Chase Daniel has the job everyone else wishes he had. As the backup quarterback for the Chiefs, he makes good money, is one of the most popular people in Kansas City and doesn’t have to risk life and limb every Sunday like starter Alex Smith does.
Except Rich Gannon once had the same job and it’s not always what it seems to be.
“It’s like any other job,’’ said Gannon, who left the Chiefs in 1999 to become the starter for the Oakland Raiders. “There are all sorts of ways to look at it. There are good things about it and there are bad things. It can be a tough job if you have the passion to be the starter, but there are two different types of backup quarterbacks.
“Some guys are very content, very comfortable being the backup. There are guys chomping at the bit who want to compete and will scratch and claw to be the starter. It can be frustrating at times if you’re that kind of guy and you don’t get to play.’’
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Daniel, a former college star at Missouri, knows the drill. He spent the past four seasons as the understudy to the indestructible Drew Brees in New Orleans. Brees never missed a start, leaving little room for Daniel in the Saints’ lineup.
In New Orleans, Daniel threw a total of nine passes in the regular season, all after the result of the games had long since been decided. He still found a way to be the model backup quarterback and attract the attention of the Chiefs and several other teams when he became a free agent in March.
“We’re very lucky to have him with us …” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I know Drew Brees and Drew would tell you that Chase pushed him every day that he was there and presented competition every day that he was there. That allowed Drew to be even better than he would be without him there. …
“That’s his nature. He’s a competitive guy and he wants to be the best he can possibly be and make his football team the best they can possibly be. That’s what this thing is all about.”
That can be a fine line for Daniel. He wants to play and needs to compete with Smith, but also understand he needs to be supportive because the job is not his.
“You have to understand your role,’’ Gannon said. “But I always prided myself on working harder than the guy in front of me. If you can outwork the guy who’s starting, you’re on the right path.”
One of the most difficult times in Gannon’s career happened in 1997, when he played well and had the Chiefs rolling into the playoffs in place of the injured Elvis Grbac.
The Chiefs went with Grbac as their starter once he returned in time for the playoff game against the Broncos, which the Chiefs wound up losing. But the week of the game, Gannon stood up for Grbac in the locker room, telling his teammates the decision had been made and the Chiefs needed to support the starting quarterback, even if it wasn’t him.
“A lot of the people in the locker room knew it was the wrong decision,’’ Gannon said. “Everybody knew the kind of guy I was and the kind of guy he was and they responded to me differently and probably in a better way.’’
Daniel and Brees are friends and Daniel might have stayed with the Saints had they presented to him a contract with terms equal to those provided by the Chiefs. He will have to develop that same kind of relationship with Smith, who is also new to the Chiefs after spending the first eight seasons of his career with San Francisco.
Daniel was able to walk that line in his relationship with Brees and prided himself on always being ready to play, even if he wasn’t needed. The most difficult thing about being the backup, Daniel said, is in staying sharp without much practice time.
The backup typically gets plenty of work in the off-season practices, training camp and the preseason games. That changes once the regular season begins, but Daniel said he’s never gone into a game feeling he wasn’t prepared.
“I use my practices during the week as game-like situations for me,’’ Daniel said. “I stay after practice, go through the plays in my mind that Alex and the starters got and I really didn’t get. I’m always mentally rehearsing. There’s a difference between mentally rehearsing and actually going out and doing it. But the past four years, I’ve found that’s helped me out a lot, going through every single play in my mind.
“There are no excuses if you aren’t ready.’’
Being ready at a moment’s notice is part of the job description. Gannon replaced the faltering Steve Bono in the fourth quarter of a 1995 playoff game against Indianapolis on a day when the temperature in Kansas City didn’t get much, if any, above 10 degrees.
“I sat there on that sideline in that cold for 57 minutes,’’ Gannon said. “I was as stiff as a board. There was no way to warm up or stay loose. But I went in the game, drove us down the field and we missed a field goal. It was just crazy but you have to be ready at any time and the only way to do that is to prepare during the week.
“You can never have the attitude you’re not going to play in the game that week. You’ve got to believe the opposite, that you are going to play. That’s the only way I know of to keep yourself sharp. You’ve got to really study the game plan.’’
The Chiefs, who gave Daniel a three-year contract worth $10 million, obviously feel good about having him as a backup. That’s an impressive deal for a veteran quarterback who wasn’t drafted and has thrown just nine passes.
In that sense, he’s a gamble for the Chiefs.
“You always feel better about a guy if you have a certain amount of snaps to watch on tape on him over a period of time,’’ NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “That always makes it easier on a general manager. With guys who haven’t played, it’s just such a difficult evaluation.
“But, having said that, I have no problem with a general manager overpaying for a backup quarterback because nobody knows how important that guy is until your starter gets hurt. There aren’t 32 good quarterbacks in this league, let alone 64.’’
Chances are the Chiefs will need Daniel this season. Smith played in all 16 games just twice in his career. The Chiefs haven’t had one of their quarterbacks start 16 games in a season since Trent Green in 2005.
“What I love about (Daniel) is that he’s a competitive animal,’’ Mayock said. “He’s smart. You can plug him in with a minimal amount of reps if your starter goes down because he’s smart enough to understand the game plan.
“The question with him, like a lot of backup quarterbacks, is that you’re confident over a short period of time you can plug him in. I’d have no problem with that. But over an extended period, four, five, six games, what can he do at that point? The answer is unknown because he hasn’t had to do it.’’