As the NFL salary cap continues to climb (estimated to exceed $126 million next season) and teams are looking to lock up a franchise quarterback long-term, mammoth nine-figure contracts are becoming more and more common. There are currently 11 quarterbacks averaging more than $15 million a year in earnings and a total of 15 making more than $10 million. In the last year alone, the Green Bay Packers have inked Aaron Rodgers to a five-year/$110 million deal and the Baltimore Ravens have signed Joe Flacco to a six-year contract worth more than $120 million.
Whether or not these deals will pay off has yet to be seen, but when teams decide to invest enormous amounts of money in one quarterback they are essentially putting all their eggs in one basket. They are also leaving less for their backups.
And while backup quarterbacks may never get the same level of attention or recognition as starters do, or even see the field for that matter, they serve a valuable purpose. If and when a team’s No. 1 goes down with an injury or struggles to get the offense going, they are expected to go in cold and perform under pressure. They are expected to know the playbook inside and out, watch game film religiously and remain mentally and physically ready to step on the field at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, they are expected to provide support, and sometimes mentorship, from the sidelines.
Whether it is for any or all of these reasons, there are a number of teams in the NFL who take a more leveraged approach when it comes to investing in their quarterbacks – and compensate their backups accordingly. While some of these quarterbacks are nearing the end of their careers and others are anxiously awaiting a shot to become a starter, they are all making millions of dollars a year. Here is a list of the 10 highest-paid backup quarterbacks in the NFL.
Note: Due to the “creative” structuring of today’s contracts, salaries are based on the average salaries of current contracts, including signing bonuses.
10. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns: $2 Million
While most quarterbacks on this list grew up with the singular dream of one day playing in the NFL, Weeden’s first choice was to be a professional baseball player. Despite the New York Yankees selecting him in the 2002 Major League Baseball draft, his career in the big leagues hit a wall and he decided to pursue football. He went back to college and became the starting quarterback for the Oklahoma State Cowboys from 2010 to 2011, setting a number of school records along the way. By the time the Browns drafted him 22nd overall in the 2012 draft, he was 28 years old and held the distinction of being the oldest player ever selected in the first round. Entering the third season of a four-year deal worth just over $8 million, however, Weeden’s future in Cleveland has never looked bleaker. Despite having ample opportunity, he has never been able to claim the starting spot and finished 2013 playing behind Jason Campbell. With new management in place, the 30-year-old Weeden may get another season in Cleveland, but if he does, it will almost certainly be as a backup.
9. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings: $2.5 Million
When the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder twelfth overall in the 2011 entry draft, they had high expectations for the former Florida State University superstar. In his three seasons with Minnesota, however, the 25-year-old has struggled to establish himself as a bonafide starter and spurred the team to bring in veterans Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman at different points in 2013. While Ponder is currently the only quarterback on the Vikings’ roster (Cassel and Freeman are both free agents), it is more than likely the team will bring in a veteran during the off-season and his role will be reduced to that of backup. Any action he does get, however, will likely go a long way in determining his future; his current four-year/$10 million contract expires at the end of next season.
8. Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals: $2.7 Million
His name may have once been mentioned in the same sentence as the Heisman Trophy, but Drew Stanton’s destiny as an NFL quarterback appears to be that of a career backup. Since the Lions selected Stanton in the second round of the 2007 draft, the former Michigan State starter has been plagued by injuries and poor play. Despite brief stints with the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts, the 29-year-old has never seriously challenged for a starting role and hasn’t even made a start since 2010, when he appeared in six games for Detroit. Now in his second season of a three-year/$8.2 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals, Stanton is making good money playing behind Carson Palmer but will likely spend more time holding a clipboard than he will underneath center.
T-6. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars: $3 Million
When Blaine Gabbert left the University of Missouri Tigers after his junior year and the Jaguars traded up to select him tenth overall in the 2011 NFL draft, expectations were high. But after a rookie season full of sacks (40) and fumbles (14), with a completion percentage of only 50.8% and a miniscule passer rating of 65.4, he lost his spot as the team’s starter and has since been replaced by Chad Henne. In 2013, things went from bad to worse for Gabbert, who appeared in only three games and threw one touchdown against seven interceptions. With his four-year/$12 million contract expiring at the end of 2014, next season will likely be Gabbert’s last as a Jaguar. If there’s a silver lining for the 24-year-old, it’s that he may still be young enough for another team to take a chance on him.
T-6. Kevin Kolb, Buffalo Bills: $3 Million
Once billed as a surefire starter in the NFL, Kolb‘s career is currently shrouded by a cloud of uncertainty. After suffering several concussions – the most recent during a pre-season game in 2013 – Kolb has spent the better part of the past few seasons (including the entirety of 2013) on IR. Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 2007 draft, Kolb paid his dues and replaced Donovan McNabb as the team’s starter in 2010 but lost the job to Michael Vick after leaving the first game of the season with concussion symptoms. Over the next few years, he started a total of 21 games for the Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals, passing for over 5,000 yards and 28 touchdowns, with 25 picks. When the Buffalo Bills brought him in last season, he was expected to challenge rookie E.J. Manuel for the starting job, but was injured before the season began and never got the chance. While the 29-year-old’s status for next season is still unknown, it is likely that if he decides to play it will be – at least to start the season – as a backup.
5. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tennessee Titans: $3.25 Million
It may be a lot less than he was making as a starter in Buffalo, but Fitzpatrick’s two-year/$6.5 million deal with the Titans is one of the highest-paying contracts for backup quarterbacks in the NFL. Originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL draft by St. Louis, the Harvard University graduate spent time with both the Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals before winning the starting job in Buffalo in 2009. Despite several solid seasons with the Bills – and a six-year/$62 million contract extension in 2011 – a less-than-spectacular 2012 cost Fitzpatrick his job. Acquired by Tennessee primarily as a mentor for quarterback-of-the-future Jake Locker, the 31-year-old ended up starting seven games in place of the injured Locker and performed admirably (61.7 completion percentage, over 2,000 passing yards and 13 touchdown passes vs. 10 interceptions) and gives the team a good option moving forward.
4. Chase Daniel, Kansas City Chiefs: $3.33 Million
Unlike many of the quarterbacks on this list, Daniel was never a highly-touted early round draft pick. After going undrafted in 2009 (despite being a candidate for the Heisman Trophy in both 2007 and 2008), he was signed as a free agent by the Washington Redskins, only to be cut before the season began. He ended up finding a home in New Orleans, however, and – despite not seeing the field all season – played for the Super Bowl-winning Saints. The following season, Daniel beat out Patrick Ramsey to become Drew Brees‘ backup, a role he held until the end of 2012. Now entering the second season of a three-year/$10 million contract with the Chiefs, it appears he is comfortable backing up Kansas City’s starter Alex Smith. In 2013, he started only one game (after the Chiefs had clinched a playoff spot), going 21/30 for 200 yards and a touchdown pass in an overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers.
3. Kyle Orton, Dallas Cowboys: $3.25 Million
It’s not every day a backup quarterback gets the chance to propel his team into the playoffs, but last season Kyle Orton was presented with exactly that opportunity. When Dallas starter Tony Romo went down with an injury late in 2013, the Cowboys handed Orton the ball in a Week 17 winner-take-all match-up against division rival Philadelphia and hoped for the best. Despite decent numbers (30 of 46 for 358 yards and two touchdowns), he threw two interceptions and his team fell 24-22. A former fourth-round draft pick, Orton has seen his share of NFL action, starting a total of 69 games for the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas. Despite relative success, however, he never managed to make himself irreplaceable and bounced around before finally landing his reduced role with the Cowboys in 2012. At 31, Orton is locked up through the 2015 season and it’s likely he’ll play out the remainder of his career as a backup – whether it’s in Dallas or elsewhere.
2. Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis Colts: $3.625 Million
At 38 years old, Matt Hasselbeck is the one of the oldest backup quarterbacks in the NFL. With a two-year contract worth $7.25 million, he is also one of the best paid. Originally drafted by the Green Bay Packers back in 1998, Hasselbeck spent two seasons watching and learning from Brett Favre before moving on to Seattle. In his 10 years with the Seahawks, he piled up more than a dozen franchise records and led the team to the playoffs six times, including a Super Bowl appearance in 2005. Despite all of his success in Seattle, however, Hasselbeck was surprisingly released after a disappointing season in 2010. He landed a starting position with the Tennessee Titans in 2011, but lost the job the following year to Jake Locker. Resigned to the fact that his days as a No. 1 were over, Hasselbeck joined Indianapolis, where he will likely finish his career as Andrew Luck‘s backup.
1. Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins: $4 Million
The 29-year-old Moore may only have 25 NFL games under his belt (and none in the past two seasons), but his current two-year/$8 million contract with the Miami Dolphins makes him the highest-paid backup quarterback in the league. Moore’s roller coaster career began when he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys in 2007, only to be placed on waivers before the start of the season. He was then claimed by the Carolina Panthers, where he battled with injuries and saw limited action over the course of four seasons. When he joined the Fins as a starter in 2011, Moore played well (over 2,500 passing yards, 17 touchdown passes vs. nine interceptions in 15 appearances), but the emergence of 25-year-old Ryan Tannehill has since dropped him to No. 2 on the team’s depth chart. When he decided to re-sign with Miami at the beginning of 2013, Moore knew he would likely be backing up Tannehill for the entirety of his time there, but apparently $8 million was reason enough to stay.
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