Jeff Gordon: Chase Daniel carves out lucrative career in his role as NFL understudy

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Former Mizzou quarterback Chase Daniel has enjoyed one of the more astounding careers in NFL history.

He has started five regular season NFL games and won two of them since joining the New Orleans Saints in 2009. Yet he has grossed more than $34 million in career earnings, not counting his latest deal: $13.05 million for three years with the Detroit Lions.

Why does Daniel, 33, keep getting paid huge money?

He has mastered the role of understudy, learning offenses inside and out while supporting the guy starting ahead of him.

A really good backup quarterback is like a player-coach. He helps implement his team’s offensive changes during the offseason. He assists in game preparation from week to week.

And despite getting few practice repetitions with the No. 1 offense during the season, the backup has to remain ready to step in and keep things running in an emergency.

“I could write a book on it just because I take the job really seriously,” Daniel said during a recent conference call. “First and foremost, when you get your opportunity you have to play and you have to win. And I felt like for the most part I’ve been able to do that.

“And second of all, you have to go into a team and as a backup you have to help the starter in any way possible that he needs help.”

After failing to make the cut with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2009, he bounced to the Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Saints again and Chicago Bears. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the Saints while backing up Drew Brees.

“I was Chase’s quarterback coach in Kansas City for three years, so I know Chase inside-out and he knows me,” Bears coach Matt Nagy told Detroit reporters in a conference call in 2018. “That’s why you bring in a guy like that is not only for his expertise in this offense but in the way he handles his position each and every week, you know that if you ever get into a situation where you’re going to need him or call on him, you feel very comfortable.”

After spending the last two seasons backing up Mitchell Trubisky with the Bears, he joined the Lions to play behind Matthew Stafford.

Sure, the Lions have been spectacularly unsuccessful over the years, recording just four winning seasons since 2000. But they made it worth Daniel’s while to move to Motown, so he plays on.

Last season Stafford suffered fractured bones in his back in a loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 9. First up to replace Stafford was Jeff Driskel, who lost his three starts before suffering a torn hamstring muscle.

Somebody named David Blough replaced Driskel and went 0-5. During the 2019 calendar year the Lions employed 11 different quarterbacks, which explains why general manager Bob Quinn was willing to spend extra to get some stability behind Stafford.

“I’ve had a routine that I’ve followed for 11 years,” Daniel said. “It’s a great routine. If Matthew wants to do something different, I’m doing what Matthew does because he’s the starter so you have to be super flexible on that.”

Had Daniel come out of college in the current competitive climate, NFL scouts might have viewed him differently. In today’s game, mobile quarterbacks who can make plays on the move and improvise under duress have value.

Daniel’s playmaking knack helped him set records at Missouri. He’s a winner, as he proved while leading the Tigers to Big 12 Championship games.

But back when Daniel came out of college, scouts fixated on size and measurable pocket-passing attributes. Daniel is officially listed at 6-foot-zero.

“When Chase Daniel walks into the room, nobody’s gonna be impressed with his physical attributes,” Brees once told PFT Live. “You know, he’s under 6 feet tall, he doesn’t look on the surface like an NFL quarterback, and yet he has the ‘it’ factor. And that’s something you can’t measure, and a lot of time you can’t figure that out from an interview or what have you. But watch the tape on that guy from the preseason to the opportunity that he got to start two games in Kansas City.”

Scouts swooned over tall, rifle-armed prospects like another former Tiger, Blaine Gabbert. Daniel does not look like the guy central casting would send over to fill the quarterback role in an action movie.

But he has a steady hand, something Lions coach Matt Patricia saw back in 2018 when Daniel filled in for the Bears.

“He can still scramble. He’s got a good arm, he’s accurate,” Patricia said. “They did a good job of keeping him in situations where I don’t think he had to really stretch from a standpoint of they didn’t really put too much on him to have to go make a play and put him in bad situations. But he did a good job of taking care of the ball and trying to get it out fast.

“He did a great job of managing the game.”

That “game manager” tag can sting like a slur to accomplished quarterbacks like Alex Smith, whom Daniel backed up in Kansas City.

But for Daniel that label is a badge of honor — and one that’s been his pass into NFL camps year after year after year.


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