On Monday, news broke that the Green Bay Packers have shown interest in a few quarterback prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft class. The Packers have had an official visit with Missouri’s Drew Lock, and they tried but were unable to schedule a visit for Duke’s Daniel Jones.
Both quarterbacks are likely to be first-round draft picks, and this raises a question of whether this research is a sign of serious interest in the position or if it is a pre-draft smokescreen. The Packers, of course, have one of the NFL’s very best quarterbacks locked down for several more years, and although they do have a pair of first-round draft picks at #12 and #30 overall, that would still be a significant investment if they were to select a signal-caller.
Here at Acme Packing Company, there are varying opinions on the value of drafting a backup for Aaron Rodgers. Two APC writers, Paul Noonan and Peter Bukowski, are here to weigh in on both sides of the issue. Review both arguments and decide for yourself.
Paul Noonan: Backup insurance for Rodgers and potential future value should make it an option
My issue with the idea that you shouldn’t take a quarterback is the same issue I would have with anyone who would “draft for need” rather than taking the best player available. While I suspect that Peter and I would reach similar ends in this draft, as the QB class is purportedly weak after Kyler Murray, our reasoning couldn’t be more different.
Let’s start by putting forth some incontrovertible facts:
- Due to his contract, Rodgers is the starter for at least three seasons.
- The Packers have roster holes that need filling.
This makes it very simple to not pick a quarterback, but front offices have to be more nuanced than this. The fact of the matter is that the two worst things that can happen to an NFL franchise are, in order, having a bad quarterback and having an average quarterback on a Matthew Stafford-sized deal. If you’re not making quarterback plans, you’re doing a bad job because even if Aaron Rodgers is never bad, he could easily turn into a player who puts the team underwater on his value.
While a player like Stafford is a huge albatross, a player like Stafford getting paid rookie money is a huge asset. “But, what if he never plays for the team” you say? Well, by virtue of being super valuable, quarterbacks are also very fungible assets. Consider Brett Hundley for a second, who was taken as a 5th round project, showed no growth and played terribly, and still brought back a 6th rounder in a trade a few years later. Jimmy Garoppolo was picked in the 2nd round (62nd pick) and was traded away when he was no longer even on a cheap contract, returning the 43rd overall pick. Both Hundley and Garp are examples of “worst case” scenarios, serving as backups and never really playing much, but the costs to both teams were minor, and had Tom Brady gotten injured, the returns could have been huge.
The main reason to draft a QB highly, above all else, is that hitting on one sets you up for sustained success for a decade. Going into the 2017 draft, which was well-regarded in terms of QB talent, the Carolina Panthers had the inconsistent-but-pretty-good Cam Newton signed through 2020. The earliest they could move on without salary cap ramifications was after 2018. They had the 8th pick, and selected Christian McCaffrey. Taking a running back in the first is next level bad, but when you consider that DeShaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes went a few picks later, that selection seems devastating. It is FAR better to have Watson/Mahomes on your bench than McCaffrey in your lineup.
Finally, Aaron Rodgers is old, and plays a style that results in him taking a ton of hits. He is more likely than most to miss time. A highly talented rookie is likely to serve both as better insurance against injury than a veteran retread, and will likely also have the ability to increase his trade value by playing. Spending cap space on a backup quarterback is one of the worst uses for cap space there is, but spending high draft capital on a backup for an aging quarterback is exactly the opposite.
Quarterbacks are almost unique in sports for how valuable they are compared to their teammates. While this draft is fairly awful by popular consensus, if Kyler Murray were to suffer an Aaron Rodgers-style fall, taking him should be an option. The upside of doing so is ten years of franchise stability, and the downside is likely recouping the value of that pick a few years later via trade.
Peter Bukowski: Why draft a player who, if all goes well, won’t even play?
The Packers wouldn’t have Aaron Rodgers if Ted Thompson hadn’t ignored fan desires to improve a playoff team in the waning years of Brett Favre’s career. That becomes the go-to example any time there’s some discussion about Green Bay finding a replacement for Rodgers, now 35 years old and coming off yet another serious injury.
Setting aside, for now, some other obvious differences in those scenarios, the most important one is financial: the Packers are paying Aaron Rodgers to be their quarterback for at least three more years. His dead cap isn’t zero until after the fourth year on his deal, and the team could keep him another season beyond that.
In short, Rodgers is the quarterback of this team for at least three years, probably four. He’s said he wants to play until he’s 40 (and his contract expires after his age-39 season). Taking a quarterback with a high draft pick means hoping that player doesn’t play at all on his rookie deal, or at the very least not until a decision has to be made on his expensive fifth-year option.
Then there’s the question of the value of having a backup, one we can’t even be sure will be ready with extremely limited backup reps under the CBA should he need to play in Rodgers’ stead. DeShone Kizer would almost certainly be more ready to step in for the 2019 season, so the team would already be down a year of value on that rookie contract.
Few things are as valuable in the NFL as a good player on a rookie contract. The balancing of this question seems fairly obvious: a backup player’s value on his rookie contract vs. another top-50 player who can actually help the team win. What is more likely to benefit this team over the course of his rookie contract: a player who starts or at least regularly contributes at a position of need, or a backup quarterback?
Taking Drew Lock at 12 instead of a potential starting offensive tackle or tight end or pass rusher makes no sense given the constraints of the salary cap. Even though Lock would be relatively cheap for four years, he’d only be giving the Packers minimal value. Meanwhile, a starting offensive tackle like Andre Dillard could be a long-term solution at right tackle, prolonging the career of Aaron Rodgers.
And this is the rub for Green Bay. Taking a quarterback now doesn’t get the Packers any closer to winning a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers. Brian Gutekunst just made Rodgers the highest paid quarterback ever. They’re confident he’s the guy for the next three years at least, most likely four. The Packers aren’t likely to pick in the top-15 again, which means maximizing this opportunity to get a blue chip talent must be maximized.
That makes this calculation fundamentally different. Using the 12th pick on a quarterback in a bad quarterback draft is orders worse than allowing arguably the No. 1 QB fall into the mid-20’s when your current quarterback mulls retirement any time he’s front of microphone. Favre was a flight risk at any moment. The value at 24 was simply too good to pass up.
The opportunity cost in that moment was importantly different than it would be for the Packers.
The Packers have three or four years to find the right guy. There’s genuinely no rush. This isn’t Tom Brady at 41 or Drew Brees at 39. Rodgers has a contract and intends to play it out. We know what the time frame looks like. Everyone wants to believe the train can just keep going, but the mechanisms for team building just aren’t the same as they were under the old CBA. Draft-and-develop with quarterbacks isn’t a model that can work the same way. If they wait until 2020 or 2021, there could be players worth taking, and if there aren’t, wait again. Bottom out of you have to and try to find someone at the top of the draft.
From a timing and financial standpoint, the marginal utility in having a backup insurance policy can’t be justified compared to a possible starting caliber player, even if that quarterback has the potential to become a starter down the road.
Pick a quarterback, that’s fine. Just not at 12, or 30, or even 44. After that, go nuts. Ron Wolf proved why that strategy made sense. Spending a high draft pick on a quarterback given the timeline with Rodgers simply doesn’t make sense given the opportunity cost of not getting someone who can help the team win games over that same time period.
Should the Packers be willing to consider a quarterback with either of their first-round draft picks?
This poll is closed