Fans of the New Orleans Saints have been clamoring for their team to draft a replacement for quarterback Drew Brees in hopes that the future Hall of Famer will be able to mentor him. That strategy seems sound, and could make the day when number 9 finally calls it a career slightly less painful. A closer peak at history reveals that the student/mentor strategy hasn’t paid dividends often, and can sometimes even cause the incumbent to be uncomfortable or create an uneasy atmosphere through the team. Earlier this spring, reports out of Pittsburgh were that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was incredibly unhappy that his team used a 3rd round pick to draft Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph instead of spending it on a position of need for the AFC contenders. We take a look at a few Hall of Fame quarterbacks whose teams drafted another signal caller highly during their tenure, using the draft’s first three rounds as a scale.
Roger Staubach and Danny White (Dallas Cowboys)
Staubach’s retirement in 1979 due to concussions and mounting injuries came as a surprise to some Cowboy faithful. He was still playing near the top of his game, and Dallas had a veteran roster still capable of competing for a title. White, a 3rd round pick in 1974 from Arizona State, stepped in and played well initially. He would go 62-30 as a starter in his career, with a completion percentage of 59.7%, 155 touchdowns and 132 interceptions. White’s finest moment came during the 1980 playoffs, when he led a stirring come from behind 30-27 victory on the road at Atlanta, invoking memories of Staubach himself. Ultimately, it was White’s postseason failures that doomed him with Dallas fans. Despite 3 straight trips to the NFC Championship game from 1980-’82, he was never able to lead his team to the Super Bowl. He finished with a 5-5 career postseason record, throwing 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. An aging Cowboy team missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade in 1984, and despite returning to the playoffs the next year, White would lose his starting job by the end of the 1986 season, and never quite lived up to the lofty expectations of “America’s Team”.
Terry Bradshaw and Mark Malone (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Bradshaw, like Staubach, was still playing at a high level when an elbow injury forced the end of his career by 1983. Pittsburgh used the 28th pick of the 1st round in 1980 to select Malone from Arizona State. The Steelers were coming off back to back Super Bowl championships and four titles in the previous six years, but were an aging team in decline. Malone’s finest moment came not as a quarterback, but as a wideout, when in 1981 he caught a 90-yd. touchdown pass from Bradshaw. It was a team record that stood until 2011. Despite being a former number one draft choice, Malone was unable to win the starting job in 1983 when Bradshaw was out with injury, losing out to Cliff Stoudt. When Stoudt left Pittsburgh for the U.S.F.L. in 1984, Malone took over starting duties. He led the Steelers to the AFC Central title, and upset the Denver Broncos in Mile High Stadium in the playoffs before falling to the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship game. Malone would be benched multiple times after that year, leaving Pittsburgh after the ’87 season, and by 1989 would be out of the league. He went just 21-24 as a starter, completing only 50% of his passes, and threw 68 interceptions against just 54 touchdowns during his Steelers career.
John Elway and Tommy Maddox (Denver Broncos)
Elway was reportedly incensed when the Broncos used their number 1 draft choice in 1992, the 25th overall, to pick Maddox from U.C.L.A. Elway was a year removed from an AFC Championship game appearance, his fourth trip to the game in six years to go along with 3 Super Bowl appearances. But, his relationship with coach Dan Reeves was severely strained, and Reeves’ selection of Maddox fueled rumors that Elway would be on the trading block. When the Broncos icon was injured during the ’92 season, Maddox was given the opportunity to start 4 games. He was 0-4 in those contests, completing 54% of his passes while throwing 9 interceptions with just 5 touchdowns. Reeves was fired after the season, and Maddox was traded to the L.A. Rams in 1994, only to be out of the league by ’95 without starting another game. He did return to the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2001 with some success, while Elway went on to win two Super Bowls with the Broncos in the late 1990’s.
Elway and Brian Griese (Denver Broncos)
Elway did finally retire following the 1998 season, and Denver turned the starting reigns over to Griese, a 3rd round pick from Michigan the year before. Griese had a solid statistical career with Denver, averaging 221 yards per game passing, completing over 62% of his passes, and throwing 71 touchdown passes with just 53 interceptions. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2000, the only year the Broncos went to the playoffs during his tenure as a starter. Griese was unable to stay healthy however, starting just 51 of 62 games, with just a 27-24 record despite a talented offense around him. Griese’s inconsistent play, along with a reportedly poor relationship with teammates, led to his release from Denver after the 2002 season.
Steve Young and Jim Druckenmiller (San Francisco 49ers)
The 49ers got lucky when they made a deal for Young over a decade earlier. Ultimately, they were able to replace one future Hall of Famer (Joe Montana) with another in Young, who won multiple league M.V.P. awards, led the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games (four total) and a Super Bowl victory. With Young’s career winding down, San Francisco used it’s 1st round pick on Jim Druckenmiller from Virginia Tech in 1997, the 26th overall selection, in hopes that history would repeat itself. Druckenmiller would get his first, and only, career start in the second game of the 1997 season with Young sidelined by injury. The 49ers defeated the Rams 15-12, but the rookie was unimpressive, completing just 10 of 28 passes for only 102 yards, 3 interceptions, and his only career touchdown pass. Druckenmiller would see action in 3 more games that year as Young’s backup, finishing the year 21-52 (40.4% completion percentage), for 239 yards, 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions. It would be the last time Druckenmiller would throw a pass in an NFL regular season game. The former 1st rounder was traded to the Miami Dolphins at the beginning of the 1999 season for a mere 7th round pick, and he was out of the NFL by the following summer, although he did attempt an unsuccessful comeback in 2003
….okay, this one worked out pretty well….
Favre was still playing at a consistent Pro Bowl level for Green Bay at 36-yrs. old when Cal star Rodgers fell to them as the 24th pick in the 1st round of the 2005 draft. Rodgers served as Favre’s backup for three seasons, but reports were that the two barely spoke. When Favre began his “retirement” soap opera after the 2007 season, the Packers would turn the starting job over to Rodgers. After a losing record in his first year, Rodgers has yet to have a losing record (94-48) as a starter since. He has thrown for 313 career touchdown passes, averaged 258 yards per game, and has a league MVP, Super Bowl championship, and Super Bowl MVP to his credit. Rodgers is one of the premier players in the NFL, and will be a certain Hall of Famer upon his own retirement.
Denver signed Manning as a free agent in 2012 following his multiple neck surgeries and subsequent release from Indianapolis. The uncertainty surrounding Manning’s return to form caused the Broncos to use the 57th overall pick (2nd round) to draft Osweiler, a four year starter at Arizona State. Manning of course recovered quite nicely, achieving historic numbers in the Denver offense from 2012-’14. When Manning’s skills deteriorated rapidly in 2015, Osweiler was given his first opportunity to start when Payton was sidelined by injury. He responded by going 5-2 as a starter, completing nearly 62% of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Manning was inserted back into the starting lineup in the playoffs for the Broncos, riding the strength of an incredible defense to a Super Bowl 50 title, and Osweiler departed as a free agent to Houston after the season. After a poor season with the Texans, Osweiler was traded to the Cleveland Browns in 2017, but was released during the preseason and ended up back with the Broncos. He would start four games for Denver last season, going 0-4 while throwing 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
The Saints drafted Grayson from Colorado State in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft. He did not throw a pass in either of his two regular seasons with New Orleans, but had not developed how the team had hoped and was subsequently released prior to last season. New Orleans has a talented roster that many believe is capable of competing for a championship now. Drew Brees has shown very little decline in his abilities, and is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Sean Payton and the Saints front office has instead used their draft picks to fill positions of immediate need over the last three drafts. The results have brought players like Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell, Marshon Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk, Sheldon Rankins, and Marcus Williams into starting spots, as well as a number of others into key supporting roles for a championship contender. History shows that effectively replacing a legend like Brees will not be easy, and may actually take years to accomplish. The New Orleans Saints have instead chosen to put the talent around their future Hall of Fame quarterback, hoping to make a run at another Super Bowl or two.