Aaron Rodgers is set to play the 2023 NFL season with the New York Jets after throwing for almost 60,000 yards in his legendary Green Bay Packers career. The situation duplicates legendary Packers quarterback Brett Favre being traded to the New York Jets early in Rodgers’ career.
In this post, we look at other times when a legendary quarterback like Aaron Rodgers leaves his original team. We also saw it happen with Tom Brady, who left the Patriots and later won Super Bowl 55 with Tampa Bay. Brady also led the NFL in several statistical categories and ended up as one of the oldest quarterbacks to play in the NFL.
Besides Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, what other legendary quarterbacks changed teams late in their NFL careers?
Johnny Unitas Chargers
One guy who immediately comes to mind is Johnny Unitas, the legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback. He spent his final year, 1973, with the San Diego Chargers. He was 40 years old, and in his first game, he was sacked five times and threw three interceptions. Two of those interceptions went to Future Hall of Fame defensive back Ken Houston, who coincidentally was playing in his first game for the Washington Redskins after being traded by the Houston Oilers.
Unitas played in only five games in 1973, but it didn’t hurt his legacy. Unitas, of course, is still often called the greatest quarterback of all time.
His replacement in San Diego turned out to be pretty good, too. His name was Dan Fouts. Yep, that Dan Fouts. Hear Fouts talk about about taking over the starting role from Johnny Unitas in this episode of The Game Before the Money football history podcast.Embed from Getty Images
Another example is Joe Namath. Broadway Joe became Hollywood Joe when he joined the Los Angeles Rams in his final season of 1977.
Now, personally, one of my earliest memories of the NFL was seeing Joe Namath in a Monday Night Football game with the Los Angeles Rams against the Bears that year, and it turned out to be Joe Namath’s NFL last game. That was Week 5 of the 1977 NFL season. I have a very dim memory of watching that game and my dad pointing Namath out to me and then seeing Namath go down under a barrage of tacklers. Even as a seven-year-old child, I could tell he was at the end of his career.
Pat Haden became the Rams starter and went on to lead the Rams to the NFC West title. Now, like Johnny Unitas, of course, Joe Namath still made the Hall of Fame, and people don’t really associate him with the Rams at all. Namath has since been quoted as saying he didn’t realize the difficulty of moving from New York to L.A., leaving a place where he lived for so long. So there are off-the-field considerations as well when a player leaves the team he’s played for his entire career to go somewhere else.Embed from Getty Images
Another great quarterback, also from Pennsylvania, also named Joe, is Joe Montana. Joe Montana was in a different situation than Tom Brady because Montana missed a year due to an elbow injury. The 49ers also had future Hall of Famer Steve Young ready to step in.
Joe Montana ended his career in Kansas City. He still had gas in the tank. He took the Chiefs to the AFC championship, and then the next year, he also led Kansas City to the playoffs.
And again, a couple of other things were different in Montana’s case compared with Tom Brady. George Siefert had taken over the head coaching job for Bill Walsh, and the 49ers had a surefire star in Steve Young.Embed from Getty Images
More recently, Brett Favre, like Joe Montana, also performed well late in his career. After a messy transition from the Packers, Favre went to the New York Jets, and the Jets finished 9-7 after going 4-12 the year before. Favre also made the AFC Pro Bowl roster.
He then went to Minnesota and played well there. He led the Vikings to the NFC championship game at age 40. But then Favre fractured his ankle against the Packers the next year and generally declined, along with the Vikings. Minnesota started Tavaris Jackson at quarterback and later a guy named Joe Webb. But overall, people associate Brett Favre with his Packer days.Embed from Getty Images
Enjoying the Game
Now, none of these guys tarnished their career accomplishments by switching teams. I’m not old enough to remember Johnny Unitas, so I never saw Johnny Unitas play. But it was tough watching Joe Namath and, later, Brett Favre struggle in their final appearances.
As John Elway once said late in his career, “You only get to play for so long. So you need to enjoy it.” I understand why guys who love the game, they want to be on a roster. They want to be out there playing for as long as possible.
Other Players Who Switched Teams Late in Their Careers
It’s not just great quarterbacks who’ve switched teams late in their careers. Jerry Rice, of course, went to the Raiders and then the Seahawks. Carl Eller also finished his career with the Seahawks. Alan Page finished with the Bears. Two great Dallas Cowboys running backs, Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith, both went to different teams. Dorsett played a year for the Broncos. Emmitt Smith went to the Cardinals. Marcus Allen played with Joe Montana in Kansas City. Those are just a few guys I can remember off the top of my head.
Great players sometimes finish their outstanding careers with teams that people don’t normally associate them with.
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