Playing in the modern NFL without at least a competent quarterback is just about the easiest way to get run off the field, although that’s what the rest of the AFC East has been going through while Tom Brady has held down the fort in New England. Bad quarterbacks in the division have come in all shapes and sizes since Brady started taking the snaps in 2001, leading to some very forgettable eras for the fan bases in Miami, Buffalo and East Rutherford. Here are 15 AFC East quarterbacks who squandered plenty of playing time in the Brady era.
15 E.J. Manuel, Bills
Fresh out of Florida State, 2013 first round pick E.J. Manuel brought a lot of high hopes for the Bills. In typical fashion for the franchise, Manuel even gave the Bills some exciting moments his rookie season, inevitably leading many to think that – finally – the Bills had picked a first rounder who was up for the challenge of the NFL. Then the 2014 season happened. After leading the Bills to a 2-1 start, Manuel looked utterly lost in moments during a week four defeat by the Houston Texans, which was capped off by Manuel telegraphing a screen pass that led to an 80-yard interception for a touchdown by J.J. Watt. Not known for being particularly great in the film room or pre-snap knowledge, Manuel was quickly dumped for a marginal quarterback in his last season in the NFL, Kyle Orton. Manuel again resurfaced in the middle of 2015 when Tyrod Taylor went down with injury, turning a winnable game in London against the Jaguars into a mess by spotting the Jags a 27-3 with bad turnovers and a pair of defensive touchdowns. With the loss, Manuel would at least claim one NFL record: the first quarterback in history to lose a game in three different countries.
14 A.J. Feeley, Dolphins
2004 was simply not a good time to be putting on a Dolphins uniform. After Ricky Williams failed a drug test and promptly retired before the season, the Dolphins offense was in disarray when Jay Fiedler and A.J. Feely started to battle for the starting job that year. With Fiedler looking like a disaster, Feely stepped into the spotlight and proceeded to throw 11 touchdowns against 15 interceptions on the season, aiding the Dolphins to a 4-12 record. Feely did actually lead the Dolphins over the 12-1 Patriots late in the season and spurred some talk about him becoming the starter, although Nick Saban took a look at Feely and immediately traded him to the Chargers instead of placing him under center.
13 Kelly Holcomb, Bills
The Bills had quite the phase of collecting backup quarterbacks and hoping they could maybe turn into competent starters, which is where Kelly Holcomb came in for the 2005 Bills. After struggling to earn playing time previously – in Cleveland, of all places – the Bills figured that Holcomb could be the perfect backup for young gun J.P. Losman during his rookie season. That’s when the Bills decided to create a quarterback controversy, possibly just for fun. After Losman hit a rough patch and was struggling with confidence, the Bills poured gasoline on that confidence and lit the match by starting Holcomb, who turned out to play quarterback just as inconsistently as Kelly Holcomb. With neither doing enough to really earn the job, both Losman and Holcomb started eight games for the Bills that year, stunting Losman’s growth by being replaced by a career backup and giving Holcomb his last chance at being a starter – another time-honored Buffalo tradition.
12 Trent Green, Dolphins
Trent Green was actually a fine pro for a number of years. Those years just didn’t happen in Miami. After being a decent starter for Kansas City for a number of seasons, Green looked like a reliable signal caller after Miami traded for him in 2007 – until he actually had to play. After narrowly edging out Cleo Lemon for the starting gig in the preseason, Green was atrocious and lost his first four starts on a really bad Miami team. In his fifth start, Green was knocked unconscious on a controversial play by Houston defensive tackle Travis Johnson, ending his career in Miami with an 0-5 record and just five touchdowns against seven picks.
11 Alex Van Pelt, Bills
Just as Brady was on his way to his first Super Bowl win, the 2001 Bills were facing a gut-wrenching decision between starting Rob Johnson and Alex Van Pelt at quarterback. Although Johnson had already worn out his welcome, particularly with Doug Flutie fans, Van Pelt was actually a well-respected backup quarterback who first tallied a few starts along with Todd Collins back in 1997. But being well-liked in the locker room was one thing and winning in the NFL a much different matter, which Van Pelt proved with crystal clarity while starting eight games for the 3-13 Bills. Van Pelt’s numbers, aided by a lot of garbage time, weren’t actually all that bad and yet it was still extremely obvious that he wasn’t the answer at quarterback, particularly when the Bills played anything that resembled a good defense. The Van Pelt era would soon come to a swift end when the Bills were blown out by the Dolphins on the final week of the year, leading the Bills to roll out the red carpet for Drew Bledsoe and send Van Pelt back to the pine.
10 Matt Moore, Dolphins
When Chad Henne went down with an injury in 2011, the Dolphins turned to the newly signed Matt Moore, who had nearly held down the starting job in Carolina in the previous seasons. Moore actually started in decent form for the Dolphins and had a couple of strong games in the middle of the season, although his production badly eroded as defenses got more tape on him and the Dolphins floundered to a 6-10 season despite good years from Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush. After nearly a full season to prove himself as the starter, the Dolphins drafted rookie Ryan Tannehill and brought in free agent David Garrard to compete with Moore as the backup for the 2012 season. To his credit, Moore won the competition and has been firmly planted on the Miami bench ever since.
9 Joey Harrington, Dolphins
The former third overall pick out of Oregon came to Miami to be the backup to Daunte Culpepper for the 2006 season, which quickly turned into another chance for Harrington to take the starting reins. Harrington got off to a rocky start but then straightened it around for five wins in the middle of the season, which turned out to be the peak of the season before a complete freefall. With the wheels starting to come off late in the season, Harrington went 5-17 for an anemic 20 yards against the Buffalo Bills, which was bad enough to get pulled for Cleo Lemon midway through the game to end the Harrington era.
8 Mark Sanchez, Jets
The fifth overall pick in 2009 came to New York with big expectations after becoming a star in college with USC. But even with a strong arm and major athletic ability, Sanchez proved to be a terrible fit with Rex Ryan’s defensive style of play and some very good Jets teams were completely squandered. Following some winning seasons early in his career, the 2012 season would prove to be an absolute train wreck that started with Sanchez completing less than 50% of his passes during four straight games – a feat that hadn’t happened in more than a decade. Then the butt fumble happened. Already down 14-0 to the Pats at home on Thanksgiving, Sanchez turned to hand-off the ball to an empty backfield and then proceeded to completely panic, plunging into the back of teammate Brandon Moore and creating a fumble for a touchdown. The play was so horrific that even famed Jets fan “Fireman Ed” left at halftime, then retired from public fandom. Sanchez was then benched two different times for third-stringer Greg McElroy down the home stretch and completely imploded in must-win games, including a five-turnover performance against the Titans.
7 Thad Lewis, Bills
The Bills were in a bit of a pickle a few weeks into the 2013 season, as rookie E.J. Manuel was out with injury and the Bills had to decide between Thad Lewis and undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel. Bills coach Doug Marrone opted with Lewis, who had previously just bounced on and off waivers and had started only a handful of games for the Browns. For Lewis’ part, he wasn’t quite a disaster, as he went 2-3 as the Bills starter and had some nice moments, although he also had a game in which he fumbled three times and was promptly benched in favor of Tuel. Unable to beat out Tuel for the backup job in the 2014 preseason, Lewis was cut by the Bills and became simply the latest third-string quarterback to see starting time in Buffalo.
6 Trent Edwards, Bills
Similar to the euphoria that J.P. Losman created in some limited success early in his career, Edwards was actually seen as a potential franchise quarterback after a very strong rookie season in 2007. That is until he met the Arizona Cardinals’ hard-hitting safety Adrian Wilson in the fifth week of the 2008 season, a moment that would prove fatal to the brewing Trent Edwards success story. An enormous hit from Wilson not only gave Edwards a concussion but seemed to make him extremely gun shy in the pocket from there on out, turning him into Trent Dilfer light on a team with mediocre surrounding talent and a bad offensive line. Edwards would hang in there for a couple more seasons while posting a few nice moments, although he left Buffalo by running out of bounds on fourth down a full seven yards short of a first to close out a game against Green Bay. The Bills promptly waived him the following week, ushering in the Ryan Fitzpatrick era.
5 Jay Fiedler, Dolphins
The Dolphins of 2000 through 2003 were actually completely stacked on defense, with guys like Patrick Surtain, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas becoming stars while fueling talks of going to the Super Bowl. The problem? Their starting quarterback was Jay Fiedler. As the game was rapidly shifting towards being a pass-dominant league, Fiedler was a throwback to the three yards and a pile of dust era and the offense regularly held back the best Dolphins teams since Dan Marino in his prime. At his best, Fiedler threw for 20 touchdowns against 19 picks in 2001, eventually falling apart along with an atrocious 2004 team and losing his job to A.J. Feely.
4 Chad Henne, Dolphins
Rocket-armed Chad Henne had a tremendous opportunity when he slipped in for an injured Chad Pennington in both 2009 and 2010. The former second-rounder even had some highlights but quickly proved to be deeply inconsistent throughout his tenure as the starter, ultimately dooming any hope for long-term success with a resounding thud against the Pats during the final game of the 2010 season. While the 13-2 Pats were on cruise control heading into the playoffs, Henne was 6-17 for 71 yards and a pick, which was bad enough to bring in Tyler Thigpen and start the rumors about making a trade for Kyle Orton. After clinging to the job throughout the following offseason, an injury early in 2011 wrapped up his tenure with Miami and he was on his way to anonymity as the Jacksonville backup.
3 J.P. Losman, Bills
The 2004 NFL Draft went as follows for quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and… J.P. Losman. After trading up with Dallas, the Bills made Losman their first quarterback taken in the first round since Jim Kelly in 1983, a pick that would end up working out somewhat differently in Bills history. Though Losman would show some signs in his first real action in 2005 and even hobbled together a decent 2006 campaign along with wide receiver Lee Evans, it wasn’t long before he was competing for playing time with dink-and-dunk maestro Trent Edwards and demanded a trade following the 2007 season, only to find that he didn’t actually have any trade value. Losman would get a few chances to step under center in 2008 thanks to a series of different injuries to Edwards, yet he proved to be a fairly abysmal backup and posted a 2-7 record filling in during his final two seasons with the Bills. Once the Bills let his contract expire, Losman would put together a furious pro comeback when he led the Las Vegas Locomotives to a UFL championship in 2009 on his way to quickly fading in the collective memory of Bills fans.
2 Kellen Clemens, Jets
Looking for a spark in 2007, the Jets gave up on Chad Pennington in favor of Kellen Clemens, which turned out to be akin to trading in a Honda for a Corvair. Clemens had considerably more physical ability than Pennington, an attribute that didn’t help him get a grasp of the pro game on his way to throwing just five touchdowns against 10 interceptions in his first – and only – chance as the starter for the Jets. In addition to putting up an atrocious 61% QB rating, Clemens was sacked more than five times for every touchdown he tossed and only completed a Vince Young-level 52% of his passes for the 2007 season. Clemens quickly developed a reputation for being a backup and rode the pine behind Brett Favre and Mark Sanchez for the rest of his time with the Jets.
1 Daunte Culpepper, Dolphins
After nearly signing Drew Brees, the Miami Dolphins went the safer route and traded for Daunte Culpepper before the 2006 season. While Brees would help turn the Saints into one of the best offenses in league history, Culpepper struggled to overcome a nagging knee injury and was simply atrocious during losses in the first two weeks of the year, prompting chants of “Joey Harrington.” The highlight of his Miami career came in week three when he torched the horrendous Houston Texans defense for 13 points, which was enough for his only win in a Dolphins uniform. After a shoulder injury, Culpepper then went out in dramatic fashion, getting in verbal altercations with both coach Nick Saban and Hall of Famer Steve Young about his work ethic and team commitment before the Dolphins parted ways with the former Pro Bowler.
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