Black Quaterbacks in the NFL


Photo by Lucas Andrade:

Although we are in the best era for Black quarterbacks ever, there still is evidence of why a Black quarterback is a big deal, as Quarterback seems to be the only position where talent doesn’t equal opportunity. Even in positions that are predominantly black such as running back, one of the best backs in football is Christian McCaffery; and he was given the opportunity because he can play. Too often, black signal callers are made to switch positions because of their athletic abilities.

Since the early 1920s, there have been Black athletes playing the position. In 1923, Fritz Pollard became the first black quarterback. Pollard was the first black head coach at the time, and the first Black quarterback to start in the Rose Bowl.

Pollard endured during his career, oftentimes having to enter games through a separate gate, and hearing chants of, “Bye Bye Blackbird” and, “Kill the Ni**er.”

In 1926, there were five Black professional players. When the AFL collapsed the next year, there was only one due to the influx of available white talent, and they took any opportunity to employ a white over a black.

In the Superbowl era, there wouldn’t be a Black quarterback until 1968, Marlin Briscoe.

Briscoe was drafted as a defensive back in 1967 but would play quarterback in 1968 when the starter would be injured. Briscoe would play the last five games of the 1968 season and would throw fourteen touchdowns in those games.

Despite his stellar on-field play, he was released after the season and never played quarterback in the NFL again.

Following Briscoe, there would be eight Black quarterbacks to start, but none had staying power until the 1980s when things would finally swing the other way.

On September 2, 1984, Warren Moon started for the Houston Oilers. Moon went undrafted in the NFL draft and would play quarterback in the Canadian Football League, winning multiple championships.

This success would be enough to prove that he belonged in the NFL, and the rest is history.

In his first season with the Oilers, he would set a franchise record with 3,338 yards, and by 1987, Moon would be playing in his first playoff game; a 23-20 win against the Seattle Seahawks.

In 2006, Moon became the first Black quarterback to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and to this day he is the only Black quarterback in the hall.

In 1987, Doug Willams would become the first Black quarterback to start and win a Superbowl.

Williams would start Superbowl XXII for Washington, whose owner, George Preston Marshall, kept Washington’s team segregated for 16 more years than any other NFL team.

In the Superbowl, Williams would throw for 340 yards and four touchdowns, both were Superbowl records at the time. Following this game, Williams would be benched and cut and would retire.

Black quarterbacks have only played in nine Superbowls in the history of the NFL, and those nine games are split between seven players: Doug Williams, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, Colin Kaepernick, Russel Wilson, Cam Newton, and Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes and Williams would be the only men to take home Superbowl MVP.

In 2022, the Black quarterback is as highly respected as ever. Arguably the best quarterback in the league, Patrick Mahomes, is Black, and there are more Black starters now than ever in league history.

There are currently twenty Black signal callers in the NFL, with ten out of those being full-time starters in the league.

Before Aaron Rodgers won back-to-back MVPs; two out of the last three NFL MVPs have been Black quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes.

The Black quarterback has never been given this amount of opportunity at the highest level, but even this new opportunity can’t be all positive.

Black signal callers are not allowed to be anything short of spectacular. Around the league, there are white quarterbacks that are able to have full careers as backups.

Arguably, the worst quarterback to start in the NFL in the last decade, Nathan Peterman, had a job as recently as last year, as a backup for the Las Vegas Raiders.

There is only one Black veteran backup in the league, Geno Smith in Seattle. Smith started for the first time in six years this season in Seattle. He is twelfth in yards, seventh in touchdowns, and first in QBR this season. Smith is also making legitimately impressive throws for Seattle, he isn’t just being a game manager. It begs the question of why Smith was a backup for this long.

Black Quarterbacks have sky-high expectations from the moment that they step into the league.

A situation like the late Dwayne Haskins is the first one to come to mind. Haskins was drafted early in the 2019 NFL draft, yet did not start for Washington.

Once Haskins did start, he struggled, and the national media crucified him. It was later revealed that Haskins had received zero first-team reps in any practice up to that point, and thus his first game was the only time he had to work with this unit.

In 2020, his sophomore season, Haskins showed flashes but played like a young quarterback, everyone in the organization took every chance to cut at Haskins. They questioned his work ethic, his character, and his commitment to the team.

Haskins was cut by Washington before their season finale in December following a breach of the NFL’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols. Prior to his death, many people in the Steelers organization were saying that Haskins had matured and was on the right track for competing for the starting role.

Lamar Jackson is only in his third season as a starting quarterback and has won an MVP. When Jackson came out of the University of Louisville, former Head Coach of the Colts Bill Polian was adamant that Jackson should switch to running back or wide receiver if he wanted to succeed in the NFL.

Even after Jackson proved himself in the NFL, he lost his first two playoff starts and that was enough for the national media to crush Jackson for his playoff losses, even though it was only two games.

Jackson has now won a playoff game, yet still is without a second contract from the Ravens. No other Quarterback with Jackson’s resume would not be extended through the 2020s.

Tyrod Taylor started his career as a backup in Baltimore, after this stint he signed with the Buffalo Bills to be their starting Quarterback.

After barely missing the playoffs in 2016, Taylor led the Bills to the playoffs in 2017 for the first time since 2000, which ended the longest playoff drought in the league at the time.

Earlier in that season, Taylor was benched for Nathan Peterman. Peterman threw five interceptions, to only six completions. Taylor would return in the second half and score 17 of Buffalo’s 24 points that game.

After the game, Head Coach Sean McDermont would take no blame for the loss, nor would he apologize to Taylor.

The Bills rallied late in the season and would make the playoffs, they would subsequently face the Jaguars in the WildCard round. Taylor was knocked out of the game with a concussion on the last drive of that game, and his Bills would lose to the Jags 10-3.

Despite leading his team to the playoffs, Taylor would be released by Buffalo the next season.

Taylor then signed with the 0-16 Browns and should have had them start the season 3-0 if it wasn’t for five missed kicks against the Steelers and Saints. He was replaced by Baker Mayfield later that same season and went to sit behind Phillip Rivers in San Diego.

Taylor was then a backup for the Chargers and won his only start this season before a team doctor punctured his lung in week two. He is now a backup for the Giants.

Cam Newton is a former NFL MVP, and has led his team to the Super Bowl. That team, the Carolina Panthers, would cut Newton in July of last year, a full three months into the free-agency process. This gave Newton minimal options, and thus had to sign with the New England Patriots.

We all just watched Tom Brady leave the Pats and win a championship. This is partly due to the Patriots having the 32nd-ranked skill group in the NFL. Cam Newton worked with that same group this year and was expected to do more with it than Brady was.

Brady was given pass after pass because of the lack of weapons at his exposure, yet Newton was being called “washed” for the same performances. Not only are the receivers not great in New England, but the McDaniels offense is widely known to be one of the most complex systems in all of football, yet Newton was expected to pick it up in three weeks, with no offseason.

Kyler Murray was extended this off-season by the Cardinals after a very public and messy situation with the front office. In this new contract, there was a “study clause” that was put in to ensure that Kyler studied his game film uninterrupted for four hours a week. This four-hour number is not only so low that it is likely only there for optics, but it is also disrespectful to Murray. Murray is 5’9, the idea of him being able to play quarterback at a high level in this league while not studying any game film is absolutely absurd.

The Black quarterback has always been over-scrutinized and has always been made to believe that they aren’t good enough. We are most definitely in a better place in 2021 than we have been in the history of the NFL, but it is important that we acknowledge that there is still progress to be made.