- Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
It takes more than stars to win the Super Bowl. In so many cases, backups and depth options play key roles for the teams that win the NFL’s title game. Ask the Kansas City Chiefs, who lost most of their offensive line and were overrun by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. Three years earlier, the Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII in a shootout in which backup quarterback Nick Foles threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns. He even caught a TD pass for good measure.
The Rams didn’t have some of their key replacements on the roster to begin the 2021 season, but they needed to make additions on the way in order to win Super Bowl LVI. Sean McVay & Co. traded two draft picks to both get pass-rusher Von Miller and convince the Broncos to eat all of his salary. L.A. signed wideout Odell Beckham Jr. when he was cut by the Browns, and when the defense lost both of its starting safeties in December, it signed Eric Weddle out of retirement. By the time the Super Bowl rolled around, Weddle was the defensive signal-caller.
We spend plenty of time focusing on the stars, and it’s for good reason. NFL teams can’t win without stars. There are also plenty of players around the league who qualify as luxuries; they’re either overqualified for their existing roles or contributors in some element of the game at an extremely high level. Those players might not be great at everything or look as impressive in a larger role, but their teams are spoiled to have them in their existing spot.
Let’s celebrate those players as the NFL’s luxuries. Deliberately, I’m not focusing on stars who could fit into secondary or limited roles. Christian McCaffrey or Alvin Kamara might be the league’s best receiving back, but when I talk about the league’s best receiving back for this piece, I’m talking about a player whose primary role in the offense is to catch passes out of the backfield. The best blocking tight end in the league is probably George Kittle, but here, I want to talk about the player who still has a job strictly because he can block. You get the idea.
I’ll hit 13 different luxuries, starting with quarterback and ending with big nickel and punter:
Teddy Bridgewater, Miami Dolphins
Let’s start with the guy who plays behind the most important position in sports. While contenders are one injury away from starting players such as Brandon Allen (Bengals), Josh Johnson (Broncos) or Blaine Gabbert (Bucs) at quarterback, the Dolphins can rest easy. If Tua Tagovailoa gets hurt or struggles in his third season, Miami has a ready replacement in Bridgewater.
Nobody rides the line between No. 1 and No. 2 quite like Bridgewater. He was good enough to post a .500 record with the Broncos a year ago and finished right around league-average in most passing categories, but Denver still chose to upgrade on him with Russell Wilson. If given the opportunity, Bridgewater would likely produce better numbers than a handful of starters, a group that could include Tagovailoa.
Bridgewater signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Dolphins this offseason to serve as Tagovailoa’s backup, at least to start the season.
His primary competition as the NFL’s top backup is likely Gardner Minshew (Eagles), who has posted a better passing DVOA than his fellow quarterbacks in each of his first three seasons. Like Bridgewater, Minshew is undersized for the position and lacks prototypical arm strength, but he has a track record of performing around league-average as a passer. Jimmy Garoppolo, who could get traded or released by the 49ers, would also qualify if he ends up as a backup somewhere in 2022.
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