Grading the Backup Quarterback Moves in 2013 NFL Free Agency

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIMarch 21, 2013

Grading the Backup Quarterback Moves in 2013 NFL Free Agency

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    The backup quarterback position is one of the most important—and overlooked—positions in the NFL. The quality of a backup at the quarterback position can sometimes make or break a season for a football team.

    He is the player a fan would never want to see on the field but who needs to deliver if that time comes.

    This player needs to know every subtle nuance of the offense just as the starter does. He may not be as polished at the position, but he needs a good understanding of the game, solid work ethic and common sense.

    NFL seasons have rested upon the arm of a backup quarterback. Some have helped their respective teams hoist a Lombardi Trophy. Others have allowed their teams to fall into obscurity. So, which kind of reserve quarterback did your team land in free agency this year?

    Each team that has made a move to obtain a backup quarterback during the free-agency period will receive a grade. Teams will not be included for re-signing an existing player.

    Grades for backup quarterback movement will be based upon the following criteria listed:

    An "A" grade is for a team that has made a significant upgrade at the position. Not only did they acquire a solid backup quarterback, but they brought in a player who can serve multiple purposes for the team. This signing is a tremendous upgrade for this offense.

    A "B" grade will be awarded to a team that signed a valuable quarterback that should be able to step in and serve his team in a capable manner. He may not be solid gold, but he is definitely a big upgrade from last season.

    A "C" grade is for a team that really remained the same at the position despite the new signing. This player may give the team an advantage in one department but could be a downgrade in another. This grade is basically a wash for the team.

    A "D" grade will be given for a very questionable signing. What was this particular team thinking? This player will provide zero upgrade at the position and probably should not have been signed in the first place.

    An "F" grade should be avoided at all costs by any team—obviously. If a team is to receive this grade, they quite possibly made the worst move available in free agency. There were better options on the market, and based on team needs, they failed miserably to bring in the right player. 

Minnesota Vikings: Matt Cassel

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    2012 starter: Christian Ponder
    2012 backup: Joe Webb
    2013 starter: Christian Ponder

    The Minnesota Vikings decided to bring in embattled quarterback Matt Cassel this offseason after his release from the Kansas City Chiefs. Cassel struggled in 2012 and lost his position with the team once Andy Reid was hired as head coach.

    Aside from a very nice outing in 2010, Cassel has never been able to reproduce the same quarterback numbers that he put up in New England in 2008 after a Tom Brady injury.

    Cassel may be one of the more inconsistent quarterbacks in the NFL. He struggles under duress in the pocket and makes poor decisions when pressured. This has lead him to consistently decline in production since a solid year in 2010.

    Last season, Cassel was benched halfway through the year in favor of Brady Quinn. At that point in the season, Cassel had only thrown for six touchdown passes compared to 12 interceptions for a passer rating of 66.7.

    With a steady decline in production, it is baffling why the Vikings opted to bring in Cassel to back up a struggling Christian Ponder.

    After a lackluster rookie season and only improving slightly in his second year, Ponder faces the ever crucial third year as a starter in the NFL. This is the year that can make or break a quarterback with a particular franchise.

    Ponder will need tutelage this season from an expert quarterback who has seen it all if he is to continue to improve his game. The Vikings needed to bring a more noteworthy backup quarterback into the mix in attempt to mentor Ponder.

    There are certainly plenty of better options out there on the market over Cassel. This is not a move that impresses at all. It may not even be any kind of an upgrade over 2012 backup Joe Webb.

    Webb is as inconsistent of a passer as Cassel, but has another dimension to his game because of his ability to run. Webb will still be with the Vikings in 2013, but seems to be pushed even farther down the depth chart due to the signing of Cassel.


    Vikings grade: D-

Kansas City Chiefs: Chase Daniel

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    2012 starter: Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn
    2012 backup: Brady Quinn, Matt Cassel
    2013 starter: Alex Smith

    After releasing Matt Cassel, the Kansas City Chiefs new head coach Andy Reid needed to find a replacement at backup quarterback. Reid has already made one move by acquiring Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers and naming him as the new starter.

    Reid decided that Smith's backup would be former New Orleans Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel.

    Daniel has shown flashes of brilliance during the few times analysts have seen him in action. Being a backup to Drew Brees does not accumulate much playing time—except for the preseason.

    In these early games, Daniel seemed very poised in the pocket and delivered passes on time and with accuracy. He is not the tallest quarterback and does not have the strongest arm, but has shown the ability to be consistent at the position.

    It is difficult to evaluate based on preseason performances, but Daniel does have great mentors awaiting him in Kansas City.

    Smith has been around long enough to see plenty of different looks in the NFL and will be able to guide Daniel through his transition to a new team. In turn, Daniel should be able to push Smith to stay in top form or risk a competition.

    Also, Reid is an excellent evaluator of quarterback talent. He has obviously seen something that he likes in Daniel and was willing to bring him in for development.

    Kansas City fans should most certainly trust Reid in the quarterback department based on plenty of past success. Daniel could be the next in a long line of quarterbacks developed by Reid to step in and find success in his offense.

     

    Chiefs grade: B

Tennessee Titans: Ryan Fitzpatrick

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    2012 starter: Jake Locker, Matt Hasselbeck
    2012 backup: Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker
    2013 starter: Jake Locker

    The Tennessee Titans were faced with a huge dilemma after losing veteran Matt Hasselbeck in free agency. Their young quarterback Jake Locker has been struggling over his past two seasons in the NFL and needs a mentor around him. To make matters worse, he needs a mentor who can still play given Locker's lingering injury concerns.

    Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    Fitzpatrick was released by the Buffalo Bills despite putting up decent numbers again in 2012. However, they decided that he was not the long-term answer and released him.

    The Titans immediately jumped on this opportunity to bring such a quality backup quarterback to Tennessee.

    Fitzpatrick can turn to his eight years of NFL experience to mentor Locker. He has been a backup in St. Louis and Cincinnati and a starter in Buffalo. He has seen it all and should have plenty to share with the young starter.

    Like Ponder, Locker is entering his third year in the league which is a very telling juncture of a quarterback's development. Locker can certainly use all the help he can get. Experience-wise, Fitzpatrick is as good as it gets on the free-agent market.

    If the worst-case scenario hits and Locker is either injured again or unable to perform as a starter, Fitzpatrick will be able to step in right away and take the reins of the offense.

    This is a fantastic move by the Titans and should turn out to be very beneficial.

     

    Titans grade: A

Pittsburgh Steelers: Bruce Gradkowski

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    2012 starter: Ben Roethlisberger
    2012 backup: Charlie Batch
    2013 starter: Ben Roethlisberger

    The Pittsburgh Steelers finally decided to let 37-year-old veteran and long-time backup quarterback Charlie Batch hit the free-agent market. Batch has been with Pittsburgh since 2003 after spending his first four years in Detroit.

    Moving from Batch to new backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is pretty much a lateral move for the team. Batch was always a decent game-managing quarterback and Gradkowski plays the same type of football. Neither player will lose a game, but neither will be a catalyst to win one either.

    The Steelers do gain a slight advantage with Gradkowski in the fact that he is seven years younger than Batch. However, Batch knows the Steelers offense inside and out and Gradkowski will be just starting to learn this offseason. With the injury issues that plague starter Ben Roethlisberger, Gradkowski better be a quick study.

    One would think that the Steelers may have gone after a more high-profiled quarterback such as Jason Campbell due to their starter's injury issues. Campbell is a quarterback with a good amount of starting experience and should be able to enter a game and help get a win. However, the Steelers did not go down that path.

    Even though the Steelers have salary cap issues, there was no reason why they couldn't afford a better option at the backup quarterback position. They still have about $3 million in cap space after the signing of Gradkowski.

    Pittsburgh certainly could have done much worse at the position, but could have done much better as well. As stated earlier, this was pretty much a lateral move by the Steelers—the change at the position should not hurt the team but probably will not help it either.

     

    Steelers grade: C-

Indianapolis Colts: Matt Hasselbeck

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    2012 starter: Andrew Luck
    2012 backup: Drew Stanton
    2013 starter: Andrew Luck

    With quite possibly the most fitting pickup in free agency this offseason, the Indianapolis Colts bolted to acquire veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

    With one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the NFL, Andrew Luck, poised to lead the Colts again this year, what could be better than having the 14 years of Hasselbeck's experience behind him?

    Last year, Luck performed far above expectations without a player-mentor to guide him at the position. He still managed to put up superior statistics and lead his team to the postseason.

    This year, expectations are even higher for Luck and the Colts, and bringing in Hasselbeck as a backup allows Luck to draw upon a perspective that has been absent to this point: He will finally learn from a seasoned veteran who has been through everything the NFL has to offer.

    Hasselbeck has always been a very smart quarterback and has still managed to keep his game at a high level—even at his advanced age. Having such a high football IQ, Hasselbeck will be able to learn the Colts offense quickly and decipher what Luck is trying to accomplish. This will allow him to begin the mentoring process immediately.

    Look for Hasselbeck and Luck to talk frequently on the sidelines this year. Luck will continue to grow and develop into one of the more dominant quarterbacks in the league, with help from Hasselbeck's tutelage.

    Overall, this is just a fantastic move by the Colts.

     

    Colts grade: A+

Arizona Cardinals: Drew Stanton

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    2012 starter: John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, Brian Hoyer
    2012 backup: Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, John Skelton, Brian Hoyer
    2013 starter: unknown

    The quarterback position of the Arizona Cardinals in 2012 can be summed up in one word—disastrous. Arizona had four different starters and four different failures last season. They all played with such mediocrity, it is too early to tell if any of them will be worthy to start in 2013.

    The Cardinals must be increasingly desperate at the quarterback position after bringing in Drew Stanton to possibly compete for the starting job. If Stanton was brought in solely for the purpose of being a backup, it still would not be the greatest move, but allowing him to compete for the starting job is just unbelievable.

    It's not that Stanton is that terrible of a quarterback—even though he has only five touchdowns compared to nine interceptions in his career—he just should not have been the guy for which Arizona settled.

    Being in such dire straights at quarterback along with a very thin draft at the position this year should have resulted in a more productive quarterback heading to Arizona in free agency. At least, at that point the Cardinals would have a starter for a year with an eye on drafting a better prospect in 2014.

    Even with Bruce Arians' familiarity with Stanton from their time in Indianapolis together, the move is a bit of a head-scratcher.

    Again, Jason Campbell or even Rex Grossman or Byron Leftwich would have been better options here. An average starter for one season and a good backup for the future. If any team were to spend on a backup quarterback, it would be the Cardinals who currently sit at $12.2 million under the salary cap.

    The move to acquire Stanton certainly bolsters the depth at the quarterback position in Arizona but does not do anything to improve the quality. There are still better options on the market, but the Cardinals have already made their decision.

     

    Cardinals grade: D

Philadelphia Eagles: Dennis Dixon

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    2012 starter: Michael Vick, Nick Foles
    2012 backup: Nick Foles, Trent Edwards
    2013 starter: undecided

    The Philadelphia Eagles have a very similar situation to the Cardinals—only with more quality at the quarterback position. The Eagles do not have a certified starter for the 2013 season, as new head coach Chip Kelly announced that there will be open competition at camp this season.

    First, to much surprise, Kelly re-signed Michael Vick for another year. Many thought his days were over with the Eagles, but that just was not the case. Also, the team has not dealt Nick Foles as some pundits thought it would do. Lastly, Kelly brought in his former standout quarterback at the University of Oregon, Dennis Dixon.

    With these three players mixing it up in camp this year to decide who is starter in Kelly's famous gadget-style offense, the spring and summer will certainly be interesting for Eagle fans.

    The move to bring in Dixon was very smart and very predictable on Kelly's part. It's a smart move because of the relationship these two have with each other and the familiarity Dixon has with Kelly's offense. It's predictable because it is very common for a first-time NFL head coach to bring in players whom he coached at the collegiate level.

    After a terrible injury late in his final season at Oregon, Dixon never got a chance to win a starting role in the NFL. Now that he finally has that opportunity, there is a possibility that other teams could have been missing out on a great read-option quarterback.

    Nothing is set in stone yet and this plan to bring in Dixon to compete could backfire on Kelly. However, the reward far outweighs the risk in this particular situation, and the move must be applauded.

     

    Eagles grade: B

Cincinnati Bengals: Josh Johnson

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    2012 starter: Andy Dalton
    2012 backup: Bruce Gradkowski
    2013 starter: Andy Dalton

    The Cincinnati Bengals have acquired a new backup quarterback to Andy Dalton in free-agent Josh Johnson. Johnson was brought aboard late Thursday night when it was announced that he had agreed to a two-year deal with the club.

    Johnson has been a journeyman quarterback since entering the NFL in 2008. He spent his first four seasons with the Buccaneers and had brief stints with the 49ers and Browns. He will replace fellow journeyman quarterback Bruce Gradkowski at the position after Bruce signed with the Steelers earlier this week.

    The Bengals have shaken up their backup quarterback position with this move. They went from the short, check-down style of Gradkowski to the run-and-gun style of Johnson. These are very polar opposite quarterbacks, but this move remains very lateral for Cincinnati in terms of what they have given up and what they have received.

    Johnson is an upgrade due to his stronger arm and ability to get out of the pocket and make plays with his feet. However, his downside is his lack of accuracy at the NFL level and willingness to take chances which force a higher amount of turnovers.

    Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is familiar with the style of play that Johnson will bring to Cincinnati. Johnson did play quarterback for Gruden during their time together in Tampa Bay, however, Johnson went 0-5 as a starter in that span.

    To be successful in the West-Coast system that Cincinnati runs, Johnson will have to tone down on the longer passes and be content with high-percentage throws to shorter routes. There is always the option of pulling down the ball to run as well.

    After all is said and done with this signing, there is no benefit to Dalton. Also the Bengals receive a quarterback that has mobility, but severe ball control issues which are very detrimental in the AFC North.

    This move is lateral, but just barely.

     

    Bengals grade: C- 

New York Jets: David Garrard

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    2012 starter: Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy
    2012 backup: Tim Tebow, Greg McElroy, Mark Sanchez
    2013 starter: Mark Sanchez (apparently)

    The New York Jets have one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the entire NFL—Mark Sanchez.

    So, what does a franchise do with a struggling starter? Of course, they bring in another struggling quarterback. At least that's what happened last year when they brought in Tim Tebow.

    This created a much-publicized quarterback controversy in training camp. However, Tebow never even received the chance to start as Greg McElroy was favored after Sanchez struggled and was pulled.

    To make things even more interesting heading into the 2013 season is once again the Jets choice of their backup quarterback. This time, the Jets decided to go with 35-year-old quarterback David Garrard who spent last year watching football safely from his couch at home.

    Garrard has never been an outstanding or even very good quarterback at the NFL level. He had one productive year back in 2007 but could not duplicate that success.

    With all of the struggles going on in the Jets organization, and the fact that this franchise's quarterback situation has made them the laughingstock of the NFL, one would think they would target a better option.

    The Jets are perfectly fine in cap space—they are $12.6 million under the salary cap—so they could have certainly gone for a better prospect at the quarterback position in free agency. The reasoning in going with Garrard is very difficult to understand.

    Quite possibly, the Jets could be thinking that Garrard is more careful with the football than Sanchez and may be able to salvage some games in that regard. But logical thinking implies that Garrard will be a mess under center after being away from the game for so long and with age working against him.

    This is yet another move by the Jets that is absolutely mesmerizing and will lead to many more questions throughout the course of the offseason.

     

    Jets grade: F