On the NFL
3:55 PM CDT, May 18, 2013
Bears fans may be more panicked about Josh McCown being the team's backup quarterback than they were about the Chicago-area water levels being higher than sled hills last month.
McCown is a quarterback with a 71.2 career passer rating. He has been cut twice and traded twice in his NFL career, and his last regular professional paycheck from a pro team before his joining the Bears was from the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League.
But having McCown as your No. 2 is not the same as having the Titanic as your cruise ship.
After all, many other teams are in the same boat with similar backups.
In general, there are two types of backup quarterbacks in the NFL: Those who have failed, and those who have yet to fail.
The Bears would have preferred one from the latter category, but they didn't have enough draft picks to select one as a harbinger of hope. That was too bad.
But that is a separate issue from having McCown as their veteran backup.
Even if the Bears had drafted a quarterback, he might not have been a threat to McCown because they still probably would have wanted a veteran. But it would have given them an option on game day.
Only 26 teams have backups who have started NFL games and could be primary backups this year.
Of those 26 players, 23 do not have a winning record as a starter. Only five have a career passer rating of 80 or better.
Their cumulative passer rating of 74.8 is just a little better than McCown's as is their cumulative completion percentage of .583 to McCown's. 580.
If you are looking for a Jim Plunkett or Doug Williams who can come off the bench and get you to a Super Bowl, you will need a time capsule.
There are two examples in the last 21 years of backup quarterbacks who got their team Super Bowl rings. Trent Dilfer rode the coattails of one of the greatest defenses in history with the 2000 Ravens. Then there was the fresh-faced Tom Brady in 2001, who came off the bench for the Patriots on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats.
As quarterback play has become more important, the notion of a backup superhero has become increasingly quaint.
There are more desirable ones than McCown, certainly. But not many.
The best veteran backups in the league are Matt Cassel, Jason Campbell, Matt Hasselbeck, Kyle Orton and Shaun Hill. They are the Peyton Mannings and Aaron Rodgers of the backup world.
Last year, they went 3-11 in games they started. They had a combined passer rating of 76.6.
Even the best backups are backups for a reason.
Still, if you can get one of the best, it's worth paying more. Otherwise, there isn't much difference between McCown and the others.
And there is a benefit to having McCown as the backup. He is taking up $580,000 of cap space. Last year, the player in his spot, Campbell, took up $3.5 million.
With the cap space gained at backup quarterback, the Bears were able to buy two veterans who could be starters.
Many Bears fans were happy to see Campbell go. But the Bears weren't. They wanted him back. He preferred to sign with the Browns, with whom he has a better chance of playing.
As a rule, the best and most sought after veteran backups aren't going to be interested in playing behind Jay Cutler because what they want more than money is opportunity. They are going to migrate to teams like the Browns, where the starter could be on a short leash.
So the issue really is this — what do you hope for in a veteran backup if you can't have Earl Morrall?
You hope for a player who can make routine plays, has enough wisdom to avoid losing the game and has enough perspective to enhance a locker room.
Hello, Josh McCown.
Matt Cavanaugh, the Bears quarterbacks coach, understands the dynamic perhaps better than anyone. In addition to coaching quarterbacks for 20 years, he began 12 of his 13 NFL seasons as a backup quarterback, serving as an understudy to Joe Montana, Randall Cunningham and Phil Simms, among others.
He thinks McCown is perfectly qualified for his job.
"You want a guy who is smart, will make good decisions, understands what the game is all about and still has the tools to make plays," Cavanaugh said. "He has that. There isn't a lot of wear and tear on the body. He's physically strong. He still has good leg movement. He has been very efficient throwing for us in the offseason.
"That's all you can ask. I'm happy to have him. … I'll be shocked if he doesn't perform well."
McCown might perform well. He might not.
After all, he is a backup — like those on most teams.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC