Perhaps due to a necessity born of salary caps and player egos, NFL teams tend to willingly ignore the possibility that their star players could miss games due to injury. The exception to this, generally and predictably, occurs when a team is forced to face this reality by those exact circumstances. That’s what makes the quarterback decisions made by the Green Bay Packers prior to the last preseason game so interesting.
It is no secret or surprise that the notion that the Packers failed to make the playoffs for the first time in the past ten seasons last year due to the Week 6 injury to Aaron Rodgers is a popular one in Green Bay. That at least partially explains, then, why the Packers agreed yesterday to pay the aging Rodgers $135 million ($100 million guaranteed) over the next four years. It does not explain, however, why the Packers traded the assumed 2nd string quarterback Brett Hundley that same day.
Throughout training camp, there was a publicly transparent competition between Hundley and 2nd-year trade acquisition Deshone Kizer to fill the spot immediately behind Rodgers on the depth chart. Despite objections and preferences like my own, Hundley seemed to have earned the slight advantage. This competition seemed particularly high-stakes since it was widely debated whether or not the Packers would even carry three quarterbacks on their active roster.
It became clear, however, that the Packers had made a number of unexpected decisions on Thursday, when they traded Brett Hundley to the Seattle Seahawks after signing Rodgers to a new contract. With the disastrous injury to Rodgers presumably still painfully clear in their memories, the Packers decided that they would instead rely on Kizer in the event of a Rodgers injury this year.
Kizer was drafted by and started for the Cleveland Browns last year, but struggled as a rookie quarterback on a winless, under-talented team. When the Packers traded for Kizer this off-season, there were murmurs, although very faint, that they may be considering him as the eventual heir to the Rodgers throne in Green Bay. I was a supporter of this fabled plan from the beginning, but even I didn’t expect it to result in the departure of Hundley prior to the start of the season.
Initially, this appeared to be a simple decision by the Packers to whittle the quarterback position down to two players on the active roster and to commit to Kizer over Hundley. Soon after the Hundley trade was announced, however, the Packers declared heir plan to retain undrafted rookie free agent Tim Boyle on their active regular season roster in the third quarterback slot.
Boyle performed admirably during the preseason, but was not, in my mind, overly impressive. Some writers speculate that the Packers made the decision to retain Boyle rather than releasing him to the practice squad because they lost Taysom Hill to the Saints by doing that exact thing last year. That does not, however, explain why the Packers were so willing to part ways with Hundley while making a conscious effort to ensure they retained Boyle.
The next immediate hunch that springs to mind is the salary cap, but Hundley was scheduled to make less than a million dollars this year, and Boyle will only be making a quarter of a million less than that. This means that we’d need to believe that the same franchise that just agreed to pay Rodgers $135 million dollars was willing to give up the talent and experience difference between Hundley and Boyle for less than $250,000.
The Packers franchise is famous for being owned by the town of Green Bay, and that town is full of warm, friendly, kind, and understanding people. However, if there is one thing they take seriously, it is their Packers football. The waiting list for season tickets is over 20 years long. Bretty Hundley stepped into a high-profile and dramatic position last year when he took over for the injured Aaron Rodgers, and it did not turn out well.
I don’t know if the decision to trade Hundley away was based on the distaste Green Bay fans had for him after last year’s disappointments, but it seems as likely to me as anything else. He didn’t appear to have played himself off the Packers roster during this preseason, and I have to believe that the organization has considered the possibility that Rodgers’s immediate backup may have to fill in again at some point in the next four years.