We all know there are a lot of former quarterbacks who get broadcasting opportunities, for game analysis and in-studio work, with Tony Romo and Jay Cutler just the two most recent. But just how many are there? One way to look at this is by quarterback wins, not the greatest overall stat in terms of a player’s effectiveness, but one that has the advantage of being counting rather than rate (so it reflects players with longer careers, and thus more likely to be pretty prominent). Of the top 60 quarterbacks on this Wikipedia list of NFL QBs with the most regular-season wins, 10 are still active, so we can leave them out for the moment, giving us 50 remaining. Of those 50, a full 25 (or exactly half) did some national broadcasting for at least one of the four independent networks with NFL rights (CBS, FOX, NBC, ABC/ESPN), to say nothing of extra work with the likes of NFL Network, HBO or Showtime. Here’s the list of those quarterbacks, where they rank in all-time wins (with the still-active quarterbacks removed), and where they received their broadcasting opportunities:
And that isn’t even a full reflection, as there are several other top-50 QBs who got local broadcasting opportunities (including Warren Moon, Jim Hart, Jim Plunkett, and Jake Plummer). Plus, some of the guys on this list did a lot of other work in local broadcasting, perhaps most notably Len Dawson, Ken Stabler, and Sonny Jurgensen. (It should be noted that one also followed Romo’s broadcasting-and-golf path; John Brodie called both football and golf for NBC, and played on the PGA Champions Tour from 1981-88, winning one tournament and posting 12 top-10 finishes.)
Also, this list may not be complete; I mostly relied on my own knowledge and then these guys’ Wikipedia profiles to see if they mentioned anything about broadcasting, but some of those don’t include it (for example, Mark Brunell’s broadcasting career with ESPN isn’t mentioned on his profile), so it’s possible some of the top-50 QBs not mentioned here did get at least a brief national shot. And some others, like Peyton Manning, definitely had broadcasting opportunities, but opted to do something else. A lot of these guys went into coaching instead, something where their prominence also helped.
This percentage is pretty remarkable, especially considering how few top players from other positions ascend to the broadcasting ranks. And it’s worth keeping in mind that some of the players in the top-50 list who didn’t go into broadcasting played before NFL broadcasting and analysis became as big as it is now, providing many more broadcasting jobs. If some of these guys had retired today, the may well have gotten more of a broadcasting look.
Not all of these guys stuck at the national level, of course, and some only had brief overall broadcasting stints. Still, they got a shot, and some of them have gone on to multi-decade careers. We’ll see which camp Romo and Cutler wind up in. But while the immediate prominence those guys have received (going to the #1 team at CBS and the #2 team at Fox respectively) is unusual, it isn’t surprising at all that they were offered broadcasting opportunities. That seems to be very much a regular thing for most prominent NFL quarterbacks.
It’s somewhat understandable why broadcasters give quarterbacks more opportunities than players from other positions. For one thing, there’s name recognition, especially when it comes to the guys on this list. They played for a long while and put up plenty of career wins. Beyond that, we often hear the logic that quarterbacks know offense, and people want to hear broadcasters talk about offense. QBs also theoretically need to know and care about what every offensive player on the field does on a given play, unlike some other positions, so it’s been argued that helps them explain the game to viewers. However, it may be worth pondering if it’s really worth considering so many people just because they were prominent quarterbacks. There are unquestionably talented broadcasters from other positions out there, but how many who could potentially be great are passed because of executives targeting quarterbacks? We may never know, but the sheer numbers of prominent QBs who have received high-level broadcasting shots suggest the number may be large.