Exploring the Miami Dolphins’ backup quarterback options and who’s most appealing
Fourth in a four-part series on the Dolphins’ quarterback situation
It’s bad enough when your starting quarterback has durability issues.
But when your backup can’t stay healthy, either, then you find yourself in an untenable position like the Dolphins were in Buffalo, when they were forced to play a rookie seventh-round pick (Skylar Thompson).
With the Dolphins committed to Tua Tagovailoa as their starter next season, they must find a backup who’s less injury prone than Teddy Bridgewater, who had two concussions in 2021 and knee and pinkie injuries that sidelined him for a combined seven games in 2022.
Examining realistic backup quarterback options who are impending unrestricted free agents:
▪ Jimmy Garoppolo. This one is complicated, because some team likely will be willing to essentially hand him the starting job — something the Dolphins will not do.
He’s also the most expensive “backup” quarterback option on the market; Miami likely would need to allocate at least $12 million in cap space to sign him, and that’s several million more than most other backups would cost.
Keep in mind that while Garoppolo has been good in recent years (16 TDs, 4 interceptions, 100.3 rating this season), he hasn’t been quite as good as Tagovailoa was this season. He would need to accept coming in as a backup, and that’s difficult to envision.
Also worrisome: He tore his ACL in 2018, missed time with an ankle injury in 2020, missed two games in 2021 (a calf injury was a problem), and then saw this past regular season end with a foot injury in Week 13 against the Dolphins.
So Garoppolo isn’t exactly the model of durability.
▪ Andy Dalton. If the Saints want him back to compete to be their starter again, this wouldn’t be realistic. Otherwise, Dalton would make some sense.
He had 18 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and a 95.2 rating in 14 starts this season. There would be competence at the position if Tagovailoa were injured again.
Dalton, 35, was a starter for the first nine years of his career with Cincinnati, then started nine games for Dallas in 2020 (87.3 rating) and six for Chicago in 2021 (76.9 passer rating). He was 6-8 as a starter for the Saints this past season and 83-77-2 as a starter in his career.
▪ Philadelphia’s Gardner Minshew. Though he won only 8 of 24 starts in his career — most of those for a bad Jacksonville team — he has a solid 93.1 passer rating with 44 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
As Philadelphia’s backup the past two seasons, he went 1-3 with seven touchdowns, four interceptions and a 92.8 rating. He’s a clear step up from Thompson, more durable than Bridgewater and likely will be affordable.
He missed some time with a thumb injury in 2020 but otherwise has been healthy. He could be the best value signing of this group.
▪ The Rams’ Baker Mayfield. After Mayfield and the Browns parted ways, he didn’t impress in a six-start stint for Carolina, throwing six touchdowns and six interceptions with a 74.4 passer rating; the Panthers went 1-5 in those games.
But after the Panthers released him, he had somewhat better success with the Rams, with four touchdowns, two interceptions and an 86.4 rating in five games and four starts. But he went 1-3 as a Rams starter this season and is 31-38 in his career.
▪ Washington’s Taylor Heinicke. He could return as a backup with the Commanders or be given another chance to start. If not, he’s worth considering.
He went 5-3-1 with 12 touchdowns, six interceptions and an 89.6 passer rating this past season. He’s 12-12-1 with 34 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in his career as a starter.
▪ The Cowboys’ Cooper Rush. He was decent filling in for Dak Prescott this season, going 4-1 with five touchdowns, three interceptions and an 80 passer rating. He’s 5-1 in six career starts.
▪ The Jets’ Mike White. He has looked good at times, poor at others. But in both instances, he has had trouble winning, with a 2-5 record.
For his career, the graduate of Davie University School has eight touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 75.4 rating. He might end up no better than Thompson.
▪ Carolina’s Sam Darnold. The former Jets first-round bust had perhaps his best stretch with the Panthers this season, going 4-2 with seven touchdowns, three interceptions and a 92.6 rating late in the season before an ugly finale at New Orleans, when he had a 2.8 passer rating.
Overall, he had nine TDs, 13 picks and a 71.9 rating in 11 starts for Carolina last season. So he cannot really be trusted.
▪ Jacksonville’s C.J. Beathard. He has experience with Mike McDaniel in San Francisco, where he went 2-10 as a starter with 18 TDs, 13 picks and an 81.1 rating. He threw 13 passes as Jacksonville’s backup the past two years, completing nine of them.
▪ Minnesota’s Nick Mullens. Like Beathard, he has experience with McDaniel, going 5-11, with 25 TDs, 22 interceptions and an 87.2 rating over three seasons with the 49ers, before starting one game in Cleveland in 2021 (89.2 rating).
He completed 21 of 25 passes for 224 yards, with 1 TD and 1 INT, all in a backup role in Minnesota this season.
▪ Seattle’s Drew Lock: Geno Smith beat him out for the starter’s job and Lock didn’t play a snap this season. He went 8-13 as a starter for Denver, with 25 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and a 79.3 passer rating.
▪ Case Keenum: He was competent as a Browns backup in 2021, going 2-0 with a 91.3 passer rating. He completed 2 of 7 passes for Buffalo this season. He’s 29-35 as a starter, with an 85.2 rating. The 34-year-old has a 2-8 record but a 91.3 rating in his last 10 starts, dating to 2019.
▪ Other options: Among the other impending unrestricted free agents, none are particularly appealing: Bridgwater and Cleveland’s Jacoby Brissett (been there, done that), Kyle Allen (60.6 rating in two starts for Houston this season), Mason Rudolph, Joe Flacco, Blaine Gabbert, Chase Daniel, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen, Nate Sudfield, Jeff Driskel, Trace McSorley and Jarrett Stidham.
Brett Rypien and Tyler Huntler are restricted free agents.
For the Dolphins, Tagovailoa and Thompson are under contract, and Bridgewater is an unrestricted free agent.
Going into camp with Thompson as the No. 2 doesn’t seem like a good idea; though he had some good moments in the finale against the Jets and playoff game at Buffalo, he generally struggled.
His final numbers, including playoffs: 78 for 150 for 754 yards, two touchdowns, five interceptions and a 56.9 rating.
The view here: See if Garoppolo is willing to come as a backup, making more than an average backup but less than most veteran starters do. (I sense he will find a starting job elsewhere). If not, explore Minshew.
Because the Dolphins say they are committed to Tagovailoa as their starter, we aren’t listing unrestricted free agent starters Tom Brady, Daniel Jones and Geno Smith, restricted free agent Lamar Jackson and the Raiders’ Derek Carr, who is likely to be traded or released.
Here’s Part 1 of the series with opinions from concussion experts on Tagovailoa’s medical outlook.
Here’s Part 2 on what conclusions can be drawn, historically, from Tagovailoa’s strong season.
Here’s Part 3 of the series on where Tagovailoa ranked in 20 areas.