Arguably the biggest storyline following an eventful Sunday in the NFL was the injury suffered by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In the first quarter of his team's game against the Minnesota Vikings, the NFC's best passer was moving out of the pocket to buy additional time for a pass. After releasing the football, Rodgers was hit by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.
The 33-year old stayed on the ground after the tackle with what was later reported to be a broken right collar bone. The injury that might force Rodgers to miss the rest of the season while simultaneously thrusting backup Brett Hundley into the starting role. Yesterday, the third-year veteran completed 18 of 33 pass attempts for 157 yards to go along with a touchdown and three interceptions.
Rodgers' injury once again shows just how quickly a backup quarterback like Hundley could become the most important player on the team. The injury also illustrates just how vital the backup quarterback position is and how a team's season might be in jeopardy simply because of the lack of a contingency plan. One of the most famous examples of this happening are the 2011 Indianapolis Colts.
Quarterback Peyton Manning was forced to sit out the season due to a neck injury and the team stumbled its way to an NFL-worst 2-14 record. In a sign of poor roster construction and equally bad coaching, the Colts were unable to field a competitive passer in Manning's absence. Neither Kerry Collins nor Curtis Painter convinced as the starter and Indianapolis had to pay the price.
Of course, not all teams suffer the Colts' fate as the Packers could very well end up looking like the 2008 New England Patriots. Despite Tom Brady missing virtually all of the season due to a torn ACL, the team was able to come within a tiebreaker of reaching the playoffs behind Matt Cassel. Yes, Cassel was playing an easy schedule on an enormously talented team but he was far from the liabilities Collins or Painter were in 2011.
The Patriots in general place a high value on their backup quarterbacks – just take a look at Jimmy Garoppolo. New England could likely have traded the 2014 second rounder for future assets multiple times the last few seasons. However, the team opted to keep him as Brady's backup. And why would they not? He is cheap, knows the system and has looked good in the limited action he saw so far.
As things stand right now, the Patriots know that Garoppolo has more value for the team by being on it than by being traded for high draft picks. This is no surprise considering head coach Bill Belichick's remarks after the 2014 draft. “I think depth is always important,” Belichick said. “You never know when you’re going to need it. I don’t think we’d be happy going 1-15 if we had an injury at one position.”
Not taking care of the quarterback position could do just that to a football team. New England has an understanding of that, the 2011 Colts did not. Whether the Packers do remains to be seen. One thing again is shown in the light of Rodgers' potentially season-ending injury, though: that backup quarterbacks are an insurance plan and should be treated that way. You invest in them not knowing whether or not you will ever need them. But, boy, when you do, you will be happy to have spent the resources.