No position is more critical to success in team sports today than that of an NFL starting quarterback.
The path to the Super Bowl is best achieved with an experienced franchise quarterback playing at his best. The size, strength and speed of defensive linemen and linebackers turns every hit on the quarterback into a possible short or long-term injury. The loss of the starter puts extraordinary pressure on whichever reserve quarterback takes his place, and can throw a monkey wrench into a playoff drive. This is why it is surprising and risky that 14 of the 32 teams have only two quarterbacks on their roster as they approach the first week of the regular season.
No position requires more time and tutelage than quarterback. Playbooks with complex offenses are difficult to master. Coordination with other offensive players takes time. The more reps a quarterback has and the more times he sees the field, the better his field command becomes. The biggest emphasis in training camp is on getting the starter ready for the season. Getting practice and playing time is difficult and episodic for the reserves. So there is a risk for dramatic reduction of efficiency when the starting quarterback is unavailable in the season due to injury.
When the starter goes down, the No. 2 quarterback becomes the starter. He has the same risk of injury as the player he replaces. Who then becomes the backup? Three-quarterback rosters have a player ready to back up, a player who has been through training camp with the team and mastered the playbook. Where does a two-quarterback team look for a replacement?
Five two-quarterback teams do not even have a quarterback on their practice squad. These include the two teams that played in the Super Bowl -- New England and Seattle. These teams will be forced to find a quarterback replacement who is sitting at home not playing, and likely has no experience in their system. This is a monumental risk.
The Patriots went through most of last season with two quarterbacks and did not add Garrett Gilbert to the practice squad until late in the season. Bill Belichick has forgotten more about football than I will ever know, but this seems fraught with peril. Winning franchises have so many talented players to fit on a roster that it is certainly a temptation to keep a player active who will contribute rather than a third quarterback who may never see the field. However, the massive salaries paid to starting quarterbacks often necessitates using an untried rookie or aging veteran as the backup.
The days of the 49ers having Joe Montana, backed by Steve Young, backed by Steve Bono are gone due to the restrictions of salary cap constraints. And this means that when injury occurs the level of talent at the position drops drastically.
Keep an eye on the two-quarterback teams this year, and see if the risk is worth it.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.