The NFL’s Ironman Quarterbacks

Jan 9, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) looks on while walking to the sidelines against the Los Angeles Rams during the second quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Durability is paramount in NFL, and some quarterback careers hit a standstill due to health concerns.

For example, the San Francisco 49ers are at a quarterback crossroads solely because current QB1 Jimmy Garoppolo cannot remain healthy. To date, the 49ers signal-caller has thrown over seven touchdowns passes in a season just once — an underwhelming distinction derived from persistent injuries. Few question Garoppolo’s passing aptitudes. It’s the injuries, damnit.

Sam Bradford retired prematurely in 2019 after a very brief and lackluster stint with the Arizona Cardinals. Bradford was 31 years old. Most reasonable folks surmise that Bradford would have quarterbacked the Minnesota Vikings for several years had his knee bones not failed him.

Only a handful of passers remain healthy seemingly all the time. Because Brett Favre’s ironman streak was so engrained in sports pop culture in the 2000s, there is an assumption that several quarterbacks at least emulate Favre’s tendencies to a degree. But they really don’t — not for 20 consecutive years anyway.

These are the NFL’s contemporary ironman signal-callers. The criteria used to adjudicate health is most starts during the last five seasons.

5. Derek Carr

Carr is an interesting individual as the sports body politic is not wholly sure if he is really good or merely average. The flimsy stat of “quarterback wins” suggests that Carr is not very good at all. His “record” as a passer is 47-63 (.427). His team wins about 43% of all games when he is in charge.

But he does play in those games, unlike the aforementioned Garoppolo or Bradford. Carr has missed just two games to injury in the last five seasons. His 19,639 passing yards amid those five campaigns ranks sixth in the league during the timeframe while Carr checks in with 117 passing touchdowns — 10th-most in the NFL since 2016.

4. Matt Ryan

The 2016 NFL MVP who was about 45 minutes from Super Bowl glory in the same season — is also as sturdy as hell from a lastingness standpoint. Ryan missed one game in 2020 thanks to an ankle malady. And before 2016, Ryan had on-the-field staying power, too. He dealt with turf toe in 2009, and that’s about it for injuries and the longtime Atlanta Falcons quarterback.

Since the start of 2016, Ryan is tops in the business for most passing yards (23,010) and fourth in touchdown passes (145).

3. Tom Brady

Brady is older than God. Brady is also healthier than God as of late.

In fact, the only games in which the legend was not on the field were due to shenanigans. Brady missed the first four games of the 2016 season because of the “deflated balls” fiasco. Outside of that, his only meaningful absence from football games because of injury was way back in 2008 when the Patriots hoped to avenge the perfect season folly from 2007. Brady missed nearly all of that campaign. It was the season that New England finished 11-5 — and failed to qualify for the postseason.

Brady has frequently played hurt during his 21-year career (!!!), but he rarely misses time. In the last five seasons, Brady is responsible for 21,1176 passing yards (third in the NFL) and 153 passing touchdowns (also third in the NFL).

TIE-1. Kirk Cousins

Cousins shares the “award” with another popular passer of the football to be named momentarily. The Minnesota Vikings quarterback has missed one start throughout his entire career, and that was a coach’s decision. Vikings skipper Mike Zimmer rested all of his starters in Week 17 of the 2019 season in preparation for an upset playoff win over the New Orleans Saints in the 2019 NFL Wildcard game.

The Michigan State alumnus has never missed a game to injury — ever. He’s a lightning rod for criticism, engulfed with narratives on a regular basis that shun his Monday Night Football “quarterback record.” But during the last five seasons, Cousins ranks third in passing yards with 21,1176 — the exact same number as Tom Brady — and fifth in passing touchdowns (145). That’s the same number as Drew Brees for passing touchdowns since the start of the 2016 season.

TIE-1. Russell Wilson

Philip Rivers retired this offseason as one of the most reliable, durable quarterbacks of the modern era. Rivers did not miss a game inside these last five seasons.

Yet, he doesn’t play anymore, so Wilson is the king. Like Cousins, Wilson has never missed a start due to injury. That’s right — Wilson and Rivers are the only two passers leaguewide to start every contest spanning the last five seasons.

Although Wilson curiously has never won an MVP award — some worthy adversary always surpasses him in a given season — he’s the cream of the crop for quarterbacking since 2016. His 161 passing touchdowns lead the NFL from the last five seasons while his 19,972 passing yards rank fifth.