New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said something interesting recently. He said, in reference to his backup quarterback, Chase Daniel, that if a backup quarterback isn’t constantly visualizing himself as the starter, he doesn’t belong in the NFL. I agree with that, wholeheartedly. Backup quarterbacks are some of the most valuable players to have around. It’s sort of like the vice presidency in politics. Yeah, you don’t see them much, but when it comes time for them to step up and do something, they are suddenly the most important people around. After all, what is the purpose of having a backup quarterback if that guy can’t be relied upon in critical situations? To extend the previous example, not having a solid backup quarterback would be like having a vice president incapable of leading the country in a time of crisis. It’s a sound rationale, in that, starting quarterbacks are most likely going to experience some injury, in one form or another, eventually. Even if they don’t, what if the starting quarterback turns out to just not be any good? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a reasonable plan B? The Kansas City Chiefs apparently don’t subscribe to that belief.
For the last several years since quarterback Matt Cassel has been the starter, there really hasn’t been competition at the quarterback position. We can pretend all day that former quarterback Brodie Croyle had a shot to be the starter (in the same way that the Chiefs organization kept trying to convince their fans of that in 2010), or that former quarterback Tyler Palko had the chance to outdo Cassel for the starting role in 2011. But when we stop trying to kid ourselves and actually start taking things seriously, we see that there has been absolutely zero quarterback competition since Cassel arrived on the scene. Now, in the beginning, I can see where the Chiefs were coming from in not having true competition at that position, because the Chiefs had just gotten through giving Cassel, what many believed to be, even at the time, an asinine contract based off of one season (does that sound familiar? It should. The Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks have recently done something similar). General manager Scott Pioli gave Cassel the keys to the car, and now, it’s as if Cassel is super glued to the driver’s seat.
And it’s not like Cassel has been some world-beater of a quarterback. He’s not outgunning Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers or even outperforming mediocre quarterbacks like Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore on a consistent basis. Now, there do exist Cassel apologists who say he has the ability to lead the Chiefs on a deep playoff run. While that would, undoubtedly, be the best situation for all involved, (it would certainly be the simplest) I’m curious as to what kinds of statistics would back that up? Let’s look at the 2010 season, his best year with the Chiefs. Cassel broke 300 yards in a game just twice. Well, what about 200? 6 times, and that includes the two I previously mentioned. By comparison, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers broke 200 yards in every single game he played in 2010, except one, breaking 300 yards on six occasions. Then, in 2011, excluding the game when Cassel got hurt, he broke 200 yards four times out of the first eight games, never breaking 300 yards. Rivers, in the same stretch, broke 200 yards seven out of eight games, surpassing the 300 yard mark five times.
What’s the point of spouting off all these statistics? While Cassel is not a terrible quarterback, by any means, there’s no reason there can’t be any legitimate competition at this position going into the 2012 season. Instead, the Chiefs wanted their fans to believe that quarterback Brady Quinn was legitimate competition for Cassel. It makes me wonder, ” how stupid do they think Chiefs fans are?” Those who have seen Quinn play with the Cleveland Browns know that he’s more comparable to Croyle, statistically. Now, I realize that the Chiefs ran the ball a lot in 2010 and that that’s the reason for the low yardage numbers, but to me, that just means the game plan was tailor-made so Cassel wouldn’t be forced into a lot of tough situations. It made it so Cassel wouldn’t have to throw the long ball very often and would very rarely be asked to bring the team back late.
That’s fine, except, successful quarterbacks in the NFL have the ability to throw that successful long ball and, also, what’s one of the things people always bring up when asked what they want out of their quarterback? The ability to bring the team back from behind in the clutch always makes the list, and Cassel hasn’t really shown that he has the ability to do this. Having to work around this really limits what the Chiefs can do and creates a sort of glass ceiling. But let’s briefly get off of Cassel. He has the starting job, it’s not going away this year (though, I’m not sure he’ll be the starter much longer if things go south this season). But, as mentioned earlier, what happens if Cassel goes down this season? Keep in mind, Cassel, due to one circumstance or another, has never played a full season in Kansas City. Knowing that, the backup quarterback role becomes infinitely more important to address.
But how have the Chiefs addressed it recently? The Quinn vs. Ricky Stanzi battle might be one of the more interesting position battles in the league. Quinn is a guy who hasn’t known too many good moments in the NFL. Many questioned the Chiefs when Quinn was signed, and a lot of those people were not fooled into thinking he’s any legitimate competition for the starting job. But is he good enough to keep the number two role away from Stanzi? I believe I have the answer to that.
I don’t think the reason Stanzi doesn’t get the backup job in 2012 is because Quinn is far and away a better quarterback than he is. I think Stanzi has a lot of upside that I’m not sure we’ll ever get to see because of the lack of playing time. Since the Chiefs signed Quinn to a one year contract, their intentions were made pretty clear: they wanted a veteran backup quarterback so that if Cassel goes down like he has in the past, the Chiefs could technically say they’ve addressed the problem (in one of the worst ways possible, but still).
Here’s the catch, though. Remember: Cassel is Pioli’s guy. If legitimate competition were brought in to challenge Cassel, Cassel would likely lose. Now, you could say, “yeah, but the Chiefs could still give the job to Cassel in that situation, regardless.” And that’s true, but keep in mind that fan sentiment, whether it seems like it sometimes or not, can be heard. In fact, it can sometimes be deafening. If Cassel started in place of a veteran who clearly outperformed him, all you-know-what would break loose. If the veteran quarterback actually got the start, the Cassel experiment will have failed and Pioli would have a massive egg on his face. So then, how do you keep the fans somewhat content about Cassel as the starting quarterback? Bring in a guy you know isn’t competition, convince the fanbase that the new guy could actually knock Cassel out of his starting job, and all will be right with the world.
I don’t like dogging on the starting quarterback just for the sake of having something to complain about. But this situation is larger than just him. Once we start clearing out some of this fog, a couple things become evident. The quarterback “competition” the Chiefs would have you believe is going on between Stanzi and Quinn is nonexistent, as was the case when the Chiefs organization brought in Quinn as a “legitimate” backup quarterback that could “challenge Cassel” for the starting job. The three-deep order of quarterbacks will be (and I would go on record saying this): Cassel (1), Quinn (2), Stanzi (3). Also, it looks as if the Cassel experiment really will be the key determinant on Pioli’s success as a general manager. To act like the situation is imminently-dire is being too extreme, but I’ll say this: time is running out on the Pioli administration. If Cassel and company don’t lead the Chiefs to the playoffs (and likely to a playoff victory, as well), they’re going to wish they had a legitimate number two quarterback when Cassel starts looking for a new job. I’m David Abeyta and that’s my opinion.