In a somewhat surprising move, Minnesota Vikings 2018 backup quarterback Trevor Siemian decided not to return to the Twin Cities despite reportedly being wanted back. Instead he elected to sign with the New York Jets, leaving the Vikings without an experienced backup on the roster.
Few teams in NFL history know how important the backup QB position can be. From Joe Kapp to Wade Wilson to Randall Cunningham to Case Keenum, Minnesota has seen their No. 2 QBs step into the limelight and lead them deep into the playoffs nearly once per decade.
So it shouldn’t come as any shock that the Vikings would be hesitant to leave the backup gig to Kyle Sloter, who has no NFL experience aside from the fourth quarters of preseason games with Denver and Minnesota. The Vikings are reportedly interested in ex-Rams backup Sean Mannion.
“It’s never a given it’s always earned I’m going to have to prove that I can do it first and if that’s something they want to put on my plate I’m ready to tackle it,” Sloter told the Pioneer Press last week. “I feel like I’m wanted in Minnesota but I’m going to have to earn it”
The former Northern Colorado receiver-turned-quarterback has played very well when given opportunities. He went 41-for-56 with four touchdowns and a 114.1 rating in four preseason appearances last year.
While his preseason performances were a positive sign for the developing quarterback, decisions are rarely made based on preseason action. Not only did Siemian have a 13-11 record as Denver’s starter in two years, the difference in experience between the two QBs was noticeable during training camp practices was significant.
It isn’t uncommon for unknown quarterbacks to stand out in preseason, when opposing defenses are playing a large number of players who will not make the roster and are not scheming for their opponent.
Some notable examples over the past two years:
— Buffalo Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman went 33-for-41 (80.5 completion percentage) with 431 yards (10.5 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns, one interception and a 124.7 quarterback rating in the preseason. He went on to toss one touchdown and seven interceptions with a 30.7 rating in the regular season and was cut by the Bills.
— Right behind Peterman in preseason QB rating in 2018 was former Bill EJ Manuel, with a 120.9 rating on 56 throws. Manuel was cut. As a career starter he went 6-12 with a 77.1 rating.
— Jacksonville’s Cody Kessler also had a strong preseason with a 103.1 rating. He took over for Blake Bortles and went 2-2 with a 77.4 rating and averaged 141 yards passing per game.
— In 2017, San Francisco quarterback CJ Beathard averaged 8.9 yards per attempt and had a 107.7 rating in preseason, then proceeded to win just once in six appearances with a 69.2 rating in the regular season.
— Jets’ Bryce Petty, who registered a 106.8 rating in the preseason and went on to post a 55.1 rating in 112 regular season passes.
— Cleveland’s Kevin Hogan managed a 123.0 rating in the 2017 preseason, averaging 8.4 YPA and tossing three touchdowns. Regular season Kevin Hogan had four touchdowns, five interceptions and a 71.9 rating.
Beside the difficulty predicting whether Sloter’s quality preseason play will carry over to real football, there’s also the value that an experienced backup can bring to the starting QB and the team’s defense.
In a game against Washington in 2017, Case Keenum’s backup Teddy Bridgewater pointed out something he saw in the opposing club’s secondary. The look ultimately led to a long touchdown pass. Following New England’s Super Bowl victory, it was revealed that Pats backup Brian Hoyer played a direct role in scheming against the Rams’ offense.
On Purple Daily last week, former Viking backup Sage Rosenfels talked about the role of a veteran backup.
“I think there’s a lot,” Rosenfels said. “The camaraderie, the support of the starter, you’re looking at things in meetings to help the starter to see things that you see, to create conversation. I think that’s a thing that happens a lot in the quarterback’s room is conversation. What happens if we do this or that? Could we rig it this way? When we see this, could we do this? There’s a gameplan but things do change and evolve over the course of the week because you watch more film and see more things, you see how things look in practice…I think there’s a lot there, being a positive team member.”
Sloter has been a positive team member, from all indications. He and Bridgewater became good friends in 2017 and starter Kirk Cousins posted a picture of the pair throwing together this offseason.
The Vikings have stated that they always want a developmental QB on the roster. Throughout the years we have seen plenty of quarterbacks rise through the ranks and become starters or reliable backups. Tony Romo, for example, was an undrafted No. 3 behind Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson and became a Pro Bowler for the Cowboys.
It is wise to continue developing Sloter. But it also might be risky to have him as the only quarterback behind Cousins. Generally speaking, a good backup can win half his games in fill-in duty. One of the remaining QBs on the free agent market is Brock Osweiler, who has a 15-15 career record and is familiar with Gary Kubiak. It might be a better play to sign him and have Sloter compete for the No. 2 job in camp. And if he wins the gig, it would be a strong sign for his future.