The NFL made history last September when 10 of its 32 teams named Black quarterbacks to their starting jobs. It was not that long ago that Blacks were viewed as not having sufficient cognitive acuity, pocket passing skills, and leadership capabilities to helm a pro franchise. Blacks were seen as “natural athletes” — perfect for running and catching — but not highly intelligent enough to learn complex playbooks and communicate those plays to their teams under the intense pressure and bright spotlight of an NFL game. So for nearly a third of NFL teams to give a Black quarterback the nod is a really big deal.
The 10 Black quarterbacks that started the 2020 season had performances that ran the gamut. Some flamed out early, some made huge jumps in their development, still others turned in average performances all year, while one made it to the Super Bowl — again. Here’s a look at their season, and what it means for the future of the NFL:
Bridgewater was named starting QB for the Carolina Panthers in 2020, replacing another Black QB and fan favorite, Cam Newton. After posting better than decent numbers as Drew Brees’ backup QB, Bridgewater had a rough go of his debut starting season with the Panthers, going 4–11 in 15 starts while completing 69% of his passes and matching his 15 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. That won’t hold up for a Panthers’ team with a winning culture and devoted fan base. There are reports that the Panthers are already looking to upgrade from Bridgewater, perhaps to longtime Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
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Haskins was drafted by the Washington Football Team to be its “Quarterback of the Future.” The future came and went in four games as Haskins went 1–3 during that stretch and was benched for game five and moved to 3rd place on the depth chart. The WFT released Haskins in late December, making him a free agent.
In three years in the league, Jackson continues to hit all the right notes. His stats already scream future hall of famer. In season three Jackson notched his 2nd consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season — the first QB in history to do it, 46 red zone TDs without an interception — also an NFL first, and became the fastest QB to 30 wins. That’s good stuff. But through four postseason games in three years, Jackson has gone 1–3, notching five interceptions and five fumbles. That won’t get it done if Jackson is to become one of the all-time greats.
After nine seasons with the Panthers, Newton signed a one-year deal with the New England Patriots, replacing future hall of famer Tom Brady who signed with Tampa Bay. Newton managed only eight passing TDs — the lowest output for any season where he played at least 14 games. He coupled that with 10 INTs — also the lowest of his career. Usually, a 31-year old QB with 10 seasons under his belt who throws more INTs than TDs is not at the top of any team’s free agent prospects. Newton is not a normal quarterback though; beyond his passing output, he lodged a dozen rushing TDs in his 10 year, a number second only to his rookie season. Newton’s size, strength, and speed — coupled with the near universal love and respect fans, teammates, and coaches have for him everywhere he goes — make him a virtual lock to start somewhere in the NFL in 2021.
In his second season with the Arizona Cardinals, Murray is quietly building a stellar NFL resume. Murray notched 24 passing TDs, 11 rushing TDs and 12 INTs through 16 starts. Murray passed for nearly 4,000 yards and finished with a 94.3 passer rating on the season. Despite this, the Cardinals missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. Murray posts impressive stats, but as the team leader, he will have to figure out how to convert individual stats to team wins.
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In five games before a gruesome season ending knee injury, Prescott went 2–3 with nine passing and 3 rushing TDs coupled with four INTs and a 68.0 passer rating. Despite his lengthy recovery, Dallas is committed to hanging on to their franchise quarterback — giving Prescott one fewer thing to worry about as he focuses on his return to form. Still, Cowboy fans will expect to see Prescott get back to the success of his first starting season when — after wresting the starting job from Tony Romo — the Cowboys posted a 13–3 record.
The Taylor story goes something like this: he got two cracked ribs in Week 1. While administering a pain-killing injection a few moments before the start of the Week 2 game, the doctor punctured Taylor’s lung. The 31-year old Taylor was rushed to the hospital; his 22 year-old backup was rushed out onto the field to start the game. Justin Herbert played well and snatched the starting spot from Taylor. Taylor was — understandably — disappointed. His future is uncertain. (Incidentally, an overlooked by-product of 10 Black starting QBs is the absence of conspiracy theories about Taylor’s injury at the hands of the team doctor and subsequent loss of his job).
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Watson threw 33 TDs and 7 INTs and led the league in yards per pass and total passing yards on a Houston Texans team that went 4–12 on the year. How is that even possible? That dichotomy is indicative of the relationship between player and team. As recently as early February Watson and the Texans are not on speaking terms — literally; he’s not taking their calls. Perhaps this explains how a 4th year player can post record breaking stats and still only win one quarter of his games.
In many respects, Wilson is the cream of the crop. He is heralded as much for his boy-next-door, “aw shucks…anyone can be a top-tier NFL QB AND marry Ciara if they put their mind to it and never give up!” persona as he is for his play on the field. Beyond his golden boy image though, Wilson is the real deal. In nine NFL seasons, Wilson has started every game, notched 288 passing and rushing TDs to only 81 INTs, has a 101.7 passer rating and a Super Bowl ring. There’s another stat, though, that may spell trouble for Wilson’s future with the Seattle Seahawks. In nine years, Wilson has been sacked 394 times — a high for any QB in the same period since the merger — and he is getting sick of it. Of late, he’s been more vocal in his dissatisfaction with the Seahawks’ personnel decisions. Understandably, if you’re married to Ciara, you want all the time you spend laying flat on your back on the grass gazing at the sun to be with her, not with some 350-lb defensive back crushing the life out of you.
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Mahomes had the honor of being the last (Black) man standing at the end of the season. For the second straight year, he led his Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl — pretty impressive for a 3rd-year starter. While Mahomes and the chiefs were bested by the aforementioned Brady and the Bucs, Mahomes can legitimately lay claim to being the best of the best among the newest batch of QBs of any race. With a career 108.7 regular season passer rating, a 131–28 TD to INT ratio, and a Super Bowl win under his belt — there is nothing but upside for the 25-year old.
The NFL has come a long way in diversifying its QB ranks. Each week, Black quarterbacks are proving they are no different than their counterparts. Given the opportunity, some have excelled while others have faltered. A couple caught bad breaks related to injuries. Despite the varied results, the representation is important for future generations. As the old adage goes, if you can see it, you can be it. Indeed, it is good to see talented and capable athletes getting their chance — and making the most of it.