You know it’s the off-season when third-string quarterbacks are a major point of conversation.
But that’s what happened when the Green Bay Packers released Kurt Benkert late last week. Benkert spent most of last season on the practice squad as the No. 3 option behind Jordan Love, briefly seeing time on the active roster in December.
Benkert’s release was a surprise and with came with significant backlash from the Green Bay faithful. Though he couldn’t overtake Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love, Benkert became a fan favorite thanks to his fan interactions, constant communication on social media, interests on the field, and smack-talking Mike Florio on Twitter.
Before the draft, it wasn’t an unrealistic thought that the Packers could trade Love to a QB-needy team and roll with Benkert as Rodgers’ primary backup. But life moves fast in the NFL.
Currently, Green Bay has three quarterbacks on the roster: Rodgers, Love, and Danny Etling. Either the team feels confident with Etling as QB3, or they plan to take a different direction with the position. Over the past few seasons, Green Bay has generally kept an undrafted, developmental player on the practice squad to serve in that role.
However, they’ve invested heavy draft capital and time into Jordan Love, who is still developing into an NFL quarterback himself. Perhaps the team doesn’t want another developmental guy that could compete with Love. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, teams have been able to roster a few veterans with no seasonal limitations. They could use one of those spots on a veteran quarterback to help Love’s development and provide him backup and guidance should Rodgers miss any time.
And if you’re going to bring in a veteran, why not bring in the best in the business? If the Packers are looking to take a different direction with their third quarterback, consider the following: Blake Bortles.
Robby Blake Bortles played for Green Bay once, though his stay was short. Once upon a time, Aaron Rodgers was disgruntled, and his return to the Packers was anything but certain. There was a very real chance of Love starting the season as QB1, and it made sense to have a veteran familiar with the offensive scheme and coaches. Alas, Rodgers returned, and outside of a brief return in November, the Packers didn’t need Bortles’ services.
Bortles is a free agent, and his return to the Packers makes a ton of sense for the same reasons it did before.
Bortles’ best years with the Jacksonville Jaguars were under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, including in 2017 when Bortles helped lead the team to the AFC Championship game. Hackett may no longer work for the Packers, but his fingerprints are still all over Green Bay’s offensive playbook. That connection was a significant factor in Bortles’ previous stint in Wisconsin.
That wasn’t Bortles’ only connection to Green Bay. After Jacksonville released him, Bortles spent a year as Jared Goff‘s backup with the Los Angeles Rams. While Matt LaFleur was no longer the offensive coordinator there, playing under head coach Sean McVay gave Bortles familiarity with the Shanahan/McVay/LaFleur system.
Bortles didn’t live up to his status as a first-round quarterback. But he makes a ton of sense for the Packers as a third-string option. Bortles’ previously noted connections to the coaching staff were enough for the Packers to sign him before. It’s fair to believe he would have been QB2 behind Love if Rodgers hadn’t returned. Rodgers may wear green and gold for the rest of his career, but we have no idea how long he’ll play.
Unless Love has an outstanding preseason and the Packers trade him, it looks like he is here to stay. Love’s teammates have praised his growth and confidence as he enters Year 3. But until we see the results on the field, he must still be considered in development. Backing up a developmental guy with a developmental guy may not make a lot of sense, and it could have a negative effect on Love’s confidence. A reliable veteran who could win some games for you if needed but isn’t a threat to Love’s place on the team is another story. Plus, Bortles’ connections make him a better fit than other veteran options.
Rodgers has built a good relationship with Love despite everything. But the back-to-back league MVP knows he’s the starter, and he will spend the rest of his career trying to win another Super Bowl in Green Bay. He may coach Love when he can, but it won’t be his primary job. A veteran presence on the sideline can help Love when Rodgers can’t.
Releasing Benkert may simply mean the Packers think he wasn’t the right developmental QB3 for them. However, it could also mean a change in philosophy. Thanks to the updated practice squad rules, teams can keep a few veterans on the practice squad, so maintaining an experienced third quarterback is much less costly than just a few seasons ago. A veteran option brings many benefits to the roster, including the ability to help Jordan Love’s development. Thanks to his connections with the team and his current availability, Blake Bortles is the perfect option.
Ultimately, if Rodgers misses significant time and Love isn’t ready to take a massive leap, it doesn’t matter who QB3 is. The Packers will get more value from Bortles’ wisdom and experience than what they’d get from a UDFA.