The Los Angeles Rams have taken a lot of criticism for how they handled the backup quarterback position this season. Following Matthew Stafford’s thumb injury against the Dallas Cowboys, the team was forced to turn to Brett Rypien against the Green Bay Packers. The Rams ended up losing that game and the following week, they signed quarterback Carson Wentz.
It can be argued that Brett Rypien should have never been put in that situation and that the Rams should have had a better backup plan much sooner. Yes, it’s true that they drafted Stetson Bennett in the fourth-round of the NFL Draft. With that said, outside of his personal stuff, there are performance and potential as a NFL prospect reasons to believe that he shouldn’t have been selected in that spot to begin with.
The Rams’ backup plan to Stafford was Bennett and even after the rookie quarterback was placed on the NFI list, they didn’t improvise until it was too late and Rypien struggled in his lone start.
At the same time, the Rams also signed Carson Wentz at the perfect moment.
It’s both true that general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay mismanaged the backup quarterback position while at the same time signing Wentz at the perfect moment. Yes, Wentz probably should have been brought in earlier, but better late than never.
That’s exactly where the Rams would have been had they waited any longer to sign Wentz.
In moments of criticizing a team, it’s also important to look at the NFL in a broader view as well. It’s easy to say that the Rams mishandled the backup quarterback position and in a sense it’s fair. However, there are barely 32 starting level quarterbacks in the NFL, let along 64, giving each team a capable backup.
The NFL has made it a point of emphasis to protect the quarterback position. Every week fans complain about a roughing the passer penalty. While frustrating, it also embodies the NFL’s commitment to protecting the most important position in the sport. Why should teams necessarily prioritize the backup quarterback position when the NFL has rules to protect it?
Outside of a handful of teams, not many have a capable backup quarterback. The Indianapolis Colts have Gardner Minshew in place not because they had the intention of playing him, but to mentor their young rookie quarterback. Andy Dalton plays the same role with the Carolina Panthers and Bryce Young. The Washington Commanders have Jacoby Brissett because they had an open competition with Sam Howell throughout the offseason.
Teams that have a strong starting quarterback or have a lot invested in their starting quarterback rarely have a strong backup quarterback as well. One of the primary reasons is not wanting to create potential controversy where they have a lot of monetary assets. It takes a team being bold like the Philadelphia Eagles to draft a Jalen Hurts despite just signing Wentz to an extension. As mentioned, teams also just don’t expect their quarterback to get hurt.
Within the past week, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns lost their starting quarterbacks for the season. Joe Burrow tore a ligament in his thumb while DeShaun Watson is out with a shoulder injury.
The backup plan for the Bengals behind Burrow was Jake Browning. On the other hand, the Browns will be starting rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Both of these teams’ seasons are likely over now.
If a team loses it’s starting quarterback, they likely don’t have much of a chance anyway. The Nick Foles, Kurt Warner, and Tom Brady situations where the backup takes a team to a Super Bowl win are far and few between.
Again, it’s fair to criticize the Rams for how they handled the backup quarterback position this offseason. At the same time, when looking at the overall backup quarterback landscape combined with who the Bengals and Browns are now having to turn to in their situations, it puts things into perspective.
Following Rypien’s start, the Rams realized their mistake and made a quick decision to move to Wentz. Had they waited any longer, it’s very possible that he wouldn’t have been available. Given both Cincinnati’s and Cleveland’s Super Bowl aspirations, it’s very likely that he would ended up on one of those two teams. Instead, the Browns are bringing in Joe Flacco for a workout. The Bengals are essentially stuck with Browning unless they attempt to bring Matt Ryan out of retirement or take a flier on another veteran backup caliber quarterback.
So far this season, there have been several season-ending injuries to quarterbacks in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins tore their achilles, Anthony Richardson suffered a shoulder injury, and Daniel Jones tore his ACL combined now with the Burrow and Watson injuries. The replacements for those teams were Zach Wilson, Jaren Hall, Gardner Minshew, Tyrod Taylor, Jake Browning, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Wilson and Minshew are arguably the best backup plans in that group and they’re not necessarily inspiring. While the Vikings traded for Josh Dobbs, they lucked into that in a sense that they were able to make a move at the trade deadline.
The fact of the matter is, the talent pool at the quarterback position just isn’t very deep.
It’s an interesting conversation that puts the Rams’ backup quarterback situation into perspective and shows that they diverted to Wentz at the right time following the Rypien disaster against the Packers.