Free-Agent QB Options for Packers to Bring in During Ongoing Aaron Rodgers Saga

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMay 7, 2021

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) walks off the field after the NFC championship NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. The Buccaneers defeated the Packers 31-26 to advance to the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Morry Gash/Associated Press

Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf built a Hall of Fame career while believing in a simple premise at the game's most important position: A team should continually invest in quarterbacks. 

Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Brooks, Ty Detmer, Kurt Warner and Aaron Rodgers could be found behind Brett Favre at different stages during the quarterback's ironman streak. In fact, Wolf chose seven signal-callers between 1992 and 2000, with Favre in tow. 

So, the idea of investing in quarterbacks is in the organization's DNA. How the team goes about its business is another matter altogether. 

The Jay Barkers and Kyle Wachholtzs of the world weren't a threat to Favre. Wolf invested middle- or late-round picks in developmental options the team could work with and potentially trade if they showed promisewhich they did on a handful of occasions. 

Going behind the star signal-caller's back to invest in a first-round quarterback is different and sets the stage for an inevitable showdown between the face of the franchise and the front office.

Because of that exact approach, having drafted Jordan Love in 2020 without informing Rodgers, the Packers are stuck in a quagmire. General manager Brian Gutekunst must exhaust all avenues to make sure Green Bay is prepared, whether or not Rodgers is with the team next offseason. 

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the reigning MVP "does not want to return to the team" mere hours before the 2021 NFL draft. A week later, Schefter added the Packers began "exploring quarterbacks they can add to the roster for upcoming OTAs and training camp." 

To be fair, Green Bay only has two quarterbacks, including Rodgers. The Packers need another camp arm at the very least, and it shouldn't be considered a tell if the team adds another QB through the free-agent market. 

The Packers have to prepare for life with or without Rodgers. Because of the uncertainty of the situation, a veteran free-agent option would serve the team better than an undrafted free-agent rookie just trying to make a roster. 

The cupboard is close to bare regarding unsigned options, but several vets still make some sense as guys who can give Rodgers a reprieve in the short term or serve as Love's backup in case of a blockbuster trade.

Packers head coach/offensive play-caller Matt LaFleur's ties from his previous stops are the obvious starting points. 

Don Wright/Associated Press

Blake Bortles had two stints with the Los Angeles Rams. The 2014 No. 3 draft pick signed with the organization in 2019 after the Jacksonville Jaguars finally gave up on the idea that he would become their franchise quarterback. 

Rams head coach Sean McVay liked what he saw after Bortles joined his squad: 

"He's done a good job. He's one of those guys that when you get around and talk to him, he's got a nice presence about him. You hear him call plays in the huddle, there's a command, there's a certain confidence that he exudes. He's a guy that's played a lot of football, so I think he's done a really good job of working with Zac Robinson, working with Shane [Waldron], getting up to speed on some of the things we're doing offensively."

John Wolford won the Rams' backup spot the following season only to see Bortles return late in the year because of an injury to Jared Goff. 

Bortles' recent history with McVay is important, because it pertains to any potential match with the Packers. 

"Seeing how he coaches, how all the other coaches coach and how the guys are receptive and take it, I've never seen anything like it," Bortles told the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein during his first stint with the Rams. 

The quarterback would transition easily under LaFleur's direction since the Packers head coach previously served as McVay's offensive coordinator. 

Other ties with LaFleur's past wind their way around a few other options. 

Sean Mannion's connection is the most obvious. The Rams selected him in the third round of the 2015 draft, two years before LaFleur followed McVay to the West Coast. Mannion served as Goff's backup while LaFleur was the team's coordinator. 

Unlike Bortles, Mannion doesn't bring much experience. In six seasons, the 6'6" signal-caller played in only 13 games and attempted 74 career passes. Still, Mannion and LaFleur's time together could play a factor in any interest. Also, Mannion wouldn't be any type of starting threat if signed. 

At two previous stops with the Washington Football Team and Atlanta Falcons, LaFleur coached quarterbacks while Kyle Shanahan directed those offenses. Those with experience in Shanahan's system bring another level of familiarity. Two options fit the description. 

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

The first, Robert Griffin III, already knows LaFleur. RGIII burst onto the scene in 2012 as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. At the time, the quarterback looked like he would revolutionize how the position was played. Things didn't turn out that way, as a knee injury derailed Griffin's early career, and a poorly run Washington organization eventually led to in-fighting and a falling out between ownership and its coaching staff. 

But who served as Griffin's position coach during his first two seasons with the franchise? LaFleur. 

A lot has changed over time. LaFleur is no longer a 32-year-old assistant, and Giffin matured into one of the league's better backups as part of the Baltimore Ravens. The team moved on from the 31-year-old this offseason and will go with younger, cheaper options behind Lamar Jackson.

Still, Griffin has reached the point where he understands his role, can provide a spark off the bench if needed and give the Packers a solid mentor to help in Love's maturation. 

"Matt's a great coach, and a better guy," Griffin told the Wisconsin State-Journal's Jason Wilde. "And he never abandoned me while he was in Washington or after he left."

Conversely, Nick Mullens hasn't worked with LaFleur, and the 26-year-old is much younger than Griffin. The 2017 undrafted free agent started 16 games for the 49ers during his first three seasons as an injury fill-in. 

Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

He showed both flashes of promise and disappointment. Mullens posted a 25-to-22 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his 19 appearances. 

"Nick is who he always is," 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey told ESPN's Nick Wagoner when Mullens had to step in for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo last September. "We're very, very confident in his abilities, his understanding of what we do. He's been in our system for a long time, and he's had success when he's been in there." 

An elbow injury in late December ended Mullens' season, and the 49ers didn't extend a restricted free-agent tender. But those glimpses of potential and confidence are still available. 

Ideally, the Packers do everything in their power to make Rodgers happy. They've failed to do so to date. But the relationship may not be completely broken. 

"It's not about getting the GM fired," former Packers wide receiver and current NFL Network analyst James Jones said on NFL Now (h/t Mike Garafolo). "It's all about making sure we have the key guys we need to win championships."

In the meantime, Green Bay could and should sign another quarterback to have the roster properly stocked and move forward like it's business as usual. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.