Heir To 12 Can Wait
Some experts believe the Packers will use the 30th pick in the upcoming draft on a quarterback, and they often use what happened in 2005 as foreshadowing. That’s the year former general manager Ted Thompson selected Aaron Rodgers late in the first round. It does make sense. Brett Favre was 36 at the time, and Rodgers is the same age now. But to be honest, that’s where the similarities end. And it’s the numerous differences that make me strongly believe current general manager Brian Gutekunst won’t follow the same path as his predecessor and mentor.
The first difference is the state of mind of the two quarterbacks. Favre had talked of retirement for years before the 2005 draft, and Thompson had to be prepared for the very real possibility of No. 4 calling it quits at any time. Rodgers, on the other hand, continues to talk about playing into his early 40s. And with a contract that pretty much binds him to the team through at least the 2021 season, he’s not leaving anytime soon.
The second difference is the quality of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft. Unless presumptive No. 1 pick Joe Burrow of LSU slides to 30 – and he absolutely won’t – there’s nobody even close to Rodgers in terms of production, talent, and potential. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is an intriguing prospect, but he’s on the small side (6-1, 215), and he’s already undergone surgery on his hip and both ankles. He also benefited from playing behind some great offensive lines and with some tremendous wide receivers. How much did he benefit? That’s something scouts must determine. Oregon’s Justin Herbert looks the part, but he wasn’t even a great quarterback in college. He looked like a day 3 pick almost as often as he looked like a first-rounder. Utah State’s Jordan Love reminds me way too much of DeShon Kizer to even be considered at 30. And while I do kind of like Washington’s strong-armed Jacob Eason, there’s no reason to take him in the first round when he could be available at 62 or later. Simply put, Thompson should’ve been charged with gross negligence had he passed on Rodgers in 2005. In 2020, Gutekunst will face no such scrutiny.
The third and perhaps biggest difference is the state of the franchise. In 2005, the Packers were coming off yet another frustratingly early playoff exit under Mike Sherman, and it was pretty clear that Thompson was looking to bring in his own coach as soon as possible. That inevitability occurred in January 2006. Even with Favre at quarterback, Thompson was looking at a rebuild heading into that year’s draft. Things are much different now. The Packers won 13 games last season and played in the NFC Championship game. Gutekunst has his coach firmly in place, and his team – at least theoretically – should be poised to make a serious run at the Super Bowl. Using the 30th pick on a quarterback – even if there were one worthy of going that high – simply wouldn’t make sense. That pick must be spent on a player who can contribute immediately – be it at wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive end, inside linebacker or even cornerback.
None of this is to suggest Gutekunst shouldn’t draft a quarterback two weeks from now. He absolutely should. In fact, he should’ve grabbed a quarterback last year and/or the year before. Hall of Famer Ron Wolf selected quarterbacks in seven of his nine drafts, and he traded for Favre. Thompson took four quarterbacks in his first four drafts. Gutekunst has yet to pick at that position in two drafts, although he did trade for Kizer. He needs to exit draft weekend with a quarterback to at the very least challenge Tim Boyle for the backup job. And, who knows, maybe that player can wind up being the heir apparent to Rodgers.
Regardless of what happens in a couple of weeks, the smart move would be to have a veteran backup on the roster. Look at what Teddy Bridgewater did when Drew Brees fractured his right thumb last season. The Saints didn’t miss a beat. The argument that it doesn’t really matter who the backup is if Rodgers gets hurt is only true if the injury is season-ending. Gutekunst needs to protect the Packers in case Rodgers has to miss a few games. Brett Hundley and DeShon Kizer struggled mightily in 2017 and 2018, and Boyle almost certainly would fare no better should he have to play in a game that counts. I certainly don’t expect the Packers to be interested in Jameis Winston or Cam Newton, but somebody like Matt Moore, who did a nice job filling in for Patrick Mahomes last season, would make a lot of sense. The Chiefs probably don’t get to the Super Bowl if Moore doesn’t win two of his three starts in October and November.