Few things are more overlooked in the NFL world than the role of backup quarterback. In many respects, a team is only as good as its backup.
Many teams rely heavily and attribute their success or failure based upon their starting quarterback. Teams like the Patriots, Packers, Saints, Steelers, Giants and Colts have spent the better part of the last decade as an annual Super Bowl contender. Those who have had a revolving door at that critical position have routinely struggled to make the playoffs and, if they do, they typically make a quick exit once they get there.
A backup quarterback is often an afterthought in most games, but the Minnesota Vikings learned their lesson the hard way when Teddy Bridgewater went down and the Vikings had to scramble.
They had a backup they were confident in Shaun Hill, but they weren’t prepared to go with him for 16 games coming off a division championship. They needed to make a bold move and did so, cutting a deal with Philadelphia to land Sam Bradford, who now enters 2017 as the unquestioned starter.
In one of their free agent moves, the Vikings signed veteran quarterback Case Keenum – former NFL starter with experience in Pat Shurmur’s offense from his days in St. Louis.
What the Vikings have done is not unusual. Many teams bring on veteran backups as an insurance policy, one of a trio of primary modes of filling in the job description of a No. 2 quarterbacks.
The role of the backup quarterback is often one of three modes – the unknown guy who has never really had any significant chance play, a young rising star who is expected to be the future or a guy who had the chance to start somewhere but never locked down the opportunity.
That first group includes players like Jimmy Garoppolo, Colt McCoy, A.J. McCarron, T.J. Yates, Drew Stanton, Chase Daniel, Ryan Mallett, Landry Jones, Matt Barkley and Scott Tolzien.
That second group includes players like Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Paxton Lynch, Mitch Trubisky and DeShone Kizer.
That third group includes players like Matt Moore, Chad Henne, Geno Smith, Derek Anderson, Nick Foles, Matt Cassel, Kellen Clemens and Matt Schaub.
They are pretty much evenly divided, but they’re all important. What happens if Tom Brady or Drew Brees goes down? Or, more importantly to the Vikings, what happens if Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford goes down?
There are a few teams that have taken the fourth option – mid-to late-round project types.
The team in the NFC North have taken three very different approaches. The Vikings went with a Keenum, a player with experience as a starter in two different offenses. He’s a young journeyman who showed enough to convince coaching staffs in Houston and both incarnations of the Rams that, given their circumstances at the time, he might give them the best chance to win.
In Chicago, there is a full-on war going on that, at first blush, looks like the best of both worlds – the most highly-touted backup (Mike Glennon) looking for a starting job this side of Garoppolo and a pick they gave up an embarrassment of draft riches to select (Trubisky).
As they are wont to say on Lakeshore Drive, not so fast, my friend.
The Bears have two quarterbacks who both fully believe that they’re entitled to the starting spot. They have a head coach that, by all accounts, was late to the party finding out Glennon was the object of organizational affection and was clueless about the intention to trade up to take Trubisky.
The Bears are a franchise run amok, where general manager and head coach appear to be on clearly different paths and something will have to give. Historians will say that’s what you deserve when bring a defensive head coach whose focus is changing an age-old franchise from a 4-3 to a 3-4 for the first time and took his eye off the prize on the offense. That gave the new front-office regime a chance to overpay for a guy like Glennon, whose 13 NFL starts as a rookie led directly to the draft spot to take Jameis Winston, and then draft a college prospect with 13 career intercollegiate starts.
Both are looking over their shoulder. It won’t end well for one or both. The only good news for the other three NFC North teams is that the head coach who potentially leads that particular 53-man roster to greener pastures likely won’t be Fox.
That leads to the other two teams in the NFC North that, by all the best current information, are the most likely to put a playoff roadblock in front of the Vikings.
If Aaron Rodgers were to get sidelined, Brett Hundley would be the next line of offense on the depth chart. The same Hundley who has completed three of 10 career passes – two to teammates and one to somebody in a different-colored jersey – and has a career passer rating of 0.0.
The last time Rodgers went down for any significant time, every week was an adventure for the Packers and not a good adventure.
In Detroit, if Stafford takes a kill-shot hit, the choices are between sixth-round rookie Brad Kaaya or Jake “Chronicles of” Rudock, who, when his stats are called up on the Lions official website, all you get is a “No Data” response.
All things being equal, an argument can be made that the Vikings will face a tough battle when it comes to determining what NFC North team can expect the most production from its quarterback.
But, the same argument can be made that, if a starter goes down, the Packers and Lions are bringing a spoon to a gunfight. Ideally, Keenum wears a baseball cap on sidelines. But, if the fickle twists of fate force the Vikings’ starting QB out of the lineup, all hope is not lost.
Can Packers or Lions players, coaches and fans be as optimistic if their starting quarterback goes down?
The Vikings like their odds in that particular Doomsday scenario.