The League

Les Carpenter
Staff Writer

Les Carpenter

Yahoo! Sports reporter and former NFL writer for The Washington Post.

More Like a Leaky Raft

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Finding a backup quarterback in the NFL isn't hard these days. The league is loaded with players no one thinks can play anymore. The formula is pretty simple:

Look through the list and find the one you think is the least likely to throw 20 interceptions for you if you should have to use him.

Make the call.

Chances are his phone wasn't ringing.

There was certainly no magic that allowed the Vikings to lure Gus Frerotte. He is 37 years old. He's been replaced in his career by the following quarterbacks: Charlie Batch, Brian Griese and Jon Kitna. And in a final, ignominious swipe, he was jettisoned by the Dolphins three years ago for Duante Culpepper and Joey Harrington, both of whom are now out of the league. Don't think there was a market for Gus Frerotte this spring. There wasn't. Nor has there been one for Matt Cassel, who until last weekend had not started a game since Chatsworth High School. And the rest of the NFL had long given up on Kerry Collins. They are where they are because no one else wanted them.

Backup quarterbacks in the league usually exist in three forms -- players who are probably washed up but desperate to prove they have one more year of brilliance left (Frerotte, Collins), players who on the rise and about to seize a job from a starter who is washed up and about to be run out of the league (Matt Leinart if he wasn't so precariously close to the first category) or players who hold jobs solely because they understand the coach's complicated offense and can go onto the field and run it in an emergency. This last case explains the Redskins Todd Collins: someone who barely played for years but had the fortune of attaching himself to the team's old offensive coordinator, Al Saunders, for enough years that he had come to understand Saunders offense better than Saunders himself. And when the Redskins needed a quarterback at the end of last season he ran the Saunders system with enough precision to get Washington to the playoffs. Of course, once there he was exposed as too slow and too poor a passer to be anything more than an emergency fill-in on an offense he understood.

Since backup quarterbacks had little or no market value to begin with they are usually pretty easy to keep around, unless some wonderful moment of serendipity strikes and the rest of the league thinks the backup is actually someone special. This rarely happens because somewhere in that spectacular ride the backup quarterback does something that reminds the other teams why they didn't like him in the first place (See Todd Collins, previous paragraph).

So this weekend should be fun with more of Kerry Collins, Matt Cassel and good old Gus Frerotte. But soon enough their run will be over and it will be back to the clipboard, their names forgotten until someone gets desperate enough to give them a call.

By Les Carpenter  |  September 18, 2008; 9:38 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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