The Year of the Backup Quarterback saw Case Keenum and Nick Foles play in the NFC Championship game and Foles beat Tom Brady to win the Super Bowl.
It isn’t likely that we’ll ever see anything quite like 2017 again, but the rise of Keenum and Foles shows us that a good backup can save a season, so long as everything else is in place. We’ve also seen from the Houston Texans that a bad, unproven backup can sink a good team.
The 2018 Vikings currently do not have a starting quarterback with Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater all set to hit the free agent market when the new league year begins in March. Deciding on a starter is clearly Priority No. 1, but the backup QB shouldn’t be far behind.
One thing that 2017’s results hint is that the difference between starters and the top backups might not be as large as we think unless we’re talking about the best of the best like Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.
Quality starters have ups and downs during their careers based on supporting cast and scheme. Of course Foles and Keenum are examples – players who succeeded under good quick-passing offenses, but struggled when playing for Jeff Fisher. But even $100 million quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr have hit bumps in the road under poor circumstances and succeeded when things aligned right.
One thing the Vikings have going for them is a great supporting cast and defense. That means that when the Vikings evaluate backup QB options for 2018, it’s reasonable to project a No. 2 quarterback to play toward the top of their potential.
Let’s have a look at the best backup options on the free agent market and their best years.
Case Keenum/Teddy Bridgewater
But first – there is a possibility that both Keenum and Bridgewater end up on the roster next year. The Vikings can franchise tag or transition tag Keenum (the transition guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team). There’s also a chance Bridgewater’s contract tolls or he returns on a short-term contract with an opportunity to win the starting job.
If Keenum or Bridgewater returns to the starting gig but the other one goes elsewhere, here are the top backup options:
Best season stat line: (2017) 67.3 completion percentage, 18 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 7.4 yards per attempt, 94.5 rating
Jets fans might have expected McCown to lead them to the No. 1 overall pick when he was named starter in training camp, but the 38-year-old proved them wrong by having a solid season. This year’s performance was the second in three years in which McCown started at least half the year and ended up with a rating above 90. He also put on an incredible show in Chicago in 2013, starting five games and finishing with a 109.0 rating.
Assuming there isn’t a team willing to make him a starter again, McCown would be a strong option for the Vikings.
Best season stat line: (2014) 63.1 completion percentage, 17 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 8.0 yards per attempt, 95.3 rating
When handed the keys to the Buffalo Bills’ starting job, Fitzpatrick came up short, but since then he’s had some good moments. He threw 31 touchdowns and led the Jets to a 10-6 record in 2015 while throwing jump balls to Brandon Marshall, but struggled the following year. This season he went 2-1 with an 86.0 rating while filling in for Jameis Winston.
Fitzpatrick can be frustratingly aggressive for a backup quarterback and is prone to bad interceptions, but he’s got a strong enough arm, experience and mobility. He’s gone 21-21 over the last four years. The 35 year old can keep a team alive over a stretch of games.
Best season stat line: (2011) 60.5 completion percentage, 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 7.2 yards per attempt, 87.1 rating
When Ryan Tannehill went down in 2016, Matt Moore got the Dolphins into the playoffs and gave them a fighting chance against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In three regular season starts, he produced a 105.6 rating and then in a playoff loss Moore went 29-for-36 with one touchdown, one interception. He’s 15-15 as a starter over his career.
Moore’s game log has some wild ups and downs. Against the Vikings in 2009, he went off for 299 yards and three touchdowns. He has six starts with ratings above 120 and and seven starts with ratings below 65.
Best season stat line: (2015) 61.8 completion percentage, 10 touchdowns, six interceptions, 7.2 yards per attempt, 86.4 rating
Yes, Osweiler has become somewhat of a punchline for his lack of production vs. contract in Houston, but he did help the Broncos go 5-2 during a stretch without Peyton Manning en route to a Super Bowl win. He’s not a starting-caliber quarterback, but his awful 2017 stint with Denver probably wasn’t an accurate representation of his skill either. The Broncos dropped 17 passes on just 157 Osweiler attempts – that’s as many as the Vikings dropped all of last season.
When the Vikings signed Case Keenum last year, it appeared they had plucked one of the better backup QBs on the market. A great situation helped him fulfill his potential and prove he can be a starting quarterback. The QBs above have shown to be backups, but they could serve the same purpose if the Vikings’ starter went down: Give them a chance to compete with one of the strongest top-to-bottom rosters in the NFL.