It took just three and three-quarters of one NFL game before this season’s first catastrophic quarterback injury. (This is not counting Zach Wilson’s injury in the preseason.) When Cooper Rush took over for an injured Dak Prescott during the fourth quarter of the Cowboys’ loss to the Buccaneers, it was officially Backup Time.
Prescott had surgery Monday on the thumb of his throwing hand; it went so well that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday morning that the team won’t be putting Prescott on injured reserve, and expects him to be back within four weeks. That seems unrealistically optimistic compared to the 6-8 week timeline that ESPN’s Todd Archer reported postgame on Sunday, and clashes with Jones’s own characterization that night: “Dak will be out for awhile.” But to be a Cowboys fan is to believe in miracles, and to be Jerry Jones is to depend upon them. He appears to be doing just that, telling The Fan that he won’t be looking to add a veteran quarterback, because “it’s unlikely you’ll have a veteran quarterback that could get back in here and be ready to play as well as those guys can play, even if you thought you might have a talent advantage.”
The Cowboys, of all teams, should know to take the need for a good backup quarterback seriously. Prescott broke his ankle in the most disgusting way possible in Week 5 of 2020 and missed the rest of the year; those Cowboys had Andy Dalton, a veteran starter, as their backup, but they spiraled out of contention all the same, winning only four games without Prescott. Then Prescott battled a calf strain last season. and just last week, felt something pop in his “bionic” ankle.
But Dallas didn’t do anything to shore up the backup position this season and kept the same two backup quarterbacks they had last year: Rush and Will Grier.
By now, it is well known that Rush has the best name in the sport, but his football résumé doesn’t quite match up to his powerful name. Rush has started just one game in his five seasons in the NFL, most of which he’s spent in Dallas. He won it, beating the Vikings on the road in Week 7 last year.
Per Jones’ assessment today, Rush is the Cowboys QB1 for the near future, and in proper backup protocol, his teammates are rallying around him. “(Rush) has been around for a long time,” Cowboys running back Tony Pollard told The Athletic. “We have a lot of confidence in him. He can make all the throws on the field, make the right reads at the right times. He’s a guy that we definitely believe in.”
So who are the other 31 guys whose teammates will try to convince you that they really, really believe in this season? It is time, once again, to meet the backups.
Dallas Cowboys: Cooper Rush
Known for: We just covered this, come on.
Career earnings, per Spotrac: $3,360,229
New York Giants: Tyrod Taylor
Known for: Being the unluckiest player in the entire NFL. Seriously, this guy could have a different career if he hadn’t been stabbed in the lungs by the Chargers’ training staff, or get injured at all of the worst times (see: Cleveland, 2018).
Career earnings: $65,130,703
Philadelphia Eagles: Gardner Minshew
Known for: The jorts, and the mustache, and the single season of *relative* glory in Jacksonville.
Career earnings: $5,171,583
Washington Commanders: Taylor Heinicke
Known for: Starting the ‘Ders’ wild-card game in 2020 after Alex Smith was hurt, and almost getting the upset. He also started almost the entire season last year after Ryan Fitzpatrick got hurt. Playing behind Wentz seems to make it a sure bet that he’ll see some action again this season.
Career earnings: $7,125,196
Chicago Bears: Trevor Siemian
Known for: For being an esteemed guest on QB2… But also Siemian was a seventh-round pick who struggled at Northwestern and then succeeded Peyton F***ing Manning as the Broncos starter and won his first four games in 2016. Myles Garrett crushed his ankle after Siemian stepped in for Sam Darnold during his bout with mono. Last year, Siemian came off the bench when Jameis Winston tore his ACL and led the Saints to a win over the rival Buccaneers. He then lost the next four games.
Career earnings: $8,814,775
Detroit Lions: Nate Sudfeld
Known for: Becoming a pawn in the last game of the Eagles’ 2020 season when Doug Pederson benched Jalen Hurts early in the fourth quarter in what ended up being his last move as the head coach of the Eagles. Sudfeld did not win, which put the Eagles in a better draft position and led fans to wonder if that move was really Pederson’s decision after all.
Career earnings: $10,007,334
Green Bay Packers: Jordan Love
Known for: His presence drove Aaron Rodgers to pour himself a stiff tequila drink, sending the franchise into total disarray in the 2020 offseason. The Chiefs sat his parents in outer space at Arrowhead for his first start last season, when Rodgers was benched with COVID-19.
Career earnings: $10,084,800
Minnesota Vikings: Nick Mullens
Known for: Winning his first start, on Thursday Night Football, for the Niners in 2018. His passer rating that night (151.9) was the highest since 1970 for a quarterback with at least 20 passing attempts in a debut, and he was the first player in team history to throw three touchdowns in his first game for the Niners. The new Vikings regime hated all the backups they inherited, so they traded for Mullens during the preseason this year.
Career earnings: $4,404,934
Atlanta Falcons: Desmond Ridder
Known for: Beating Notre Dame last year as Cincinnati’s quarterback.
Career earnings: $1,785,336
Carolina Panthers: P.J. Walker
Known for: This guy killed it in the XFL in 2020. He was 5-0 before the league shut down. This team drafted Matt Corral in the third round this year, and Walker’s Panthers era seemed like it would be over, but then Corral landed on season-ending IR after a Lisfranc injury in the preseason.
Career earnings: $1,865,519
New Orleans Saints: Andy Dalton
Known for: The Red Rifle quarterbacked the Bengals for nine seasons. The backup phase of his career barely began in Dallas before Prescott’s injury made him a starter again, and Dalton got another job starting in Chicago until the injury gods decided in Week 2 that it was Justin Fields’s time. In Week 5 last season, Fields had to leave the game briefly after tweaking his knee, and Dalton did not even have his rib protector on (!!!) when called upon to step in. What are you even doing, man? Dalton will probably play at some point this season because Jameis Winston tore his ACL last year.
Career earnings: $99,627,794
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Blaine Gabbert
Known for: Busting in Jacksonville. Now he’s a Super Bowl champion and had to take all the reps when Tom Brady mysteriously disappeared during training camp this year. Brady’s situation still seems extremely weird, so Gabbert might really have to play at some point this season.
Career earnings: $25,964,351
Arizona Cardinals: Trace McSorley
Known for: His pretty good Penn State career? McSorley is only here because big-time backup Colt McCoy, another first-team all-namer, is on IR.
Career earnings: $2,731,735
Los Angeles Rams: John Wolford
Known for: Getting caught up in the Jared Goff/Sean McVay drama. Wolford started the Rams’ Week 17 game in 2020 in place of Goff, who broke his thumb the previous week. A playoff berth was on the line and Wolford threw a pick on his first attempt, but then became the first quarterback to pass for 200-plus yards and rush for 50-plus yards in an NFL debut. The Rams won. Wolford started the wild card game instead of Goff, who felt that he should have been named the starter. Now, he’s a Super Bowl champion! Wolford, I mean.
Career earnings: $2,607,299
San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo … for now
Known for: This is the most threatening backup on this list BY FAR. Jimmy G is the same quarterback who started 15 games for San Francisco last season, including two wins in the postseason before a very close loss to the Rams. He will soon be trading spots with Trey Lance in this space.
Career earnings: $126,814,507
Career earnings: $7,238,923
Buffalo Bills: Case Keenum
Known for: One magical season in Minnesota that brought us the Minneapolis Miracle. Since then, he’s gone to Denver, Washington, and Cleveland, and is now backing up Josh Allen and making fun videos in Buffalo. He may have the best fake accent of all backups.
Career earnings: $48,684,877
New England Patriots: Brian Hoyer
Known for: Another esteemed guest on QB2. It feels like Hoyer has been in the NFL for the last 20 years. It has only been 14, and this is his third stint in New England. I associate Hoyer the most with being Brady’s backup, and this Hard Knocks scene (back when the show was still good), which Hoyer told me was played up for the cameras, in which Bill O’Brien names him the starter (he was then benched in the fourth quarter of the first game for Ryan Mallett). Mac Jones hurt his back in Week 1 and wasn’t made available to media after the game. It may soon be Hoyer SZN in New England.
Career earnings: $32,971,545
Miami Dolphins: Teddy Bridgewater
Known for: The gruesome knee injury that ruined his career as a franchise quarterback. Bridgewater’s last name is perfect for the role he’s played in the NFL since. Solid backup and bridge starter at best.
Career earnings: $62,059,985
New York Jets: Mike White
Known for: Being the most exciting backup quarterback of 2021! Joe Flacco beat him out for the backup job this year, but then Zach Wilson got hurt like three seconds into the preseason and White resumed his rightful place as the backup. In the Jets Week 1 loss to the Ravens, New York fans started chanting for our man, but head coach Robert Saleh insists the job is Flacco’s. MIKE WHITE! MIKE WHITE!
Career earnings: $4,630,813
Baltimore Ravens: Tyler Huntley
Known for: Playing the whole fourth quarter of the 2020 playoff loss to the Bills after Lamar Jackson left with a concussion. Huntley, an undrafted free agent out of Utah, seized the opportunity after RGIII landed on injured reserve with a hamstring that year. RGIII now works for ESPN, and Huntley proved himself very capable in four starts in place of an injured Jackson last season. He beat Chicago on the road and lost by one point to both Green Bay and the Rams despite heading up a historically injury-depleted Ravens team. I would like for the Cowboys to trade for Huntley! But apparently they won’t be doing so!
Career earnings: $2,001,236
Cincinnati Bengals: Brandon Allen
Known for: Posting the hard-to-achieve 0.0 passer rating in 2020 against the Ravens and hyping up the Bengals then-rookie kicker Evan McPherson in 2021.
Career earnings: $5,676.404
Cleveland Browns: Josh Dobbs
Known for: Doing a cool internship with NASA. Dobbs also spent four seasons with the Steelers, so he’s experienced in playing behind a shady starter.
Career earnings: $5,164,123
Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Pickett
Known for: Tiny hands alert! No wonder he lost the starting job to Mitchell Trubisky. It’s a miracle this rookie can even hold a football in his tiny childlike paws. (In reality, it’s just a matter of games until this Pitt product takes over as starter.)
Career earnings: $8,116,204
Indianapolis Colts: Nick Foles
Known for: Achieving maybe the greatest backup quarterback feat of all time—capably taking over for Carson Wentz in the playoffs and winning a Super Bowl with the Eagles. And personally, I love the version of Nick Foles that came off the bench for a struggling Mitch Trubisky in Chicago and essentially ignored Matt Nagy’s gameplan to lead the Bears to a win in Atlanta.
Career earnings: $86,045,346
Houston Texans: Kyle Allen
Known for: Winning his first five starts with the Panthers in relief of Cam Newton in 2018 and 2019. Also, Allen was the No. 1 rated pro-style quarterback in the high school class of 2014, but he lost his job to Kyler Murray at Texas A&M and then transferred to Houston. Last year, he was the backup in Washington behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke.
Career earnings: $5,030,648
Jacksonville Jaguars: C.J. Beathard
Known for: Being the grandson of Hall of Fame executive Bobby Beathard.
Career earnings: $8,481,574
Tennessee Titans: Malik Willis
Known for: Curiously lasting until the third round of this year’s draft, despite a very unique and exciting skill set! Ryan Tannehill said it’s not his job to mentor Willis, so hopefully Willis is taking good notes without asking too many questions.
Career earnings: $1,637,800
Denver Broncos: Brett Rypien
Known for: Being the nephew of Super Bowl XXVI MVP quarterback Mark Rypien. And being part of the infamous Broncos QB room that broke the COVID-19 protocols by placing their contact tracers in separate corners of their QB room so they could all watch film together and then subsequently all landing on the COVID-19/close contact list, which forced a practice-squad receiver to start at QB.
Career earnings: $2,910,058
Kansas City Chiefs: Chad Henne
Known for: The epic Chad vs. Chad quarterback battle in Miami circa 2010. Henne took Pennington’s job in 2009 when Pennington got hurt, and then Pennington stole it back in 2010 after Henne went 4-4 to start the season. More recently, he preserved a Chiefs playoff win against the Browns in 2020 when Mahomes left in the third quarter with a concussion.
Career earnings: $38,605,500
Las Vegas Raiders: Jarrett Stidham
Known for: Playing in New England during the strange post-Brady 2020 season where the Patriots cycled through Cam Newton, Hoyer, and finally Stidham. Josh McDaniels must have enjoyed their time together in New England, because he traded a sixth-round pick for Stidham and a seventh-round pick when he became Las Vegas’s head coach.
Career earnings: $3,664,452
Los Angeles Chargers: Chase Daniel
Known for: Anytime Daniel sees any amount of action, Twitter can’t get over how much money he has made compared to his actual playing time. Daniel is the current poster boy for The Backup Lifestyle, a career clipboard holder who is still collecting that cash and “guiding” the youth. He’s already making moves already towards a post-football career in media.
Career earnings: $41,828,471