Culture of Hoops

Depth Perception: The Year of the NFL Backup

Photo courtesy of Erik Drost/Flickr

Photo courtesy of Erik Drost/Flickr

The starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles (Nick Foles) was diagnosed with a broken collarbone as the NFL season enters the month of November. Dallas Cowboy starting QB Tony Romo sat out a game with a back contusion. Washington Redskins second overall pick Robert Griffin III has missed almost the entire season with an ankle injury. The Buffalo Bills benched their starter and the Cleveland Browns have faced a lot of conflicted opinions about who their starter should be. I can’t recall a year where more backups have been called upon to help their team than 2014.

To be very fair the teams listed above are not the limit of this trend. The Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, St Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, and Minnesota Vikings have all had to deal with multiple signal callers this season. That is quarterback situations for 15 out of 32 teams. Clearly though, not all situations are created equal. The Jets and Bills have young quarterbacks that have regressed a bit in terms of playing ability. The Eagles, Cowboys, Cardinals, Redskins and Panthers all had/have injuries to their starters, forcing the move down the depth chart. Still other teams are struggling with who the starter should be.

There is a saying in the NFL; “the most important player on the team is the backup quarterback”. I disagree with this statement, but this season has proven just how valuable a backup quarterback can be in the NFL. It will get to a point where the backup quarterback will command more money than many starters (it’s already happening on teams like the Jets). Call me old fashioned, but I believe in pay for performance. I’d almost like to see the league come up with base salaries for every position and then you get bonus for starting, the number of downs you play, stats and the like. You’d have guys switching teams because the team fit what they wanted to do, not because they paid them more. You’d also have guys hustling every play, as that one extra sack or reception or whatever would increase their paycheck.

Sorry, I got off topic. The rise of the backup has me even more puzzled because the league has gone out of their way to protect the quarterback. Players can hardly sneeze on a QB without getting a flag for it (and not one to wipe off the snot). With all this uncertainty at the leagues premier position you’d think the game would be suffering, but you know what, it hasn’t been. I find the games more interesting, I find the scores closer, I am watching a better product. Maybe it’s because backups are playing with less fear, as they have nothing to loose? Maybe they are playing with more determination as they have something to prove? Maybe teams take the backup QB too lightly and get burned? Or maybe shaking things up is a fun thing to do once in a while.

However you slice it I wanted to thank the backup quarterbacks of the league for doing the job they were hired to hopefully not do. Might be the only job like it in the world, but it’s still a job. Bravo second-stringers, the NFL wouldn’t function without you.

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