Backup quarterbacks becoming an NFL premium

Rick Gosselin


(Jimmy Garoppolo photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)

(Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

There has always been a premium on the quarterback position in the NFL. But there seems to be a growing premium these days on the backup quarterback position.

Fourteen teams drafted quarterbacks in 2016. Another seven teams drafted QBs in 2015. The Broncos, Jets and Rams all claimed quarterbacks in each of the last two drafts.

In addition, the Philadelphia Eagles paid a premium in free agency this offseason to lure Chase Daniel away from Kansas City, awarding him a three-year contract for $21 million, with $12 million of it guaranteed. He’s now competing for playing time with an incumbent starter (Sam Bradford) and the second overall pick of the 2016 draft (Carson Wentz).

The Washington Redskins also paid a premium to keep their backup, giving Colt McCoy $9 million over three years to sit behind Kirk Cousins.

The New England Patriots are preparing to cash in their investment in the backup position. With Tom Brady sitting the first month of the season with an NFL suspension, Jimmy Garoppolo will draw the four starts in his absence. This is why the Patriots drafted Garoppolo with a second-round pick in 2014 -- to have a quality arm if and when the time came that Brady couldn't play.

Brady himself came off the bench to lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl championship in 2001. Jeff Hostetler came off the bench to the lead the New York Giants to a Super Bowl championship in 1990. Ben Roethlisberger came off the bench to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to the AFC title game in 2004 and Colin Kaepernick came off the bench to lead the San Francisco 49ers to an NFC title in 2012.

But those are the exceptions to the rule. You don’t expect your backup quarterback to one day hoist a Lombardi Trophy. You’re just hoping he can steal a game or two while your starter is away.

The history of backup quarterbacks is dreadful. Since 2010, backup quarterbacks have been asked to start 508 games league-wide in the absence of the starters. Those backups have managed to win only 208 of them. That's a winning percentage of 35.4 So if you lose your starter for any extended period, your season can swirl down the drain in a hurry.

The Cowboys entered the 2015 season as the defending NFC East champions. Tony Romo was the NFL’s reigning passing champion and won three of his first four starts in 2015. But those would be his only starts because of a pair of shoulder injuries. The Cowboys collapsed from first to worst without him as their three backup quarterbacks – Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore – combined for a 1-11 record.

For every Brady, there’s a Zach Mettenberger, who went 0-8 filling in at Tennessee in 2014. For every Hostetler, there’s a Case Keenum, who went 0-8 filling in at Houston in 2013. For every Roethlisberger, there’s a Brady Quinn, who went 1-7 filling in at Kansas City in 2012. For every Kaepernick, there’s a Jimmy Clausen, who went 1-9 filling in at Carolina in 2010.

More teams are starting to adopt the philosophy the Patriots used with Brady, and the Packers employed with Aaron Rodgers – draft them and develop them. Six of the quarterbacks drafted in 2016 went in the first three rounds, the premium rounds.

So the talent is there. You just need to develop it. You may not wind up with a quarterback who can win Super Bowls as the Patriots and Packers did. But you may end up with a quarterback who can win a game or two for you when your starter is injured.


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