Ever since 2001, Tom Brady has been the New England Patriots’ undisputed starting quarterback. While he missed one season due to a knee injury suffered on 2008’s opening day, and also lost four games to a more-than-dubious suspension in 2016, Brady has been as steady a presence as any quarterback in NFL history. Brady’s longevity and success, however, also proved to be positive for some of his backup quarterbacks over the years.
Take Matt Cassel, he of zero starts in college. Cassel joined the Patriots as a seventh-round pick in 2005 and went on to spend the entire length of his four-year rookie contract behind Brady, taking over for him during that 2008 campaign. The USC product played comparatively well and turned his first starting season since high school into a six-year, $63 million contract after getting traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Cassel was not the only Brady-backup to actually start a game for the Patriots: in 2016, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett shared starting duties during the first four weeks of the regular season. Garoppolo played very well before a shoulder injury, and continued to prove himself one of the most intriguing backup quarterbacks in all of football. Brissett, meanwhile, was more inconsistent but still performing admirably for a rookie in one of the toughest offensive systems in all of football.
Both men went on to leave New England via trade and sign lucrative contracts. Brissett was the first of the two to be moved when he was dealt to the Indianapolis Colts for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett ahead of 2017’s opening day. The former fourth-round draft pick went on to start fifteen games in his first season in place of an injured Andrew Luck, and served as the Pro Bowler’s backup the following season.
With Luck announcing his retirement on August 24, Brissett was elevated to the starting role yet again — this time for good: the Colts signed him to a two-year, $30 million deal on Monday that also includes $20 million in guarantees. While Brissett has yet to prove that he can serve as a long-term starting quarterback in the NFL, Indianapolis apparently believes in his abilities to at least find some success as a bridge-QB in the wake of Luck’s retirement.
Believing in abilities is also what the San Francisco 49ers did when they traded a second-round draft pick to the Patriots for Garoppolo at the 2017 trade deadline. After all, he had only six quarters of starting duty under his belt at that point three-and-a-half seasons into his NFL career. Nevertheless, the Niners went on to not just trade for him but also sign Garoppolo to the richest deal in league history at that time — a five-year, $137.5 million contract.
The most recent ex-Patriots backup to score (another) solid contract was Brian Hoyer: the Colts acquired the recently released veteran passer to back up Brissett and were willing to invest a three-year, $12 million deal. The deal is the latest in a long string of contracts received by the former undrafted rookie turned journeyman quarterback: Hoyer, much like Cassel before him, bounced around the league since leaving New England but signed multiple contracts along the way.
As a result, his career earnings eclipse $21 million at this point — solid, but peanuts compared to Cassel and Garoppolo: the former has earned $65.5 million over the last fifteen years, the latter $63.4 million since getting selected by the Patriots in the second round of the 2014 draft. Brissett, meanwhile, is sitting at $22.4 million after accounting for the guarantees in his recent contract extension.
While the four made the most money, they are far from the only men to turn from backing up the greatest quarterback of all time to earning well-paying jobs: Kliff Kingsbury, who spent his entire one-year tenure with the Patriots on injured reserve (his 2003 rookie season), is now the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach. Kevin O’Connell, meanwhile, served as a backup quarterback behind Brady and later Cassel in 2008 and the summer of 2009; he is now the current offensive coordinator in Washington.
Together with the four still-active quarterbacks, the two went on to build successful careers out of backing up Tom Brady at one point.