March 17, 2010
Boomer Esiason had a distinguished career with the Cincinnati Bengals after being drafted out of Maryland in the second round in 1984. In nine seasons through 1992, he had completed 56.2 % of his 3378 passes for 25,671 yards with 174 touchdowns against 129 interceptions. Esiason was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and in 1988, his most accomplished year, was named NFL MVP by the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America while leading the NFL in passing and directing the Bengals to the AFC Championship.
However, in the last couple of seasons things had not gone quite so well for Esiason and the Bengals. After winning the AFC Central with a 9-7 record in 1990, Cincinnati went a combined 8-24 in finishing last in ’91 and ’92. Esiason’s performance had suffered as well, and questions arose regarding the condition of his arm, although he insisted the problem was more with the team around him. When new Head Coach David Shula started rookie QB David Klingler in four games in 1992 in place of Esiason, it was clear that change was coming.
On March 17, 1993 the Bengals traded Esiason to the New York Jets for a third round pick in the ’93 draft (used to take Steve Tovar from Ohio State, who started at middle linebacker for over three seasons). The deal was part of a housecleaning that included OT Anthony Munoz, WR Tim McGee, and TE Rodney Holman. For the Long Island native it was something of a homecoming and it also reunited Esiason with Bruce Coslet, head coach of the Jets who had been offensive coordinator in Cincinnati during his best seasons.
The Jets had gone 4-12 in 1992 with second-year QB Browning Nagle and Coslet was feeling pressure after a three-year tenure that had produced a combined record of 18-30. While Nagle was considered to be a good prospect, he had experienced difficulty with the offense and Esiason provided a ready solution. General Manager Dick Steinberg had swung several deals in the offseason for proven veterans on both offense and defense that included all-time great safety Ronnie Lott, DE Leonard Marshall, CB Eric Thomas, and RB Johnny Johnson.
The result for the Jets in 1993 was an 8-8 record. Esiason started off well and, after ten games, had completed 193 of 298 passes (64.8 %) for 2446 yards with 14 TDs against 7 interceptions. The team’s record was 6-4. But after suffering a neck injury, his performance dropped off significantly; in the last six games he completed 95 of 175 passes (54.3 %) for 975 yards with just two touchdowns and four interceptions. The offense encountered significant problems scoring points – after never scoring fewer than 10 points in those first ten games, they scored in single digits in five of the last six and were shut out by the Oilers in the season finale.
Esiason was still selected to the Pro Bowl, and overall he achieved career highs in passing attempts (473) and completions (288), and his completion percentage (60.9) was his best to date. But Coach Coslet was fired and replaced by defensive coordinator Pete Carroll.
In his remaining two seasons in New York, Esiason’s numbers deteriorated, but he wasn’t helped by the dropoff in quality around him. The Jets went a combined 9-23 under Pete Carroll and Rich Kotite. After a year in Arizona, Esiason returned to Cincinnati for one last season in 1997.
The Bengals failed to prosper with David Klingler at quarterback. Prone to being sacked and sore-shouldered after an injury in his third season, Klingler was nowhere near the productive passer he had been in college operating in the University of Houston’s pass-oriented offense. Cincinnati’s record with him at quarterback was a dismal 4-20. It marked the continuation of the dry spell that began in 1991 as the club finished as high as .500 only once between 1990 and 2003.