Buying Insurance and Defining the Importance of a Backup QB in the NFL

BJ KisselContributor IMay 21, 2013

Jan 6, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (12) drops back to pass during the second half of the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field. The Seahawks won 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of people wouldn't say the backup quarterback position is one of the five or six most important positions on a football field, that is, until you're having to play your backup quarterback. Then it becomes really important. 

There's no denying that your starting quarterback is the most important position on your team, but how much focus you put on that backup spot could go a long way in determining how competitive you are if you're unfortunate enough to lose your starter. 

There's a couple of different ways you can approach the backup quarterback position.

A lot depends on how old your starter is and what the situation is with your No. 1 guy. But to put it simply, you can bring in a veteran journeyman who you know has experience and you can feel comfortable about what you're going to get from him, or you can have a young, developing player ready to step in and get his opportunity. 

Within the last couple of years, we've seen these two different philosophies used. 

The first was when the Washington Redskins made the bold move two years ago to trade up and secure former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 pick in the draft. But what was even more surprising was when they took former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of that same draft. 

It was seen as the ultimate insurance against Griffin either not working out like they had hoped or protection against an injury. It was also a pretty good indication from the coaching staff that they're confident in their abilities to develop quarterbacks, and Cousins specifically, because he'd have to be ready to play day one should anything happen to Griffin.

The Redskins released veteran quarterback John Beck right after they drafted Cousins. 

Cousins seemed to have the right attitude about the situation in his comments to the Washington Post right after the draft. 

Coach Shanahan’s words to me were that he couldn’t pass me up, and he was excited to have me. . . . Certainly, with Robert Griffin, there’s a lot of hope in him in being part of their future. But I’m excited to be a part of their organization and help that team win football games.

It's a good thing that Cousins had the right attitude because, once Griffin went down last season with a knee injury, Cousins was ready to step right in and play. He took advantage of the one start he made against the Cleveland Browns, finishing the game having completed over 70 percent of his passes for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns. 

The Redskins trusted their abilities to develop a young quarterback and felt they had one who could, even as a mid-round pick, step right in and play at a high level if it was needed. 

On the flip side of this scenario is what the Kansas City Chiefs did this past offseason. The Chiefs had Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel as their two starting quarterbacks in 2012. These two players combined to throw just eight touchdowns and 20 interceptions last season. It was obviously a dire situation in Kansas City with no real prospect on their roster as a potential quarterback of the future. 

Former fifth-round pick out of Iowa Ricky Stanzi is on the Chiefs roster, but he couldn't sniff the field while Quinn and Cassel were playing at an embarrassingly low level. That doesn't bode well for Stanzi's future in Kansas City, even with a new regime as new general manager John Dorsey, and Chiefs head coach, Andy Reid, decided how to approach the quarterback position. 

The Chiefs held the No. 1 pick in the draft and decided to use their second-round pick to acquire their starting quarterback and trade for former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

While this move frustrated a good number of Chiefs fans who wanted to see the organization finally invest a first-round pick in a quarterback for the first time since 1983, as the draft played out, it looks to have been the right decision. 

These quarterbacks didn't fall because of some new CBA wrinkle or that the value isn't there for whatever reason, it was just a down year for quarterbacks. EJ Manuel, being the only quarterback selected in the first round, was No. 16 overall, going to the Buffalo Bills

The most interesting thing was the Chiefs reached an agreement with former New Orleans Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel before the draft. Daniel signed a three-year, $10 million deal with the Chiefs that included $4.8 million guaranteed.  

You don't give a player $4.8 million guaranteed and then draft another quarterback high in the draft to compete with him for the No. 2 quarterback position. Once you gave him that money, you knew he was your backup quarterback.

It was just another form of insurance, just like Cousins was insurance against a Griffin injury for the Redskins. Daniel was insurance against a weak quarterback class and the Chiefs not having to force the pick, especially if the Chiefs didn't truly believe in any of the quarterbacks available. 

This idea is using veteran players to fill these roles and maybe it's less about overall philosophy and more about the specific players who were available. If the Chiefs looked at this draft and didn't believe there's a quarterback worthy of being the No. 2 guy right away, it'd make sense to give Daniel a whole lot of money.

Only time will tell if one of these mid-round quarterbacks turns out to be pretty good. Whether it's Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson or Ryan Nassib, the Chiefs had their shot at each of these guys and felt more comfortable going with the combination of Smith and Daniel over any combination the draft and free agency could come up with regarding players.

Some other examples around the league right now are the Oakland Raiders doing what the Chiefs decided not to do, giving Wilson a chance to win the backup job as a rookie, maybe even the starting job over Matt Flynn. 

The New England Patriots have spent the last three years developing Ryan Mallet to either be ready if Tom Brady should go down with an injury or be traded off and bring them back draft picks.

This thought process has allowed teams to sell off their developed assets, in this case being young, unproven quarterbacks who have looked good in limited capacity. We've seen it recently with Cassel and Kevin Kolb. 

The Green Bay Packers are rolling the dice by going with 2012 seventh-round pick B.J. Coleman and former Texas Tech slinger and undrafted free agent in 2009 Graham Harrell as the two quarterbacks behind Aaron Rodgers right now. The Packers are pretty much assuming their season is toast if Rodgers goes down, so they'll just have to worry about that situation at that time—should it present itself. 

There's no right or wrong way to handle the backup position because it's worked both ways and not worked both ways as well.

It depends on the coaching staff's ability to develop younger players, the specific players who are actually available, and then obviously, the fit for your specific offensive scheme. These are the most important determining factors in whether or not a player is going to be successful on a particular team.

There are a few teams out there that are potential playoff teams that are gambling at the backup quarterback position right now. It's just like regular insurance; it's something that you must get in advance of there being a problem, because like most issues dealing with insurance, it's too late if you're waiting until after the fact.