But little value in an early-round pick to back up Rodgers

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Since Tom Brady became his starting quarterback in 2001, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has drafted six quarterbacks.

Included in that group were a second-rounder (Jimmy Garoppolo last year), two third-rounders (Ryan Mallett in 2011 and Kevin O'Connell in '08), and one fourth-rounder (Rohan Davey in '02).

The O'Connell and especially Mallett selections were widely praised as the latest shrewd moves by Belichick, the game's best coach. He surely would develop them and, as long as Brady rolled on, trade them for a high draft pick to a team desperate for a quarterback.

"I don't think you can have too much depth at that position," Belichick said after drafting Mallett. "We got by the last two years with just two (quarterbacks). You put your whole team at risk if you don't have a quarterback that can run (the offense)."

But then, there's the way things actually turned out.

Belichick cut O'Connell at the end of the young quarterback's second training camp (at least you can't accuse the coach of compounding a draft mistake by keeping that mistake). And last year he traded Mallett to Houston for ... a seventh-round draft pick.

That's a terrible return on investment and exactly the reason Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers' general manager, shouldn't consider drafting a quarterback higher than the fifth round as long as Aaron Rodgers appears to have several good years left in him.

Yes, if you have a premier quarterback such as Rodgers or Brady, you want a backup who at least gives you a chance to go .500 for a few games. And sure, the odds of missing on a pick in the first four rounds at any other position are just as good as missing on a quarterback.

But those higher draft picks are too valuable to spend on a player who might (or might not) help the Packers win if Rodgers is out. Thompson needs to spend them on players who help the Packers win a Super Bowl when Rodgers is on the field.

For all the success former Packers GM Ron Wolf had drafting quarterbacks to back up Brett Favre, it's worth pointing out that only one, Aaron Brooks, was selected higher than the fifth round. He was a fourth-rounder in 1999.

Ty Detmer was a ninth-rounder in 1992, and the Packers got nothing for him because he left in free agency.

Mark Brunell, a fifth-round pick in '93, yielded third- and fifth-round picks in a trade with Jacksonville.

Brooks commanded a third-round pick from New Orleans.

And Matt Hasselbeck, a sixth-rounder in '98, netted from Seattle the equivalent of an early second-rounder (the teams swapped first-round picks, with the Packers moving from No. 17 to No. 10 overall) plus a third-rounder.

Wolf also swung and missed at quarterbacks three times, but all were fifth-round picks or later: Jay Barker (fifth round, 1995), Kyle Wachholtz (seventh round, '96) and Ronnie McAda (seventh round, '97).

Put it this way: Was it really worth drafting Brooks in the fourth round and getting a third-rounder back for him two years later? I'd say no. Even with the relatively long odds, the Packers would have been better off taking a shot on a player who might have helped Favre win another Super Bowl. Leave the backup QBs to the fifth round or later.

Looking at how Thompson has handled backup quarterback, maybe you can fault him for selecting only three in the seven drafts since Rodgers became his starter in '08: Brian Brohm (second round in '08), Matt Flynn (seventh round in '08) and B.J. Coleman (seventh round in '12).

But I'm inclined not to. I'd only fault him for not picking up Flynn when he became available in '13, rather than continue with Seneca Wallace as the No. 2 before Rodgers broke his collarbone that season.

This year, I'm betting Thompson gets back in the market and drafts a backup, even though he could re-sign Flynn and Scott Tolzien. The cost wouldn't be high.

Last year Flynn received a $100,000 in signing and workout bonuses along with his veteran minimum salary of $730,000. This year his minimum is $870,000 but he's also eligible for the veteran salary-cap benefit, which means he'd count only $585,000 against the cap, plus any bonus he might receive up to $80,000.

Tolzien has the better chance to command a bonus in the range of Flynn's last year, and perhaps more if the deal is for more multiple seasons, along with a minimum salary of $745,000. The two quarterbacks probably can be signed for less than $1.5 million in 2015 cap costs combined.

But practice snaps even in the offseason and training camp are scarce, and as undrafted Chase Rettig found out last year, there aren't enough to go around for four quarterbacks. Thompson could stand pat and sign Flynn and Tolzien, but the guess here is he'll re-sign one and draft a quarterback.

As for which to sign if Thompson chooses that route, Tolzien looks like the better call. Coach Mike McCarthy hinted at the NFL scouting combine that the Packers are thinking that way as well.

"I think Scott is definitely an ascending player," McCarthy said. "I still think he has more growth in front of him."

Though it was fairly close last year in camp, it sure looked like Tolzien outplayed Flynn even though the Packers went with Flynn as their No. 2. McCarthy went that route because of what Flynn had done in real games in '13 (3-2-1 in games he finished while Rodgers was out).

But Tolzien is a little younger (27 to Flynn's 29), has the stronger arm and more upside. For all those reasons, other teams are more likely to sign Tolzien if the Packers don't.

Flynn, on the other hand, won't be as attractive on the open market. He's played OK when he's filled in for Rodgers, but he's been cut by three teams (Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo). GMs around the league would be justified in thinking he needs to be in the Packers' system to have a shot at success.

That means there's a decent chance Flynn would be available in camp or the regular season if the Packers think they need him down the road.

Last year the Packers kept three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, but that was a luxury. If I were them, I'd have Tolzien battle it out with a late-round draft pick for the No. 2. Whoever lost would go to the practice squad, and then they'd battle it out again the next year.​

— pdougher@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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