If the most important position in football is quarterback, can it be deduced the second-most position is backup quarterback?
I suspect Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, who spent the brunt of his NFL career as a backup QB, would make such a case. Pederson’s team won the Super Bowl last season because it had veteran Nick Foles ready to take snaps after starter Carson Wentz tore his ACL in December.
Serviceable down the stretch, Foles turned into a superstar during a playoff run that culminated with his Super Bowl MVP award. He was the difference between certain division-round elimination and a world championship parade.
The Seahawks, by contrast, seem to be less vigilant about arranging a similar insurance policy. Russell Wilson’s dependability – since his 2012 rookie debut, he’s started 108 consecutive games, including 12 in the playoffs – tends to minimize the urgency of a backup plan.
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A clumsy, half-hearted courtship with free agent Colin Kaepernick, which began last May, hit a snag Thursday amid rumors Seattle canceled its workout invitation because Kaepernick would not promise to stand for the national anthem next season. Nevertheless, according to one report, coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider “left the door open” for the former 49ers phenom to visit.
With Kaepernick temporarily out of the picture, the Seahawks on Friday signed quarterback Stephen Morris. He’s a University of Miami product who signed with Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent in 2014, then bounced from Philadelphia, to Indianapolis, to Washington. The next time Morris lines up under center in a regular-season game, it will be the first time.
But organized team activity workouts are looming soon after the draft, and the Hawks will need quarterbacks to serve as the football equivalent of batting-practice pitchers.
In the meantime, there are some backup-role candidates who profile as a better fit for the Seahawks than Kaepernick, the political activist so committed to enacting social change that he didn’t bother to vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Kellen Clemens, for instance, is available. Clemens has familiarity with the territory: He grew up on a cattle ranch in eastern Oregon, and went on to set a number of passing records for the Oregon Ducks. More important, he’s familiar with new Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Clemens spent the first five years of his NFL career with the New York Jets, where Schottenheimer was an assistant coach. They later were reunited for a couple of seasons in St. Louis.
Clemens turns 35 in June, so we’re not talking about long-term potential. But he’s appeared in 64 NFL games, 21 as a starter. If Wilson were to sprain an ankle slipping on a stairway step – not an entirely implausible injury for a pro athlete with baseball roots – Clemens can be depended upon to execute plays diagrammed by Schottenheimer.
Because the Seahawks starting quarterback is as indestructible as iron, dwelling on their need for a trustworthy replacement might sound like nit-picking. I get it. Odds remain long that a Plan B will have to be implemented.
But Wilson’s reliability, excuse the expression, is a crutch. He plays a position that renders him vulnerable. He plays the position behind an offensive line that renders him especially vulnerable.
Factor into the equation Wilson’s absolute refusal to give up on the most broken of plays – he scrambles and squirms, deftly weaving around the 320-pound brutes pursuing him at full speed – and the question isn’t whether he’ll get clobbered for an extended stay on the sidelines. The question is when.
On the honor-roll list of most dominant Super Bowl champions, the 2017 Eagles don’t compare with, say, the 1985 Bears team that shut out its first two playoff opponents after finishing 15-1 during the regular season.
The ’85 Bears were young and fierce and on the brink of a dynasty. But starting quarterback Jim McMahon was brittle, the backups were overwhelmed, and they didn’t return to the Super Bowl for another 21 years.
When Philadelphia trainers escorted Wentz off the field last December, the Eagles lost somebody touted as a possible Offensive Player of the Year.
His replacement won them a Super Bowl.
Do not underestimate the value of a quarterback wearing a cap on the sideline, holding a clipboard, participating in the game as a kind of big-brother consultant whose future is undefined.
It’s pro football on a Sunday afternoon. One play, one blown-out knee, and suddenly the future is very defined.