Packers' QB of the future?

This is the first of a two-part series on Drew Henson, the former standout quarterback from the University of Michigan who is returning to play football after a stint the last three years in baseball. The Green Bay Packers are one of a handful of teams with major interest in Henson.<p>

When it comes to winning championships, the Green Bay Packers are the New York Yankees of football. Or maybe the Yankees are the Packers of baseball.

Either way, the two franchises are the crowned jewels of their respective sports, with legions of fans from coast to coast and all points in between.

So perhaps it is fitting that the Green Bay Packers' quarterback of the future could be the Yankees' former top prospect.

Drew Henson, the onetime University of Michigan wunderkind, has given up baseball and wants to try his hand at professional football. The Houston Texans, in a shrewd move during last year's draft, spent a sixth-round pick on Henson, knowing full well they had their quarterback in David Carr and Henson was striking out, quite literally, as a baseball player.

The Texans will work out Henson on Thursday. The audition will be attended by a host of NFL scouts, and the Packers are expected to be one of the teams watching. Other suitors reportedly include Dallas, Pittsburgh, Miami, Kansas City and Buffalo.

"It's going to be open to every team in the NFL," Texans general manager Charley Casserly told The Associated Press on Monday. "Then, after that, we will find out what teams are interested and negotiate a trade."

The Packers surely will be among the teams interested, but at what price? The Texans are expected to demand at least a first-round pick for Henson. Green Bay selects 25th in the first round of the upcoming draft. The trade would be contingent on the Packers, or any other team, being able to sign Henson.

If Henson is not signed before the April 24 draft, he would go back into the draft.

If that happens, experts believe he'd be among the first three quarterbacks — with Mississippi's Eli Manning and Miami of Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger — selected in a draft loaded with several quality signal-callers.

"If Drew Henson came out when he was scheduled to, he certainly would have been a first-round pick," Casserly said after drafting Henson last year.

The Packers obviously aren't saying anything about their interest in Henson. Their decision is soaked in intrigue.

If the Packers deal for Henson, they could have their quarterback of the future. No less an authority than Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady says Henson has the potential to be a "great" quarterback. Henson and Brady shared the starting role at Michigan when their paths crossed there for a couple seasons. It was only when Brady became an oh-by-the-way sixth-round draft choice of the New England Patriots that Henson became a full-time starter.

"He's a guy who has tremendous talent," Brady said in the week up leading up to the Super Bowl. "He's 6-4, probably 230. He's got quick feet. Strong legs. Can run well. Smart. Tough.

"I think he's had some adversity. He's mentally tough. He's disciplined. I think he enjoys football. He's got leadership skills. He's going to be a great, great player."

Joining a team like the Packers, with an established quarterback in place, would give Henson the time needed to get back into a football groove. After sharing time with Brady in 1999, Henson was the full-time starter in 2000. He then pounced on the Yankees' multimillion-dollar offer with two seasons of eligibility remaining.

"He's a natural athlete and a natural passer," Brady said. "He's played a lot of football, so it's not like he's learning the game again. He'd just have to knock off the rust. I don't know how long it would take but he's got what it takes to be successful."

During his lone season as the full-time starter, Henson completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,146 yards, 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He led the Wolverines to a 9-3 record and a Capital One Bowl victory over Auburn.

While those are impressive numbers and his physical tools are superb, Henson is hardly a sure thing. Considering only about half of first-round quarterbacks approach the bloated expectations, spending such a high pick and the corresponding financial investment on that position is risky. When you throw in the fact Henson hasn't played football since 2000, spending a first-round choice is especially dangerous.

A case can be made that spending such a valuable draft choice on a quarterback does little to improve a team's chances of making the Super Bowl. Consider Super Bowl XXXVIII was contested between sixth-round pick Brady and the undrafted Jake Delhomme. And Super Bowl XXXVII was between 10th-round pick Brad Johnson and journeyman Rich Gannon. And Super Bowl XXXVI was between Brady and supermarket stockboy Kurt Warner.

Want more intrigue? What the Packers decide to do with Henson could alter the history of this franchise for years to come.

To exaggerate to make a point, the Packers must decide if they want to win a championship this year or have a chance to win championships in the future.

The Packers no doubt feel they were the NFC's best team in this just-ended season and will be among the two or three favorites to get to Super Bowl XXXIX out of the conference. A first-round pick spent at, for example, safety could be the final push needed to get the team to one more Super Bowl before Brett Favre retires. Using that first-round pick on Henson, however, theoretically keeps the Packers in the championship hunt for years to come but does next to nothing to help the team in 2004. But teams drafting this late in the first round rarely get a shot at a quarterback of Henson's caliber, thus making him an appealing prospect to a Packers team that has made zero progress in finding the heir to Favre. Note: Part II of the Drew Henson mini series will follow on Sunday on packerreport.com. Bill Huber is a copy editor for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail him at packwriter@hotmail.com.


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