In his first offseason as General Manager of the Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst shared at least one similarity with former GM Ron Wolf: he traded for a quarterback castoff.
DeShone Kizer, acquired from the Cleveland Browns after just one season with the team, was a once-regarded first round talent that dropped to the second. Green Bay was reportedly interested in Kizer during that 2017 NFL Draft and made the surprising move to trade for the Notre Dame product once he became available. Likewise, Wolf shocked many Packers fans when he dealt for Brett Favre, another player that slipped to the second round of the draft and had worn out his welcome in Atlanta.
But while Kizer has not come close to displaying Favre-like ability in the pros, Gutekunst’s decision did represent a return to prioritizing the backup quarterback position, even with an established starter at the helm.
The Packers selected a quarterback in seven of Wolf’s 10 years in charge of the roster, in addition to trading for Favre in the 1992 offseason. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Wolf described his reasoning for the strategy.
“I learned very early in this game, if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a chance. We were very lucky that we had a unique quarterback that never missed a game. But that didn’t stop me from drafting in late rounds. It’s the premier position, and you better be able to cover yourself.”
But while Favre continued to be available on the field, the philosophy shifted a little when Mike Sherman took the driver’s seat with just one quarterback in three drafts, and continued even under Wolf disciple Ted Thompson. Thompson drafted the position sporadically, selecting five quarterbacks in 13 drafts. However, three of those occurrences came within his first four years as GM. The last time Green Bay drafted a signal caller was Brett Hundley in 2015.
The benefits to an annual quarterback draftee are noted. Most important is the insurance of grooming a capable spot starter in case of injury. The Packers have really struggled with this in particular over the past five years outside of Matt Flynn’s heroic moments of 2010 and 2011. The low-cost talent acquired via undrafted and street free agency to back up Aaron Rodgers was a liability, especially as Hundley failed to show progress after two full years of prior seasoning.
Meanwhile, trade collateral is an added advantage with drafting quarterbacks. While the hope is that there will be minimal chances for a backup to showcase his skills, a backup’s preseason action and opportunities when pressed into action can provide later trade value. For every Jay Barker of the Wolf era that fizzled in the pros, there were players like Matt Hasselbeck, whose value appreciated over time. Identifying a franchise quarterback will never be an approach that goes out of style and, in fact, the cost of finding one is only rising.
Although Wolf called drafting quarterbacks “blind luck,” he was almost 50-50 in finding a future starting quarterback in the later rounds and selling them later. With Favre stabilizing the starting spot, here is a look at the return value of Wolf’s quarterback selections.
Packers quarterbacks drafted under Ron Wolf
|Draft Year||Round||Player||Value to Green Bay|
|Draft Year||Round||Player||Value to Green Bay|
|1992||9||Ty Detmer||7 appearances in 4 years under Favre; left as free agent and made 25 NFL starts|
|1993||5||Mark Brunell||Traded to Jaguars for 3rd and 4th round picks|
|1995||5||Jay Barker||Did not make team|
|1996||7||Kyle Wachholtz||Converted to tight end after cut as a QB|
|1997||7||Ronnie McAda||Did not make team|
|1998||6||Matt Hasselbeck||Traded to Seahawks for 3rd round pick and swapped 1st round pick (higher)|
|1999||4||Aaron Brooks||Traded to Saints with TE Lamont Hall for LB K.D. Williams & 3rd round pick|
With Kizer failing to impress in 2018 and undrafted Tim Boyle sliding into the third quarterback role as a rookie, the Packers are in position to re-initiate an annual third-day, quarterback-drafting strategy this year. Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson, Washington State’s Gardner Minshew, and Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur, the son of New York Giants head coach Pat, make up three of a number of potential prospects available in the fourth round and beyond. Even if Green Bay does not find a diamond in the rough, a late-round pick could provide valuable training camp competition to Green Bay’s current depth. But if the Packers do, they could bolster their roster in both the short and long terms.
As Gutekunst continues to add competition and increase the talent level at a variety of positions on the Packers’ roster in 2019, quarterback is not one that should be neglected with 10 April selections. And while drafting quarterbacks may indeed be blind luck, the value derived from the Packers’ strategy of the 1990s was far from it.