Coming into the 2014 season, many fans placed backup quarterback as the top priority of the offseason. It’s easy to see why, the Packers were a drastically different (i.e. drastically bad) team after Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken clavicle and it was only some late season heroics from “Plan F” Matt Flynn that the Packers even had a chance at a playoff run at the end of the season. The Packers cannot expect to get so lucky that the Bears, Vikings and notably Lions happened to be even worse in 2014 and one of the quickest, most efficient fixes that can be made is having a viable backup quarterback on deck in case something happens to Rodgers again. Keep in mind, Rodgers is now at higher risk of breaking his clavicle again (which is part of the nature of the injury) and is already at risk of concussions (which he has had a history of in the NFL), so it’s not a wasted effort to have someone ready right now.
In a previous article I have argued that after the initial rush of free agency, it didn’t make any sense to not resign Matt Flynn as quickly as possible. As a 6 year veteran, his minimum contract was around $730,000, which is fully un-guaranteed and with offseason rosters being expanded to 90, theres no reason to not “waste” a spot on another quarterback in the offseason. Furthermore I argued that should the Packers feel Scott Tolzein or any rookie quarterback was a better option, they could cut Flynn with basically zero penalty. Commenters argued that it was possible that it was actually Flynn who was holding up negotiations as he was waiting until after the draft or hoping for a camp injury in order to get a better deal.
Well the financial details of Flynn’s deal were finally made public and I will say that I was a little surprised by the specifics, especially considering the scenario that occurred (more on that below). Below is some 1-year contracts signed by established, veteran backup quarterbacks in 2014:
- Mark Sanchez (PHI) – $2.5 million total, $750,000 guaranteed, additional $2 million incentive clause
- Shaun Hill (STL) – $1.75 million total, $500,000 guaranteed, additional $500,000 incentive clause
- Tavaris Jackson (SEA) – $1.25 million total, $1.25 million guaranteed, additional $750,000 incentive clause
- Matt Flynn (GB) – $970,000 total, $75,000 guaranteed, additional $100,000 incentive clause
- Dan Orlovsky (DET) – $920,000 total, $125,000 guaranteed, no incentive clause reported
- Josh Freeman (NYG) – $795,000 total, $55,000 guaranteed, no incentive clause reported
First off, the 1-year backup quarterback market was set ridiculously by the Philadelphia Eagles and Mark Sanchez. Arguably all the quarterbacks on the list have roughly the same talent level and ability to lead a team but the Eagles grossly overpaid for a player who is coming off a pretty gruesome injury and one that was at best a game manager for the Jets. The other striking deal the Seattle Seahawks’ contract with Tavaris Jackson, who fully guaranteed his $1.25 million contract (this highest amount of guaranteed money for any player on this list) and gave him a $750,000 incentive clause. On the other end of the spectrum is Josh Freeman, who has fallen very far from grace after a public dispute with the now ex-coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Greg Schiano and one disastrous start with the Minnesota Vikings, essentially taking the veteran minimum deal in order to fight for a roster spot with the Giants.
Moving on to the contract given to Matt Flynn, you can see that it’s actually a very team friendly deal. Flynn’s total contract is $240,000 more than the veteran minimum, but outside of Josh Freeman he has the lowest guaranteed money of any player. However keep in mind Freeman really is a camp arm with Rusty Smith, Curtis Painter and presumed backup Ryan Nassib behind Eli Manning (arguably the only reason why Freeman was signed at all was because Painter had surgery that might cause him to miss some of training camp) so it can be said that Flynn has the lowest guaranteed money of any quarterback likely to make the final roster. When you compare Flynn’s contract to Dan Orlovsky’s contract with the Lions you can see that Flynn’s deal is a lot more tied to his performance (looking at how little he got guaranteed plus the incentive clause), which again is an indication that Flynn was forced to take a weaker deal due to a poor market. Arguably Flynn’s numbers are actually better or at very worse on par with Orlovsky’s record (Fun fact: Orlovsky was part of the 0-16 Detroit Lions team, I guess the Lions are just a glutton for historical punishment)
Some have argued that the main reason Flynn signed at all was because the Packers and Giants were both looking and Flynn and Freeman, which does make some sense since former tight ends coach Ben McAdoo recently was hired as the Giants offensive coordinator. As reports have indicated, both Flynn and Freeman were scheduled to try out for the Giants but Flynn ultimately didn’t make the trip because he signed with the Packers, which initially seems to indicated that the Packers sweetened the pot somewhat to get Flynn to sign. While this is probably true, the Packers essentially only sweetened the pot a little because they still had all the leverage.
First off, with 4 quarterbacks already on the Giant’s roster, it’s pretty apparent that signing either Freeman or Flynn would have been a very short term solution, with both probably not even making it to training camp (where there aren’t enough reps for 5 quarterbacks). With the Packers, Flynn knows he’s likely fighting for a backup spot with Scott Tolzein or a rookie quarterback, which gives him a great shot in seeing the full value of his contract as opposed to Josh Freeman, who will likely only see his $55,000 guaranteed money (plus anything tied to work out bonuses). Secondly, it doesn’t appear as if the Giants were offering a competitive contract either; the Giants have the quarterback stable already filled with an established quarterback in Eli Manning, a veteran backup in Curtis Painter and a developmental quarterback in Ryan Nassib as opposed to the Packers who only have Scott Tolzein as a legitimate backup quarterback and its unlikely that Freeman had any more leverage than Flynn in that regard. Finally, Flynn has plenty of reasons to stay with the Packers, who he has extensive experience in the system, already knows the majority of the players, has seen previous success with the franchise and perhaps most importantly a great rapport with Aaron Rodgers.
I would argue that in the end, the Packers basically got Flynn for rock bottom prices but that it took the impetus of Flynn potentially signing with the Giants for anything to really happen. I have no idea what Ted Thompson and front office had in mind by waiting so long, perhaps they felt that Flynn would accept a more agreeable term should he find out his true value on the open market, but it’s likely Flynn already knew his market was cold after being on the street to start off the 2013 season and also risky because it only takes one team desperate after an injury or a poor draft to vastly overpay Flynn. Overall, I still think it would have made more sense to just give him $240,000 off the bat more instead of sweating him this long; $240,000 is .2% of the 2014 salary cap and is essentially nothing to the Packers. In return they get a experienced quarterback with a proven record of steady play at the game’s most important position; is this worth 1/5 of a percent of total salary cap? I would say yes.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.