Succession: The Packers Have Mastered It At QB

The Packers have enjoyed QB success for the last three decades. 

When the Atlanta Falcons drafted quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. with the eighth overall selection in the 2024 NFL Draft, a majority of NFL fans and media members alike were perplexed and largely chastised the pick. After all, the franchise signed quarterback Kirk Cousins earlier in the offseason to a four-year deal worth $180 million, which is effectively a two-year deal for $100 million. While the comparison is a bit apples to oranges, the Falcons nevertheless took a page out of the Green Bay Packers’ playbook: drafting a quarterback before it is absolutely necessary to do so. 

Roughly three months after the organization introduced Ted Thompson as general manager, he pulled off the unthinkable by drafting quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the 24th overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft, despite having Brett Favre as QB1. “It was a direct result of Thompson's foresight and boldness. Neither his coach, Mike Sherman, nor his quarterback, Favre, were happy about the choice,” team historian Cliff Christl wrote in December 2020. Favre would play for three more seasons in Green Bay before being traded to the New York Jets in August 2008, paving the way for Rodgers to take the reins as QB1. Fast forward to the 2020 offseason. The Packers, in the first year of head coach Matt LaFleur’s tenure, reached the Conference Championship game, only to get blown out by the San Francisco 49ers. With Rodgers not getting any younger and, therefore, the Super Bowl window getting smaller and smaller, many outsiders believed – strongly, I might add – general manager Brian Gutekunst should do everything possible to add talent that would aid in getting the team back to the Super Bowl. Gutekunst believed otherwise. He traded up for quarterback Jordan Love and selected the Utah State product with the 26th overall selection, two picks after Rodgers’ draft slot. 

Hindsight is 20/20, but perhaps, everyone should not have been as surprised as they were that Gutekunst, who joined the Packers as a scout in 1999, invoked the late Thompson’s “foresight and boldness.” Here is what Gutekunst said ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft when asked whether he was thinking of creating a succession plan at quarterback, according to Matt Schneidman. “Obviously [Rodgers is] still playing at an elite level. But for me, I was raised (in scouting) by Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson. If there’s a quarterback we think can play, that’s a starter in the National Football League, we’ll never pass that up.” 

Just like his predecessor, Rodgers played three more seasons with the Packers, two of which resulted in an MVP, before getting traded to – yep, you guessed it – the Jets prior to the 2023 NFL Draft. That trade, in a similar vein to the 2008 trade, paved the way for Love to take the keys as QB1. I wrote the following last March: “If Love turns out to be a top-ten(ish) quarterback year-in, year-out, with years bordering on elite (Matt Stafford and Matt Ryan are two names that come to mind, but obviously not the current version of those players), then Gutekunst is a Harry Potter-level wizard.” Gutekunst might just be a Harry Potter-level wizard, but many would have begged to differ early on in Love’s first year as a full-time starter. 

Love showed flashes in the first half of the 2023 season, but he was largely inconsistent and threw too many head-scratching interceptions. After throwing six touchdown passes (zero interceptions) in the first two games, Love threw four touchdowns and seven interceptions over the next four games. The pitchforks came out, and they came out in full force. Many wondered whether Gutekunst committed malpractice by drafting Love when he did. Moreover, those same people believed it was in the best interest of the Packers to draft a quarterback with their first round pick in 2024. However, Gutekunst was vindicated, for now, with the way Love finished the 2023 season. It’s undoubtedly a small sample size, and there is a chance Love will regress in 2024. Nevertheless, Love appears to have cemented himself as the team’s franchise quarterback, a designation several NFL teams are searching for. 

There is no one reason why the Packers have enjoyed as much success as they have since they traded for Favre in 1991. Having offensive-minded head coaches over the years, like Mike Holmgren, Mike McCarthy, and Matt LaFleur, helped. Having a quarterback whisperer, Tom Clements, for Favre, Rodgers, and Love helped. Possessing an organizational commitment to identifying and developing talent at the most important position in sports helped. Not having an overly hands-on owner, or even an actual owner, helped. And frankly, luck helped, too. But if there is one reason why, especially with Rodgers and Love, it’s this: they were patient. Far too many teams throw their young quarterbacks – proverbial young pups – into the lion’s den and, on a very simple level, expect them to make the offense better than what they inherited. In a way, more times than not, young quarterbacks are bringing a knife to a gunfight. 

There have been 35 quarterbacks selected in the first round over the last 10 drafts (2015-2024), 29 if you exclude the 2024 draft class. Among those 29 quarterbacks, 13 quarterbacks started Week 1 of their rookie seasons, and 24 quarterbacks started at least six games. Paxton Lynch, drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2016, started two games (Week 5 and Week 13); Patrick Mahomes, drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017, started one game (Week 17); Trey Lance, drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2021, started two games due to an injury to the starter; Love did not start a single game; and Anthony Richardson, drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 2023, started the first four games last season before suffering a season-ending injury. 

For this year’s class, in which there were a record-breaking six quarterbacks selected in the first 12 picks, it is expected at this moment that Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, and Bo Nix will be their team’s Week 1 starter, barring unforeseen circumstances, while the jury is still out on when Drake Maye (New England Patriots) and J.J. McCarthy (Minnesota Vikings) will see the field as the full-time starter. Thus, only one quarterback – Penix Jr. – will not assume QB1 status in 2024, barring injury. 

In total, only five quarterbacks – Lynch, Mahomes, Love, Lance, and Penix Jr. – will have had a true redshirt year. The redshirt year for Mahomes, and redshirt years for Love, undoubtedly helped them in their development, but it didn’t matter for Lynch or Lance. The Broncos and San Francisco cut ties with those quarterbacks after only two seasons. 

But just because a quarterback was thrown into the proverbial lion’s den in Year 1 doesn’t mean he didn’t elevate his team. Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert, and C.J. Stroud were named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, 2020, and 2023, respectively. There were also a handful of other quarterbacks who performed well in their rookie seasons, with 10 quarterbacks who started at least six games posting a QB Rating of at least 87.0. 

By and large, though, a majority of the rookie quarterbacks have struggled. Would they have benefitted from a redshirt year(s)? Most likely. For example, of the six quarterbacks drafted in the first round between 2021 and 2022, only one gunslinger – Trevor Lawrence – is on the team that drafted him. The five other quarterbacks are currently backups on other respective teams. A redshirt year would have probably done them well, although Mac Jones had a solid rookie season before his play dropped off a cliff. 

It is important to keep in mind that teams that start a rookie quarterback at some point during Year 1 sometimes have their hands tied. They may be getting pressure from the owner to start the first-round selection to get asses in the seats. Equally as plausible is they did not properly invest in the quarterback position, leaving them with an inadequate bridge quarterback and no other choice than to go to the rookie to give them a chance to win football games. The Chiefs were fortunate their bridge quarterback was a former No. 1 pick, Alex Smith, and the Packers were fortunate their bridge quarterbacks were Favre and Rodgers. I don’t think either was necessarily an accident. 

Far too many rookie quarterbacks have also had poor supporting casts, another reason why it would be beneficial for teams to not rush them into action. Moreover, there is something to be said about a young quarterback not having too much on his plate. Instead, more teams should have enough of a proper infrastructure in place to allow their young quarterback to simply focus on the playbook and improving their craft during practice and preseason action. 

Finally, not enough teams take multiple swings in the draft at quarterback, the most important position in all of sports. Invest, invest, invest. Despite having a franchise quarterback, Ron Wolf and the Packers drafted Ty Detmer (9th round in 1992), Mark Brunell (5th round in 1993), Matt Hasselback (6th round in 1998), and Aaron Brooks (4th round in 2000). While none of them obviously started for the Packers, Brunell was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for the 66th and 170th overall selections in the 1995 draft. The Packers selected William Henderson, a Pro Bowler and All-Pro honoree in 2004, and Travis Jervey, who made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player. The Packers also traded Hasselback to the Seattle Seahawks, receiving the Seahawks’ first and third round selections (10th and 72nd overall) in the 2001 draft while giving up the 17th overall selection. Neither player the Packers selected panned out, but that’s not the point. The point is, Wolf made a concerted effort to invest in the quarterback position. Gutekunst has done just that over the last two drafts, selecting Sean Clifford (5th round in 2023) and Michael Pratt (7th round in 2024). 

All this is much easier said than done in the quest to find a franchise quarterback. And yet, the Packers have mastered it for three decades. 

 

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Rex is a lifelong Packers fan but was sick of the cold, so he moved to the heart of Cowboys country. Follow him on Twitter (@Sheild92) and Instagram (@rex.sheild). 

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10 points
 

Comments (27)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
jont's picture

May 20, 2024 at 01:41 pm

"Gutekunst said... 'if there’s a quarterback we think can play, that’s a starter in the National Football League, we'll never pass that up.'"

I like this.

A franchise QB is gold in the NFL and very hard to find. Just look at our friends in Chicago. If you've got one, you pay him $50 million and thank him for accepting it.

If you can get a second one, you will should be able to turn that draft pick into two picks (or more?). If a good one falls to you in the draft, take him.

I still admire the parade of QBs through camp under Wolf: Hasselbeck, Brunnell, Detmer, Warner, ... all while they had prime Favre. I'd love it if Gute & LaFleur would hit a streak like that.

7 points
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T7Steve's picture

May 20, 2024 at 02:18 pm

The only downside to having 2 and very possibly 3 quality QBs in a row is that the other teams don't like us. "NOT AGAIN!"

Not really luck, if we hit on the next one and it's not really bad luck that they don't. It's called organization and planning.

3 points
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Leatherhead's picture

May 20, 2024 at 02:33 pm

Most important position on offense? QB. We've gotten it right for 30 years.
2nd most important? LT, where we've had Clifton and Bakhtiari and now Morgan.

RBs? WRs? There's a reason why we've had offenses in the Top 6 thirteen times in the last 30 years, 4 times the #1 offense in the league.

Get a QB. Protect him. Get him some help moving the ball. It doesn't seem like it's an overly complicated formula.

4 points
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Bitternotsour's picture

May 20, 2024 at 10:54 pm

and yet...

2 points
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stockholder's picture

May 20, 2024 at 02:52 pm

I can go back to Wolf trading for Favre.
Let's just believe in Luck, more than magic.

-6 points
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Leatherhead's picture

May 20, 2024 at 03:06 pm

It is better to be lucky than good. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Luck is the residue of good planning.

The front offices, scouting and personnel departments, etc., are a lot different from back in the old days. And the organization seems to have a good understanding of what is involved in having consistently good quarterbacking.
Get one before you need him and have a plan on how you're going to develop him. I guarantee you that many rookie QBs who don't succeed are not being well-developed, or they aren't getting a good team around them.

Will our current formula continue to work, or will a better way come along? Is there any real alternative to getting a QB in the first round and paying them so much? Right now, SF is making that work and they're the class of the NFC.

3 points
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Packers0808's picture

May 20, 2024 at 04:23 pm

It is like retiring getting a QB and have patience in the planning and investing! in your future! Throwing QB's into action as a rookie out of college has ruined more by far than have succeeded!

1 points
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TKWorldWide's picture

May 20, 2024 at 03:34 pm

Andrew?

1 points
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LeotisHarris's picture

May 20, 2024 at 05:07 pm

May there be residue. In your future!

2 points
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dobber's picture

May 21, 2024 at 07:57 am

There's definitely a residue in my coffee mug this morning...

1 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

May 20, 2024 at 05:06 pm

Luck retired a few years ago, Majik many years ago.

1 points
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Mike Rossmeier's picture

May 20, 2024 at 03:26 pm

I'll reserve judgement until I see what happens this season. Keeping my fingers crossed that the second half of last season was for real.
I listen to a lot of SportsTalk in Chicago and there's a whole lot of crowing going on there about their QB (the next Mahomes) and having the top 3-receiver group in the NFL.

2 points
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TKWorldWide's picture

May 20, 2024 at 03:36 pm

Man plans and god smiles.
Bear fans hope and Packer fans laugh.

10 points
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dobber's picture

May 21, 2024 at 08:02 am

But they have as many questions as answers everywhere else on offense, including a bottom quarter OL.

2 points
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mvprzy's picture

May 20, 2024 at 05:41 pm

"young quarterbacks are bringing a knife to a gunfight."
- could be said as "bringing a bazooka to a knife fight"!

-3 points
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ricky's picture

May 20, 2024 at 05:46 pm

Yes, the Packers seem to have found a formula for the QB position. Which is obvious, but is almost unprecedented in the NFL. There are so many teams who just seem unable to develop a QB, with the Browns, Jets, Bears, Broncos... So many tries, so many failures. Meanwhile, even the Packers castoffs find starting jobs, and end up in the playoffs regularly. But what caught my eye was the two draft picks the Packers got for Hasselbeck, and that you didn't even bother giving their names. The #10 pick was, of course, Jamal Reynolds. The guy that, apparently, no one in the Packers organization wanted, and yet he somehow was drafted that high, getting cut after two dismal seasons in Green Bay. The other pick from Seattle? Torance Marshall. A guy with no instincts, gone after four years.

3 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

May 20, 2024 at 05:59 pm

It was clear Ron Wolf wanted Favre. When he traded for him in 1992 (not '91 as article states), Wolf gave up his first rounder for the 2nd rounder Favre. Wolf stated he wanted to draft Favre in 1991 while with the Jets at the time but Atlanta drafted him first. He clearly saw Brett as NFL material and Atlanta, after seeing how much their Coach Glanville despised Favre, jumped at the trade offer.

Ted kind of had Rodgers fall into his lap as 23 other teams passed him by. That was pure luck...but Ted could have passed too.

Gutey clearly wanted Love by trading up for him and obviously had him on their board.

We will see what Love's career brings, but the arrow points straight up.

If Love succeeds like Favre and Rodgers, are there 3 QBs as successful and consecutive in NFL History? I cannot think of any. It is amazing.

4 points
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Leatherhead's picture

May 20, 2024 at 06:21 pm

You have to start with a QB you can win with, and if you don't have your guy in place you'd better fix that. The night before the 2005 draft, one of the talking heads on ESPN actually forecast Rodgers falling all the way to GB. Favre was going to be our starter, of course, but lots of people were already talking about needing a replacement at QB.

As I recall, more of the focus was on using the first round pick on Roddy White, and trying to pick up Orton later. There was a general feeling that Favre wasn't going to get it done, but that he still had gas in the tank so a new QB wasn't critical. But Rodgers did fall to us, Thompson did not hesitate or try to deal him away. He developed, probably better than he would have if he'd been thrown into the lineup right away.

2 points
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stockholder's picture

May 20, 2024 at 07:59 pm

Yep - Gutey wanted Kizer too.
How did that turn out.

-6 points
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8
Oppy's picture

May 20, 2024 at 09:59 pm

"Gutey wanted Kizertoo."

Well, actually Stockholder, Kizer was drafted in 2017 in the second round by Cleveland.

Gutekunst was named GM of the Packers in 2018.

The Packers were about to straight up cut Damarius Randall (failed 1st round pick from 2015).. Just flat out cut him.

Gutekunst turned a failed 1st round pick they were going to cut and get nothing for, into a trade that let the Packers take a flyer and kick the tires on Kizer who was a second round pick in 2017, as well as swapping picks with the Browns in both the 4th and 5th rounds (The Packers move up in both rounds.)

I suppose you would have been happier if Gute just cut Randall and got nothing for him?

I'll say it again: your need to find fault with Gute at all costs leads to you making some horribly stupid statements.

5 points
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Bitternotsour's picture

May 20, 2024 at 11:03 pm

I live in a fairly large metropolitan area, we have random people wandering around who scream and spout gibberish. Stockholder is the internet equivalent. I find on the streets of downtown Portland that I'm best served by not acknowledging the crazy while going about my business.

-1 points
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stockholder's picture

May 21, 2024 at 06:53 am

Seems a pricy price to pay
for someone that would have been cut.

But lets get right to the problem here.
It's your assumptions.

-4 points
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Oppy's picture

May 21, 2024 at 12:46 pm

How do you figure it was a “pricey price to pay”? The packers literally got Kizer and improved their draft slotting for two picks for literally nothing at all. How is that pricey? They gave up nothing, and got a player plus moved up in the draft twice.

Are you okay?

0 points
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Untylu1968's picture

May 21, 2024 at 09:28 am

Kizer worked out about as well as 99% of your posts! But just like your namesake boys uttered years ago, Gutey "totally redeemed himself." He might just be Gute the genius after unloading a broken down #8.

2 points
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Leatherhead's picture

May 23, 2024 at 12:26 am

That's such a shallow, stupid take. Gutey didn't "want" Kizer. But he did want to get rid of Randall, who'd been a high pick who wasn't good in the locker room and who I absolutely watched avoid contact on more than one occasion. I was glad to see him go.

The Browns had Kizer, who they also wanted to get rid of . So we swapped. Randall had a bit of a resurrection in Cleveland, but Kizer never got it going.

Gute didn't 'want' Kizer. He agreed to take him as part of the deal to get rid of Randall.

0 points
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NFLfan's picture

May 21, 2024 at 04:16 pm

I'll feel more comfortable crowning Love after a few more games-approx. 6-7.

0 points
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Leatherhead's picture

May 23, 2024 at 12:30 am

What could he show you that he didn't show you last year? Accuracy? Presence in the pocket? Finding open receivers? Protecting the ball?

Let's spend a fortune scouting, drafting, and developing Love and then let's get stingy when he starts to pay dividends. That's a plan.

0 points
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