Why We Love Backup Quarterbacks

NFL fans love the backup quarterback. That dude in the crispy clean uniform, wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard. That fella who showed flashes of hall of fame worthiness in the 2nd half of the final preseason game. That guy that looks like the next Tom Brady when your starting QB plays bad or gets injured. Then he plays and you realize there is a reason he is a backup. What does this have to do with HR and the workplace? Maybe something. Maybe nothing. I haven’t decided if I want to weave that into this post.*

The Indianapolis Colts are dealing with this very situation. With superstar QB Andrew Luck still not fully recovered from this off-season shoulder surgery, the Colts put all their season on the backs of career backup, Scott Tolzien. Even with Andrew Luck healthy, the Colts are primed to be average at best. They are rebuilding, have totally gutted their roster under a new GM, and are looking to the future. They just paid Luck $140 million and expect he to be around for the next 10 years. They are in no rush to put him back on the field any time soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if they park him for the rest of the year.

With all of this speculation swirling, the Colts were left to roll with the back ups. Journeymen or unproven rookies and free agents were available. Even Colin Kaepernick’s name came up. For all of my non-football fans who have not heard of him, here is a nice piece of journalism to give you an idea. Regardless of his controversial stance, Colin the QB would not be able to save this season for the Colts. With this offensive line and poor defense, he would look average, at best.

And that’s the piece many fail to realize when it comes to the backup QB. They can only do so much to affect the outcome of the game unless your Scott Tolzien with his 2 pick-6’s for the other team. The first half was so bad for Tolzien that fans were calling for backup Jacoby Brissett, traded for just 10 days earlier. Jacoby Brissett, the former 3rd string Patriots QB in only his second year. Jacoby Brissett, the probable week 2 starter for the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2. More times than not, your backup QB will hurt your chances to win when surrounded by a bad team.

Sure, there are many backups who have made it to a Superbowl. There were a few bad starting QBs who have made it there. Rex Grossman, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Jeff Hostettler. Any of those names ring a bell? They were average QBs surrounded by amazing talent. How did Brock Osweiler do when he left Denver? Great teams can hide average QB play. 40-year old Peyton Manning won is second Super Bowl playing with one arm against the Carolina Panthers. The Denver team was good. Really good.

So back to Kaepernick. If I’m Kaepernick, I never take another snap in the NFL. His stock is higher now than it ever will be. His legend will only grow more with each passing week of average QB play. As his skills slowly diminish, people will manipulate data points to tell a good story. As good as he once was, even at his peak, he couldn’t win with more than half of the bad teams in the league right now. Put him in a Colts uniform this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals and he will be set up for failure. And he knows this. QBs need time to prepare and learn a playbook and a system. It wouldn’t be fair or reasonable to expect great things from him without the proper preparation.

Kaep knows the backup QB is the most popular guy on the team. When he started kneeling, he was carrying a clipboard.  He has affected more change as the non-roster backup QB than he would as a starting QB on a crappy team or an actual backup. People forget that when Kaep started kneeling, he was carrying a clipboard. He was a backup QB on a crappy 49ers team with a new coach and a new system. Opting out of that situation was his best career move.

What is the upside for Kaep to sign with an average team at this point? Can you imagine what would happen when his first game ends with the stat lines of some of the other QB play on some bad teams? All of the focus and attention will be on his average play and not on all of the work he has done to bring attention to the Know Your Rights campaign. He used his position and celebrity to advocate for change. He has other NFL players and professional athletes from other sports talking about change. He has celebrities and people of influence bringing more awareness. I applaud him for that. He is taking a risk that he knows will affect his short-term employment for the greater good.

Social media justice works better telling the story of a QB who has been wronged. His lack of a roster spot has brought more awareness and spotlight to a problem that is affecting many communities in the United States. People who don’t know the difference between a first down and a 3-pointer are tuned into him and his cause. The distant memory of a former SuperBowl QB is a lot better story than a current starting QB with average stats.

Kaep won’t make the Colts better. Hell, Tom Brady couldn’t. Cleveland would still be bad with him. There are a lot of bad teams with decent quarterbacks like Kaep. He couldn’t make a bad 49ers team good. And it’s not fair to think that he or any other above average QB can come in and fix the problems of some poorly managed football franchises. Backup QBs are the most popular players on the crappy football teams. I’d hate to see #7 become just another backup QB.

*(In a later post, I’ll talk about how the grass isn’t always greener at another employer.)


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