Packers open to having veteran backup QB compete with Brett Hundley
GREEN BAY - Brett Favre had Doug Pederson, and Aaron Rodgers had Scott Tolzien.
Though there were other backup quarterbacks along the way, Pederson and Tolzien were the two longest-serving understudies behind Favre and Rodgers who joined the Green Bay Packers with prior experience on their resume. In other words, Pederson and Tolzien already were veterans by the time they reached Lambeau Field.
Pederson, who is preparing this week to coach the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl, had spent time with the Miami Dolphins, the New York/New Jersey Knights of the World League of American Football (WLAF), the Carolina Panthers and the WLAF's Rhein Fire before joining the Packers for two stints as Favre’s backup. He played in games for Green Bay from 1996-98 and again from 2001-04.
Tolzien, who plays for the Indianapolis Colts, had spent an offseason with the San Diego Chargers and two years with the San Francisco 49ers before former general manager Ted Thompson signed him to the practice squad and eventually promoted him to the active roster. Tolzien spent three seasons backing up Rodgers from 2013-15.
The argument for employing a veteran backup quarterback was thoroughly examined during the 2017 season after Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone and missed nine games. Coach Mike McCarthy handed the reins to Brett Hundley, a 2015 fifth-round pick by the Packers who had appeared in only four regular-season games, and even the untrained eye could recognize the glaring shortcomings (regardless of what the coaching staff said in public forums).
Hundley went 3-6 as the starter with more interceptions (12) than touchdown passes (9) and a passer rating (67.9) that ranked 30th out of 32 qualified players.
With Thompson transitioning to his new role as senior adviser to football operations and Brian Gutekunst earning a promotion to general manager, it raises the question of Gutekunst’s philosophical approach to the quarterback position: Does he favor veteran backups such as Pederson and Tolzien, or does he prefer the draft-and-develop approach with someone like Hundley?
For now, Gutekunst is open to both.
“I obviously like our quarterback group quite a bit but I think competition is always a good thing,” Gutekunst said last week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. “If that makes sense, if the right veteran is out there that I think can help bring the group up, then I think we’d certainly consider it.”
Entering training camp without legitimate competition for the backup quarterback job would be a gamble by Gutekunst on two fronts: first, that Rodgers will stay healthy for an entire season and second, that Hundley will make big enough strides to handle any potential injury to Rodgers more effectively than he did this past season.
Such a gamble seems unlikely from a first-year general manager whose coach already has made a public plea for better depth across the board. The primary question is whether Gutekunst plans to challenge Hundley by selecting a rookie in this year’s draft, thus exposing himself to the same criticism Thompson and McCarthy faced when Hundley proved inadequate, or by dipping into the free-agent market to search for a Pederson or Tolzien — someone with a more proven track record.
The answer to that question will play out over the next two months, with free agency beginning in early March and the draft at the end of April.
But for now, Gutekunst is sticking to the party line about Hundley, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2018 season. When asked if he would be comfortable with Hundley as the No. 2 quarterback, his answer mirrored McCarthy's unwavering support.
“Oh absolutely, yeah,” Gutekunst said. “Absolutely.”