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A Vote For Sloter

Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

YOU—-are a 6’4” 218 pound QB from Atlanta Georgia who amassed 9,000 yards of total offense at Mount Pisgah Christian School, 6,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing and accounting for 87 TDs—-and a coach named Ricky Bustle from Southern Mississippi is very high on you and brings you in on a full scholarship as one of the university’s top QB recruits.

What would YOU do?

  1. The Southern Mississippi team in your freshman year goes 0-12 and the coaching staff is fired. Then after the new staff is hired you show up to practice only to find you are now QB4 on the depth chart—-what would you do?
  2. After staying at Southern Mississippi for three years, having received all of your playing time as a slot WR, the coaching staff brings you in to tell you that they are pulling your scholarship because you are just not good enough to keep it—-and here you are 5 hours short of your degree, and you have a job in finance waiting for you—-but you have three scholarship offers from Gardner Webb (to play WR), Samford (to play WR) and Northern Colorado (to play QB)—-what would you do?
  3. After your college football career is over, you have a chance to run and throw for scouts at a pro day that is attended by scouts from the Panthers and Cardinals, yet on that day there are 48 mile per hour winds, so in order to get more accurate 40 times, the scouts ask that they be run in the gym—-yet you didn't bring gym sneakers with you because it never crossed your mind that you would need them—-what would you do?
  4. You have been with an NFL team as a backup QB for two years and at the beginning of OTAs you are told that you would be competing with a veteran QB to be the backup QB—-yet once the practices start you do not get any of the limited QB2 reps and have now been told you are competing against a rookie for the QB3 job—-what would you do?
  5. You have spent your third NFL year on the practice squad as a team’s QB3 and with 5 weeks remaining on the season another team calls and offers you a 2 year contract to sign you to their 53 man roster because their top QBs are injured and there is more than decent chance that you will get your first chance to play in a regular season NFL game. But, the team you have been with then offers you a promotion to their 53 man roster so as to keep you. However, their QB in on track to be the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and the backup QB is a veteran who has yet to play in a game himself—-what would you do?

Such were the difficult, life changing decisions that Kyle Sloter has had to make since he graduated from high school.

Here were his decisions:

  1. Because he was suddenly so deep on the depth chart at QB he asked the coaches if they could switch him to WR. At first the coaches laughed at the suggestion, but after a while the gave him a chance and in time he managed to earn some limited playing time in the slot.
  2. Kyle elected to take the scholarship offer to Northern Colorado because he still believed he could make his mark as a QB. But, quickly, he was faced with three problems: (1) Northern Colorado didn't accept 45 hours of course credits from Southern Miss; (2) in his first of two seasons he found himself once again playing WR just to try to get on the field; (3) his senior year he found himself sitting behind starting QB Jacob Knipp.

As it so happened, in the first game of Kyle’s senior year, with Northern Colorado up over 40 points on Division 2 Rocky Mountain College, Kyle was sent into the game and his first pass was a pick six, which allowed Rocky Mountain to wage a furious comeback to the point where the Northern Colorado coach said after the game that he contemplated having to bring his starters back in.

However, in the very next game on the road versus Abilene, Jacob Knipp broke his shoulder in the first quarter and on Kyle’s first play at QB he threw a 20 yard TD pass on a fade to the left pylon. On his third pass of the game he threw a 30 yard TD. He wound up throwing for 408 yards and 7 touchdowns as Northern Colorado won the game 55-52, for which Kyle was named the Big Sky Player of the Week and FCS Offensive Player of the Week.

Kyle earned similar accolades in his final game for the Bears when he passed for a school-record 438 passing yards and 6 touchdowns against Cal Poly. He finished the season with 2,656 passing yards, 29 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions (in ten games) and with those 29 passing TDs, Kyle set the UNC Division I single season program record.

3. On his pro day at Northern Colorado with the Panthers and Cardinals in attendance because of the 48 mph winds and with the players being timed in the 40 in the gym, he borrowed someone else’s sneakers and ran a 4.67...which because of running on a gym floor instead of turf the scouts added nearly two tenths of a second to the times and thus Kyle’s 40 time was recorded as 4.85.

The good news was that Kyle was invited to throw at the University of Colorado’s pro day which was attended by 28 NFL teams and while they wouldn’t let him run the 40, after air mailing his first pass so high that it banged off the stadium wall so hard that it stopped a Redskins’ scout in his tracks (and thus incited the scout to go see who threw the pass), Kyle put on an impressive passing performance (registering speeds of up to 58 mph, which was 1 mph short of the top speed at the 2017 Combine—-that he was not invited to). After the performance Kyle was approached by 14 teams and a couple of them were hinting of drafting him on the 7th round. But, after going undrafted, he signed a UDFA contract with the Broncos.

4. Sean Mannion received all of the reps as the Vikings’ QB2 and there were times during the Vikings’ pre-season where the only real reps Kyle received were late in the pre-season games themselves. Despite that, Kyle’s success in the pre-season games remained somewhat legendary. More on this later.

5. Kyle decided to take the Lions’ offer. He loved it in Arizona and wanted to stay and very much appreciated the Cardinals’ counter-offer to be promoted to the 53 man roster, but in Detroit with Matthew Stafford and Jeff Driskel now out of action, he had a legitimate chance to play for the first time in a regular season game.

Commentary:

I feel the utmost respect for Kyle Sloter.

In several ways his story reminds me of Kurt Warner’s. Warner had to wait four years before getting his big chance to play at Northern Iowa. As a senior in 1993, Warner, in his one year as the starting QB was the Gateway Conference Offensive MVP, passing for 2,747 yards and 14 TDs.

The Green Bay Packers signed Warner as an undrafted college free agent in 1994, but he did not make the team’s 53 man roster. Then Warner spent two seasons in the Arena League (Iowa Barnstormers) and then one season in the European League (Amsterdam Admirals) before signing with the Rams in 1998.

Warner wound up in the hands if Dick Vermeil, the Rams’ venerable head coach who believed in Warner so much that when starting QB Tent Green went down wit a season ending injury during the pre-season in 1999, Vermeil handed the QB keys over to Warner—-and, as we know, Warner took full advantage of the opportunity.

Being a backup QB in the NFL has its fair share of trials and tribulations, as many teams prefer to have veteran backups who can be like professional caddies to the starters in helping them prepare for each game and each series on the field. Savvy, experienced backups like Drew Stanton have relished in that role.

Kyle Sloter has made the utmost of his pre-season playing time opportunities.

He was on my radar back in 2017 as one of the “sleepers” in the 2017 NFL Draft. I liked what I saw from his college tapes. What jumped out to me were his length at the back of the pocket, his arm strength (ability to drive the football even in inclement weather) and his better than average mobility.

I was hoping the Cardinals would take a chance on Kyle—-and was disappointed to see that the Broncos beat them to it.

Then, I was further sold on Kyle when he turned in an excellent performance versus the Cardinals in the 4th pre-season game in his rookie season of 2017.

Kyle’s line on the night: 15-23, 221 yards, 1 TD, 110.8 rating,

When he was waived by the Broncos, I was hoping the Cardinals would pounce on him.

Instead, he got picked up by the Vikings.

Then this past year, there was his 4th quarter performance versus the Cardinals in the nationally televised 3rd pre-season game —-and the Vikings’ broadcasters on the telecast were saying with utter confidence that “Sloter Saturday” was going to come right in and win the game.

Right on cue, Kyle entered the game at the start of the 4th quarter, and with the Vikings trailing to the Cardinals 9-7, here is what he accomplished: (fast forward to the 7:30 mark)

In addition to this stellar performance, in three years of pre-season action here are Kyle Sloter’s stats:

2017 DEN: 31/43/72%/413yds/3td/0int/125.4qbr (highest of all rookie QBs)

2018 MIN: 41/56/73.2%/336/4tds/0ints/114.0

2019 MIN: 39/51/76.5%/443/4tds/1int/120.0

These stats are extraordinary, no matter what the circumstances.

When the Cardinals were able to sign Kyler Sloter to the practice squad this past season, I was ecstatic. Later in the season I had a premonition that some QB needy team would try to pluck him away from the Cardinals’ practice squad, so I wrote in a couple of articles of my hope that the Cardinals would promote him to the 53 man roster, so as to avoid losing him.

Today i had the opportunity to speak with Kyle and these are some of the things he said:

“One thing that has always gotten a little under my skin is the criticism that my success has only come in pre-season games. Some people may not understand how challenging it is to come right in and perform when you have not have not had many reps in practice. Typically an NFL team starts preparing for its first week opponent after the first pre-season game, which would further decrease the number of snaps I would be to take in practice. Plus, so often in the huddle I would have to tell my teammates in full detail what their routes or assignments were on the play,“

“Yes I was often playing against third stringers, but I was also playing with third stringers and sometimes with players who had been signed during the week and still hadn’t learned the playbook.”

The rumored reasons why the Vikings cut Kyle Sloter were that (1) he didn’t practice well and (2) that he wasn’t the kind of veteran QB, like Sean Mannion, who had been around the NFL long enough to help prep a veteran like Kirk Cousins.

Kyle’s response to this was, “I didn’t get many reps in practice—-in a week I would maybe get 6 a day and 3 were running plays—-so I don’t know someone can say I didn’t practice well—-because I didn’t get the reps. On the second part, Sean Mannion is a very intelligent veteran and he’s good in his role, so there’s not much more I can say about that.”

“But, what I loved about being with the Cardinals was that for the first time in my NFL career I felt very much wanted and appreciated by the coaches, the GM and the players. When I offered my input in the QB room, I felt like Kyler and Brett respected what I had to say, especially about pass protection adjustments and calls.”

“Leaving the Cardinals for the Lions was the hardest decision of my life because my heart was in Arizona. I had a coach who believed in me and wanted me. But, on top of being able to get my pension with my 3rd year (on a 53 man roster) credited, with being offered a two year contract and, most of all, with a legitimate chance to finally get to play in an regular season NFL game, I felt like I had to take that opportunity.”

“Kliff Kingsbury was very understanding. He knows that one game can change a player’s entire career. I talked with him at length while trying to make the decision and even though he made it clear to me that he wanted to say, he said that if he was me, he would go.”

“Steve Keim is one of the more personable GMs I have known. He often made a point of talking with me at practice. He knows what an uphill battle it is for an undrafted backup QBs like myself.”

“When I decided to take the Lions’ offer, all of my Cardinals’ teammates came out of their meeting rooms to hug me and wish me well. They said they appreciated all of the extra work that I had put into the practices and the meetings. I feel great appreciation and respect for them.”

As it turned out, Kyle was one play away from getting his first snap in an NFL game when QB David Blough suffered a stinger in his shoulder. But, he was able to shake it off and remain in the game. Blough finished out the season and returns in 2020 as the Lions’ 3rd string QB.

After the Lions signed veteran backup QB Chase Daniel to a 3 year $13M contract on the eve of the 2020 free agency period, the Lions waived Kyle Sloter.

Therefore, for Kyle Sloter’s NFL history has repeated itself and he has been pushed out by a veteran backup QB.

Kyle said, “My agent and I have had recent talks with the Seahawks, Titans, Cowboys and Saints. They want to meet with me when the opportunities present themselves. As we know, everything is on hold right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“If there was an opportunity, I would be very excited to return to the Cardinals. I think Kyler Murray is on his way to becoming one of the best QBs in the league. He brings outstanding ability for delivering big plays on schedule and off schedule. I would love to keep working with Kyler, to help him continue his rapid growth and be ready for the team whenever they need me.”

With practice squads expanding to 12 players this season, and with the new rule that players from the practice squad can be called up and activated on game days (twice) without having to be subjected to waivers if sent back down, the vast majority of teams will keep 2 QBs on the 53 man roster and 1 QB on the practice squad.

Kyle Sloter should be very attractive to some team as a QB2 or QB3. “I am excited about the future,” he said. “I still believe that I can be one of the best 32 QBs in the NFL.”

I hope the Cardinals re-sign Kyler Sloter to compete with Brett Hundley as the QB2. It’s a big advantage that Kyle knows the Cardinals’ offense, the coaches and the players, particularly on account of the shortened off-season.

That’s right—-because the goal for Kyle now, once he gets his chance, is to turn “Sloter Saturdays” into “Sloter Sundays.”