Insurance scam

With starting QBs dropping, every NFL team needs a good backup plan

Originally Published: November 28, 2012
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
NumbersDOGO for ESPN The MagazineGiven how often QBs are on the bench, you'd think teams would have a Plan B.

THERE ARE TWO kinds of teams in the NFL: teams whose quarterbacks are injured and teams whose quarterbacks will be injured. Sure, some generations produce iron men like Brett Favre and Eli Manning. But sooner or later, most clubs must face the prospect of their most crucial player going down. In Week 10 alone, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith and Michael Vick suffered concussions and Ben Roethlisberger injured his throwing shoulder. At this time last season, seven teams were playing without their Week 1 starters.

Given how often quarterbacks are battered onto the bench, you'd think franchises would be prepared to replace them. But you'd be wrong. Year after year, the need for a competent backup leaves many coaches and GMs bemoaning their fate like Shakespeare's Richard III: "A quarterback, a quarterback, my kingdom for a quarterback!" Chicago provided a garish example in 2011: When Cutler went down in Week 11 last season, the 7-3 Bears turned to Caleb Hanie, who promptly tossed nine picks and three touchdown passes in four games. If you adjust Hanie's stats for picks and sacks, he threw for barely one yard per attempt. The Bears lost every game he started, destroying their playoff hopes.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.