Backup quarterbacks in the NFL are like the airbags in your car; you’d love to go your entire life without ever seeing the airbags deployed. If you’re like me, you sometimes find yourself wondering if they would even work properly if needed.
We spend a lot of time talking and worrying about the backup QB position. We did it even when Tony Romo was in his physical prime, but especially now that he’s nearing the end. It’s of even greater concern this year after a miserable 2015 campaign, primarily ruined by Romo’s absence due to injury.
However, for all our talk and worry, there’s a reality that we have to accept: No matter how good the airbags in your car, it’s often still a painful experience when they come out. The same is true for backup quarterbacks.
It’s rarely a positive experience.
Last year, the Dallas Cowboys had a guy that most teams would covet as a backup option in Matt Cassel. On paper, he was about as good a non-starter as you could have. After all, he was the guy who once came in for a broken Tom Brady and kept the Patriots competitive and in the playoffs. He also had a few solid seasons as a starter for the Chiefs. He had to be one of the top backups in the NFL, right?
For reasons that couldn’t really be shown on paper, Cassel was a failure in Dallas.
Granted, he stepped into an offense that was either missing Dez Bryant or had him limited with health issues. But he also had a Top 5 rushing attack supporting him and two QB-friendly receiving options in Jason Witten and Cole Beasley. Still, Cassel could barely move the offense at times and the Cowboys were barely competitive.
There’s a reason that Cassel’s 2010 season with New England got so much attention; it’s an anomaly. The occasional heroism of a backup QB – like Jason Garrett’s infamous Thanksgiving Day performance in 1994 – is heralded and remembered because of how surprising it is. These guys aren’t supposed to be great, and usually they aren’t.
Does it really matter how good his college stats were? Or what his Pee Wee coaches thought of his moxie and intelligence? So far the guy has lost every game he’s played in and thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.
That’s not a Kellen Moore problem; he’s just a backup QB. That’s how it goes.
This isn’t to say that backup QB isn’t important or doesn’t deserve all the investment you can give it. I loved it when Dallas was willing to pay $2-$3 million a year to keep guys like Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, and Kyle Orton behind Romo. Those times when your starter has to miss a couple of series, or even a couple of games, it’s great to have a backup who can come in and give you as good a shot at winning as possible.
But, as we know from even those Johnson-Kitna-Orton years, and especially from 2015, it doesn’t really matter who you bring in. Backup QBs aren’t going to succeed over the long haul. They wouldn’t be backups if they were winners.
As had been said many times, you hope that the preseason is the only time you ever see those reserve quarterbacks. When you see them this August, don’t let any proficiency or production fool you. Don’t think that it will translate to what happens if that guy has to walk into a real game. History has told us that it rarely does.
When those airbags come out, no matter how good they are, the car is often still wrecked. Sadly, the same thing goes for backup quarterbacks and your season.