The term ‘what if' was a bit of a trending topic for the Packers in 2013. But among all the hypotheticals, none was more important than the one Packers fans long feared would one day come to fruition - what if Aaron Rodgers gets hurt? Of course, Aaron Rodgers did get hurt, giving us a definitive answer as to what the Packers would look like without their franchise quarterback under center. The results were, shall we say, not great.
That's not to say they were disastrous, though. Seneca Wallace finally started to look decent before getting hurt. Scott Tolzien showed some real promise, and Matt Flynn kept the Packers playoff hopes alive by orchestrating one of the greatest comebacks in team history. Still, going winless in a month isn't what you expect even without the best player on your team. To prevent that from happening again, the Packers will have to do a better job securing the backup quarterback position before next season. Whether it's someone already on the roster, a new draft pick or a free agent, there's a number of guys who could be standing behind #12 next year. Here are some names to consider.
Tolzien will be 27 by the time week 1 rolls around so it's not like he's fresh off the truck. Plus, he's under contract for 2014, so it's sort of cheating to put him in the list here. Still, if there's one guy who seems to be brimming with potential, it's him. He's a known gym rat and workaholic in the film room so the desire is already there. And if you saw Tolzien in his limited time playing for the Packers this year, you know the arm and mobility are, too. It's easy to look at the pedestrian numbers he put up and want to look somewhere else, but those numbers don't tell the whole story. Tolzien was thrown into an impossibly difficult situation given his experience. With a whole off season and some additional work on his game, Tolzien could be a perfect fit for the backup role in Green Bay.
Flynn is basically the great enigma in this whole situation. He's shown next to zero aptitude playing for any other team aside from the Packers. But when he has played, he's played well. Sure, he's got an arm that would make Chad Pennington look good, but Flynn just seems to thrive in Mike McCarthy's offense. He's comfortable, knowledgeable, has good chemistry with the receivers, and plays within himself - all positive qualities you want from a backup. Plus, him and Rodgers are buds. The big question with Flynn is will he want to get paid (again)? His starting opportunities are likely dried up by now, but as a free agent, he may very well get a higher offer from another team as a backup. And as they say, follow the money.
I mean, why not? Wallace wasn't signed just for the hell of it. Yeah, McCarthy and Thompson were running out of options, but it's clear they believed Wallace could do something if pressed into duty. During the first quarter of their game against the Eagles, they looked right. Wallace was 5/5 and though he only amassed 25 yards passing, he looked far more comfortable and more in rhythm with a whole week of preparation under his belt than he did when he was thrown into the fire against the Bears. If Wallace is healed from his groin injury by the time training camp starts, there's no reason to think the Packers wouldn't be at least interested in having him back.
McCown is 35 and if it weren't for a career renaissance with the Bears this past year, he was probably going to retire. Instead, McCown will likely be getting paid a fairly handsome backup salary from some team after he led the Bears to a 3-2 record while Jay Cutler was out. McCown didn't just rest on Matt Forte, either. He threw for 13 TD's with just a single interception during his five-game resurgence. For the Packers, McCown's ability and veteran savvy (and knowledge of the NFC North) could be an appealing package. Plus, it would leave a division rival without their own backup. Will it happen? I doubt it. But McCown could be a nice signing.
There remains the possibility that some dumb team gives Michael Vick the chance at starting again, but if not? Sign me the hell up. I know this isn't going to be a popular opinion, but I still classify Vick as more of an offensive weapon than a true quarterback. That may haunt the Packers should Rodgers go down again for 6+ games, but I like the potential of Vick in this offense. While you'd never go full Tebow-on-the-Jets and sub Rodgers out, Vick's versatility would make a really interesting addition to an already dynamic offense. If McCarthy could find a way to work him in, why not?
Sanchez isn't a free agent (yet) but if you believe the rumors, there's a good chance Mark Sanchez will get released before the 2014 opener. I know "The Sanchize" played himself off one of the worst teams known to man in New York, but there was a time when Mark Sanchez resembled a semi-competent quarterback. Of course, it's more likely a team like the Raiders gives him money to start, but Sanchez could use a career refresher of his own. Green Bay seems like a good place for that. Not only would the limelight be infinitely dimmer than it was with the Jets, Sanchez would get to hone his craft in a system proven to make successful quarterbacks - something he never got a chance to do under Rex Ryan.
The college guys
Ted Thompson's not afraid to take fliers on prospects from smaller schools, and Smith fits that mold. He's not exceptionally big (6'2", 206) but he's athletic and was productive on a mediocre Wyoming team. Smith threw for over 3,300 yards in 2013, with 29 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He also ran for over 500 yards last year, so mobility is a plus. As an early-applying junior, Smith hasn't participated in any of the college All-Star games, but we'll have a better idea of his draft stock after the Scouting Combine and his Pro Day, but for now he's looked at as a rising prospect who might go as early as day two.
A highly productive player, Mettenberger's 2013 season was cut short late, as he suffered a torn ACL in LSU's final game of the regular season. A big pocket passer at 6'5" and 235, Mettenberger won't be a threat to run, but he's got a big arm and ranked fourth in the NCAA (FBS) in passing efficiency in 2013 (and first among all draft-eligible QBs). The question is how far will he fall with that torn ACL? If he slips, Thompson could make Mettenberger a great long-term backup prospect.
A late-round prospect from Virginia Tech, Thomas is an intriguing prospect whose stock has fallen due to his inconsistency. At 6'6" and 254 pounds, Thomas is remarkably athletic, almost in the mold of Ben Roethlisberger. He's mobile, averaging over 400 rushing yards and eight running TDs per season as a starter, and he has a big arm, but his accuracy (never over 60% completions for a season) and decision-making (39 INTs in three years as a starter) make him a project and more likely a third-stringer or practice squad candidate for 2014.