Many were surprised when the Seahawks named Geno Smith their starting quarterback to begin the 2022 NFL season.
Some had come to the conclusion that Drew Lock would be the team’s starter after he was acquired as a part of the Russell Wilson trade. Others thought that Seattle would trade for another quarterback — like Jimmy Garoppolo — in advance of the season.
But there was a group of people surprised simply because they had no idea that Smith was still in the NFL.
Indeed, Smith hadn’t been a primary starter for his team since he opened 2014 as the starter for the Jets. He had made five starts as a backup in seven years since then before Pete Carroll decided to roll with him as the Seahawks’ top quarterback in 2022.
MORE: Breaking down Geno Smith’s career timeline, from Jets sucker punch to Seattle starter
Smith’s rise may have come out of nowhere, but it reminded NFL fans that veteran passers simply have a way of hanging around the NFL. There is a dearth of high-end quarterback talent across the NFL, so it pays to have solid, savvy veterans around as backups, as they can keep teams afloat if their starters go down.
Often, these veterans are former touted quarterback options who were once considered starting options. They may not have panned out, but they are plenty good and experienced enough to be solid backups.
So, which long-tenured backup quarterbacks are still hanging around the NFL? Here are seven players that fans may be surprised are still playing.
Chad Henne, Chiefs
Henne has been around the NFL for a long time. The 37-year-old has 13,290 career passing yards, 60 touchdowns and 63 interceptions and is one of just six players from the 2008 NFL Draft that remain on active NFL rosters.
Henne — a second-round pick, No. 57 overall — was the fourth quarterback off the board in that class. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco went in the first round while Brian Brohm went one pick ahead of Henne. The quarterback selected after Henne, Patriots third-round pick Kevin O’Connell, is now the head coach of the Vikings.
During his career, Henne was given a chance to start for the team that drafted him, the Dolphins, and his second team, the Jaguars. He posted an 18-35 record with those two teams and was eventually relegated to backup duty full time.
Henne has been with the Chiefs for five years and has thrown 57 regular season passes. He has a 71.9 completion percentage for 359 yards and two touchdowns in that action, and also replaced a concussed Patrick Mahomes and helped Kansas City beat the Browns during its Super Bowl 55 run.
MORE: LeSean McCoy disses Eric Bieniemy after sideline spat with Patrick Mahomes
Chase Daniel, Chargers
Daniel is another name that will be familiar to NFL fans. He has been in the league since going undrafted in 2009 and signing in Washington. He didn’t make it with them but landed in New Orleans where he served as a backup behind Drew Brees for four years before spending three in Kansas City.
Seven years into his career, Daniel was expected to get a chance to start. He had looked good in limited regular-season action and was great in the preseason, so the Eagles gave him a three-year contract worth $21 million in 2016.
However, Daniel was beaten for the Eagles’ starting job by Carson Wentz, so he threw just one pass in Philadelphia, a 16-yard completion. He has since played for four teams — the Saints again, the Bears, the Lions and the Chargers, where he serves as the backup to Justin Herbert.
For his career, Daniel is 2-3 as a starter and has completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 1,694 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Spotrac estimates that Daniel has made $41.8 million in career earnings during his NFL career. That translates to nearly $8.4 million per start and $160,262 per pass attempted.
Brian Hoyer, Patriots
The 2009 undrafted free agent class was a pretty good one for quarterbacks. It gave the league Daniel and also gave it Hoyer.
Hoyer signed with the Patriots in 2009 and managed to beat 2008 third-round pick Kevin O’Connell for the backup job behind Tom Brady. Hoyer never made a start during his first stint with the Patriots, but he managed to stick around in the NFL.
Hoyer has started for seven different NFL teams, the second-most in league history behind only Ryan Fitzpatrick, but his first start came in 2012 while he was with Arizona. From there, he went to Cleveland and notably had a winning record with the Browns in 2014 (7-6) before he was replaced by Johnny Manziel.
Hoyer’s best season as a starter came when he started nine games for the Texans in 2015. He completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,606 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions while posting a 5-4 record in nine starts. He didn’t last in Houston, however, and went to play for the Bears and 49ers before landing back in New England as part of the Jimmy Garoppolo trade.
Since then, Hoyer has largely played with the Patriots, save for one year that he spent as a backup to Jacoby Brissett with the Colts.
All told, Hoyer has a 16-23 record as a starter and has completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 10,631 yards, 53 touchdowns and 35 interceptions. He is expected to fill in for Mac Jones while the quarterback deals with an ankle injury, and that will mark the ninth NFL season during which he has made a start.
MORE: Bill Belichick says Patriots are taking Mac Jones’ injury “day by day” . . . 12 times
Blaine Gabbert, Buccaneers
Gabbert was one of the many quarterback busts selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He went No. 10 overall while the Titans took Jake Locker at No. 8 and the Vikings took Christian Ponder at 12. Neither Locker nor Ponder lasted long in the NFL, but Gabbert has stuck around all these years.
Gabbert was a starter during his early days with the Jaguars, but the results were disastrous. He had a record of 5-22 and completed just 53.3 percent of his passes for 4,357 yards, 22 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.
Still, Gabbert kept getting chances. The 49ers traded for him and worked with him as a backup for a few seasons; the Cardinals had him for one year; the Titans scooped him up in 2018; and now, Gabbert is with the Buccaneers, where he has spent the last four years as a backup quarterback for the team.
Gabbert seems to have a fan in Bruce Arians, who signed him with the Cardinals in 2017 and then brought him to Tampa Bay. There were even rumblings that Gabbert could replace Tom Brady after he originally retired in February.
But with Brady back, Gabbert remains a seldom-used backup. He hasn’t started since 2018 and won’t do so in 2022 unless Brady gets hurt.
Gabbert, 32, has a career record of 13-35 and has completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 9,273 yards, 50 touchdowns and 47 interceptions. His winning percentage of .271 is among the worst marks in NFL history among players to make at least 40 starts.
Case Keenum, Bills
It’s not necessarily a surprise that Keenum is in the NFL from a skills standpoint. The 34-year-old is a high-quality backup and that’s part of the reason that the Bills signed him as insurance behind Josh Allen.
That surprise for many, however, is that Keenum is on the Bills. Many may have lost track of him since his career-best season in 2017 while with Minnesota.
During that campaign, Keenum completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 11-3 record in 14 starts was easily his best, but the Vikings decided to look elsewhere after they were crushed 38-7 against the Eagles in the 2018 NFC championship game.
Since then, Keenum has bounced around a lot; Buffalo is the seventh different team with which Keenum has played.
Keenum’s career began when he signed with the Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2012. Since then, it has taken him to St. Louis and Los Angeles, Minnesota, Denver, Washington, Cleveland and now, Buffalo. He has been a solid low-end starter but has thrived the most when called upon as a spot starter for injured quarterbacks; he went 2-0 in 2021 with Cleveland while starting in place of Baker Mayfield.
Keenum has a career record of 29-35 and has completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 14,867 yards, 78 touchdowns and 48 interceptions. The former Houston Cougar is the NCAA’s all-time leader in total passing yards, touchdowns, and completions.
MORE: Case Keenum’s career timeline, from undrafted to spot starter with Browns
Nick Foles, Colts
Funny enough, Foles was the quarterback who beat Keenum in the 2018 NFC championship game. He stepped in to replace an injured Carson Wentz late in the 2017 regular season and got hot at the perfect time for Philadelphia. He outdueled Tom Brady in Super Bowl 52 and won Super Bowl MVP as a result.
Things hadn’t gone smoothly for Foles before his second stint with the Eagles. He first spent three years with the team from 2012-14 — posting 27 touchdowns to two interceptions in his Pro Bowl 2013 season —before being traded to the Rams as part of the Sam Bradford trade. Things didn’t go very well in St. Louis, and he considered retirement after a rocky 2015 season.
However, when Andy Reid and the Chiefs came calling, Foles was happy to be a backup for his former coach. That convinced him to stay in the NFL, and he eventually returned to the Eagles in 2017. He spent two seasons in Philadelphia as a backup — helping the team win the Super Bowl — before setting out to be a starter again.
Foles, 33, is now on his fourth team of the last five years with the Colts. He is playing for Frank Reich, who was his offensive coordinator during his Super Bowl-winning campaign in Philadelphia. He is the clear-cut backup behind Matt Ryan after he competed for the starting jobs in Chicago and Jacksonville in previous seasons.
Foles has completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 14,003 yards, 82 touchdowns and 43 interceptions. The third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft has a career record of 29-27 and ranks 16th all-time in career earnings among quarterbacks with just over $86 million, per Spotrac.
Trevor Siemian, Bears
Fun fact: Siemian was actually the first quarterback to start a regular season game for the Broncos after Peyton Manning’s retirement. Some may have thought it was Brock Osweiler, but he joined the Texans after the 2015 NFL season.
As such, Siemian beat out 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch and Mark Sanchez for the top quarterback job in Denver. He had a solid first season as a starter, going 8-6 in 14 starts and completing 59.5 percent of his passes for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
However, the seventh-round pick from the 2015 NFL Draft eventually fizzled out in Denver and has since bounced around to several other teams. He has been with the Vikings, Titans, Saints and Bears since leaving Denver following the 2017 NFL season, but he has just started five games during that span.
All have been losses however, he threw for 1,153 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in his four starts with New Orleans, and that’s part of why the 30-year-old endures at the NFL level. He is considered a smart backup who has a solid career touchdown to interception rate (41 to 27).
That’s why the Bears scooped him up as veteran insurance behind Justin Fields.
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