Quarterback Chase Daniel is guaranteed to make at least $7 million over the next two years playing football for the Chicago Bears. But Daniel is unlike most of the NFL signal callers who lock in that type of money: There’s a very good chance he won’t actually be playing football.
Teams usually deal with the backup quarterback position in one of two ways: Invest in young talent to push the incumbent starter to a higher level of play — and potentially usurp the starter down the road — or hire a veteran with a dad bod to effectively be another coach with a clipboard, providing mentorship and game-management advice. Daniel is certainly the latter. And yet, after a season in which a backup quarterback hoisted the Lombardi Trophy and another brought his team to the NFC Championship Game, the position is unquestionably important.
It also might be the best gig in the NFL. The backup QB is the player who sees the least amount of time on the field — and has an infinitesimal chance of injury — while still cashing a hefty paycheck. In nine seasons as a professional, Daniel has started two games and attempted 78 passes. To put that in perspective, Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger attempted 66 passes in a single game last season.
But what the 31-year-old Daniel lacks in experience, he makes up for in income. Perhaps no player in the history of the sport has monetized the position of backup quarterback to the degree the Missouri graduate has. This offseason, Chicago signed Daniel to back up its franchise quarterback of the future, Mitch Trubisky. If Daniel plays a significant amount this year, something has gone very wrong for the Bears. But the team still rewarded him with a two-year, $10 million deal with $7 million guaranteed. Only 18 quarterbacks currently have a higher percentage of guaranteed money, and that list is largely made up of marquee players, like Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins, and novice quarterbacks who were taken early in the NFL draft — players whose contracts are locked in by the rookie wage scale.1
Daniel has generated $24.3 million over his career. That equates to $311,594 per pass thrown or $261,337 per yard ran. Daniel is No. 72 on the all-time earnings list among quarterbacks. Should he receive all $10 million of his deal, his career earnings would stretch to $34.3 million; only 51 quarterbacks have ever netted that much over a career.2
Consider that, among the top 100 quarterbacks all time in career earnings, the average gunslinger started 93 games, threw for 21,817 yards and amassed 134 touchdowns through the air. Daniel’s figures scarcely compare. In his first four seasons carrying a clipboard in New Orleans, Daniel attempted just nine passes. Then came two productive seasons in Kansas City in 2013 and 2014 in which he started a game each. But over the past three seasons, Daniel has heaved precisely three passes. By comparison, Johnny Hekker has attempted three times as many passes over that stretch. Johnny Hekker, by the way, is a punter.
All this isn’t to say that Daniel can’t sling the ball around. When he was a Heisman Trophy finalist at the University of Missouri, Daniel threw for at least 400 yards four separate times. But since he made it to the NFL, he has as many interceptions as he does touchdowns.3
We can use Approximate Value4 to evaluate a player’s on-field impact more comprehensively. Offensive standouts like Aaron Rodgers, Todd Gurley II and Antonio Brown might produce a single-season AV of 15. League-average offensive players might produce a single-season AV of around 5. Daniel has produced a career AV of 2. The last time Daniel brought measurable on-field value to his team was 2014, when he played for the Chiefs. In fact, the only quarterback since the 1970 merger who accumulated less approximate value over the first eight years in which he accumulated any statistics was Doug Pederson, now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.5 In the same time frame, only 24 players across all positions accumulated less approximate value than Daniel over their first eight years in the league.
To get a better understanding of suitable player compensation, we can divide a player’s career earnings by his AV to roughly distill how much the player was paid to perform. Daniel has earned $12,152,158.50 per AV point. No other active player ranked in the top 250 in career earnings has netted more than $3.4 million per AV point, with the average player on the list earning less than $900,000 per AV point.
A sizeable portion of this has to do with opportunity. Daniel has barely seen the field in the past three seasons, appearing in only four total games. It’s no wonder he hasn’t been getting the reps, though. Upon entering the league, Daniel served as a backup to Drew Brees from 2009 to 2012, Alex Smith from 2013 to 2015, Carson Wentz in 2016 and Brees again last season. Playing second fiddle (or, in some cases, third) to an all-time great, an above-average talent and a recent MVP candidate is nothing to sneer at. And given that understanding, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Daniel has thrown fewer passes over his first eight NFL seasons than any quarterback in league history.
The average NFL career is short — about 3.3 years. That’s what happens when you play a sport where each play feels like a car crash. Quarterbacks fare longer, with an average career span of 4.4 years. Daniel has more than doubled that. It can’t hurt that he’s only been sacked seven times in his career; no quarterback has been dropped less over his first full eight seasons. For comparison, at this point in his career, Steve Young had already been tackled behind the line of scrimmage 146 times. As Daniel told The Athletic, “I don’t have any mileage on my body.”
Despite hardly playing, Daniel is a success story in many respects. Only 21 undrafted quarterbacks since the 1970 merger saw in-game action in at least nine seasons. Daniel will likely be the 22nd. And while his career has been a far cry from the Warren Moons and Tony Romos of the world, he at least has a Super Bowl ring.
Right now, even Daniel’s own teammates don’t always recognize him (for real). One injury could change that and thrust Daniel into a role of utmost importance. This would be the opportunity that has eluded him his entire career — even if his bank account suggests otherwise.