The Cleveland Browns are known for that infamous quarterback jersey and their long suffering in general, but the Chicago Bears have had it almost equally bad. Almost. Some supreme defenses have allowed the Bears to enjoy some playoff successes, but the quarterback position has been plagued by inconsistency and mediocrity for decades.
Beginning in 1992, this ranking accounts for the overall success of 14 total quarterbacks, although many more have suited up for Chicago in the past 25 years. From Jim Harbaugh (left) to Rex Grossman (right), the players charted here led the Bears in passing yards for at least one season.
Any guesses where will recently-acquired QB Mike Glennon ends up on this list? If you’re a Bears fan, you may wish to look away at this time. (Years in parentheses denote seasons that the QB led the team in passing yards).
Cade McNown (2000)
McNown’s tenure with Chicago was short and bitterly disappointing. The Bears drafted McNown with the 12th overall pick in ‘99 and attempted some harebrained scheme of playing him one or two series in his first games to ease him into the starting role. The Bears made him the starter for the 2000 season and his play gradually worsened over the course of his first eight starts (seven losses). The second-year lefty passer earned a 72.8 passer rating over that stretch and took 25 sacks, but did add 320 yards rushing. Chicago had seen enough and shipped its former first-rounder to Miami in a swap of late-round draft picks.
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Chad Hutchinson (2004)
The first season of the Lovie Smith coaching era saw Hutchinson presiding over the league’s worst offense in yardage and points scored. He actually started only the final five games (1-4) but managed to pass the trio of earlier starters (Craig Krenzel, Rex Grossman, Jonathan Quinn) with 903 passing yards. Poor offensive line play (and bad QBs) resulted in an obscene 66 sacks between the four. Hutching completed 91 of 161 passes for 903 yards, four TDs and three interceptions. He was projected as the starter for the 2005 season but after rookie QB Kyle Orton won the gig, Hutchinson got released and was out of football.
Kordell Stewart (2003)
Chicago took a shot on Stewart after the magic of “Slash” had run out in Pittsburgh. The Bears had just drafted Rex Grossman and hoped Stewart would serve as a solid veteran presence, but he flopped badly. Slash completed barely 50% of his passes for 1,418 yards, tossing seven scores and 12 INTs in seven starts (2-5). He also took 25 sacks. After five games, head coach Dick Jauron turned to Chris Chandler and Grossman got his first three starts as well. Stewart spent his next two seasons as a backup in Baltimore before retiring.
Matt Barkley (2016)
After three seasons in Philadelphia and Arizona as a second- and third-stringer, Barkley finally got a shot to start in Chicago following injuries to Jay Culter and Brian Hoyer. Barkley had his moments, despite an ugly 1-5 record in his six starts. Which is not to say he played well: He threw eight TDs and 14 INTs (five in a single game), although a struggling Bears defense often left the offense playing catch-up. Three times Barkley passed for 300-plus yards and he made some impressive throws. Now he’s back to the West Coast after signing a two-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers.
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Brian Griese (2007)
Almost every QB who comes to Chicago gets a chance. Such was the case for Griese, who arrived in the Windy City in 2006 after stints in Denver, Miami and Tampa Bay and in 2007 started six games for the Bears. The bag was mixed. Griese averaged 257 yards per game in six starts (3-3) and led a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks but tossed 12 interceptions. He ended up back in Tampa Bay in 2008, his final season in the league.
Steve Walsh (1994)
A true journeyman QB who played for six teams in 11 seasons, Walsh was destined to lead the Bears (for roughly one season). Walsh played effectively after relieving an injured Erik Kramer and kept the starting job once Kramer got healthy. In 11 starts, Walsh led Chicago to an 8-3 record, completed 60.6% of his passes for 2,078 yards, led three fourth-quarter comebacks and completed 15 of 23 passes for 221 yards and 2 TDs in a 35-18 wild card playoff victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Shane Matthews (1999)
In the first season of Dick Jauron’s five-year stint as head coach, the Bears turned to Matthews, who was making his second pass through Chicago after spending three seasons with the Bears from 1993-1996 and then two with Carolina. Despite the interruptions with McNown, Matthews managed to complete 60.7% of passes for 1,645 yards, 10 scores and six interceptions (3-4 as a starter). He made eight more starts in relief of McNown and Jim Miller in the ensuing two seasons.
Dave Krieg (1996)
Krieg took over for the injured Erik Kramer in 1996 at age 38 and well past his prime. A three-time Pro Bowler in Seattle with diminished zip on the fastball, he made for a decent backup quarterback in a spot start. And his presence on the field meant that something had gone wrong — hopeful franchise QB Kramer had gone down. Krieg went 6-6 as a starter after the Bears' disappointing 1-3 start under Kramer, finishing 7-9 overall. Krieg was one-and-done in Chicago, playing two more seasons as a backup in Tennessee before calling it a career.
Jim Miller (2001-2002)
Miller joined the Bears in 1998 after passing through Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Detroit in five seasons. Miller earned the starting job in 1999 but failed a drug test (steroids) and the league issued a four-game suspension. Miller re-emerged as the starter in 2001 when he completed 57.7% of passes for 2,229 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 INTs. He was unspectacular but good enough as rookie Anthony Thomas ran for 1,183 yards and the Bears finished 13-3 and earned a bye to the divisional round against the Eagles.
Toward the end of the first half, Miller threw an interception and then got in Eagles linebacker Hugh Douglas’ way — and separated his right shoulder in the collision. Shane Matthews took over in the second half, attempting only five passes (three completions, 1 INT) in an eventual 33-19 loss. Miller led the Bears in passing yards again in 2002, a disastrous 4-12 campaign that saw Miller get lifted midway through the season in favor of a 37-year-old Chris Chandler.
Kyle Orton (2005, 2008)
The Bears selected Orton aka “Uncle Rico” out of Purdue in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. After Rex Grossman broke his ankle during the preseason, 2005 became Uncle Rico’s show. Buoyed by the league’s top defense and solid rushing of Thomas Jones, Orton wasn’t asked to do a whole lot. Orton went 10-5 as a starter but Grossman replaced him in the playoffs, a 29-21 home loss to Carolina. Orton proceeded to jockey with Grossman for much of his time in Chicago, getting another shot in 2008 when he started 15 games (9-6) before moving on to Denver where, once again, he became a QB that the team had but not one it really wanted.
Rex Grossman (2006)
Grossman’s career as a Bear (and in general) is best described by the phenomenon: Good Rex or Bad Rex? Nobody ever seemed to know which one would show up on game day: a former SEC Player of the Year who could make every throw, or a skittish turnover machine. That inconsistency (23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions) was not enough to derail a 13-win Bears team led by Brian Urlacher in his prime, which made it all the way to Super Bowl, falling short to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the rain when “Meh” Rex showed up. Grossman completed 20 of 28 passes for only 165 yards, threw two picks and fumbled twice (none lost). Grossman started only eight games in the ensuing two seasons in Chicago before resurfacing as the starter in Washington in 2011.
Erik Kramer (1995, 1997-1998)
As previously noted, Steve Walsh took over for Kramer in 1994, and then in 1995 Kramer started all 16 games, setting Bears single-season records for passing yards (3,838) and touchdown passes (29). (Both records still stand). The Bears went 9-7 and missed the playoffs due to a tie-breaker. Unfortunately that was as good as it would get during the Kramer era as a serious neck injury forced him out of action for much of the 1996 season and for parts of the 1997 and 1998 campaigns.
One ugly footnote to this period in Bears football is the team’s trade of its 1997 first-round draft pick and a fourth-rounder to the Seattle Seahawks for Rick Mirer, whom Kramer beat out during training camp. Despite signing a three-year, $11.4 million contract with the Bears, Mirer started a total three games in Chicago before moving on to Green Bay.
Jay Cutler (2009-2015)
When the Jay Cutler-Denver Broncos relationship soured after his statistically successful 2008 season in Denver, the Bears saw a potential franchise QB for the first time in a long time and went after him. The team traded two first-round picks and a third-rounder for Cutler, and the acquisition was largely celebrated as a worthy expenditure to end the unabated inconsistency at Bears QB.
At times he flashed his big arm and looked the part of a franchise QB. But Cutler is now gone, cut earlier this month, and there’s little to show for his tenure except for about $95 million in salary and bonuses he collected from Chicago. Twice Cutler led the league in interceptions (2009, 2014) and the Bears won just one playoffs game in the seven-year span. The offense consistently ranked in the bottom half of the league for points and yardage and although Cutler has had some supporters, by most accounts and upon examination of his body language, he’s no leader. Overall, Cutler finished an even 51-51 as a starter in Chicago. The fact that he’s the longest-running Chicago starter since Jim McMahon tells you all you need to know about the Bears QB woes.
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Jim Harbaugh (1990-1993)
The Harbaugh era in Chicago started in 1989, a couple frames before the 25-year window. The Bears traded Super Bowl-winning QB Jim McMahon after the 1988 season, making way for Harbaugh whom they drafted in 1987. In four seasons as the starter from 1990-1993, Harbaugh led Chicago (which still boasted a solid defense) to the playoffs twice and a record of 33-25. Good times.
Harbaugh’s final ride in Chicago marked the first season of the post-Mike Ditka era in 1993 when Dave Wannstedt took over as head coach. In a less aerial era and a more ball-control offense, Harbaugh averaged only 133 passing yards per game, tossing seven TDs against 11 INTs. Things went better in 1995 when he led the league in yards per attempt (8.2) and earned a Pro Bowl nod.