There’s a good chance Brett Hundley’s third season with the Green Bay Packers will be his final one.
It has been a while since the Packers developed a backup quarterback and traded him for valuable draft capital. The last time was in 2001, when they sent Matt Hasselbeck to the Seattle Seahawks for the equivalent of a high second-round draft pick.
But that wasn’t the only time former general manager Ron Wolf drafted backups and later flipped them for higher picks. There also was Mark Brunell (third- and fifth-round picks from Jacksonville) in 1995 and Aaron Brooks (third-rounder from New Orleans) in 2000.
Hundley could become the first Aaron Rodgers backup that GM Ted Thompson flips into a higher pick, though that will depend on how well he plays this preseason. Hundley, a third-year pro, is eager for a shot at starting and knows Rodgers, 33, isn’t going anywhere. So he wants a team to pay a high price for him.
“I can’t lie and say no,” Hundley said in an interview during the Packers’ final offseason practices last week. “I’ve always said, I went in the fifth (round), I want a first-round pick from someone trading for me. … Everybody wants the house to be traded for them, because that’s showing you what that team values you for.”
Hundley made himself future trade bait his rookie season, when he finished his first preseason as the NFL’s leader in passer rating (129.6) with enough pass attempts (65) to take seriously.
What stands out about him in that camp, though, was his growth. I’ve been covering this team since 1993, and I don’t remember another quarterback, or really a player at any position, who improved as much as Hundley from the first week of camp to the last.
Those first few days, he sailed throws left and right, not just missing receivers, but missing badly, and usually high. In individual drills, watching Rodgers skip over footwork obstacles with his eyes downfield and then throw effortlessly on the run going right or left, and then Hundley, the difference was as wide as the Grand Canyon.
But each week Hundley looked noticeably better, and by the end of camp you couldn’t help but think he would be the next Hasselbeck, Brooks or Brunell.
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“I was awful those first couple weeks,” Hundley said. “I don’t know what it was, but something clicked. I don’t know if it was me just saying, ‘Stop trying to be perfect and just have fun,’ because I wasn’t having fun at that moment. It’s history from there.”
Hundley was unable to improve his case last year because an ankle injury limited him to only 20 snaps (and 10 passes) in the preseason. Teams looking for a starter prefer more to go on. So his performance this preseason will be critical for luring quality trade offers.
Next offseason will be the prime time to trade him. Hundley will be a free agent in 2019, so if the Packers don’t deal him next year and he leaves when he hits the open market, the Packers would get only a compensatory pick for him.
“Same thing with (New England’s Jimmy) Garoppolo,” Hundley said, “you draft a guy lower and develop into these good quarterbacks and get value for them, it’s good for the program. Whatever happens, Aaron’s going to be here for a while. Everybody knows that.”
So will Hundley show enough to get the Packers a second-round pick? Or maybe a first? That depends on the preseason games.
This offseason in the practices open to reporters, Hundley’s play didn’t stand out but he looked in command. He missed a few throws and had a four-and-out two-minute drill last week at minicamp, but he’s more polished than a year ago.
“He had about three plays (last week), it’s exactly what you’re looking for,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We had the pass under pressure (drill), the pass rush coming, slides his feet to the left and throwing a bullet over there in the middle. His footwork is probably his biggest improvement clearly, and that’s because he’s getting the reps that he needs.”
Hundley still is peeved he wasn’t drafted at least a couple rounds higher. That’s a good thing – Rodgers still uses his slide down to the No. 24 pick overall in 2005 as a motivator.
For their draft rankings in 2015, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ranked Hundley as a second-round prospect. But Hundley lasted until the fifth round and was the sixth quarterback off the board, after Jameis Winston (first round), Marcus Mariota (first), Garrett Grayson (third), Sean Mannion (third) and Bryce Petty (fourth).
Why wasn’t he taken earlier? He had all the measurables (6-4 ½, 226 pounds, 4.63 4), but the main concerns were pocket awareness and throwing accuracy.
Before that draft I talked to an NFL scout and an offensive coordinator about the quarterbacks. One was bullish on Hundley, the other wasn’t.
The scout, who’d predicted Russell Wilson would be a winner three years earlier, ranked Hundley as third best of the group: “I like that he’s a dual-threat guy, extremely athletic. Here’s a guy that didn’t have a lot of wide receivers to throw to, he would tuck and go too quick sometimes. At the next level with the right receivers to throw to I think he has a chance.”
The coordinator questioned Hundley’s moxie: “I’m not jacked about him. I think he’s kind of one of those height-weight-speed guys that looks good, talks good, everything’s rosy, the whole exterior is great. Then when it comes down to make a real play when it’s tight, I don’t know.”
The Packers liked him enough that when he was still on the board in the fifth round, they traded a seventh-round pick to move up 19 spots for him.
“The thing that sold me about him at UCLA was the way he moved in and out of the pocket,” McCarthy said. “Zero history under center, there were a lot of things he had to learn. But the fact he could come out of the pocket and make plays. And he’s a powerful man, he’s strong. I feIt like there are things mechanically we could help him with. He’s doing that.”
Hundley’s rookie preseason suggests that the Packers and the aforementioned scout, not the coordinator, got it right. Hundley can make it so with a strong preseason.
“It (ticks) me off to this day,” Hundley said. “… I dropped a (expletive) ton (in the draft). For some reason all those teams passed on me. Whoever I’m traded to, I’m going to ask why you passed on me in the first place.”