Quality NFL Backups Are Tough To Find


No team has ever felt the value of their backup quarterback more than the St. Louis Rams of 1999, when Trent Green went down with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason and a grocery stockboy (or so Kurt Warner’s story went) stepped in to lead them to the promised land.

The New England Patriots come in a close second as Tom Brady stepped in for an injured Drew Bledsoe and started the rise of the dynasty that lives to this day.  Rounding out the top three most important backup quarterback jobs in NFL history was Earl Morrall’s replacement of the Colts’ Johhny Unitas and Dolphins’ Bob Griese in 1971 and 1972, helping both teams win Super Bowls!

Finding those 3 dramatic stories reach over 40 years into the past, but there’s no denying the need to build an NFL roster with a quality backup QB, just in case the worst case scenario ensues.  The 2001 Patriots found Tom Brady in an emergency situation and launched Matt Cassel’s career through an even more dramatic loss when Brady went down for the year in the season opener in 2008.

It is a tough job for general managers around the league, since many teams lack a great starter in the first place, and finding the right kind of player to be the backup can be even more of a challenge.  Do you go with an aging veteran that won’t put too much pressure on the starter or cause a locker room riff about being better than the starter?  Or do you go with a young guy, probably a middle round draft pick with potential, but isn’t proven?  Morrall was the aging veteran who did not make waves when the star quarterback was ready to go back into the action, Brady was the late-round pick with potential and Kurt Warner was probably considered little more than a camp arm and turned himself into an NFL MVP.

So, what teams are in the best situation today to weather a similar disaster?

Last season, the Arizona Cardinals had a good chance to have a special year and could have used someone special to step in when Carson Palmer went down, but more injuries at the QB position kept it from happening.  The Houston Texans seem to have gone through the most quarterbacks of any pseudo-contender the last couple of years, but they haven’t been close to competing for a championship anyway.

Unfortunately for the league, I’m hard pressed to think of even a handful of quality backups that could fit this important role and step in to save a season.  The most likely situation of all is in Philadelphia, where Sam Bradford is trying to make a comeback of sorts from regular season-ending injuries.  Mark Sanchez will be chomping at the bit to come off the bench once again, as he did rather successfully last year, but will be looking to take the Eagles to much higher heights this season if that chance materializes.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to ultimately start top pick Jameis Winston in the season opener and will have a quality QB in the wings in Mike Glennon, but the bigger question is will the Bucs be anywhere close to prepared to have a great season with either guy under center or shotgun for that matter?

Franchise quarterbacks are hard to come by, but having a quality guy on the bench just in case might be even more difficult to find and every GM and head coach can agree that they would rather not find out if they have that depth in their roster.


About Jeff Carlson

Jeff Carlson

Former NFL quarterback, training youth QB's in Tampa, Florida. Football Analyst for Bright House Sports Network and Football Insiders.