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The 5 O’Clock Club: How many teams had a 3rd QB on 53 or practice squad this season?

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

NFL: Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Two QBs on the roster

The Redskins went into the season with two quarterbacks on the roster (Alex Smith, Colt McCoy) and none on the practice squad.

Is that unusual?

There certainly seemed to be an argument to support it. If the Redskins lose Smith or McCoy to injury, they could pick up a free agent somewhere or raid another team’s practice squad. If they lost both quarterbacks, the season would be over anyway... few teams in the NFL could survive losing their top two quarterbacks — certainly not the Redskins, who most people projected to be a 6-win team in 2018. By not holding onto a 3rd QB, the Redskins were able to carry a player at another position to improve the team depth, which was tested all season long.

In the end, I doubt anyone involved with the roster decision making at the end of August could have predicted how things played out.

Josh Johnson - a positive surprise

It was kind of shocking, as a fan, to get to Week 16, with the fourth starting quarterback of the season, still in the playoff hunt. It was surprising, as well, to get to the waning minutes of the 4th quarter of the Titans game, offense with the ball, Josh Johnson behind center, and feeling a fair bit of confidence that JJ, AD and the patchwork offense (guards, tight ends, wide receivers) would get the score to either send the game to overtime or win outright, just like they had the week before against the Jaguars.

Even the interception that Josh threw to kill the drive and hand the victory to the Titans didn’t feel like the moment was too big for Josh Johnson. He made a mistake under pressure from the Titans defense... the same kind of mistake that quarterbacks make every week in the NFL. I don’t get the sense that Josh’s teammates, coaches or even Redskins fans lost confidence in Josh Johnson because he threw the interception that sealed the loss.

After all, there had been plenty of other plays that could have made the difference in the game — the interception-that-should-have-been, Michael Floyd’s inability to hold onto the ball inside the 5-yard line, missed tackles, and more.

With the loss, the Redskins are now eliminated from playoff contention. While there is still one more game to play, and I’d love to see the players go hard and beat the Eagles, the fact is, the front office and coaches can use this week to begin to bolster the roster for next season. They started the week with a bang by jettisoning pro-bowl alternate and team malcontent DJ Swearinger after he mouthed off yet again following a loss. That creates a hole in the roster for next season, and a spot to be filled this week. The Skins can easily open another spot on the Week 17 roster by moving Colt McCoy to IR.

But why would you want to open roster spots now?

Looking ahead to 2019

Well, the team could get a jump on the 2019 roster.

For example, I started this article by noting how thin the Redskins were at QB to start the season, and wondering whether that was usual.

Turns out, it isn’t.

What is the normal depth chart at QB in the NFL?

I looked through the depth charts of the 31 other NFL teams, which are archived monthly on the 1st day of the month by Our Lads. I wanted to see how many teams entered the season with only two quarterbacks on the roster (53-man + practice squad). Since the Sept 1 rosters still had 90 men each, I used Oct 1 as a proxy for the start of the season, and then took note of the current depth charts.

It turns out that only the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders joined the Redskins in having only two quarterbacks on the roster early. The Bills later signed a third quarterback to the 53-man roster, while the Raiders added a QB to the practice squad.

The Titans and 49ers are the only two teams to join the Redskins in having just 2 signal-callers on the roster in December.

The Redskins, are, in fact, the only team to have gone through the whole season with only two healthy quarterbacks on the active roster at a time, and none on the practice squad. I didn’t confirm, but I believe they are also the only team in the NFL to start 4 different players at QB in 2018.

Of course, the Redskins tried to stash a quarterback on the practice squad last season, but the Eagles convinced Nate Sudfeld to jump teams by paying him the same salary he would have earned as a member of the regular roster. That move paid off for the Eagles when Wentz was lost for the season in 2018, and this year the Eagles have carried all three quarterbacks on the regular roster.

The league is full of teams that are carrying either three QBs on the roster, like the Eagles have done this season, or two signal callers on the roster plus one on the practice squad. The Dolphins actually had four on the roster at one point.

The Redskins seem to have gotten lucky with Josh Johnson. Mark Sanchez appears to be more typical of the quarterbacks available to be signed after the trade deadline has passed. It seems prudent for the Redskins to be thinking in terms of 3 quarterbacks on the roster going into the 2019 season instead of just 2.

The Redskins have an opportunity, right now

There’s every likelihood that Alex Smith won’t be healthy at the start of training camp. He will almost certainly start the season on the PUP list.

Aside from Mark Sanchez himself, and maybe his mom, I don’t think anyone anywhere would like to see the Sanchize return. I suspect he’ll be asked to take all his personal items home before the Eagles game, so he can just clear out his locker and drive home once the game is finished. He shouldn’t even need a shower, since no one will want him breaking a sweat on the field against the Eagles. No, he doesn’t need to come back to the park for any exit interview or other niceties. Thanks very much; don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

That leaves the Redskins with Colt McCoy (who is under contract for 2019) and Josh Johnson (who isn’t).

Personally, I’d like to see them both in training camp this off-season, and I wouldn’t be disappointed if the Redskins go into 2019 with the 33-year-old Johnson as the starting quarterback.

But the team needs more — certainly in training camp and probably on the regular season roster. They need a young, developmental quarterback. Most fans have been talking about drafting a quarterback in April — even if the Redskins use a middle-of-the-draft pick on that guy.

It occurs to me that the opportunity exists, today, to obtain a developmental quarterback without having to part with a draft pick.

I look down the list of practice squad quarterbacks, and I see the names of 13 guys that could be acquired by simply picking up the phone. It’s not a new idea — it was floated after the Alex Smith & Colt McCoy injuries, but this is now the right time for it.

To me, the name that jumps off the list of current practice squad quarterbacks is Tanner Lee. He was drafted in the 6th round by the Jaguars; he has spent a full season training in the NFL. Trying to convince a player to leave the Patriots or the Steelers to join the Redskins might be tough, but coaxing a season-long practice squad player away from the Jaguars shouldn’t be too challenging. Offer him a contract for the Week 17 game against Philly and a two-year contract for 2019-20.

The Redskins would be able to go into the 2019 season with the following depth at quarterback:

  • Josh Johnson
  • Colt McCoy
  • Tanner Lee
  • Alex Smith (PUP)

Importantly, this could be done without doing any real damage to the Redskins salary cap, which is tight with Alex Smith’s salary in there.

Of course, if the team sees a quarterback prospect they like in the draft, they can still grab him. If not, though, the pressure is off. The team could spend the season developing Lee and evaluating his potential.

If they don’t feel good about where they are at the end of next season, the Redskins could be aggressive in the 2020 draft. Assuming that Alex Smith returned for the 2020 season, the quarterback depth chart would look like:

  • Alex Smith
  • 2020 draft pick
  • Tanner Lee

It costs nothing but a phone call.


Given how well Josh Johnson did as an ‘off the street’ free agent pickup, what do you think of the Redskins decision to run with only two quarterbacks on the 63-man roster in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    It was actually smart; it helped them maintain needed depth at other positions
    (79 votes)
  • 49%
    It was a gamble; not sure if they won or lost on it...
    (196 votes)
  • 31%
    It was stupid
    (125 votes)
400 votes total Vote Now


Should the Redskins bring Josh Johnson to training camp in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 80%
    (325 votes)
  • 5%
    (21 votes)
  • 14%
    It depends on how he plays against the Eagles
    (58 votes)
404 votes total Vote Now


How do you feel about my suggestion that the Redskins sign a quarterback now off of another team’s practice squad?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Great idea!
    (176 votes)
  • 32%
    I understand what you mean, but I don’t see anyone worth poaching on the list
    (127 votes)
  • 17%
    No, no, no. We need to draft a quarterback in April.
    (68 votes)
  • 3%
    No. Just, no.
    (14 votes)
385 votes total Vote Now


Which current practice squad quarterback would be the best choice for the Redskins to sign this week ahead of the Eagles game?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Danny Etling
    (16 votes)
  • 21%
    Conner Cook
    (60 votes)
  • 1%
    Phillip Walker
    (3 votes)
  • 16%
    Tanner Lee
    (47 votes)
  • 5%
    Garrett Grayson
    (16 votes)
  • 2%
    Chase Litton
    (6 votes)
  • 23%
    Cardale Jones
    (66 votes)
  • 8%
    Nathan Peterman
    (25 votes)
  • 2%
    Tyler Bray
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    Jake Rudock
    (3 votes)
  • 6%
    Kurt Benkert
    (17 votes)
  • 1%
    Chad Kanoff
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Alex McGough
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Allen Brandon
    (6 votes)
279 votes total Vote Now