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 Varsity Blues icon 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 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 behind Lamar Jackson. The Atlanta Falcons signed Matt Schaub to protect Matt Ryan. Even the San Francisco 49ers have C.J. Beathard on retainer in case Jimmy Garoppolo 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 2020 season as the “other guy” on their NFL team. These numbers don’t include first-round rookie quarterbacks like Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, all of whom receive a significant bonus.
10. Colt McCoy, New York Giants
McCoy turned 34 on September 5, 2020 and begins a one-year deal as a tutor to New York’s Daniel Jones. The 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up hasn’t started more than four games in a season since 2011 when he went 4-9 leading the hapless Cleveland Browns, but he’s been a serviceable backup with 39 career appearances scattered over his first ten seasons.
Despite a 7-21 career record as a starter, McCoy’s earned just shy of $17 million thus far, according to Spotrac.
9. Jeff Driskel, Denver Broncos
It’s year two of the Drew Lock experiment in the Mile High City. While many are uncertain about the quarterback position long-term, Jeff Driskel is the safety net should things go awry.
Driskel was a sixth-round pick by San Francisco back in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was later waived, but went on to spend four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, starting five games in 2018. Last season, Driskel filled in for an injured Matthew Stafford but could not pick up a win in three starts for the Detroit Lions. He joined the Broncos on a two-year deal starting in 2020.
8. Andy Dalton, Dallas Cowboys
Two options are available: Dalton will parlay a season-long backup role with Cowboys into a long-term deal with a new team, or he’ll be Dallas’ starting quarterback in 2021. Everything rides on Jerry Jones and company inking Dak Prescott to a multi-year extension, but that still hasn’t happened and doesn’t look great considering Prescott’s injury.
Dalton made three Pro Bowls and threw for over 31,000 yards in nine years with the Bengals. He’s by far the most accomplished backup quarterback on this list.
7. Chase Daniel, Detroit Lions
Daniel went undrafted back in 2009 after being a Heisman Trophy finalist at Mizzou. Since then, he’s been a backup quarterback for the Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints (twice), Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, and Chicago Bears. He started five games in those 11 seasons, and signed a three-year, 13.05 million deal as a free agent with the Detroit Lions this offseason.
If Daniel stays on Detroit’s roster and earns his max contract, he’ll have made $47.4 million in career earnings after the 2022 season.
Fact: Chase Daniel’s agent is having a Hall-of-Fame career.
6. A.J. McCarron, Houston Texans
McCarron re-signed with the Texans as a safety net behind Deshaun Watson. McCarron’s $3 million in total cash paid off during the 2019 regular season when he started Week 17 against the Tennessee Titans — Houston had clinched the AFC South, and Watson nursed a back injury.
McCarron didn’t win his first start since 2015, but the former three-time national champion at Alabama proved his worth as one of the NFL’s most reliable backups.
5. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
I called this quarterback race before it begins: Nick Foles beat out Mitchell Trubisky.
It didn’t happen right away, but I couldn’t foresee Matt Nagy and that staff letting Trubisky struggle with a Super Bowl MVP on the bench. Chicago declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option during the 2020 offseason, which is a cordial way of saying, “I think we should break up.”
Trubisky isn’t done in the NFL by a long shot, but I can’t imagine Chicago sticking with him much longer. Just think, the Bears traded three picks to move up one spot and pick Trubisky No. 2 overall, passing on Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson AND Nathan Peterman in the 2017 NFL Draft.
4. Case Keenum, Cleveland Browns
I’ve always been a fan of Case Keenum, but no team ever goes all-in on college football’s all-time leading passer.
Keenum enters his 10th season with his sixth different team — He played two different stints with both the Houston Texans and St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, then one season apiece with the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins. Keenum’s career record starting on subpar teams is 27-35, but his 75 touchdowns against 47 interceptions is among the better ratios on this list.
Playing behind Baker Mayfield on a three-year, $18 million contract doesn’t offer many opportunities, but Cleveland is in good hands should their star QB go down.
3. Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas Raiders
Mariota lost faith with the Tennessee Titans, and the franchise rewarded Ryan Tannehill with a contract extension that makes him the NFL’s fourth-highest paid QB of 2020. If there’s any quarterback in the NFL with more to prove, it’s Mariota.
He joins the Raiders as Derek Carr’s backup, but make no mistake: this is an open competition. The Raiders enter a new era in Sin City, and Carr’s hasn’t made a Pro Bowl since 2017, the same year he signed a $125 million extension.
Mariota wins with his arm and legs, and if Jon Gruden needs to, he’ll hand the keys over to the former No. 2 overall pick.
2. Taysom Hill, New Orleans Saints
Technically, Taysom Hill is on the roster as a quarterback, but he’s much more than that. The Swiss army knife throws, runs, catches, blocks kicks, makes tackles, fills up the water cooler, and wins the hearts of old school football fans every week.
The Saints watched Teddy Bridgewater head west to the Los Angeles Chargers, and also signed Jameis Winston to a $1.1 million deal for the 2020 season. It’s a wait-and-see game when Drew Brees will retire, but Hill’s new contract signals that the NFL’s most versatile backup quarterback would take over this franchise when Brees walks away.
1. Alex Smith, Washington Football Team
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft is miraculously playing again and he tops the list of highest-paid backup quarterbacks. His surgically-repaired right leg looked like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster when Smith unveiled the damage ahead of the 2020 season, but the 36-year-old worked hard to make a comeback.
I didn’t envision new head coach Ron Rivera putting Smith into live action with both Dwayne Haskins and newly-acquired Kyle Allen (who previously backed up new New England Patriots’ Cam Newton on the Carolina Panthers) on the roster. Smith is the highest-paid player Washington has in terms of total contract value, and he’s been forced into action this season.
With a $16 million price tag in 2020, Smith makes more than Matthew Stafford, Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes.
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 relied 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 – 2019
1. Eli Manning – $17.0 million
2. Teddy Bridgewater – $7.25 million
T-3. Tyrod Taylor – $6.0 million
T-3. Chase Daniel – $6.0 million
5. Brian Hoyer – $5.0 million
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