The role of backup quarterback is one the most bizarre not just in football but in professional sports as a whole. The backup quarterback is both simultaneously an after thought and crucially important.
If things go right a team's number two quarterback will never take a meaningful snap all season. Equally, though one freak injury or sudden loss of form and the after thought is pitched into the maelstrom of being a starting NFL quarterback.
Smart teams then make sure they have somebody decent on the quarterback depth chart. Nobody wants to be relying on Blaine Gabbert when the proverbial hits the fan. Currently though that is the situation that the San Fransisco 49ers find themselves in.
Why did the 49ers trade for Gabbert at all?
This wasn't supposed to be the disaster that it now appears to be though. Theoretically, signing Gabbert as the 49ers backup to Colin Kaepernick did have some logic. After all Gabbert was a former number 10 pick in the draft.
Typically, players drafted that high do have some talent about them. 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh certainly thought this was the case saying about Gabbert “I think he's a very talented player and his career so far hasn't gone on to be what he expected, and maybe others expected it to be. But I believe it can be a really powerful opportunity, powerful motivator for a player to say, ‘It wasn't me, it was my situation' ”.
On top of all this Gabbert arguably has the quality that you most want from a backup quarterback; experience. He has played 28 games in the NFL and thrown for over 4,357 yards. He may not have been very successful in those games but at least Gabbert has started in the NFL. If he had to come onto the pitch in a situation that mattered he hopefully wouldn't freeze like a deal in the headlights.
To get Gabbert from the Jaguars then the 49ers traded a sixth round pick and took Gabbert on his first round rookie contract. This meant that prior to Kaepernick's new deal Gabbert was on more guaranteed money in 2014 than the starter.
Essentially, taking Gabbert on his rookie contract was a statement that Gabbert was all but a lock for the backup spot in 2014. Only a disastrous implosion from Gabbert could deny him a roster space and this is exactly what has happened.
In the two pre-season games Gabbert has played in so far Gabbert has been abysmal. In the first preseason game at Baltimore Gabbert attempted 11 throws throwing one interception and only completing three. That's a completion percentage of 27.3%. Even worse than this though on the three throws that were completed the 49ers offense only moved forward by 20 yards giving Gabbert an average yards per throw of 1.8 yards.
Things improved slightly in last weekends game against the Broncos. Gabbert managed to throw for 40 yards and complete 8 out of his 14 throws. That's gave him an average yards per throw of 2.8.
Essentially, after two pre-season games Gabbert couldn't get a first down if his life depended. The 49ers cannot go into the season with this car crash of a quarterback one piece of bad luck away from being their starter.
Gabbert is going to be cut. A former first round pick who was thought at one point to be a prospect to be a franchise quarterback is going to have been drummed out of the league before his rookie contract is even over. That's pretty astounding.