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The Backseat GM: My Top 10 Ideal Backup QB Candidates

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It’s nice to go through an off-season without having to look at analyze potential starting quarterbacks (QBs) for the Buffalo Bills. However, the team does have a pressing need at another crucial position, the backup QB. Some may scoff at the importance of the clipboard holder, but what happens if the face of your franchise goes down with an injury? Who will replace them? Bills fans know this fear all too well as Josh Allen went down against the Raiders (left shoulder) and Chargers (right ankle/knee). The team was fortunate that Allen only missed one snap in those two instances. However, he may not be so lucky the next time.

What we do know is that Matt Barkley’s contract is up and he’s set to be a free agent. He’s done wonders in aiding Allen’s development and has become a fixture in the Buffalo community. However, while he isn’t the worst QB in the league, he doesn’t inspire much confidence among fans should Allen go down. So, let’s assume Barkley does not return to Buffalo next season. (I’ll leave the reason up to you dear reader.) Who could they sign? Where should they look?

In this second edition of “The Backseat GM”, I present my top 10 ideal candidates to back up Josh Allen in 2021.

Criteria

These players are either currently free agents or could be feasibly acquired prior to the 2021 season. These 10 players fulfill at least one of the following three criteria:

  1. Starting Experience: The best backup QB is one who has at least some starting experience; someone who can handle the NFL gameday environment.
  2. Similar Skill Set: Having multiple QBs with a similar playstyle/attributes would provide scheme/gameplan continuity should the starter go down. (Full Disclosure: I was one of the people who wanted the Bills to keep Tyree Jackson as a developmental Josh Allen clone.)
  3. Youth/Potential: The best backup QB a team can have is the one they have. (Mind-blowing right?) So why not get a younger backup who could, potentially, be there for more than a couple of years?

1.) Ryan Fitzpatrick

Photo courtesy of Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Ryan Fitzpatrick is by far the ideal choice for a backup QB. He has played for eight NFL franchises, one-quarter of the entire league, in his 16-year career. (He’s been around the block at least a couple of times.) Not only that, he’s been an effective field general (and sneaky athlete), especially when the team has minimal expectations for him. Nothing says low expectations like being a backup/mentor for Josh Allen.

However, Fitzy may not want to be a backup again. He certainly could still be a bridge QB for a rebuilding team. In that case, he would likely command a decent amount of “Quan” (to quote former Arizona Cardinals receiver, Rod Tidwell). While it would be awesome for Fitzy to end his illustrious career with the team that gave him his first starting job, it likely won’t happen.

2.) Gardner Minshew

Photo courtesy of Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

With the hiring of Urban Meyer and the presumptive selection of Trevor Lawrence in this year’s draft, Gardner Minshew is likely on the way out of Jacksonville. Minshew is built for Buffalo both as a person and player. He has the “Process” work ethic, having busted his keister to get to this point. He also has the swagger and bravado that Josh does, just with a better mustache. Moreover, he is just as much a gunslinger as Fitzy and Allen. (I am convinced that Minshew will be the next Ryan Fitzpatrick.) Add in the fact that he’s only 24 (going on 25) years old and is locked in with a sixth-round salary for 2021 and 2022 and you got a very desirable backup QB. (It would behoove the Bills to trade for him at his current salary.)

However, like Fitzy, Minshew may not want to be a backup. (Unlike Fitzy, he may not have a choice in the matter since he’s still under contract.) Additionally, the Bills may not want to use draft capital on a QB this year (via trade) or spend the money Minshew could potentially make on the open market.

3.) Jacoby Brissett

Photo courtesy of Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Jacoby Brissett, the 28-year-old former third-round pick, has spent the past four seasons yo-yo-ing between the starting and backup QB roles in Indianapolis. He has two full seasons of starting experience, having played in place of Andrew Luck in 2017 and 2019. While he and Allen share a similar build and athleticism, Brissett has not been used in the same manner. That being said, I believe he could come into Daboll’s offense in a pinch and execute it with minimal tweaks/adjustments. (It should be noted that Brissett and Daboll briefly crossed paths in 2016 with New England.)

There are two main factors that could prevent Buffalo from signing Brissett. Firstly, he has been paid handsomely as a backup in Indy, having made $30 million over the last two seasons. He could command a similar price from a team desperate for a bridge QB. Secondly, he is 28 and will likely want an opportunity to start during his prime physical years. Both of which the Bills simply cannot provide.

4.) Alex Smith

Photo courtesy of Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

We all know Alex Smith’s story. Like Fitzy, the former number one overall pick has always been an effective and able starter in the league. The fact he came back from that Theismann-esque injury, gave Aaron Donald a piggyback ride, and led a lowly Washington Football Team to a playoff berth is remarkable. Clearly, he still has something left in the tank. Also like Fitzy, Smith would be a veteran presence in Buffalo’s QB room who can capably steer the ship should Allen go down. (Smith is well known for taking younger QBs under his wing.)

However, again like Fitzy, Smith could also have a significant market as a bridge QB/mentor for a rebuilding franchise. (For instance, he could reunite with his former college coach in Jacksonville, which would open up the possibility of acquiring Minshew.)

5.) Mitch Trubisky

Photo courtesy of AP Photos

Mitch Trubisky has not had a bad career to date. (I mean, he’s made a Pro Bowl and was the first-ever Nickelodeon’s Valuable Player.) He just didn’t live up to the expectations of a number two overall pick who was taken over two transcendent QBs (Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes) by a team that traded a bevy of mid-round picks to secure his services. Trubisky is one of a few players who checks all of my boxes for a backup QB. He is young (26 going on 27), has starting experience, and plays a similar style of game as Allen. (You don’t need to throw things at me, I’m not directly comparing him to Allen.)

With Trubisky, it will come down to whether or not he’s willing to sign a short-term deal as a backup to re-establish his value (i.e. Teddy Bridgewater and Jameis Winston in New Orleans.) At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Trubisky could be a solid option for a QB needy team.

6.) Andy Dalton

Photo courtesy of Aaron Doster/AP Photos

Andy Dalton fits in Buffalo for the same reason as Alex Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick; he has vast starting experience. Dalton also has some athleticism, though not to the extent of Brissett or Trubisky. He would be a very capable spot starter should Allen go down. (As he did for Dallas this past season.) The one thing Dalton has that differentiates him from the rest of the pack (save Fitzpatrick) is his popularity among Bills fans. He was the QB that officially ended the drought in 2017, prompting vast donations to his charity.

Hold up, here comes my friendly neighborhood parrot. What message do you have for us? Ah, he could have a market as a bridge QB for a rebuilding team, ah. That is true. There is also the possibility Dallas brings him back as Dak insurance once again.

7.) Nick Mullens

Photo courtesy of Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Nick Mullens entered the league in 2018 as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi. He has been a serviceable backup for the Niners over the past couple of seasons, starting 16 games in relief of Jimmy Garoppolo in 2018 and 2020. While he is more in the athletic vein of Andy Dalton or Gardner Minshew, Mullens can lead an offense down the field. He has recorded 250+ passing yards in 11 of his 16 career starts. Mullens is just 25 years old, so he’s got a full career ahead of him with the potential to become a fringe starter. (It would be nice if the Bills didn’t have to cycle through older backups every couple of years.)

However, his status as a restricted free agent complicates things a bit. The Bills would have to outbid the Niners and/or whichever teams decide to go after him and may even have to give up a high draft pick (if the RFA tender is higher than the original round); both of which would be less than ideal when pursuing a backup QB.

8.) Jordan Ta’amu

Photo courtesy of Billy Hurst/USA TODAY Sports

Like Brissett and Trubisky, Jordan Ta’amu is athletically similar to Josh Allen. While he doesn’t have NFL experience, he has professional experience. He led the XFL in completion percentage (72%) and was third in passing yards (1,050) and passer rating (101.3). After the XFL suspended operations, Ta’amu landed on the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad and signed a futures/reserve contract prior to the 2021 off-season. He is just 23 years old and has the potential to become a solid backup QB in the NFL.

Obviously, all this could lead the Chiefs to keep him as a replacement for Chad Henne. However, should he be cut/end up on the practice squad, Ta’amu would be a young, talented, and cheap option to back up Allen in 2021.

9.) Blake Bortles

Photo courtesy of Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Blake Bortles is basically a less accurate Mitch Trubisky. He had decent numbers in his five years as a starter in Jacksonville but didn’t live up to the expectations of a top-five pick. (Though the 2014 QB draft class was not nearly as talented as the 2017 class.) He was Jared Goff’s backup in 2019 with the Rams, so he has served that role before. Bortles also has a similar build as Allen and has the ability to scoot around. (He recorded his top two rushing performances against the Bills: Week 12, 2016, and Wild Card 2017.) Additionally, he has a relatively small market in recent years, so the Bills could bring him in for an affordable price.

That being said, it is uncertain if he can still play effectively as he’s only thrown two passes since 2018. (Though some may argue he never played effectively in Jacksonville.) He is nowhere near my most ideal option for Allen’s backup, but he would be a practical option.

10.) Jake Fromm

Photo courtesy of James P. McCoy/Buffalo News

Or, maybe, McDermott and Daboll give Jake Fromm, Buffalo’s 2020 fifth-round pick, a chance as the backup before throwing him to the wolves (*shrugs*)? While he doesn’t have NFL experience, he was a three-year starter at Georgia. (He beat out Jacob Eason and Justin Fields for the starting job there.) I mean, there’s a reason they kept him as the “designated survivor” all of last season. If they didn’t like him, they wouldn’t have drafted him or would’ve found someone else for that role. Plus, he’s already locked in on the roster at his rookie salary for three more years.

Author’s Notes

  • Player stats provided by Pro Football Reference (NFL) and XFL.com (XFL).
  • Contract figures provided by Spotrac.

Who would be your ideal backup QB? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@zvaughn2712).

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