The truth of the matter is that a National Football League player who does not have a roller-coaster career is lucky. Peyton Manning, the greatest regular season quarterback in history, hit the highest of highs and also the lowest of lows during his career, and there was a time before he signed for the Denver Broncos when it appeared as if Manning’s career was finished. That, of course, was not the case, as Manning returned from multiple operations and eventually won the final Super Bowl of his legendary career before riding off into the sunset. Even Tom Brady lost an entire season to injury back in September 2008. That did not stop Brady’s assaults on opposing defenses, record books and maybe even some NFL rules and regulations depending on what you believe regarding certain stories.
It should not surprise anybody who actively follows the NFL that quarterbacks take up the majority of the spots in a list about NFLers who have had roller-coaster careers. QBs are, after all, the faces of NFL teams and those who are the top-tier QBs in the league also serve as the CEOs of their offenses. Even QBs who possess multiple Super Bowl victories are scrutinized with every miscue, interception or failed drive that does not result in his team finding the end zone. As you will see, some NFL players who have had roller-coaster careers eventually managed to climb back from figurative holes and return to greatness. Others, however, may never again reach the heights they achieved during the best days of their careers.
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15 Ryan Fitzpatrick
It was not all that long ago when Ryan Fitzpatrick was a journeyman quarterback who was more so known for his epic beard than for winning games and slinging touchdown passes. That changed in the fall of 2015, however, when Fitzpatrick enjoyed the best season of his NFL career while with the New York Jets. Fitzpatrick and the Jets came up just one win shy of qualifying for the 2016 NFL Playoffs and most believed, in January 2016, that Fitzpatrick and the Jets would continue their relationship through the upcoming season. That has not been the case, as Fitzpatrick and the Jets remain apart as the two sides continue contract negotiations through July 1st. The possibility exists that Fitzpatrick could go from being the toast of Gang Green fans to a man no longer welcome to play for the Jets. What a wild ride it has been for Fitz-magic over the past 12 months.
14 Jordan Cameron
Jordan Cameron began his college years as a basketball player. Like many others who couldn’t make it as a top-class basketball player, Cameron eventually switched over to football. That decision worked out for Cameron, as the Cleveland Browns drafted the tight end out of USC back in 2011. Cameron evolved into a productive contributor for some lackluster Cleveland offenses, so much so that he earned a spot on a Pro Bowl squad for his efforts back in 2013. Issues stemming from concussions slowed Cameron down in 2014, however, and Cameron signed with the Miami Dolphins before the 2015 campaign. Cameron failed to make a return to the Pro Bowl in his first campaign with Miami, but all is not lost. The tight end will be 28-years-old before the start of the 2016 preseason and he should just now be in his physical prime. The Dolphins need Cameron to rise back up and return to the player of old.
13 Carson Palmer
The ups-and-downs in the career of current Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer have been well-documented. Palmer suffered a serious knee injury during a 2006 playoff game while playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. Palmer returned to the field, though, and he resumed his role as the club’s franchise quarterback. After it looked like Palmer would retire following a lackluster stint with the Oakland Raiders, Palmer found new life playing under center for the Cardinals. Bad luck struck Palmer once again in the fall of 2014, however, when he was downed by another significant knee injury. The veteran did not allow that to end his career, as Palmer played and played well throughout 2015. Palmer was recently voted as 12th overall by his peers for the “Top 100 Players of 2016“ that aired on NFL Network during the offseason. There’s no question players around the league still respect Palmer.
12 Robert Griffin III
Odds are that you are familiar with the story of quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin’s NFL career started out even better than some imagined back in 2012 when Griffin played well enough for the Washington Redskins that he earned Rookie of the Year honors. Little did we know, four years ago, that RG3‘s rookie campaign would be as good as things would get during his stint with the Redskins. Washington head coach Jay Gruden, who had not drafted Griffin, benched the former first-round pick in favor of Kirk Cousins before the start of the 2015 season. Cousins became a revelation for the Redskins, and thus the club parted ways with Griffin in 2016. RG3 found new life with the Cleveland Browns, and Griffin enters training camp hoping to impress Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson and resurrect whatever may be left of what was once a promising career. No pressure, Mr. Griffin.
11 Victor Cruz
New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz did not begin his NFL career as a superstar. In fact, Cruz went undrafted before he was signed by the Giants. Cruz’s breakout campaign began in 2011 when an injury to Domenik Hixon provided Cruz with an opportunity to become a play-maker and a home-run hitter in the New York offense. New York quarterback Eli Manning and Cruz became fast friends on the field, and Cruz danced his way into the hearts of Big Blue fans and all the way to earning a Super Bowl ring. Cruz’s career and maybe even his life changed in October 2014, however, when he suffered a devastating and gruesome knee injury in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Cruz has not since played a meaningful snap of NFL football, and it remains unknown as if Cruz will ever again be the playmaker he once was for the Giants.
10 Matthew Stafford
Bleacher Report featured columnist Andrew Garda wrote about the roller-coaster career of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford for a piece that was published in February 2013. Stafford, a No. 1 overall pick back in 2009, experienced a rocky rookie campaign, one that ended early when Stafford was downed by a knee injury. That would prove to be the first of multiple physical setbacks that led some around the NFL to wonder if Stafford is prone to injuries. Stafford quieted doubters during the 2014 campaign, however, as he earned a spot in the 2015 Pro Bowl. With standout wide receiver Calvin Johnson calling time on his career following the 2015 campaign, Stafford is facing a pivotal season heading into July 2016. The possibility exists that the Lions could decide to move on from the former first-overall pick if Stafford does not impress without having “Megatron” on the field. Stafford’s roller-coaster ride in Detroit is not yet finished, but one can see that trip hitting a final valley if Stafford fails to guide the Lions to a postseason berth between now and January 2017.
9 Mark Sanchez
Can you believe it was back in January 2010 when Mark Sanchez was the football king of the Big Apple and a quarterback playing for the New York Jets in a AFC Championship Game? A lot has changed since that time. Rex Ryan went from being the head coach of the Jets to leading the Buffalo Bills, while Sanchez went from being the Gang Green starting QB to some guy replaced by Geno Smith. Sanchez ended his stint with the Jets on injured reserve, and he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in the spring of 2014. Fittingly, Sanchez’s run with the Eagles had ups and downs, as he and the next man on this list battled it out for the top spot on the Philadelphia depth chart in 2015. The Eagles moved on from Sanchez earlier this year, shipping the former first-round pick to the Denver Broncos. Sanchez is now competing with Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian for the starting gig in Denver. Whoever gets that job will be replacing Peyton Manning. Best of luck with all of that.
8 Sam Bradford
No two careers are exactly the same, but the paths forged by Robert Griffin III and Sam Bradford are similar in many ways. Both Griffin and Bradford earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors during their debut seasons. Both men experienced physical setbacks. Both men saw the teams that originally drafted them give up on them at different points. While Griffin is looking to jump-start his career with the Cleveland Browns, Bradford remains a member of the roster of the Philadelphia Eagles for a second-straight season. New Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson is reportedly high on Bradford and Bradford may be the favorite to win the starting gig when training camps begin. It is possible that Bradford’s roller-coaster ride has not yet hit its peak. Then again, the worst could be to come if Bradford runs into some hurdles during training camp sessions or during preseason games.
7 Gary Barnidge
Gary Barnidge is different than those previously mentioned in this piece in that the upward movement of his roller-coaster ride only began last season. Before 2015, Barnidge was largely an afterthought as it pertained to fantasy football and in discussions regarding the top tight ends in the NFL. That changed last season, though, as Barnidge reeled in 79 passes and found the end zone a total of nine times. Both of those marks were easily career highs for the TE once cast-off by the Carolina Panthers, and they earned Barnidge a Pro Bowl spot. The Browns once again hit the figurative reset button following the 2015 campaign and thus we can only guess what is to come for Barnidge in a new-look offense. Maybe Barnidge and Robert Griffin III will enjoy positive chemistry right out of the gates. On the other hand, perhaps 2015 will be nothing more than a one-off for Barnidge.
6 Michael Vick
It is one of the most-famous rises and falls in the history of the NFL. Michael Vick was a true sensation as the starting quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, a man featured in commercials such as the “Michael Vick Experience” and somebody who seemed on the verge of revolutionizing the QB position in the NFL. All of that changed, though, once Vick landed behind bars because of his involvement in a dog-fighting ring. Vick received a second chance in the NFL from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009, and he took over as the team’s starting QB in September 2010. Vick flashed moments of brilliance and looked like the player of old at times, and he earned a spot in the Pro Bowl for his play. That would prove to be Vick’s best season with the Eagles, however, as his production on the field decreased over the next several campaigns. Vick is currently a free agent and the veteran who turned 36-years-old in June 2016 is hoping to receive one final spot on a NFL roster before he calls time on his career.
5 Reggie Bush
Is Reggie Bush a bust? It is an interesting question if only because it is one that cannot easily be answered. Bush never quite lived up to being the second pick of the 2006 NFL Draft, as nobody will remember him as one of the greatest running backs of his generation. With that said, Bush did go for over 1,200 yards from scrimmage four times during his career. To date, Bush has 53 touchdowns from scrimmage on his resume and Bush found the end zone four times as a punt returner. Bush turned 31-years-old earlier this year, relatively young for a pro athlete but ancient for a running back hoping to receive one last deal in the NFL. Injuries, age and the wear and tear that comes with being in the NFL for a decade have slowed Bush. We may never again see Bush play in the league.
4 Cam Newton
It was back in September 2012 when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton found himself in hot water with then-teammate Steve Smith after Newton sulked on the sideline during a loss to the New York Giants. Newton has matured and improved since that fateful evening, and he left his doubters in the dust for good with a phenomenal 2015. There was a time last year when it appeared as if Newton and the Panthers would enter the postseason with an unbeaten record, and Newton won the NFL Most Valuable Player award leading up to Super Bowl 50. Super Bowl Sunday did not go as Newton and company planned, however, as the Carolina offense was dominated and defeated by the defense of the Denver Broncos. Newton then made headlines when he pouted and offered none-answers during the post-game press conference. It appears Newton’s roller-coaster ride is still in its early stages.
3 Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck was always going to be up against it in the NFL even before he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. Experts compared Luck to the likes of John Elway and Peyton Manning, and Luck was billed as the next great young quarterback to take the NFL by storm. Luck, to his credit, has a trio of Pro Bowl berths on his resume, and he admittedly did not play with elite squads during his first four pro seasons. 2015 was largely a disaster for Luck, though, as he suffered an injury-plagued campaign that kept him sidelined for all of seven games. Luck has experienced the highs of playoff glory, the sorrow that comes with losing in the postseason and the lows of not being able to take the field with his teammates. By all accounts, Luck is healthy and ready to play heading into training camp. Luck’s story is far from finished.
2 Jason Pierre-Paul
Jason Pierre-Paul had experienced a roller-coaster career even before the summer of 2015. JPP, as he is affectionately known among fans of the New York Giants, has been a streaky pass-rusher over the years, one who posted double-digit sacks only twice in his first five NFL seasons. The second such occasion during a contract year, however, and thus Pierre-Paul was set to get paid by the Giants until July 4th, 2015. It was then when Pierre-Paul suffered a serious hand injury that occurred because of an accident involving fireworks. Pierre-Paul’s right hand was left mangled and disfigured, and that one incident cost him millions of dollars and the full use of the hand. The defensive end has since had an entire year to get used to his new physical state and his new life, and Pierre-Paul is hoping to again be the player of old for the Giants. That will be no easy task considering Pierre-Paul has only one fully-functioning hand.
1 Eli Manning
You may need an air-sickness bag for the roller-coaster ride that has been the NFL career of Eli Manning since 2004. Manning was widely criticized for the way that he forced a move from the San Diego Chargers to the New York Giants in '04. You may remember home fans booing Manning and the New York offense off of the Giants Stadium turf in November 2007, roughly three months before Manning won the first of two Super Bowl games and the first of two Super Bowl MVP honors. Even those victories have not been enough for some, as the Giants have failed to qualify for postseason play in each of the past four seasons. Manning is now 35-years-old and entering the twilight of his career. Maybe after he steps away from the game as a player for good will his critics forget the lows of Manning’s career and instead focus on the fact that the two-time Super Bowl MVP deserves a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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