Your Team has a Terrible Backup QB, and so Does Mine

On the eve of this NFL season’s kickoff, Sports Illustrated released a list of the backup QBs in the NFL and this is how it looked:

Drew Stanton, Cardinals
 AJ McCarron, Bengals
 Josh McCown, Browns
 Geno Smith, Jets
 Colt McCoy, Redskins
 Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
 Brian Hoyer, Bears
 Luke McCown, Saints
 Derek Anderson, Panthers
 Mike Glennon, Bucs
 Shaun Hill, Vikings
 EJ Manuel, Bills
 Mark Sanchez, Cowboys
 Chase Daniel, Eagles
 Nick Foles, Chiefs
 Ryan Mallett, Ravens
 Sean Mannion, Rams
 Chad Henne, Jaguars
 Landry Jones, Steelers
 Kellen Clemens, Chargers
 Matt Cassel, Titans
 Paxton Lynch, Broncos
 Matt Moore, Dolphins
 Matt Schaub, Falcons
 Scott Tolzien, Colts
 Dan Orlovsky, Lions
 Tom Savage, Texans
 Brett Hundley, Packers
 Jacoby Brissett, Patriots
 Trevone Boykin, Seahawks
 Matt McGloin, Raiders
 Ryan Nassib, Giants

After watching Landry Jones make another start against the 1–14 Cleveland Browns in week 17 I went to Twitter to take a look at what all of the whiny, spoiled, and otherwise uninformed Steeler fans of the world had to say about it (more to come on this in the future “Memoirs of a Spoiled Fan”, coming soon to OTCSports).


Anyway, the comments we’re about as pretty as Jone’s lackluster play since the day he came into the NFL. It did, however, get me thinking…how many teams have a QB as a backup that i actually feel comfortable with as a backup QB? I believe this list is a little misleading, just because at this point in the year Garoppolo is the backup for New England, Romo is the backup for Dallas, and the backup for the Rams is either Keenum or Goff, not Mannion.

Everyone and their mother wants to have the best backup QB in the league, but the truth is that if you need to have your backup play, you are most likely fucked. Backups are not supposed to lead you to a championship in the NFL, the vast majority of the time they are probably, at best, the 33rd best QB in the league and a backup for a reason. Taking a look at this list, were there many guys I feel more comfortable with TODAY than Landry Jones? The answer was no, absolutely not. While its really hard to not look at the list without weighting in the “potential”, these individuals are not starting QBs due to some flaws in their game.

My short list of guys I would give the nod to include:

  1. Colin Kaepernick
  2. Derek Anderson
  3. Mike Glennon
  4. Brian Hoyer

That is literally it, and two of them became full time starters during the season. The big caveat here is I know Paxton Lynch, Jared Goff, and Brett Hundley have more upside and raw arm talent than most other guys in the backup QB conversation, but we know very little about them at this point.

It did get me thinking, though. What do you look for in a backup QB? The Steelers were in a GREAT place when they had Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. Neither guy a star player, but definitely veteran players with a lot of starts under their belt and probably could string together a few wins in a pinch. So this got me looking at the different thought processes you can look at when addressing your backup QB situation, and I came up with 6 that have some grey area in between them.

  1. Do you want a guy that you can mold into a game manager and may very well only be a career backup? Charlie Whitehurst drafted to back up a young Philip Rivers, Matt Cassel for Tom Brady.
  2. Do you want a guy that you can hope take over for the incumbent starter? Philip Rivers for Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre, Brock Oswelier for Peyton Manning.
  3. Do you want a former starter who at one point played at a medium or high level? Matt Hasselbeck for Andrew Luck, or Kerry Collins for Vince Young.
  4. Do you want someone who can compete with what you already have? Russel Wilson competing with Matt Flynn, Tony Romo competing with Drew Bledsoe.
  5. Do you want someone who has been a backup their whole career and done a nice job in spot duty elsewhere? Matt Flynn (best workout QB of all time, apparently), Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton, Matt Moore, etc…
  6. Do you want someone you hope some other team will fall in love with and trade you for? Matt Schaub for Michael Vick, Kirk Cousins for Big Bob Griffin the third, or a whole bunch of Patriot backups like Matt Cassel, Ryan Mallet, Garoppolo, Hoyer…they are kind of con-artists with this, but artists nonetheless.

Well, I guess it depends where you are with your starting QB. Lets take a look at Ben Roethlisberger’s backups over his career:

  1. Tommy Maddox — Ben took over for after Maddox was injured early in the season. Maddox was a veteran presence and not a bad QB to have in case the rookie struggled.
  2. Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich — Veteran players that were reliable backups for a QB that played in a down-field Bruce Arians offense and absolutely welcomed contact early his career.
  3. Dennis Dixon — Oregon QB tore his ACL his senior year, brought in because he was widely looked at as a second round talent that was taken in the 5th round. Hope was that he could start in a pinch and possibly offer trade value to a team that viewed him as a starter.
  4. Bruce Gradkowski — Not a special talent, but a tough little guy that could go out there and spin the ball. Basically a career backup that had some starting experience in Tampa and Oakland.
  5. Landry Jones — Middle of the pack prospect that at one point was hyped as a first round pick (laughable, in my opinion).

The progression here suggests that maybe they are looking for the heir to Roethlisberger, but Landry Jones almost certainly is not that guy. This brings me to my main point about Steeler fans suggesting the team should look to draft Ben’s replacement high in the next draft. I believe this to be an insane concept. In today’s NFL you simply do not draft a high round QB with the intentions of having them sit for more than a year. Automatically, you might think “Well, what about Aaron Rodgers?”, but the truth is that is so far from what is normal its almost never been seen before. You just do not get to follow up generational talent at QB with another generational talent very often, let alone have a 3 year overlap. The Packers had the overlap with those two, the Colts followed up Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck, who else is that lucky? Well, the Steelers had a chance to be with following up Terry Bradshaw with Dan Marino, but that is a discussion for another time.

Lets say Ben is 4 years away from being done (he might be, he might not be)…and you do draft a QB high and hope they take over at that time. If that happens you run a very large risk of having them either hit free agency like Osweiler or having to pay them starter money to keep them, which could be a detrimental setback to the franchise.
 In today’s NFL its unrealistic to think you can have a high pick QB sit for 3–4 years before taking over. There is a reason that Aaron Rodgers was the ideal situation, because it NEVER happens. Having two back to back franchise QBs is an extreme rarity in itself, having a 4 years overlap is nearly unheard of. People also do not remember how terrible Rodgers was early in his career. He had the Packers brass asking if he had it in him during preseason and spot duty behind Favre. He ended up taking the reigns and growing into a master of the position, but between injuries and poor play he didn’t look like the player we see today.

If you are going to draft a QB in the first round pick, i think you almost HAVE to expect them to play by year 2 otherwise you probably have needs elsewhere that can help you much sooner. Quarterbacks are over drafted as it is, adding to that more by over drafting when you don’t need is even worse. Maybe you could argue that guys like Jake Locker, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn, Blaine Gabbert, Josh Freeman, Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel, Jamarcus Russel, and Mark Sanchez should have rode the bench for several years and maybe they would be better…I’m just not sure that is the case.

Tony Romo is pretty much unquestionably the best backup QB in the league right now, but it is hard to imagine him being a backup for Dallas next season if he still wants to play. He will make $19 million next season with a cap hit of $24 million and is signed through 2019, hard to imagine the Cowboys keeping that on their books with some stud lineman on deck to extend.

My recommendation for the Steelers is to definitely not resign Landry Jones and draft someone with some upside this year, but not in the top half of the draft. Chad “Swag” Kelly is my choice; he is coming off of an ACL injury, and Ben Roethlisberger is good friends with Jim Kelly, Chad’s uncle. In all likelihood, upon Roethlisberger’s retirement the Steelers will likely be back to the drawing board as most franchises are when they lose a true franchise QB and future hall-of-famer.

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