The Packers’ Backup Quarterback Derby Must Stop
If the Green Bay Packers had their way, no one else but Aaron Rodgers would take a snap at quarterback during the regular season except in mop up duty during a blowout victory.
That said, they need some kind of a Plan B behind the 2011 NFL MVP in case of a doomsday scenario in which Rodgers is out for multiple games (or perhaps even the duration of the season). For the first few years Rodgers was the starter, they had a solid plan. Matt Flynn sat at the ready and Graham Harrell was on the practice squad learning the ropes. All was well.
Then came the 2011 regular season finale. The Packers were 14-1 and had home field advantage for the playoffs sewn up. There was no reason to risk an injury to Rodgers in a meaningless game, so Flynn got his second career NFL start. What followed was a record setting performance by Flynn who finished with 480 passing yards and six touchdowns.
Flynn was scheduled to be a free agent after the season and with that performance plus his 2010 game against the Patriots, Flynn seemed destined for a starting job and could have his pick of any team that wanted him.
Flynn joined the Seahawks and then Russell Wilson came along. The rest is history.
The Packers, meanwhile, went through 2012 with Harrell as Rodgers’ backup after he was promoted off the practice squad in Flynn’s absence. Harrell left much to be desired in the 2012 preseason and was likely headed towards being cut had he not performed well in the preseason finale. So Harrell it was in 2012.
During last season’s regular season game against the New Orleans Saints, Rodgers got poked in the eye and Harrell came in for one play. He tripped and fumbled the ball one yard from a touchdown.
Not exactly the kind of performance that inspires confidence.
Coming into 2013, Harrell was expected to face competition from 2012 practice squad quarterback B.J. Coleman. When neither showed much in the preseason, the Packers brought in former Titans star Vince Young to compete.
Now all three are no longer Packers.
GM Ted Thompson has been playing backup quarterback roulette and it needs to stop. With a revamped offensive line, Green Bay is hoping to significantly reduce the sacks Rodgers suffers in 2013 from the career high 51 he suffered last season. More questions arose when Bryan Bulaga went down for the season with a knee injury.
The Packers are likely doomed without Rodgers anyway, but a competent backup would at least give the team a fighting chance. It seems Thompson recognizes this, but there are obviously strong doubts on whether or not Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien will be with the team for the duration of the season.
What Rodgers really needs is his own version of Doug Pederson, who backed up Brett Favre for years in Green Bay. Keeping a backup long term is tricky in today’s NFL, and look no further than Flynn for proof. He played one good game (maybe two) and teams are salivating over him. The fact that he sat behind Rodgers didn’t hurt either.
Now look at where Flynn is. He’s been beaten out two years in a row for a starting job. It’s not Flynn’s fault, it’s the teams who took a VERY limited sample of what he could do and then practically blindly gave him a shot. Flynn has been paid a lot of money the past two years to sit on the bench, but he’d obviously rather be playing.
As for the Packers, they’re playing with dynamite right now. Entering the season with no reliable backup is inexcusable. Thompson took full blame for the Young release, saying he should have gotten the quarterback here much sooner. It was also clear early in the preseason that Coleman was in over his head and that Harrell had not progressed the way the team had hoped.
In hindsight, the Packers probably should have held their nose and stayed with Harrell for the season and draft a mid-round (4th or 5th) quarterback next year to take the reins from there. At that point in the draft, you’d still have solid quarterback that might need some fine tuning but is not a total project like Harrell and Coleman. Flynn was a seventh round pick, but he at least was fundamentally sound. Those are rare that late in the draft.
Instead, Green Bay shuffled its quarterbacks on the eve of the regular season. Thompson is normally a cool customer, but this is one of the few moves he has made that just reeks of desperation. Wallace is an upgrade, that much is true but he’s also 33. Plus, why now? Why on the first full week of the regular season?
If not Wallace, others were out there earlier in the preseason. Matt Leinart and Trent Edwards, for example. This isn’t to say the Packers should have chosen those two over Wallace, it’s just saying there were backups there and the Packers chose to ride it out until it was almost too late.
With any luck, this whole debate will be a moot point and Rodgers will be healthy for all 16 games this season. Then perhaps all of Packer Nation can exhale.
Until then, a Plan B is much better than a Plan E, F and G.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke