Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn drops back to pass during the second quarter of Friday's game against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field. If the Packers don't trade him, Flynn is almost certain to depart in free agency after the end of this season. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette
A month ago, trading their backup quarterback would have been unthinkable for the Green Bay Packers.
As he entered his fourth ó and likely final ó season in Green Bay, Matt Flynn had become a trusted, game-tested insurance policy for Aaron Rodgers.
However, two things have happened since the defending NFL champions opened training camp. First, Flynn has performed extraordinarily well, which has enhanced his trade value in a quarterback-starved league. Also, third-stringer Graham Harrell has made a surprising leap, giving the impression that his ceiling is higher than anyone thought.
The Packers are almost certain to lose Flynn after the season while getting nothing in return and appear to be grooming Harrell to become Rodgersí backup in 2012. But general manager Ted Thompson said Tuesday that ďall the teams are talking trades 24 hours a day now,Ē which means itís not a stretch to think that several quarterback-needy teams have inquired about Flynnís availability.
So should the Packers consider trading Flynn?
Actually, there are three ways to answer that question. In order, they are no, never and not a chance. Before we dismiss it out of hand, however, letís look at why trading Flynn is a tempting proposition.
Working under coach Mike McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, Flynn has made a remarkable transition, going from a seventh-round draft pick of whom little was expected to one of the more capable backups in the NFL. And with his career arc still going up, Flynn will get a chance to be a starter somewhere, probably next year when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The Packersí dilemma is this: They could trade Flynn while heís still an asset, possibly for a second or third-round draft pick, or they could keep him as an insurance policy for a team that has the potential to win a second consecutive Super Bowl.
The only way the Packers should deal Flynn is if they think Harrell is an NFL-caliber backup. Thatís a tough call on a guy who went undrafted out of Texas Tech in 2009, played a year in Canada and spent most of last season on the Packers' practice squad. Harrell doesnít have a big arm, but he has a good feel for the passing game that is starting to show now that heís comfortable in the system. If the Packers were to cut Harrell at this point, he would be snapped up in a flash.
ďHe can make the throws that are required in this offense,Ē Clements said. ďHeís accurate and heís probably at his best in team settings or game settings. If you just stand around and watch him throw, sometimes it might not look pretty. But when he gets in there, he usually knows where to go with the ball and gets it there and makes a quick decision and is accurate.Ē
McCarthy said Harrell has done a nice job with his opportunities. But unless the Packers are absolutely convinced heís ready to go in and win an important game, they shouldnít consider trading Flynn. And they have no way of knowing that until Harrell plays in games that count.
Thatís not a risk the Packers can take right now. Itís not Thompsonís way to go all-in for one season and trading Flynn while he still has value would fit with that philosophy. However, protection at the NFLís most indispensable position is a must. That is particularly true given that Rodgers suffered two concussions last season and was forced to miss a game after the second one.
By almost beating New England in the one game Rodgers didnít start, Flynn showed the value of a quality backup. That value could increase given the NFLís current emphasis on the proper treatment of concussions.
One misconception about keeping Flynn is that he is good enough to lead the Packers to the Super Bowl in Rodgersí absence. Truth be told, if Rodgers goes down, the Packers wonít repeat no matter who the backup is. But the role of a backup isnít to win a Super Bowl, itís to keep the team competitive for a stretch of games while the starter recovers from an injury. Flynn has shown he can do that.
A trade doesnít appear likely because a team would have to be extremely desperate to deal for a starting quarterback two and a half weeks before the opener. But what if some team offered the Packers a first-round draft pick for Flynn? In that unlikely scenario, it would be hard to turn down a trade.
But even with Harrell having a breakthrough camp, Green Bayís overriding concern this season should be making sure it has capable quarterbacking for a Super Bowl-caliber team. So barring a trade offer they canít refuse, the Packers should keep Flynn and play out the season.