Hangin' loose as an NFL backup can lead to great things.
Matt Schaub. Matt Cassel. Kevin Kolb. Matt Flynn.
What do all these players have in common?
Well, besides the rhythmic cadence of their names—Schaub, Kolb and a whole lot of Matts—each of these players signed big, starting quarterback contracts after serving as backups.
In today’s NFL, depth is pivotal. But it’s especially pivotal at the quarterback position.
If a team’s starting signal-caller goes down, there needs to be someone waiting who can take the reins and help the offense carry on. When that someone proves he can do this effectively, he makes the rest of the league take notice.
Matt Flynn was this year’s backup-turned-starter after marinating behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay’s lethal offense. But which quarterbacks will be next?
Here are seven names to monitor over the next year or two who could go from backup shmackup to franchise quarterback.
Soon enough, Brian Hoyer will step out of Tom Brady's shadow.
The New England Patriots tendered restricted free-agent quarterback Brian Hoyer this offseason at a second-round level. With a pretty talented backup in Ryan Mallett also on the roster, that goes to show just how much the Pats value Hoyer as Tom Brady’s insurance.
Meanwhile, the Boston Globe confirmed in April that “the Patriots are very pleased with his development and believe Hoyer could be a starter.”
Much like former Patriot Matt Cassel, Hoyer has minimal regular season stats but plenty of preseason production. He’s also had the privilege of learning under one of the game’s top quarterbacks in Tom Brady.
Currently playing out a one-year deal, Hoyer will likely be a safety net for the Pats as they attempt to make another run at the Super Bowl in 2012. After that, look for him to seek richer pastures as a free agent with the opportunity to be an NFL starter.
For Ryan Mallett, no news has been good news so far in his development.
Speaking of Ryan Mallett, the second-year quarterback will soon become relevant for the New England Patriots. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network and NFL.com reported before the NFL draft that the Pats were listening to trade offers for both Hoyer and Mallett.
Obviously, much of Mallett’s fate will be determined by what happens with Hoyer. With Hoyer set to become a free agent at the end of the 2012 season, the smart money is on Mallett being Brady’s primary backup in 2013.
Mallett is a big pocket quarterback with great arm strength and impressive accuracy. Aside from being exceptionally slow, he has all the tangibles teams look for at the position.
The only thing that held him back when he was drafted was his maturity and possible character concerns. We haven’t heard about Mallett since then, which is a good thing. Teams around the league will consequently be convinced that Bill Belichick and the Pats organization have helped straighten the young quarterback out, which means he could be a very hot name in a couple of years.
Graham Harrell could be the next backup in Green Bay to turn starter.
Graham Harrell could only remain a secret for so long in Green Bay’s ridiculously potent offensive system.
In December of 2011, the Buffalo Bills reportedly showed strong interest in signing Harrell off of Green Bay’s practice squad, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The Packers subsequently promoted Harrell to their 53-man roster and offered him more money.
With Matt Flynn now in Seattle, Dan Pompei of the National Football Post points out that “coach Mike McCarthy has high hopes for Graham Harrell as primary backup to Aaron Rodgers.” Pompei says, “McCarthy told me Harrell s [sic] very instinctive, even keeled, tough and bright, and he has a good grasp of the offense.”
Aaron Rodgers is clearly entrenched as Green Bay’s franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future, and Harrell will be a quality backup for the next year or two. But he’s set to become a restricted free agent in 2014, and by that time, this year’s seventh-round draft pick B.J. Coleman may be ready to serve as the primary No. 2.
Harrell is 27 years old. In a year or two, he could just be entering his prime.
Though he still has some work to do, Mike Kafka's stock is rising.
Out in Philadelphia, the Eagles are going to ride the wings of Michael Vick after signing the veteran to a $100 million contract last year. But because of his style of play and durability concerns, they need to be sure his backup is ready to play.
As of now, 24-year-old Mike Kafka is the leading candidate to be the No. 2 quarterback, according to Jeff McLane via Twitter, who is an Eagles beat reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Kafka is currently battling Trent Edwards and is fully expected to win that battle. After drafting rookie Nick Foles in the third round of this year’s draft, Edwards will likely be let go when all is said and done.
The Eagles apparently really liked what they saw in Foles, spending a fairly high draft pick (88th overall) on him for a season in which they’re hoping to make a run at a championship. This means that Foles is the next developmental guy in line for when Kafka leaves.
Via Rotoworld.com, Eagles inside Adam Caplan reported that Kafka is “making throws ‘which he didn’t come close to making in his first two years.’”
Kafka is signed cheaply through 2013 and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2014. At that point, he’ll likely have accumulated enough game experience filling in for Vick to earn a chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere.
Big John Skelton knows how to sling the pigskin around.
John Skelton’s case is a little bit tricky because he could very well remain in Arizona as the starter. Kevin Kolb hasn’t done anything to justify his six-year, $65 million contract. Meanwhile, Skelton, who is just 24 years old, has impressed thus far early in his young career.
Skelton is a big dude (6’6”, 244 pounds) with an equally big arm, but as a small-school prospect out of Fordham, he’s a bit raw. That didn’t stop him from chucking the ball around the last two seasons, though.
In 2011, he passed for 1,913 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games. However, he’ll have to improve his completion percentage (a career 52.6 percent in 13 games) in order to compete for a starting job.
Because of Kolb’s massive contract, he figures to beat out Skelton heading into 2012. But Skelton has proven he can play and he has all the tangibles NFL clubs covet in franchise quarterbacks. If he can continue to improve on his ability to read defenses and make better decisions, he could carve out a path for himself.
T.J. Yates already has valuable playoff experience for a second-year QB.
T.J. Yates opened up a lot of eyes last year as a rookie after filling in admirably for both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart. In six regular season games, the former fifth-rounder completed 82-of-134 passes (62 percent) for 949 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Not spectacular, but for a rookie not expected to play and who was thrown to the wolves, Yates helped lead the Texans not only to the postseason, but also to a postseason victory. In two playoff games, Yates totaled 343 yards and a touchdown, but he also completed just 51 percent of his passes and tossed three picks.
Obviously, the stats aren’t going to blow anyone away right now. But the important takeaway is that Yates is still very young and already has a lot of experience under his belt, including postseason play.
Because he’s signed for three more seasons, he’ll have an opportunity to continue growing and improving as a passer. The advantage for him is that he’s already planted a seed in other teams’ minds, and they’ll be tracking his progress in the meantime.
For a third-string rookie QB, Kirk Cousins certainly has generated a lot of hype.
The Washington Redskins drafted rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins for one reason and one reason only: to develop him as future trade bait.
Robert Griffin III is the new face of the franchise, and despite selecting Cousins out of Michigan State in the fourth round, there is absolutely no quarterback competition and/or controversy in D.C.
But Cousins is a pretty polished passer with intelligence and leadership qualities, as he was a three-year captain for the Spartans, according to CBS Sports.
Veteran Rex Grossman, who signed a one-year deal this offseason, is virtually a lock to be the No. 2 quarterback behind Griffin. He has a working knowledge of Shanahan’s offensive system and plenty of NFL experience to be a solid mentor to the rookie.
However, his future with the team after 2012 is unclear, which could vault Cousins into the primary backup role as early as 2013. Once Griffin lights up the stat sheet and puts Washington’s offense back on the map, Cousins will be the beneficiary, as teams will look to scoop up the next young, primed talent at one of the game’s most important positions.
Follow @JoshCembellin on Twitter