it up with Minnesota. In 1998, he was All-Pro with rocket throws to Randy Moss and Cris Carter, leading to the NFC title game loss against Atlanta.
In his career, Cunningham was at times frustrating and sublime. He led the NFL in sacks suffered five times. However, he also dazzled with throws on the run, eluding defenders on his feet, even unleashing a massive punt at Giants Stadium. Perhaps if he plays the entire 1991-season he’d be one spot better on this list.
1. Donovan McNabb
It can be argued that Donovan McNabb is the greatest Eagles Quarterbacks a and most important draft pick in the Eagles history. He went second overall in the 1999 draft, between Tim Couch and Akili Smith, to a team whose fans wanted Texas running back Ricky Williams.
McNabb took over the team as a rookie under new head coach Andy Reid. The next five seasons saw the team make the playoffs and win at least one postseason game. All five of these years landed him in the Pro Bowl.
Statistically, McNabb is the most prolific QB in franchise history. He is the only Eagle to collect over 30,000 career passing yards and 200 passing TDs. The team failed only twice to make the playoffs during his 11-year tenure. Despite four losses in five conference championship games, his postseason record is unrivaled.
The numbers are only half the story to his role in franchise history. He was the team’s first high-draft pick success under center. The franchise flourished with him as they left Veteran’s Stadium for Lincoln Financial Field. His style was modern like his peers with the athleticism of Cunningham, at about 30 pounds heavier.
Perhaps history will look more kindly on McNabb than his contemporaries. For all the controversy and ridicule that followed him during his time, he never changed much or lashed out at critics. He smiled, danced, and kept his cool against enemies foreign and domestic.
McNabb would not retire an Eagle. He was traded to Washington on Easter night 2010 and finished with the Vikings.
However, in his 11 years in Philadelphia, he became a franchise icon, a vexing superstar, and a perfect example of the imperfect relationship between the Eagles and their fans.