When the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans announced that Tarvaris Jackson and Vince Young, respectively, would no longer start under center, it became clear that the running quarterback era was officially coming to a close.
Make no mistake; the mobile quarterback is still alive. Many of today's top players in the position have proven that they can hold composure in the pocket, but also run for a first down when protection breaks down. The running quarterback, however, has officially died.
Before examining why this particular strain of athlete no longer has a promising future in the league, it is imperative to identify what distinguishes a running quarterback from a mobile quarterback.
Ben Roethlisberger has established that he is not only solid as drop-back passer, but also quick-footed enough to avoid the pass rush as he finds a receiver.
Donovan McNabb came into the league leaning more toward running. The Syracuse standout had been thrown into an offense that did not provide him with the support he needed.
Forced to make plays on the ground, his identity as a runner grew. He tried to be a pocket passer first, and because his talents ensured that he never had to rely solely on his legs, he has developed into a great mobile quarterback.
Dan Marino was a different type of mobile quarterback. Marino couldn't beat Mo Vaughn in a footrace, but his footwork in the pocket was extremely efficient. While he was not dodging in and around defensive lineman, he was still able to buy time for himself with subtle movements.
The running quarterback, however, is much easier to identify. "Scramblin'" Fran Tarkenton -- who played for the Vikings and the New York Giants for the entirety of his career -- stands fourth on the all-time rushing list among quarterbacks, logging 3,674 yards on the ground in his 18 seasons.
Randall Cunningham, who saw some time with the Vikings and most time with the Eagles, finished his career as the NFL's all-time leader in rushing yards and carries for the quarterback position -- and he could scramble when necessary,
Cunningham was more of a downfield runner -- especially during his days in Philadelphia. He could beat defenders with a lateral cut or outright speed. He led the Eagles to the playoffs four times and won the league's Most Valuable Player award in 1990. With Minnesota, he ran less and threw more to talented receivers, such as Randy Moss and Chris Carter. Cunningham eventually led his team to a 15-1 regular season in 1998. The Vikings lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the 1998 NFC Championship game.
After 1998, the running quarterback seemed to be fading out. Aside from Cunningham and Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers, the league had not seen tremendous runners behind center in years. The era would have come to close 10 years earlier, had it not been for the most celebrated athlete in Virginia Tech history.
Michael Vick entered the league in 2001 as the Falcons' No. 1 pick in that year's NFL Draft. Though his career is a model of underachievement from a team standpoint, Vick stands alone as the best running quarterback the league has ever seen. He is the only quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a regular season, and has a better highlight reel than that of the 2006 Super Bowl runner-up Chicago Bears.