When NFL teams pay their starting quarterback a king’s ransom, they also take out a massive insurance policy in case their Ferrari crashes. Backup quarterbacks may have the most boring job at the surface, but they’re vital to an NFL team’s success when called upon. They make a lot of money, too.
Being the backup NFL quarterback potentially opens the door for a career-defining moment. Take the Philadelphia Eagles’ run to their Super Bowl LII win, or movie legend Jon Moxon, as prime examples of what happens when the backup quarterback takes advantage of his opportunity to step in and become “the guy.”
Backup quarterbacks are always overlooked until they’re needed. It’s a position that leans on the mantra “be ready for anything.” Only 32 quarterbacks start in the NFL every week. Being ready to step into those shoes as a team’s quarterback can happen at any moment, so franchises make sure to sign the next-best option.
Every starter needs an insurance policy. The Baltimore Ravens have Robert Griffin III to tutor Lamar Jackson. The Atlanta Falcons signed Matt Schaub to protect Matt Ryan. Even the Oakland Raiders have Mike Glennon on retainer just in case Derek Carr goes down.
NFL backups, despite being the side-chick of their team, get paid big bucks to ride the bench.
All these figures are the total cash values that each player is owed for the 2019 season as the “other guy” on their NFL team. These numbers don’t include first-round rookie quarterbacks like Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins, both of whom receive a significant bonus.
9. Drew Stanton, Cleveland Browns
For a guy with 17 career starts and more interceptions (24) than touchdown passes (20) in his career, Drew Stanton sure has put together one heck of a career. Cleveland signed the 35-year-old veteran to a two-year deal in 2018 as insurance policy and mentor for Baker Mayfield. Stanton does have an 11-6 record as a starter, but he’ll be just happy riding the bench and holding the clipboard with a salary like this.
According to Spotrac, Stanton has earned over $29 million in 12 NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, and now, the Browns.
8. A.J. McCarron, Houston Texans
The 2013 First-Team All-American is a long way from his days as a two-time national champion with the Alabama Crimson Tide, but he’s still made a handsome living as a career backup. After four seasons behind Andy Dalton with the Cincinnati Bengals, a stint that produced only three regular season starts, McCarron moves to Texas where he’ll act as insurance for Deshaun Watson.
Knowing how porous Houston’s offensive line has been recently — 116 sacks in the last two seasons, most in the NFL — McCarron is one injury away from finally becoming “the guy.”
7. Nate Sudfeld, Philadelphia Eagles
The 187th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft has appeared in three regular season games in two years, completing 20 of 25 passes fo 156 yards. The Indiana Hoosiers’ all-time leader in passing yards (7,879) and passing touchdowns (61) might not have the resume of a starter just yet, but he’s certainly trending that way in limited action.
Sudfeld will get nice and cozy behind a healthy Carson Wentz, who figures to contend for the league’s MVP award during the 2019 season.
6. Colt McCoy, Washington Redskins
The Redskins won’t have Alex Smith active for the entire 2019 season after a gruesome injury ended his 2018 campaign. As a result, it’s very likely that before the end of this year, 15th overall pick Dwayne Haskins — who’s due to make almost $9.0 million this season — will become the team’s starting quarterback at some point. That means it’s backup duty for McCoy once again.
The Texas Longhorns’ all-time leading passer (13,253) enters season six in Washington, but he’s got plenty of highly-paid company joining him this season in the quarterback room alongside Case Keenum ($3.5 million) and Haskins.
5. Brian Hoyer, Indianapolis Colts
The former Michigan State starter proved that he’s one of the league’s most valuable backups ever since he started 13 games for the Cleveland Browns back in 2014. Stints with the Houston Texans, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco released Hoyer after trading for Jimmy Garoppolo, but he quickly signed a three-year deal to back up Tom Brady in 2019.
However, Hoyer lost the backup job to rookie Jarrett Stidham, was released again, and signed a three-year deal to backup Jacoby Brissett with the Colts.
Yes, the life of a backup QB is very, very uncomfortable.
T-3. Chase Daniel, Chicago Bears
Chase Daniel is an enigma. He was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist at Missouri, has played for five teams entering his ninth year, yet he’s only started four career games in the regular season. Despite all that, his career completion percentage is 67.5 percent, and he led the Bears to a come-from-behind win over Detroit last year during his first start since 2014 when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Already 32 years old, Daniel may never get the chance to become a full-time starter in the NFL playing behind Mitch Trubisky. But hey, he’s taken home $28.3 million for 10 seasons of part-time work. I’d take any day.
T-3. Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers
Taylor is one of my favorite NFL quarterbacks to watch, but he got a raw deal when the Buffalo Bills traded him to Cleveland after the 2017 season. The sixth-round pick back in 2011 carried the bumbling franchise to a 22-20 record as the Bills’ starter and even made the 2015 Pro Bowl. Still, he’s been relegated to backup duty and might never see that success again.
Taylor’s dangerous with his legs, but as he turns 30, that elusiveness will begin to fade. As backup to Philip Rivers in the AFC West, he’ll have a chance to polish himself as a pocket passer and enter offseason free agency as a potential starter before his career is over.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, New Orleans Saints
Described as a “perfect match” for the Saints offense, the 2014 Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year and 2015 Pro Bowl selection is on the verge of something special. It feels like Bridgewater’s been in the league a lot longer than five years, but at only 26 years old, he’s staring at a golden opportunity in Louisiana.
With first-ballot Hall of Famer Drew Brees out with a thumb injury, the 32nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft lit up the league as many expected him to do coming out of Louisville. This season, he’s an insurance policy that’s cashed in incredibly well for Sean Payton, who still has Taysom Hill in his back pocket just in case. Truthfully, you won’t find a better replacement anywhere in the National Football League.
1. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
A new era has dawned in the Big Apple, and the two-time Super Bowl MVP was relegated to the bench in favor of 2019 first-round pick Daniel Jones. Still, with the G-Men trying to stay relevant and develop core talent around All-Pro running back Saquon Barkley, having Manning on the payroll isn’t the worst thing Giants General Manager Dave Gettleman has ever done. It seems like a fall from grace for the youngest Manning, but at least his Hall-of-Fame resume keeps him afloat a little while longer as the highest-paid backup quarterback in the NFL.
Look what happened when the Green Bay Packers lost Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone back in 2017; All they had was Brett Hundley, who led the team to a 3-6 record as the starter. When the Colts were with Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett led a potential playoff team to a 4-12 record.
Over the years, teams like the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins rely on career backups to carry the load without a franchise QB on the roster. These guys might sit for several seasons before getting their chance, but that doesn’t mean they’re relinquished to a backup role forever (See: Kirk Cousins).
Riding the bench might not be fun, but it sure pays. Check out some of the highest paid backups who weren’t used in long-term regular season action over the last few seasons.
Highest Paid Backup QB – 2018
1. Nick Foles (Eagles) – $9.0 million
2. Teddy Bridgewater (Saints) – $6.0 million
3. Mike Glennon (Cardinals) – $5.0 million
4. Chad Henne (Chiefs) – $4.15 million
5. Chase Daniel (Bears) – $4.0 million
Highest Paid Backup QB – 2017
1. Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) – $10.6 million
2. Matt Schaub (Falcons) – $4.6 million
3. Nick Foles (Eagles) – $4.0 million
4. Chad Henne (Jaguars) – $3.3 million
5. Colt McCoy (Redskins) – $3.0 million
Highest Paid Backup QB – 2016
1. Chase Daniel (Eagles) – $7.0 million
2. Paxton Lynch (Broncos) – $5.5 million
3. Chad Henne (Jaguars) – $5.0 million
4. Drew Stanton (Cardinals) – $3.5 million
5. Shaun Hill (Vikings) – $3.3 million