It’s easy to assume the Green Bay Packers will keep DeShone Kizer on their final roster, and that the decision to carry two or three quarterbacks on the final 53 comes down to whether Brett Hundley should remain, too.
The Packers, after all, traded a former first-round pick for Kizer, and if they cut Kizer will owe his fully guaranteed $689,928 salary unless another team claims him.
But that’s not the way general manager Brian Gutekunst and coach Mike McCarthy should look at it.
After four weeks of training camp, we can say that while there’s not much difference between Kizer and Hundley, Hundley looks like the better of the two. The game has slowed for him a little more than for Kizer.
Best case for the Packers would be finding a trade partner for one of the two. Maybe a late-round draft pick, or a backup offensive lineman. The odds aren’t great, but you never know. Quarterbacks are in short supply – look at the play of Oakland Raiders backups Connor Cook and EJ Manuel on Friday night against the Packers.
But if Gutekunst can’t make a deal, then barring a big happening in the preseason finale Thursday at Kansas City, he should keep Hundley and cut Kizer. Roster spots are at a premium, and there’s not good enough reason to keep both.
Some might argue it would make the Packers look bad trading a first-round pick, Damarious Randall, for Kizer, then turning around and cutting Kizer while Randall is in the running to start at safety for the Cleveland Browns. But so what?
The Packers were getting rid of Randall last spring no matter what. McCarthy wanted him out of the locker room, period. If Gutekunst hadn’t found a trade partner, he would have cut Randall. So that die was cast regardless of whether the Packers received anything in return.
Likewise, new Browns GM John Dorsey knew he was drafting a quarterback and was done with Kizer, the 2017 second-round pick who went 0-15 as a rookie starter. The trade was two teams looking to move a former high pick they didn’t want anymore and taking a look-see at a player the other was done with.
Who cares how it looks if the Packers cut Kizer? That’s not good enough reason to keep a player.
The truth is, very few can play quarterback well in the NFL. That’s why there are so few winning starters, and only a couple decent backups, in the league. It’s the hardest position in major North American sports.
It’s true, also, that Friday night didn’t offer the greatest evaluation of Hundley and Kizer, who split playing time, with Hundley getting the first half and Kizer the second. The Packers’ starting offensive line had the night off, and the backups’ pass protection was abysmal.
Both quarterbacks dealt with more than their share of jailbreak rushes. Each put up only three points and both had a passer rating under 75 (Hundley’s was 72.9 and Kizer’s 63.7). Maybe the best development was that neither turned the ball over.
But poor protection doesn’t mean there was nothing of value to take from their performances. Hundley appeared to be the calmer of the two in the face of the incessant rush. After starting nine games last season, things have slowed a little for him. He isn’t so quick to bolt the pocket anymore, and he’s keeping his eyes downfield better when does escape.
Kizer clearly has the stronger arm and throws the better deep ball. And to be fair, it would help to see him start a game and play with more upper-roster players, as Hundley did. But Kizer’s touch needs work, and even taking into account the jailbreak it looked like things were moving faster for him than Hundley.
Though Kizer was playing with deep backups, he also was playing against deep backups, and with a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter he couldn’t find a way, regardless of other circumstances.
BOX SCORE: Raiders 13, Packers 6
The best approach for the Packers’ preseason finale is probably to have Hundley and Kizer again play a half each, and hope that another team sees enough to trade for one. Then the other would be the Packers’ backup. If there’s no deal, then unless something changes in the next week, Hundley should be the No. 2, and Kizer should move on for a shot elsewhere.
The Packers also probably shouldn’t play undrafted rookie Tim Boyle, so they can feel safer about getting him through to their practice squad. Boyle flashed enough in the first preseason game that another strong performance in the finale just might be enough to convince a team to take a shot at him if he’s cut. But if he doesn’t play Thursday, then it’s hard to see any club claiming him for its final 53. Two preseason games are just not enough to go on with an undrafted rookie quarterback.
Boyle is raw and needs a year on the practice squad. But based on camp and the preseason, he has shown the traits – arm strength, size and poise – to be a legitimate prospect for the Packers’ backup of the future. He just needs refining, and then he’ll have to prove he can play fast enough against players higher up the depth chart.
Rookie punter JK Scott might be the Packers’ best answer to replacing departed Jeff Janis’ excellent punt coverage of the past three years.
Since early in camp Scott has been working on speeding up his delivery, and after mediocre punting in the first two games, he hit the ball against Oakland like he has in training camp practices, with impressive hang time and distance. On seven punts against the Raiders, he had a 45.7-yard gross average and 44.7-yard net.
Four of the seven were exactly what you’re looking for – high and long (49-yard average), and that allowed only a combined seven yards in return. With punts like that, you don’t need a Janis at gunner, because several players will have time to get downfield.
It was well worth Gutekunst spending a fifth-round draft pick on Scott if the rookie can flip the field when punting inside his 30. Justin Vogel was fine last year, but he didn’t have the leg to flip the field like Scott has shown in camp. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Scott hits a couple punts this year that crack 5.0 seconds in hang time.
» The Packers’ kickoff return game looks shaky without injured Trevor Davis (hamstring), but they might just have to make do there this year with Ty Montgomery, Marquez Valdes-Scantling or whoever else. The Packers probably will have to keep all three drafted receivers, and along with their top three at that position (Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison) that would leave a seventh and final spot for either Davis or Jake Kumerow, assuming Kumerow’s shoulder injury from last week isn’t serious.
Davis is their best return man but hasn’t played in the preseason because of the injury. He’s not so good a returner as to demand a roster spot no matter what, and even though Davis would be getting several touches a game as a return man, the Packers very well might prefer having Kumerow as their No. 4 receiver ahead of the three draft picks in case one of the top three gets injured.
Davis’ chance for a roster spot might come down to returning from his injury this week and having a big game at Kansas City.
» If Oren Burks’ shoulder injury sidelines him for more than a couple weeks, the Packers have a problem at inside linebacker. Burks already is their best cover man at that position, and if he’s out for several weeks Gutekunst probably will be on the lookout for claiming an inside linebacker from another team. The Packers also have the option of playing Clay Matthews regularly at inside linebacker.