Tom Brady just won his record sixth Super Bowl ring earlier this month, defying both the football world and father time. Football fans have been treated with the best gift they could ever ask for – watching the greatest quarterback of all time extend his career and have dominance into his forties. While it is a fantastic spectacle, it is dangerous for NFL teams to assume this to be a new precedent.
Aaron Rodgers just turned 35 at the end of the 2018 season. After missing a majority of the 2017 season, he again battled injuries this past year, and with his off-script improvisational style of play it is likely the injury concerns won’t go away for the remainder of his career. When healthy, Rodgers’ play is still the cream of the crop in the NFL, and that shouldn’t change for the next few years.
However, the Packers championship window only has about two or three more seasons before Rodgers’ body deteriorates and he is no longer capable of carrying a franchise. Rodgers is not Tom . He will not play into his forties, at least not with the success that Brady has had, and the Packers organization needs to plan accordingly.
This is the franchise that famously drafted Rodgers despite Brett Favre still having quality years left. While multiple members of the Packers organization at that time are no longer with the team, the current staff can learn from their predecessors by selecting a quarterback in the 2019 NFL draft.
The stars are aligned almost perfectly for Green Bay to select a quarterback in this year’s draft. For starters, most of the teams at the top of this year’s draft don’t need a signal caller. Of the first five picks, only the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers would even consider drafting a quarterback, and both already have viable options going into 2019, so it is unlikely that either will go that route. With Green Bay sitting at the 12th spot, the New York Giants at six and the Jacksonville Jaguars at seven are the only two teams expected to draft a quarterback.
The Denver Broncos were also expected to be in the mix with the 10th pick until they traded for Joe Flacco earlier this week. This by no means takes them out of the sweepstakes to draft a young QB, but it does make it a little less likely. It’s not even March yet which means teams will likely start picking up the phone and moving up the draft board before the April draft, but as it stands right now, Green Bay would be in a position to draft the third or fourth best guy with the 12th pick.
Since Green Bay can still squeeze productive years out of Rodgers, they have the luxury of being able to be patient and let a guy fall to them. If something crazy happens where a team like Miami or Washington makes a move into the top ten to grab a quarterback, Green Bay can scrap the QB idea and get somebody that would make an immediate impact like a pass rusher or safety. But if one of the top prospects somehow slips through the cracks, much like Rodgers did in 2005, the team can take advantage.
However, let’s say the Packers don’t want to be patient. Maybe the organization has their eye on a guy like Drew Lock, who they believe could benefit from sitting behind Rodgers for a few years before taking over the reins of the offense.
In that situation, the team has plenty of assets to move up to get their guy. Green Bay is one of only two teams that owns multiple first round picks in the 2019 draft, thanks to a deal they made with the New Orleans Saints last year to move back in the draft. Dangling that extra first-round pick in front of an opposing general manager would be advantageous for the Pack and more lucrative than most other teams could offer. One of the criticisms of the Packers in recent years has been their lack of aggression in free agency and the draft. However, Ted Thompson is no longer the GM in Green Bay, and for second-year general manager Brian Gutekunst, making a move into the top ten for a quarterback would make a huge statement that the team has entered a new generation.
For new head coach Matt LaFleur, drafting a quarterback would allow him to take a young guy under his wing and groom him under his offense. There is no doubt that LaFleur took the Green Bay job in large part because of Rodgers, but in the grand scheme of things, he will only have Rodgers for a couple of years. Every offensive coach wants to have their guy. Patrick Mahomes was Andy Reid’s guy and was groomed under his system. It was the same thing years ago with Rodgers and Mike McCarthy. The best coaches can find build around whoever is under center and have success, but they still ultimately want to find “their” guy.
For LaFleur, he has the opportunity to do this in his first year. Whether it be Lock as mentioned before, Daniel Jones, or even a wildcard like Jared Stidham or Will Grier, LaFleur can handpick the guy that he wants to groom and build his future around. That’s a luxury that isn’t granted often for first-year coaches, and the Packers should look to take advantage of that.
The one wildcard in this whole situation is Deshone Kizer. The Packers traded former first-round pick Damarious Randall to Cleveland for Kizer ahead of the 2018 season. The team saw Kizer as a potential future option post-Rodgers, however, with an almost entirely new regime in Green Bay, it is unclear if Kizer is still in the long-term plans.
What is fascinating is Kizer’s ties to LaFleur. In 2014 LaFleur was Kizer’s quarterback coach at Notre Dame. The two have some chemistry, but it is unclear if that is enough for LaFleur to commit to Kizer long-term. Kizer had a historically bad rookie season with the Browns, receiving an overall grade of 51.1 by Pro Football Focus, and in the small sample size shown in 2018, he looked no more comfortable.
Maybe under the right coaching and with the right system Kizer can turn his career around and be a competent quarterback, but it’s clear that he will never be a franchise guy to build around. Unless the Packers plan to be shrouded in mediocrity for the next decade, the team should ditch Kizer and find their future in the 2019 draft.