Packers must create competition behind Aaron Rodgers
First in a nine-part Packers position-analysis series.
GREEN BAY – A year ago, the Green Bay Packers looked to have one of the best quarterback situations in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers, still in the thick of his prime, was the biggest reason. But confidence extended beyond the starter line on their depth chart. In Brett Hundley, the Packers had a backup quarterback who was unproven, but possessed the size (6-3, 226), athleticism and pedigree to generate genuine excitement.
Hundley isn’t a mystery anymore. After waiting behind Rodgers for two full seasons, he got his opportunity in October. Starting nine games in 2017, most of that time while Rodgers recovered from a broken collarbone, Hundley produced enough film to introduce himself to the NFL.
That wasn’t exactly a good thing.
Hundley struggled as a starter, and as a result, the Packers' quarterback position doesn’t project the same depth it once did. When new general manager Brian Gutekunst spoke last month of young players not seizing their opportunities last season — “there will probably be new faces,” he said — Hundley’s future with the team appeared uncertain.
SILVERSTEIN:Packers' loyalty to Brett Hundley misguided
Here’s a look at where the Packers' quarterback position stands in early February.
Well, they still have a two-time MVP quarterback. The best news for the Packers was that Rodgers apparently suffered no long-term effects from his broken right collarbone. At age 34, Rodgers should return to top form. Another factor in the Packers' favor is the increased longevity of top-shelf quarterbacks. More and more, elite passers are playing through their 30s and even into their 40s. That longevity allows the Packers to push back their search for Rodgers’ eventual replacement. Now if they can just find a backup.
Not all of the Packers' quarterback issues were out of their control: Their lack of depth was self-inflicted. Exposing promising prospect Taysom Hill to the waiver wire last summer was one of former general manager Ted Thompson’s biggest mistakes. Hill, an undrafted rookie out of BYU, clearly outplayed Hundley through the preseason but was not retained on the 53-man roster and was claimed on waivers by New Orleans. Perhaps he would’ve done a better job than Hundley keeping the Packers above water until Rodgers returned. He at least could have given them another viable option.
Gutekunst needs to learn from his predecessor’s mistake. Given the physical toll of the NFL — Rodgers was far from the only franchise quarterback whose season ended because of injury — backup quarterbacks carry real value, especially for championship contenders. The biggest need for the team’s quarterback depth chart is true competition behind Rodgers. That could mean investing a draft pick, most likely on Day 3. The Packers should have a well-stocked compensatory allotment to use on the position late in the draft. A bigger need is veteran experience behind Rodgers, and the market will be flush. Among potential options who could be available in free agency are Ryan Fitzpatrick, Drew Stanton, Geno Smith and Matt Moore, each of whom has starting experience but now projects as a backup.
Aaron Rodgers: Led the Packers to a 4-1 record before going on injured reserve with a broken collarbone suffered in Week 6 at Minnesota. Rodgers entered that game with a league-leading 13 touchdown passes with only three interceptions and had the look of a quarterback on a mission. A week earlier, he'd led the Packers to a comeback victory at Dallas, completing a 12-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 11 seconds left. Rodgers' lone early-season loss came at Atlanta when the Packers started a pair of backup offensive tackles due to injury. Activated from injured reserve in Week 15, Rodgers threw for three touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers, but also showed rust by throwing three interceptions for only the fourth time in his career. He returned to IR after the loss to the Panthers eliminated the Packers from playoff contention, but said last week he is fully recovered. Grade: B
Brett Hundley: Underwhelming production in extensive preseason action (sacked 11 times, 88.8 passer rating) was a harbinger for his season. Hundley lost his first two starts and four of his first five. He often struggled to see the whole field and had a tendency to roll right and throw passes out of bounds. On the plus side, he made clutch throws to Adams in a victory at Chicago and showed poise late in close games, leading the Packers to consecutive overtime wins against Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Hundley had three games with a passer rating above 100 (at Chicago, at Pittsburgh, at Cleveland), but six games with a rating below 60. Among qualified quarterbacks, he finished 30th in passer rating (70.6), 31st in yards per pass (5.81) and 32nd in passing yards per game (167). He was one of four quarterbacks to start at least half the season and throw more interceptions (12) than touchdown passes (9). Hundley failed to throw a TD pass in his five starts at Lambeau Field, was shut out twice at home and finished 3-6 as a starter. Grade: D
Joe Callahan: Retained the Packers’ interest for reasons that remain unclear. Callahan began the season on the practice squad and was promoted to the active roster after Rodgers’ injury. He was carried on the 53-man roster for nine games, but didn’t take a snap until late in the season finale in Detroit, where he completed 5 of 7 passes for 11 yards. It doesn’t bode well that he couldn’t see the field earlier despite Hundley’s struggles. Grade: Incomplete