With Aaron Rodgers’ injury history, do the Green Bay Packers need to better address their depth at the quarterback position?
The Packers punted on this opportunity, and they chose to head into 2018 an Aaron Rodgers injury away from having their season be over once again.
Sunday night gave the entire world of football a brief and horrifying glimpse of what this season could have been had Rodgers’ knee been hit just a tiny bit differently.
Backup quarterback DeShone Kizer struggled to make any meaningful positive impact on offense while he was relieving Rodgers in the first half, and this meager performance from Kizer could have been the reality for the rest of the Packers’ season.
The front office has had multiple opportunities to witness what this team turns into when Rodgers is out for an extended period of time, yet they have continued their traditional philosophy at the quarterback position.
This philosophy has led the Packers astray in tumultuous times without Rodgers, whether it’s with Matt Flynn, Brett Hundley, or now DeShone Kizer. Things could have gone differently for the Packers when Rodgers went down in these previous scenarios if they had a real established veteran backup.
In 2013, the Packers relied mostly on Flynn to keep them in playoff contention while Rodgers was recovering from his first collarbone injury (with a little bit of Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien as well). The Packers managed to make the playoffs that season, but they needed another miracle from a returning Rodgers to get them there.
Things would have been easier on the Packers if they had explored a better option at backup quarterback that season. Likewise, in 2017 after a questionable hit by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr led to another Rodgers collarbone injury, Green Bay’s offense was diminished in the vast majority of games when Hundley was at the helm.
Believe it or not, things could have gone differently if there was another quarterback on the Packers roster last season. After all, the 2017 NFL season was in some ways the year of the backup quarterback.
Case Keenum managed to lead the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game after an injury to starting quarterback Sam Bradford. Nick Foles led the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl title after Carson Wentz suffered an ACL tear late last season.
Could the Packers have done a similar thing if they had a backup like this on their roster? It’s possible.
Granted, the 2017 Packers had nowhere near the defensive talent the Eagles or Vikings had, but with Hundley, they still were in playoff contention when Rodgers stepped back on to the gridiron against Carolina late in the season.
If they had an established veteran at the most important position in sports, it wouldn’t be absurd to say that they could have squeaked out a victory in a close game that Hundley lost. Even one more victory would have given the Packers a much better opportunity to get into the wild-card round last season, and there would have been less urgency to rush Rodgers back.
On Sunday night, Kizer struggled mightily against the Khalil Mack-fueled Bears defense. Kizer struggled with costly turnovers, which can be simply chalked up to inexperience. Do you really think Josh McCown or Teddy Bridgewater would make some of those same mistakes that forced Rodgers to carry the team on one leg in the second half?
I know Packers fans across the world would love to forget about the nightmarish games, or even drives, without Rodgers, but I am here to tell you that bringing in a true veteran backup in the Nick Foles mold would have the potential to turn those nightmares into semi-confident feelings.
Just ask Eagles fans. They won their first Super Bowl and are undefeated this season because of their depth at the quarterback position.
Kizer has potential, but his rookie season in Cleveland showed that he is not ready to carry an NFL offense for an extended period of time, and his performance in the first half on Sunday night showed that he couldn’t lead the Packers offense for just a few drives.
Don’t misconstrue what I am saying here. Kizer is a long-term asset for the Packers, he’s just not a true short-term asset.
Brian Gutekunst would have been prudent to bring in a true backup with the immediate ability to start for an offense should Rodgers go down, which would have taken pressure off Kizer as he furthers his development as a passer.
I proposed a while back the possibility of the Packers drafting a quarterback on day two of the draft. They didn’t pursue this option, and instead opted to draft cornerback Josh Jackson and linebacker Oren Burks (which as of right now appears to be the right move).
The Packers need to do two things in the next offseason to fix their depth at quarterback.
The first thing is to be proactive in bringing in a veteran backup that can win games on a Packers roster without Rodgers, if Kizer doesn’t develop into what Gutekunst and Mike McCarthy expect him to.
The second is consider drafting a quarterback high in next year’s draft (even if Rodgers plays until age 40 or longer). The Packers have two first-round picks in 2019, and this could provide Brian Gutekunst the opportunity to bring in a player that helps an immediate need while also getting a truly talented young backup.
This may seem like an absurd idea, but well-run teams consider drafting backup quarterbacks high in the draft all the time (even if they have franchise quarterbacks with many years left). Look at Seattle’s interest in Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes as examples of this.
Rodgers has many years left, but if a Drew Lock, Justin Herbert or another premier quarterback in the 2019 class were to fall into the Packers’ laps next April, they would be wise to consider drafting them, as long as Gutekunst believes they have franchise quarterback potential.
Gutekunst should consider a similar option to the one that his predecessor followed in 2005 with Rodgers. The Packers have another Lombardi Trophy in the case because of Ted Thompson‘s willingness to draft because of talent, not need when they selected Rodgers.
Green Bay needs to find two things in the not-so-distant future. A reliable veteran at the quarterback position that can immediately step in and win games, and a quarterback the Packers can confidently turn to as an option in the post-Aaron Rodgers world.
How the Packers have looked when Rodgers has had to miss even little amounts of time (Sunday night is an example of this), shows that they need to find new approaches to stay relevant.
The NFL is a copycat league, and the Packers need to look at what other teams have done to stay competitive without their starting quarterback, while also building for the future at that position.