The Green Bay Packers already know what Brett Hundley looks like if pressed into duty as the starting quarterback in relief of an injured Aaron Rodgers. Three wins in nine tries plus more than half of the Vikings game in which Rodgers got hurt. Two ugly shutouts, no touchdown passes at home in five games, twice failing to break 100 yards passing, and five times unable to get to 200.
Despite some moments of brilliance — several clutch plays and a number of quality scrambles — Hundley wasn’t good enough. It seems obvious in retrospect (if it wasn’t at the time), a veteran option would have been better. Is there any evidence Hundley would function materially different in this offense in 2018?
Part of answer may lie in what happened during the offseason. In his first move as general manager, Brian Gutekunst unloaded former first-round pick Damarious Randall for DeShone Kizer, the Browns starting quarterback last season, and two pick swaps. Netting Kizer, one of the only long-term starters last season with uglier numbers than Hundley, shouldn’t necessarily be seen as the death knell for Hundley’s tenure in Green Bay, but it was close.
From a pure talent standpoint, Kizer boasts a bigger frame and stronger arm, and at 22 years old likely possesses more upside. At the very least, he’s had less time to reach his potential.
Hundley, a former fifth-round pick who struggles mightily with his processing and decision-making last season, should have been in position to succeed. He’d been in this system, played with these players under these coaches. At 25 years old, he’s been in the league long enough to know what it takes to study, practice, and perform. He’s a veteran.
On the other hand, Kizer has more career starts and more experience game-planning as the starter. He’s clearly the more raw prospect, but he should be. Instead of declaring after his junior season, Kizer should have gone back to Notre Dame to polish his skills and play enough season with his Packers teammate Equanimeous St. Brown. Such a move likely would have helped the draft stock of each player.
More to the point, the reason to keep Hundley over Kizer wouldn’t be based on talent or developmental upside. On that, Kizer earns a smooth victory. Hundley would be the preferred No. 2 simply because the Packers believe he’d play better than Kizer if Rodgers again went down for an extended period.
Here’s the problem: we’ve already seen Hundley falter in that scenario. We don’t know the same is true of Kizer. Moreover, keeping a player the team knows can’t be relied upon as a starter ahead of a more talented player on the depth can stunt the growth of your developmental player. In other words, every rep Hundley takes is one Kizer isn’t getting and Green Bay should want him to be the one getting that critical experience.
Kizer remains a work in progress. His footwork needs to be refined. He’s still learning to play under center and clearly doesn’t know the offense as well as Hundley. He couldn’t possibly. But that’s not the question here.
When Hundley’s contract is up at the end of 2018, Green Bay almost certainly won’t re-sign him. He’s not the long-term backup for Rodgers and the Packers. So if Rodgers were to get injured and Hundley played six or eight games let’s say, he’d only be taking developmental snaps away from a player who might actually be the preferred No. 2 for the next several years.
Even if Hundley were to be marginally more prepared to play (and that’s not at all obvious), putting him in over Kizer sacrifices long-term development for perceived marginal short-term gains.
Keeping three quarterbacks could be an option, but the Packers already have an issue with too many receivers worth keeping, questions at offensive line, and decisions to be made in the secondary. The difference between Hundley’s readiness in 2018 compared to Kizer’s shouldn’t be prioritized over keeping a rosterable player at another position. That gap simply isn’t big enough.
With nearly no trade value after an abysmal season in 2017, Hundley could only be pushed out via cuts, but it doesn’t make sense to cut him now. Perhaps he could recoup some value with a stellar preseason slate and end up netting the Packers a conditional pick or a bag of footballs or something in return.
Keeping Hundley through training camp and preseason simply because they can is a hedge for the Packers against injury. If Kizer goes down, they still have Hundley. But when Sept. 1 rolls around, Green Bay has too many talented players at other positions to fit on this roster to justify keeping three quarterbacks, especially when they know one can’t play.
Hundley’s career in the NFL isn’t over, but it looks to be coming to a close in Green Bay. If he’s going to play in 2018 for someone, it likely won’t be for the Packers.