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Teams differ tremendously on how to handle backup QB spot

It isn't hard to get a consensus that the quarterback is the most important position in football. Teams with great quarterbacks have a better chance of winning every Sunday. When the dust settles on the playoff picture, quarterbacks usually take teams deep into the postseason.

Where there is no consensus is what to do at the backup quarterback position. For many teams, if the starting quarterback goes down with an injury, hope for success that season is lost. It is amazing to see the different approaches the 32 teams take when it comes to the backup quarterback.

If a team wants security at the position and a player who may be able to keep the team headed in the right direction (win at least half the games he has to start), then the price tag is between $2-5 million for a season. That figure alone would discourage some teams from buying that kind of insurance policy, but when you think about a team salary budget in the $120-130 million range, it seems to make good business sense.

Of course, any club executive or head coach would tell you he hopes the backup quarterback never has to take his cap off and go into a game, just like most people don't ever want to collect on a life insurance policy. However, when you consider that 76 quarterbacks threw at least one pass in an NFL game last season, that means the 32 teams averaged more than two quarterbacks in action to get through the season. The truth is that most teams will probably need that backup quarterback sooner or later during a season.

Here is a look at backup quarterbacks broken down into four groups. It may surprise you to see how some of the best teams handle this delicate situation.

Group 1

When looking at the 2010 backup quarterback situation, there's an overriding theme: How many teams have a No. 2 quarterback who has started at least 50 games in his NFL career? Keep in mind, the No. 2 quarterback will get very few repetitions in practice and has to call on his former experiences when asked to go into a game. There are six teams with a backup quarterback with real NFL experience. Marc Bulger is still available as a free agent and would be a solid choice for a team that desires to be in the Group 1 category here.

» Dallas Cowboys -- Jon Kitna: 115 starts
» Miami Dolphins -- Chad Pennington: 80 starts
» New York Jets -- Mark Brunell: 151 starts (will not sign until late July)
» Philadelphia Eagles -- Michael Vick: 68 starts (he has thrown just 13 passes since 2006)
» San Francisco 49ers -- David Carr: 79 starts
» Tennessee Titans -- Kerry Collins: 170 starts

The 2010 salaries for these six signal callers average just about $3 million. One NFL executive looked at this list and said those contracts were too high for a backup quarterback. However, a starting quarterback for one of the teams in this group told me the most underrated issue -- and something that makes his guy worth every penny -- is how much help the experienced veteran gives the starter during the week and especially on game day.

Group 2

The backup quarterbacks in this group have between 10 and 49 career starts. These are players who have solid reference points about executing a game plan, getting reps all game week and delivering a performance that he can use if his number is called. A QB in this group can cost anywhere from just under $1 million to $3.25 million per year. There are 11 teams that decided that this is a spot that they want to be in for the 2010 season. Two general managers told me that this is a better value group than the more experienced Group 1 of backup quarterbacks.

» Arizona Cardinals -- Derek Anderson: 34 starts and the highest-paid at $7.25 million over two seasons
» Atlanta Falcons -- Chris Redman: 12 starts
» Buffalo Bills -- Ryan Fitzpatrick: 23 starts
» Cleveland Browns -- Seneca Wallace: 14 starts
» Denver Broncos -- Brady Quinn: 12 starts (Tim Tebow could change this situation)
» Detroit Lions -- Shaun Hill: 16 starts
» Minnesota Vikings -- Tarvaris Jackson: 19 starts
» Oakland Raiders -- Bruce Gradkowski: 16 starts
» Pittsburgh Steelers -- Byron Leftwich: 49 starts (he should be starting for the first month because of Ben Roethlisberger's suspension)
» San Diego Chargers -- Billy Volek: 10 starts
» St. Louis Rams -- A.J. Feeley: 15 starts

Group 3

Teams in this group have a backup quarterback with fewer than 10 career starts. There isn't a great deal of confidence that these players can come off the bench and keep things going well. These players can cost anywhere from $500,000 to $2.25 million. The longer their careers continue without playing experience, the more difficult things could be if they have to play.

A former NFL head coach told me that it's no secret why confidence in the backup QBs in this group has dropped in recent years.

"This is where we miss NFL Europe because these guys would get valuable experience while they wait in the wings," he said.

If the Jets part ways with Kellen Clemens, and if and when the team signs Brunell, Clemens would be a Group 3 candidate with nine career starts.

» Baltimore Ravens -- Troy Smith: 2 starts
» Cincinnati Bengals -- J.T. O'Sullivan: 8 starts
» Jacksonville Jaguars -- Luke McCown: 7 starts
» Kansas City Chiefs -- Brodie Croyle: 9 starts
» Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Josh Johnson: 4 starts ($511,000 still on rookie contract)

Photo gallery

Group 4

There are eight teams heading into this season with a No. 2 quarterback with no career starts. Only one of the eight quarterbacks has even thrown more than 100 passes in his career. As a group, these quarterbacks average just 30 career pass attempts. That is not much to go on if the starting quarterback gets hurt.

» Carolina Panthers -- Jimmy Clausen: 0 starts, 0 attempts
» Chicago Bears -- Caleb Hanie: 0 starts, 3-for-7 passing, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, 0 sacks
» Green Bay Packers -- Matt Flynn: 0 starts, 9-for-17 passing, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, 1 sack
» Indianapolis Colts -- Curtis Painter: 0 starts, 8-for-28 passing, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 3 sacks
» New England Patriots -- Brian Hoyer: 0 starts, 19-for-27 passing, 142 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 2 sacks
» New Orleans Saints -- Chase Daniels: 0 starts, 0 attempts (Saints may sign a veteran QB in July)
» New York Giants -- Jim Sorgi: 0 starts, 99-for-156 passing, 6 touchdowns, 1 interception, 6 sacks
» Seattle Seahawks -- Charlie Whitehurst: 0 starts, 0 attempts

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