Drew Stanton played mostly as a second-string and third-string quarterback for 13 seasons in the NFL. In 2020, he added "a little bit more" to his career with six weeks on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad. On Christmas Eve morning that year, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians came calling to ask his old Arizona Cardinals backup to come out of retirement. Stanton joined me on QB2 to tell the story.
"I was like, B.A. never calls me!" Stanton said. "He might shoot me a text like, 'Hey, Merry Christmas kid,' with a little cocktail emoji or something like that, but never a call." So the effectively retired QB called him back.
"He was like, 'Hey kid, do you want to come down here and help us win a Super Bowl?'" Stanton said. "I was like, 'B.A., I haven’t thought about football all year long. I haven’t put cleats on, I haven’t put a helmet on, I haven’t thrown a football.' He was like, 'Ahh, you’ll be fine. You’ll jump right back into it, just come on down.'"
Stanton had spent the previous season with the Browns, but was shelved with a knee injury early in the season. He'd been out of football for a while when he joined the Bucs as their COVID insurance quarterback. It was his first time as a QB4, in a room with Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, and Ryan Griffin. Although Stanton never saw playing time, Arians found a way to call him up off the practice squad for Super Bowl 55, which meant he could be on the sideline during the game to help out with the other quarterbacks. The Bucs beat the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9, making Stanton a champion after six weeks of work.
"It’s funny how relationships matter, how communication matters," Stanton said.
Because he was a likable and helpful backup for Arians in Arizona, Stanton's name was at the top of the list for a position that could have just as easily gone to a quarterback who was still in the game.
“When you are a backup, you take a backseat to the starter and you realize, Okay, what can I do to fill in the gaps?" he said. "What can I do to aid this person to be as good as they can possibly be?”
By learning to perfect that mindset, Stanton put together a lucrative career that took him to six different NFL teams. He came into the league with expectations of becoming a starting quarterback, so it took him several years to adjust. "When I became secure in who I was and how I wanted to operate and how I wanted to be known, I was less worried about getting accolades for that on the outside and more worried about earning the respect and the trust of my teammates in that locker room," he said.
When asked to pick a word to describe his career as a long-time backup, Stanton had an interesting choice.
"I view myself as a survivor," he said. "I was a second-round pick, but two years later, after the 0-16 season, [the Lions] drafted Matthew Stafford, so I learned what a business I was in. I learned that I was behind the eight-ball and I needed to reinvent myself."
Also on this episode of QB2, Stanton talks about the danger of mismanaging a young quarterback, a wild white elephant gift exchange with Baker Mayfield and Tyrod Taylor, how ownership drives the culture of a football franchise, and the tough transition between paper printouts and iPads.
You can watch the full interview here, and follow Defector on Twitch if you want to be notified for the next episode.