Life of a Backup QB in the NFL (Explored)

In the NFL, the spotlight often shines brightest on the starting quarterback – the leader, the playmaker, the face of the franchise.

Yet, in the shadows, there exists a role almost nearly as vital, yet markedly less glorified: the backup quarterback.

This unsung hero harbors a reservoir of resilience, adaptability, and wisdom, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice, often with the weight of the game or potentially the rest of the season on their shoulders.

We look at the emotional tolls, the personal growth, and the potential pathways to coaching that many backup quarterbacks navigate throughout their careers.

Readiness to Play

Constant Vigilance

Backup QBs need to maintain a high level of preparedness as they might be called upon to play at any time due to injuries or other unforeseen circumstances.

Physical Fitness

They must maintain their physical fitness to be able to compete at the highest level, even without the guarantee of game time.

Mental Preparedness

They need to be mentally prepared to step into high-pressure situations at a moment’s notice, which requires a strong psychological resilience.

Learning Quickly


Backup QBs often have to adapt to new teams and strategies quickly, showcasing a high level of flexibility and adaptability.

Quick Study

They need to be able to learn and understand new playbooks rapidly, sometimes in a matter of days, which demands a sharp intellect and excellent memory.

Utilizing Technology

Many use technology, like playing Madden, to familiarize themselves with team rosters and strategies quickly.

Mentoring Role


They often serve as guides and mentors to starting QBs, helping them navigate the pressures of the role.

Sharing Experience

They share their experiences and insights, helping to build the confidence and skills of the starting QBs.

Positive Influence

They foster a positive and supportive environment, helping to nurture the growth and development of younger players.

Collaborative Game Preparation

Strategic Input

They actively participate in game preparations, offering valuable insights and suggestions based on their experience.

Team Dynamics

They help to foster a collaborative and cohesive team dynamic, promoting unity and harmony within the team.

Supportive Environment

They help to create a supportive environment where players can learn from each other and grow together.

Adapting to Different Teams


They need to be versatile, able to adapt to the different playing styles and strategies of various teams.

Cultural Adaptability

They need to be culturally adaptable, able to integrate into different team cultures and environments quickly.


Their role allows them to build a vast network of contacts within the industry, which can be beneficial in the long run.

Why It’s Hard

Emotional Toll

Backup QBs in the NFL are among the top 100 people at their profession in the world.

But there are only 32 starting jobs.

It’s not easy to be the best at something your whole life and then not get to play.

Or play briefly, then get relegated to a backup role.

And if you do get to play due to injury, the game plan is not tailored around your skill set.

Identity Crisis

As alluded to above, transitioning from a primary player to a backup can lead to an identity crisis, with many struggling to find their place and purpose within the team.

Mental Strain

The role can be mentally taxing, requiring a strong psychological resilience to cope with the pressures and uncertainties.

Emotional Resilience

They need to develop emotional resilience to cope with the ups and downs of the role, maintaining a positive outlook despite the challenges.

Lack of Game Time


The lack of game time can be frustrating, with many feeling underutilized and overlooked.

Skill Maintenance

They need to work hard to maintain their skills and performance levels, even without regular game time.


The role requires a great deal of patience, as they may have to wait for extended periods before getting an opportunity to play.

Physical Readiness

Physical Challenges

Entering a game “cold” can be physically challenging, requiring a high level of fitness and readiness to perform at the highest level.


They need to be able to adapt quickly to the pace of the game, which can be extremely fast and demanding.

Physical Resilience

They need to develop physical resilience to cope with the demands of the role, able to perform at a high level even without regular game time.


Frequent Relocations

The role involves frequent relocations, which can be disruptive to personal and family life.

Uncertain Future

They often face an uncertain future, with no guarantees of long-term contracts or stability.

Personal Sacrifices

The role requires significant personal sacrifices, with many having to put their personal lives on hold to pursue their careers.


Lucrative Contracts

Backup QBs can secure lucrative contracts, earning substantial amounts despite limited game time.

Financial Security

The role can offer financial security, with many able to build substantial savings over their careers.

Opportunities for Endorsements

They may also have opportunities for endorsements and other financial benefits, further enhancing their earnings.


Many backup QBs last a long time because they’re good enough to stick around but not good enough or lucky enough to play.

Accordingly, they avoid taking hits, which enables them to elongate their careers.

Potential Springboard to Coaching

Career Progression

Many backup QBs transition to coaching roles after retirement, utilizing their extensive experience and knowledge to guide the next generation of players.

Because backup QBs see a lot of systems (e.g., West Coast, Air Coryell, Erhardt-Perkins, Spread Offense) and work with many innovators, they often have an encyclopedic knowledge of football.

They know what works and all the variations, all the jargon, etc.

Networking Opportunities

Their role allows them to build a vast network of contacts within the industry, which can be beneficial in securing coaching positions.

Influence on the Game

They have the opportunity to influence the game at a strategic level, helping to shape the future of the sport.

Personal Growth

Personal Development

Despite the challenges, many find personal growth and satisfaction in their roles, learning valuable life skills and gaining unique experiences.


The role helps to build resilience, teaching them to cope with adversity and bounce back from setbacks.

Life Lessons

They learn valuable life lessons about perseverance, hard work, and determination, which can be beneficial in all areas of life.


Here are the key elements, difficulties, and benefits associated with the role:

Key Elements of Being a Backup QB:

  1. Readiness to Play: Backup QBs must always be ready to step in at a moment’s notice, often without many reps during the week.
  2. Learning Quickly: They need to adapt quickly to new teams and playbooks, sometimes in a matter of days.
  3. Mentoring Role: Often serve as mentors to starting QBs, helping them prepare and build confidence.
  4. Collaborative Game Preparation: They actively participate in game preparation, contributing ideas and helping the starter get ready.
  5. Adapting to Different Teams: Many backup QBs move between different teams, adapting to new environments and strategies.

Why It’s Hard:

  1. Emotional Toll: The transition from being a primary player to a backup can be emotionally taxing, with many feeling a loss of identity and purpose.
  2. Lack of Game Time: They have to prepare like starters but get very little game time, which can be frustrating.
  3. Physical Readiness: Entering a game “cold” can be challenging, as it takes time for the mind and body to adapt to the fast pace of the game.
  4. Instability: The role involves a lot of instability, with frequent moves between cities and teams, affecting personal and family life.


  1. Financial Rewards: Backup QBs can earn substantial amounts, sometimes with little game action. For instance, Chase Daniel made over $41 million in 14 seasons, starting only five games.
  2. Potential Springboard to Coaching: Many backup QBs transition to coaching roles, utilizing their extensive experience and knowledge of different systems.
  3. Personal Growth: Despite the challenges, many backup QBs find personal growth and satisfaction in their roles, appreciating the opportunities and experiences the NFL offers.

This detailed insight into the life of a backup QB in the NFL showcases a role that demands adaptability, resilience, and a collaborative spirit.

It’s a position that, while often overlooked, plays a crucial part in the success of a team, offering both opportunities and challenges that are unique to the profession.

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