I don’t want to think about a scenario where the Falcons are pressed into playing a backup quarterback in 2020. In fact, if you’re sitting next to anything wooden, just go ahead and knock it for good measure. (You can never be too careful!) That said, backup quarterback is not a position you can or should completely discount, even with a rather durable QB1 under center.
Franchise quarterback Matthew Thomas Ryan has only missed 3 regular season games in 12 years as a pro. If the worst case scenario comes to fruition, the Falcons need to have a capable backup to deploy in his absence. Let’s take a quick look at the current options.
The Falcons presently have 3 “backup quarterbacks” on their roster: Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert, and Danny Etling. The Falcons notably didn’t feel compelled to add any additional competition in free agency or the draft. Heck, they didn’t even sign any UDFA quarterbacks. That tells me the talent level and familiarity with Dirk Koetter’s system in the quarterback room meets or exceeds the front office’s expectations.
The Falcons gave Schaub a 2-year extension last spring. He’s a true asset on the sideline, serving as a de facto quarterback coach and Ryan’s primary backup. He showed us last October that when called upon, he can still actually play the game as well. Schaub completed 39 of 52 passes for 460 passing yards against the Seahawks in Week 8. Over 3 games, he racked up a 74.6 percent completion percentage. Schaub isn’t particularly popular with the fan base, probably because he’s 38 years old and doesn’t make the league minimum. But regardless of his age and salary (which, to be clear, isn’t unreasonable given what he brings to the table), it’s still Schaub’s job to lose.
I don’t think Etling factors heavily into the backup quarterback conversation in 2020. If you recall, he joined the Falcons last summer after Kurt Benkert’s season-ending injury. The closest he came to a regular season snap was the Seahawks loss, serving as Schaub’s back up. Etling is athletic and he has a strong arm. And what’s more, the Falcons have demonstrated interest in him dating back to the 2018 NFL Draft. Had the Patriots not drafted him in the 7th round, the Falcons may have signed him as an undrafted free agent. But he underwhelmed to some degree in New England and the Patriots were going to move him to wide receiver before they ultimately cut him. In short, the Falcons obviously like him, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where he leapfrogs both Schaub and Benkert.
In Benkert, the Falcons have a developmental quarterback entering his third season as a professional. Benkert was making a strong case for himself last summer before a season-ending injury derailed his attempt to serve as Ryan’s backup in 2019. That was an unfortunate turn of events, but there’s no denying the fact that Benkert has the arm and accuracy to play in the NFL. Schaub’s experience puts Benkert in a precarious position and leaves him little room for error. If Benkert wants the backup job in 2020, he will need to be perfect or nearly perfect during the preseason. That’s a tall order and it’s probably not fair to Benkert to put him in that position, but this is the NFL and he just need to earn his spot.
Declaring a victory in this roster battle won’t be easy. Etling won’t factor heavily in the conversation, at least not this season, but watching Schaub and Benkert duke it out will be nothing short of fascinating.
Your thoughts, Falcoholics?