A new era of Green Bay Packers football is expected to begin this season as Jordan Love takes over as the starting quarterback of the team after the expected trade of Aaron Rodgers. Once that trade goes through, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst will need to find a quarterback to back up Love.
In recent years, the Packers needed a backup that could hold down the fort in an emergency but it was clear that if Rodgers got hurt, the team’s chances of contending for a Super Bowl were all but over. We saw that happen in 2017 when Rodgers was injured and Brett Hundley went just 3-6 as the starter when he was pressed into action.
Other backups under Rodgers included Matt Flynn, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle and Scott Tolzien. None of them went on to become long-time starters in the NFL although many were solid backups. Because Rodgers was playing at such a high level, winning four MVPs and a Super Bowl MVP and leading the Packers to the playoffs 11 times in 15 years as a starter, the need for a backup was limited.
But Jordan Love will be a different story. Love has exactly one career NFL start under his belt and that was a last minute situation when Rodgers went on the Covid reserve list and had to sit out the Packers 2021 game in Kansas City.
While the Packers brass is confident that Love is ready to become the starter, he remains unproven and an unknown. He was drafted in the first round for a reason and clearly possesses talent and skills but has yet to prove he can put it all together and be an effective starter in the NFL. That means the Packers should take a different approach to finding a backup quarterback this season.
Love is a former first round pick and he has been the Packers heir apparent to Rodgers since the Packers drafted him in 2020. He has sat behind Rodgers for three seasons right now, one as the third string quarterback and two as the primary backup.
Because Love does not have a lot of experience as an NFL starter, the Packers will look for a backup who does have experience but who would not be a threat to Love as the number one quarterback. That means someone who has been a starter but is clearly not a long-term solution as the position.
Another factor is money. The Packers do not have a lot of cap space to work with right now. One big reason for that is the large dead cap hit the team will absorb once Rodgers is no longer on the roster. The Packers could spread that cap hit over two years if they wait until after June 1st to deal Rodgers but the way the team is not spending money in free agency thus far, it is clear Gutekunst would rather take the entire cap hit in 2023 and then have more money to work with going forward after he has a better idea of how good Love can be after his first season. So, whoever the veteran backup is going to be, he can’t cost the team too much money.
There are still several candidates available who fit the description to varying degrees. One of the more intriguing may be Matt Ryan. The former Falcons star will turn 38 in May and still started 12 games last season for the Indianapolis Colts. His numbers were not great although the Colts did not have a great roster around him. They went 4-7-1 in the games he started and he threw for 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while having a passer rating of 83.9. That was lower than Rodgers’ mediocre 91.1.
But there are advantages to Ryan. He has experience working with Matt LaFleur when the Packers head coach was on the Falcons staff from 2015 to 2016. The 2016 season was the best of Ryan’s career when he was All Pro and named the NFL MVP. He also led the Falcons to the Super Bowl that season.
Obviously, Ryan is not going to play even close to the level he did in 2016. But he knows LaFleur’s system, has a lot of NFL experience and can mentor Love while stepping in if Love is struggling badly or for a few games if he gets injured.
There are other options out there who are also veterans who can fill that role like Blaine Gabbert or Teddy Bridgewater, but they don’t have the experience working with LaFleur or the overall career success of Ryan.
The Packers are unlikely to sign a backup quarterback until the Rodgers situation is settled but the team should be searching and looking for someone to fill that role as soon as the deal goes through. A veteran to mentor and possibly fill-in for Love makes the most sense and Ryan may be the best available candidate to fill that spot right now.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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