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Got your backup: No. 2 quarterbacks can provide teams security or angst

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The Pats and Tom Brady (right) had no idea how big Matt Cassel would become in 2008. (Getty Images)  
The Pats and Tom Brady (right) had no idea how big Matt Cassel would become in 2008. (Getty Images)  

NFL camps open up this week with 90 players trying to make a final 53-man roster.

Expectations are high, and every team has some level of hope it can make the playoffs, get hot (as the Giants did last year) and with it all. Of course some of those expectations are a bit unrealistic but as many players said to me over the weekend out in Lake Tahoe at the Celebrity Golf Classic, "we have as good a chance as any team."

That player opinion may be true, but if some teams lose their quarterback their chances for any level of success goes straight down the drain.

Real backup quarterbacks who can win games are hard to find and usually cost upward of $3 million a season, but in my opinion are well worth the investment. Every team would love to tell the same story the Houston Texans told last year when Matt Schaub went down, Matt Leinart went down and rookie T.J. Yates came off the bench and led his team to the playoffs. Any GM or head coach counting on that scenario to play out if the starter goes down will probably be looking at a pink slip at the end of the season. Those scenarios are 1 in a 100.

What amazes me is the number of teams that are one QB injury away from asking a backup with little recent playing history -- or for a few quarterbacks no playing history -- to be ready to go on a moment's notice. And when I asked CBS analyst Phil Simms, he agreed that the NFL quarterback position may be the hardest position in sports to play, and to come off the bench with no recent playing time is almost impossible. Simms reminded me Matt Cassel did it, but that was a rare situation.

Ask yourself if your favorite team is in a solid position at the backup QB.

There are 10 No. 2 quarterbacks who haven't started a game in two years -- or in some cases ever. Among those 10 backups, they have combined to throw one touchdown pass and a total of 103 attempts overall in two years.

Talking about an Achilles' heel to a program, huh?

Take a look at these quarterbacks sitting in the second position. Is there a Yates or Cassel story in this group? Is there a Rich Gannon in this group? In his first three years, Gannon had no starts, no touchdowns and then started 13 games in relief in 1990. Or even better for the veterans on this list below, Gannon missed 1994 and had zero starts or touchdowns in 1995 and came back to be the NFL MVP in 2002.

TeamNo. 2 QBLast Two Years
AtlantaChris Redman0 starts, 22 of 34 passes, 0 td
BaltimoreTyrod Taylor0 starts, 1 pass, 0 td
DenverAdam Weber0 starts, no playing experience
Green BayGraham Harrell0 starts, no playing experience
Kansas CityBrady Quinn0 starts, no playing experience
MinnesotaSage Rosenfels0 starts, 10 of 15 passes,0 td
New EnglandBrian Hoyer0 starts, 6 of 8 passes, 1 td
New OrleansChase Daniel0 starts, 6 of 8 passes, 0 td
N.Y. GiantsDavid Carr0 starts, 5 of 13 passes, 0 td
PhiladelphiaMike Kafka0 starts, 11 of 16 passes, 0 td

There are other teams with questionable backup situations like San Diego (Charlie Whitehurst), St. Louis (Kellen Clemens) and Tampa Bay (Dan Orlovsky), but at least these backup quarterbacks have had some real field experience in the last two years.

On the other hand, there is comfort in Dallas (Kyle Orton), Chicago (Jason Campbell), Jacksonville (Chad Henne), Arizona (John Skelton), Miami (Matt Moore or David Garrard) and the New York Jets (Tim Tebow). Those clubs will have a real chance to win if the backup is needed.

Finally, the free-agent quarterback list is lean and really there's no place to turn at this late date if a team loses its starting quarterback any time after camp starts.

Teams have made their decisions and now it's time to let them play out.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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