When considering the best players in Cardinals history, quarterback isn’t the first position that comes to mind. However, the franchise history of the position is sprinkled with plenty of notable talent. Read on to learn more about the top five quarterbacks in Cardinals history.
Who Are the Greatest Cardinals Quarterbacks of All Time?
Throughout its 100-year history, the Cardinals have struggled to find longevity at the quarterback position. When they do find a star, however, victories and playoff appearances always seem to follow. Each of the last five quarterbacks to start at least 50 games for the Cardinals has gone on to lead the team to postseason, often digging the franchise out of futility.
While legendary quarterbacks don’t often come to mind when considering the Cardinals, their standout quarterbacks deserve to be celebrated. From one of the most tenured players in team history to a pair of veterans who finished their careers in Arizona, the best quarterbacks to play for the franchise have provided some of the Cardinals’ most successful seasons.
A list of the five greatest Cardinals quarterbacks of all time follows, including a handful of honorable mentions. You’ll also find franchise records among quarterbacks, as well as statistics for every quarterback that has ever played for the team since they last won the NFL championship in 1947.
- Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, Ring of Honor, retired number, etc.)
- Single Season Honors (MVP, All-Pro, Pro Bowl, league leader, etc.)
- On-Field Success (winning percentage, winning seasons, playoff appearances, etc.)
- Longevity (years with the Cardinals, percentage of career with the Cardinals, etc.)
Only games played with the Cardinals are factored into this list, so while Boomer Esiason is a prime candidate for a list about the Bengals, his seven games with the Cardinals won’t make the cut here.
5. Jake Plummer
- Years With the Cardinals: 1997–2002
- Regular Season Record: 30–52
- Playoff Appearances: 1998
- Playoff Record: 1–1
Jason “Jake” Plummer was thrown right into the mix as a rookie after being selected as a second-round draft pick in 1997. He inherited an offense that had been rebuilt throughout the mid-1990s, and Plummer was selected as the final piece to get the Cardinals back to the playoffs. After moving into the starting lineup halfway through his first season, he proved he was just the man for the job.
He had a brilliant relief performance seven games into his rookie year in his first NFL action. He went on to finish the season as the starter, and he picked up three wins and several of the franchise’s rookie records.
With that success, expectations were heightened in 1998, and he delivered. He propelled the Cardinals to a 9–7 record and their first playoff appearance since 1982. Then, he outdueled veteran Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and the Cowboys in the opening round of the postseason; the 20–7 victory was the first playoff win for the franchise since their NFL championship win in 1947. After that, Cowboys fans were certainly tired of seeing Plummer, who also torched the Dallas defense for 465 yards in a Week 11 matchup.
Plummer was not able to repeat that success, however. He threw a league-worst 24 interceptions in 1999, and 21 more in 2000. He started every game in 2001 and ’02, but the Cardinals still finished below .500.
Plummer signed with the Broncos for the 2003 season. Over six seasons in Arizona, he connected on 1,540 of 2,754 passes for 17,622 yards and 90 touchdowns. Of his 10 games with at least 300 passing yards, seven came with the Cardinals, as did two of his five career four-touchdown games.
Jake Plummer’s Cardinals Stats
4. Neil Lomax
- Years With the Cardinals: 1981–88
- Regular Season Record: 47-52-2
- Playoff Appearances: 1982
- Playoff Record: 0–1
- Pro Bowl: 1984, ’87
Neil Lomax was a mixed bag for the Cardinals. In most seasons, the second-round draft pick had average stats, but he also made two Pro Bowls in seasons where he posted superb numbers. All told, his eight-year career in St. Louis and Phoenix was relatively successful.
As a rookie in 1981, Lomax snatched the starting job from long-time quarterback Jim Hart. With the Cardinals clinging to the hope of making the playoffs with six games to go, Lomax delivered four wins—but it wasn’t quite enough.
It was enough, however, to earn the permanent starting job in the strike-shortened 1982 season, and he lifted the team into the postseason for the first time since 1975. The Cardinals would lose to the Packers in the opening round of the playoffs, but not from a lack of effort by Lomax, who threw for 385 yards and two touchdowns.
By 1984, Lomax seemed to have developed himself into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He smashed the team record for single-season passing yardage and matched the franchise’s single-season mark for passing touchdowns on the way to his first Pro Bowl. He maintained his role as the primary starter for the Cardinals until he was forced to retire after the 1988 season due to arthritis in his hip. In 1987, he led the NFL in attempts, completions and passing yardage to make a second Pro Bowl.
In his career, Lomax completed 1,817 of 3,153 passes for 22,771 yards and 136 touchdowns. Each stat ranks second in team history. His best game came in 1984, when he completed 36 of 47 passes for 468 yards and two touchdowns against Washington. He also threw for 457 yards and three touchdowns against the Chargers in 1987, and he passed for four touchdowns in a 1983 matchup against the Seahawks.
Neil Lomax’s Cardinals Stats
3. Carson Palmer
- Years With the Cardinals: 2013–17
- Regular Season Record: 38-21-1
- Playoff Appearances: 2015
- Playoff Record: 1–1
- Pro Bowl: 2015
- All-Pro: 2015
Carson Palmer was somewhat written off after his career with the Bengals ended. But after two seasons with the Raiders, he came to the Cardinals and found a second wind that helped continue the best 10-year stretch in franchise history.
In 2013, Palmer set a new career high in passing yardage during his first season in Arizona—becoming the first quarterback to ever throw for 4,000 yards in a season for three teams. Despite earning 10 wins behind Palmer’s arm, the Cardinals just missed that year’s postseason.
The next season, Palmer looked even better, going undefeated through six games of the season and earning a contract extension. Two days after signing, however, he tore his ACL for the second time in his career and missed the remainder of the season.
He came back as strong as ever in 2015, however, leading the Cardinals to the NFC West championship and setting numerous franchise records. His career-high totals of 4,671 passing yards and 35 passing touchdowns remain team records. He pushed his team to the conference title game with 349 yards and three touchdowns in an overtime victory over the Packers, in what was the first postseason win of his career. In 2016, he crossed the 4,000-yard mark again, but he suffered a broken arm in 2017 that ended his career.
Throughout five seasons with the Cardinals, Palmer completed 1,373 of 2,197 passes for 16,782 yards and 105 touchdowns. He holds three of the top five single-season yardage marks in franchise history. He threw for 400 yards in three games for the Cardinals and fired four touchdowns in another three matchups.
Carson Palmer’s Cardinals Stats
2. Jim Hart
- Years With the Cardinals: 1966–83
- Regular Season Record: 87-88-5
- Playoff Appearances: 1974–75
- Playoff Record: 0–2
- Pro Bowl: 1974–77
- All-Pro: 1974
- Major Awards: Cardinals Ring of Honor, United Press International NFC Player of the Year (1974)
James “Jim” Hart exemplifies longevity as well as any player in Cardinals history. He played 18 seasons for the franchise, becoming their all-time leading passer in nearly every category. A victory in the postseason eluded him and he struggled with interceptions, but he is still well-remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks in Cardinals history.
Hart was signed by the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 1966, and he was named the starter a year later. He threw a league-worst 30 interceptions in 1967, but he also threw for more than 3,000 yards. The promise he showed that season kept him as the team’s primary quarterback for most of the next 14 seasons. It wasn’t until a coaching change in 1973 that Hart and his teammates were pushed to the next level.
From 1974 to ’77, Hart flourished under Don Coryell’s guidance. He never missed a start and made four straight Pro Bowls, while also leading the offense to the playoffs in 1974 and ’75. He tossed a career-high 20 touchdowns in 1974, and his best single-season yardage mark came in 1978 when he threw for 3,121 yards. From 1978 to ’81, Hart and the Cardinals began to tail off, and he was ultimately replaced in 1981 by rookie Neil Lomax.
During his long career, Hart completed 2,590 of 5,069 passes for 34,639 yards and 209 touchdowns. All of those marks are franchise records, but he also holds the dubious record of 247 interceptions thrown. His interception total was the second-most in NFL history (now 11th) when he retired. He never had any single games that stood out statistically, though he did throw for over 300 yards in a game 14 times and had three games with four touchdown passes. He completed a 98-yard pass to Ahmad Rashad against the Rams in 1972, which remains the longest non-scoring pass play in NFL history.
Jim Hart’s Cardinals Stats
1. Kurt Warner
- Years With the Cardinals: 2005–09
- Regular Season Record: 27–30
- Playoff Appearances: 2008–09
- Playoff Record: 4–2
- Pro Bowl: 2008
- Major Awards: NFL Hall of Fame (2017), Cardinals Ring of Honor, NFL Man of the Year (2008)
Kurtis “Kurt” Warner is the only Cardinals quarterback to ever appear in the Super Bowl. Warner built his Hall of Fame credentials with the Rams, then closed out his brilliant career in five seasons with the Cardinals. Teaming up with several other offensive forces, Warner led Arizona through an improbable playoff run to reach the 2008 Super Bowl, thereby cementing his legacy as the best quarterback in franchise history.
The first three years of Warner’s tenure with the Cardinals were up and down, as he was never solidified as the starter. That changed in 2008 when he gave fans a season to remember. He fell just short of the franchise’s single-season passing yardage record, but he did set a since-broken team mark with 30 touchdown passes to get Arizona into the playoffs as a wild-card team.
Over the first three rounds of the postseason, Warner threw eight touchdowns, and he beat the rival Eagles in the NFC championship game. In Super Bowl XLIII, Warner threw for 377 yards, but the Cardinals lost to the Steelers in a memorable matchup.
The 2009 season would be the last of Warner’s career, but he made it count by pushing Arizona into the playoffs again. In the opening round of the playoffs, he passed for five touchdowns in the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history, a 51–45 overtime win over the Packers. The following week, Warner was injured mid-game in a loss to the Saints. Also that season, he became the second player in league history to throw 100 touchdowns for two different teams.
Warner stands fifth all-time in franchise history with 15,843 passing yards and 100 touchdowns. He completed 1,371 of 2,105 passes in an Arizona uniform. The top two single-game passing efforts of his career also came with the Cardinals. He threw for 484 yards against the 49ers in 2007, and he also posted 472 yards in 2008 against the Jets. He matched his career high with five touchdowns against the Bears in 2009.
Kurt Warner’s Cardinals Stats
Though most of the best quarterbacks in Cardinals history were featured above, there are a few more players who left an indelible mark on team history but didn’t quite make the top five.
John “Paddy” Driscoll (1920–25)
John “Paddy” Driscoll holds the distinction of being the first-ever first-team All-Pro quarterback in NFL history after he helped the Cardinals to a fourth-place finish in the 1920 league standings. He also helped the team reach the controversial 1925 NFL championship and was considered one of the best all-around football players of the 1920s. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965, and he was named to the NFL’s 1920s All-Decade Team.
Charley Johnson (1961–69)
When Charley Johnson left the Cardinals for the Oilers in 1969, he was the all-time franchise leader in all passing categories. After eight seasons with the Cardinals, he had completed 1,030 of 2,047 passes for 14,928 yards and 108 touchdowns, while also making the 1963 Pro Bowl. In 1964, he led the NFL in passing yards (3,045), but also interceptions thrown (24). He twice threw for six touchdowns in a game, tying the single-game franchise record in both the 1965 and ’69 seasons.
Paul Christman (1945–49)
The quarterback for the 1947 NFL champions, Paul Christman provided the Cardinals a solid option at quarterback for five seasons. He completed 453 of 1,014 passes for 6,749 yards and 51 touchdowns for a team that primarily moved the ball on the ground. Christman completed a pass of at least 70 yards in all but one season in Chicago.
Cardinals Quarterback History and Trivia
There have been 61 quarterbacks to start a game for the Cardinals since Paul Christman led the franchise to the 1947 NFL championship. A quarterback has started every game of the season in just 20 of the 72 seasons since that title. Only Jim Hart, Neil Lomax and Jake Plummer have started every game of back-to-back seasons since Christman did it in 1946 and ’47.
In 2019, Kyler Murray accomplished a first for a Cardinals quarterback by winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He was the No. 1 selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, and he delivered a season that gave fans a lot of hope for the future. Murray was the first rookie in team history to start all 16 games, and he set franchise rookie records in numerous categories—including passing yards (3,772), touchdowns (20), completions (349), attempts (542) and completion percentage (64.4). He also added 544 rushing yards, the most ever in a season for an Arizona quarterback.
What follows are a handful of facts and trivia about Cardinals quarterbacks, a look at the franchise passing records and a list of every quarterback for the team since its 1947 championship.
Who is the current starting quarterback for the Cardinals?
Kyler Murray will enter his second season as the starting quarterback for Arizona in 2020. Brett Hundley, who was the backup in 2019, is currently a free agent.
Who was the first quarterback for the Cardinals?
When the NFL was created in 1920, John “Paddy” Driscoll was the quarterback for the Cardinals. He was named a first-team All-Pro that season.
How many quarterbacks have the Cardinals drafted in the first round of the NFL draft?
The franchise has selected 10 quarterbacks in the first round of the NFL draft, including three with the No. 1 pick.
- 2019: Kyler Murray (No. 1)
- 2018: Josh Rosen (No. 10)
- 2006: Matt Leinart (No. 10)
- 1987: Kelly Stauffer (No. 6)
- 1977: Steve Pisarkiewicz (No. 19)
- 1965: Joe Namath (No. 12)
- 1960: George Izzo (No. 2)
- 1958: Stuart “King” Hill (No. 1)
- 1954: Lamar McHan (No. 1)
- 1937: Ray Buivid (No. 3)
Cardinals Quarterback Records
- Career Yards: 34,639, Jim Hart (1966–83)
- Single Season Yards: 4,671, Carson Palmer (2015)
- Single Game Yards: 522, Boomer Esiason (Nov. 10, 1996–OT)
- Career Touchdowns: 209, Hart (1966–83)
- Single Season Touchdowns: 35, Palmer (2015)
- Single Game Touchdowns: 6, Charley Johnson (Sept. 26, 1965; and Nov. 2, 1969) and Jim Hardy (Oct. 2, 1950)
- Career Completion Percentage: Kurt Warner, 65.1% (2005–09)
- Single Season Completion Percentage: Warner, 67.1% (2008)
- Single Game Completion Percentage: Warner, 92.3% (Sept. 20, 2009)
Cardinals Quarterback Stats