HELP WANTED: Large, lucrative franchise offering high-paying job for little work. Must be able to hold a clipboard, wear a ball cap and say things like “Good job!” Must also be able to audible and read a Cover 2 man under. Long hours required during the week, but six months vacay. Must be on call Sunday for emergencies. Pay starts at seven figures. Negotiable.
Maybe Colin Kaepernick turned his nose up at it, but there are worse gigs than being a backup quarterback in the National Football League if you can get it.
Chase Daniel plays for the Chicago Bears. Well, he doesn’t exactly play; he stands on the sideline. And stands and stands and stands. In nine seasons he’s played for four teams and started just two games, throwing a total of 78 passes — about what Kirk Cousins throws in two games. He has collected north of $20 million in career earnings as a human insurance policy.
His current two-year contract pays him $10 million, with $7 million guaranteed. He plays behind last year’s first-round draft pick and Quarterback of the Future Mitch Trubisky, so there’s little danger of Daniel getting on the field unless the kid is injured. That means that when Daniel retires, he will be able to play with his kids and remember where he placed his keys.
A.J. McCarron plays for the Raiders. Or doesn’t play, whatever. He’s started just three regular-season games in four-plus seasons and has thrown 133 passes. He has an $8 million contract with $5 million guaranteed. But he does have weekends off.
Drew Stanton has logged eight-plus seasons as a professional backup quarterback with Detroit, Indianapolis, Arizona and Cleveland. At 34, he signed a two-year $6.5M contract in the off-season — half of it guaranteed — to be, not the No. 2 quarterback, but No. 3, behind Baker Mayfield and Tyrod Taylor. He has started just 17 games and has career earnings of more than $23 million.
There is a long line of players who just keep their heads down and do what Kaepernick wouldn’t. They don’t get the obscenely rich contracts that starting quarterbacks command, but a surprising number of them make up for it because, with little wear and tear on their bodies (standing on the sideline being safer than standing in the pocket) they can play long careers and earn millions of dollars. A solid quarterback is always in demand. It’s the most important and valuable position in all of sports and there are relatively few who are qualified to fill the role.
Josh McCown is touring the NFL one team at a time — Arizona, Detroit, Oakland, Carolina, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, New York. That’s eight teams in 16 years, largely as a backup. On Sundays he’s on his feet all day, which might be a lot to ask of a 38-year-old, but for career earnings totaling $32 million he would stand on his head. He has started just 73 games and has a won-loss record of 23-50. Did we mention he has earned $32 million?
His brother, Luke McCown, who retired a couple of years ago after working for five teams in 10 years, played in just 62 games — the vast majority as a holder for placekickers — and threw just 356 passes. Most Sundays, he didn’t even get his uniform dirty. For this he had career earnings reported at $17 million.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is 35 and playing for his seventh team in 14 years. He stepped in for Tampa Bay’s serial bad boy Jameis Winston this season and set an NFL record by becoming the first to pass for 400 yards in three consecutive games.
The same day the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that it had received Fitzpatrick’s jersey to display in the Hall in honor of his record, the Buccaneers announced they are benching him in favor of Winston. It’s nothing new for a guy who has started at least 11 games in seven different seasons for four different teams. Last year Fox Sports reported career earnings of $51 million for Fitzpatrick.
The work of a backup is unpredictable. It consists of long days of tedium, occasionally followed by moments of sheer terror in which he is thrown into action. Nick Foles turned in the greatest backup performance ever when he stepped in for injured Carson Wentz and led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl victory and claimed the game MVP trophy.
But usually it is best that backups are never forced to leave the comfort of the sideline because then they risk injury or they are exposed as unequal to the task and wind up looking for another job. After backing up Tom Brady for three years, Jimmy Garoppolo was traded to San Francisco midway through last season.
This season was to be his coming-out party, but in Game 3 he injured his knee and is done for the year. The Packers were grooming Brett Hundley as a backup and were excited about his future right up until he had to actually play in a game, filling in for the injured Aaron Rodgers. Hundley now works for the Seahawks.
Then there is Matt Cassel, who was born to be a backup. He not only has been largely a backup in the NFL, he also was a career backup in college, throwing just 33 passes for USC. He got a chance to become a starter for Kansas City and Minnesota, but it turned out he was better on the sideline. He has started two games since 2015 At 36, he is playing for his seventh team (Detroit) in 14 years and has career earnings reported at more than $60 million.
Being a backup is not without its rewards.