It’s been ages since they won a Super Bowl. Thus, the statute of limitations has expired on questioning the Patriots, and it’s fair to ask: Are they nuts to pay a backup quarterback $12 million?

It’s been ages since they won a Super Bowl. Thus, the statute of limitations has expired on questioning the Patriots, and it’s fair to ask: Are they nuts to pay a backup quarterback $12 million?

For now, Matt Cassel looms as the most expensive insurance policy in sports history, but ...

He would be worth it if Tom Brady doesn’t make it back or gets hurt again, and Cassel navigates them back to glory road.

Cassel has been slapped with the franchise tag and will co-exist with Brady unless the Patriots arrange a trade. Cassel-Brady would be the priciest duo in NFL history.

The Browns face a similar situation on a smaller dollar scale with Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Anderson stands to make upwards of $7 million if he is retained as the backup to the 2006 first-round draft pick.

Worth it?

Odds are it doesn’t make any tangible difference who the No. 2 quarterback is. At least, one can reach that conclusion by diving inside the teams that made it to the postseason that ended last Sunday in Tampa.

Ben Roethlisberger had a few scares on the long road to a confetti shower. Yet, it didn’t matter that he had to be relieved by Byron Leftwich in Game 3 -- the Steelers lost to Philadelphia anyway.

Leftwich replaced him again in Game 8, when the Steelers slugged out a win against Washington. In Game 16 against the Browns, Big Ben was hauled away on a board, but by then the Steelers’ playoff seeding was secure.

Then it was Roethlisberger’s show throughout the playoffs. So ... how much was it worth to have Leftwich clean up that Washington game?

The other Super Bowl team used its No. 2 quarterback to give Kurt Warner a rest before the playoffs. It wouldn’t have mattered whether it was Matt Leinart or Bruce Gradkowski. Between the time Warner opened the season and clinched Arizona’s playoff seed, Leinart threw a grand total of two passes.

The AFC and NFC finalists didn’t need more than a body in the No. 2 job, either.

Sure, the Eagles benched Donovan McNabb in a regular-season fiasco against the Ravens, but what did it matter who replaced him? Kevin Kolb came in, mopped up a blowout loss, and went back to the bench. McNabb returned and played all the way to the NFC title game.

The Ravens flew their entire 19-game route with rookie QB Joe Flacco. Among the four teams that reached the divisional round and lost, only the Tennessee got mileage out of a No. 2 QB. Kerry Collins replaced Vince Young and got on quite a roll.

No one supposes that would have happened if, say, Jim Sorgi had been the Titans’ No. 2.

On the other three teams, though, the backup was as relevant as parsley. Jake Delhomme was the only man to throw a pass for Carolina in either the regular season or postseason. Ditto with San Diego’s Philip Rivers.

David Carr made a 12-pass cameo for the Giants, but Eli Manning was an iron lad.

The other four playoff qualifiers -- all first-round outs -- were:

- Minnesota. The Vikings went back and forth between Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson. This wasn’t a question of benefiting from two good quarterbacks. They would love to have had one.

- Atlanta. Rookie Matt Ryan threw every single Falcons pass.

- Miami. Chad Pennington basically went the distance, although backup Chad Henne horned in 12 passes.

- Indianapolis. For the 11th straight year, Peyton Manning got a spot of rest here and there but basically played every down.

The current decade shows two key examples of teams that arguably wouldn’t have won a Super Bowl without two competent quarterbacks. Coincidentally, the examples resonate with the Patriots and Browns, two teams that must consider overpaying a backup in 2009.

The 2000 Ravens didn’t like where they were going with Tony Banks at quarterback. They went with Trent Dilfer, who was good enough not to keep a great defense from winning a Super Bowl.

George Kokinis, Cleveland’s general manager now, was with the Ravens then.

The 2001 Patriots lost Drew Bledsoe to a frightening Game 2 injury against the Jets. Tom Brady entered the game and took his first step to the Hall of Fame. They say a Belichick never forgets.

The discussion circles back to Boston’s favorite Patriot, Brady. What if the guy comes back, plays like the Brady of old, and Cassel collects a ransom without working a down?

Hey, what’s a measly $12 million in a sports world gone mad? Half what Manny Ramirez will make?

The Repository (Canton, Ohio)