INDIANAPOLIS – During Super Bowl XLVI week, the talk of this town was Peyton Manning and where he might be playing next season. So with the four-time NFL MVP’s future still uncertain, it stood to reason that on the first day of the weeklong NFL Scouting Combine, taking place in the same spot less than three weeks later, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback would still be on everyone’s mind.
But while Manning was being discussed all over Lucas Oil Stadium, there was another quarterback people were discussing – just not by name: Matt Flynn, the Green Bay Packers backup quarterback and impending unrestricted free agent.
In fact, Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider, the former Packers director of football operations who was with the team when general manager Ted Thompson took Flynn in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft, had to catch himself when Flynn’s name was brought up to him.
“We all liked him as a player. Ted had gone there (to LSU to scout him); he really liked the competitor,” Schneider said. “We’d actually drafted (Brian) Brohm in the second round. He (Flynn) was just a guy that came in on Day 1 with a swagger …”
Then, Schneider paused, then chuckled. “I can’t be talking about him. I shouldn’t be talking about him. So … I wasn’t talking about him.”
The reason why Flynn was such a hot topic – albeit not as hot as Manning – was that one day earlier, the Packers had worked out a two-year, $15 million deal with Jermichael Finley, saving the club from having to use the franchise tag on him.
While it’s by no means guaranteed that the Packers will in turn use the tag on Flynn – there are several issues that could prevent that from happening – signing Finley at least gave the Packers the option to tag Flynn in hopes of getting something for him in return.
Tagging Flynn would carry a one-year, $14.5 million guaranteed salary, a deal which would pay him $6.5 million more than Rodgers is set to make in 2012. But it would only be a placeholder contract while the Packers worked out a trade with a quarterback-needy team like Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Washington or others.
The franchise tag window opened on Monday and will remain open until March 5, when the Packers would have to decide whether to make the move. The risk would be if they used the tag on Flynn, then found a soft trade market for him and were unable to swing a deal. It would be against league rules to have a trade in place before the new league year begins on March 13, but certainly the Packers could gauge interest in Flynn through backchannels to know if there’s a deal to be made for him.
If they did tag Flynn, the Packers would have to clear enough room under the salary cap to accommodate his salary, but they could do so relatively easy with a few personnel moves, such as releasing veteran left tackle Chad Clifton and releasing veteran wide receiver Donald Driver.
Most observers view the Miami Dolphins as a logical trade partner if Flynn is tagged, since former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is now the Dolphins’ head coach. However, Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said Thursday that improving the team’s quarterback situation doesn’t have to mean getting a new quarterback for the present and future.
“I don’t think it has to be a long-term solution,” said Ireland, which would indicate that the soon-to-be 36-year-old Manning is an option for the Dolphins. “I think you can look at a short-term solution. Obviously, you’d like a long-term solution. Or you can try to get both. You’ve got to try to help this team win today and look to the future. It’s my job to try to build a team for today and the future. Joe’s responsibility is to try to win right now with a mind on the future as well.”
Ireland said he and Philbin have talked about quarterbacks “almost on a daily basis, especially the last couple of days. We’ve spent a lot of time doing that. It’s an ongoing process. A lot of things have to be figured out. And we need to go day-by-day with that search.”
Philbin said he would be involved in the decision-making process at quarterback, but he won’t be the only one with a say on whether or not the team pursues Flynn, Manning or addresses the position through the draft.
“I think it’s important that we all share a vision of how that player (quarterback) is going to function within the organization, within the offense,” Philbin said. “I think it’s important that I have a voice in that, I think it’s important that our offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has a voice in that, I think it’s important that our general manager and our personnel staff has a voice in that. Let’s face it: They spend more time learning about prospects than we as coaches do necessarily. So I think it’s important that everybody has a voice in the direction we’re going to head there (at quarterback).”
Asked in a roundabout way if the Dolphins would be willing to trade for Flynn if the Packers placed the franchise tag on him, Ireland wouldn’t speak to Flynn specifically.
“We’ll use every avenue available to try to get the best player available for every position,” Ireland said.
According to Schneider, who has been working in NFL personnel since 1992, the stakes would be raised considerably for a team that traded for a franchise-tagged Flynn. Schneider said signing a high-priced free agent is risky because one wrong move can “set your organization back,” as the Packers’ 2002 signing of defensive end Joe Johnson did when Sherman was the team’s coach/GM.
“We got in a situation where it just got jammed up,” Schneider said, hinting that the first domino was picking Florida State’s Jamal Reynolds with the 10 th overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft – a pick acquired, coincidentally, when the Packers traded then-backup QB Matt Hasselbeck to the Seahawks. “You overdrafted at one position, then you overpay at the same position. It will jack you up.”
With Flynn, a team would have to pay not only the price of a draft pick to acquire him, but also an expensive long-term contract. While Schneider wasn’t in Seattle in 2001 when the Seahawks traded for Hasselbeck, then-coach/GM Mike Holmgren knew plenty about the former practice-squad quarterback, having coached him in Green Bay.
“You just have to make sure he’s the guy. You’ve got to know,” Schneider said. “Matt Hasselbeck, coach Holmgren had coached him, there were a bunch of guys who had coached him, so Matt – Hasselbeck – was a guy that they knew what they were getting.”
Schneider used the Arizona Cardinals’ acquisition of ex-Philadelphia backup Kevin Kolb as an example. The Cardinals gave up a second-round pick plus cornerback Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie for Kolb, who was injured and disappointing in his first season. Now, there’s talk that the Cardinals could be among the teams to pursue Manning.
“(With) the Kevin Kolb situation last year, we would have had to have given up more (picks) than Arizona did because they had a player that they were involved with (trading),” Schneider said. “You’d better be really sure that he’s the guy. Otherwise, it’s like a double-whammy – it’s the draft choices, and it’s cash.”
That said, Schneider acknowledged that, like Holmgren with Hasselbeck, familiarity can influence such a big decision. Both he and Philbin have been around Flynn and know what he’s capable of, which will color their views of him.
“If you have a feeling for the guy … I think it’s a definite advantage,” said Schneider, who has signed several ex-Packers for the Seahawks, including right tackle Breno Giacomini. “It’s so much easier than going after a guy that’s say, on waivers from another club that you’ve never, ever spent any time with, and you’re going to cut a player to put him on your team, you’re kind of like, ‘Man, what are we getting ourselves into?’ You have to do your research.”
As for the Dolphins, Philbin wouldn’t address Flynn specifically, either. But when he outlined his vision for the right quarterback for his offense, the description sure sounded a lot like Flynn, who played very well in his two regular-season NFL starts, a 2010 loss at New England and a record-breaking 480-yard, six-touchdown performance in a win over Detroit to end the 2011 season.
“We’re looking for a great decision-maker, we’re looking for a leader, we’re looking for an accurate passer, we’re looking for a guy who has excellent game-management skills,” Philbin said. “(We’re looking for) a guy that has pocket presence and awareness, (and) obviously the stronger, the more velocity to the arm, the better. But we’re looking for a guy that can manage a team, lead a team, make good decisions in critical times and make some big plays when games are on the line.
“The quarterback is an important position on the offense, it’s an important position on the football team. You’ve got to have a player perform with success at that position. But we don’t have a mandate that the player has to be 24 years old or 33 years old or 29 years old. We’re looking for a manager, a leader, an accurate passer, a decision-maker, a guy that can make a play when we need it. However that shakes out is fine with us.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.