Green Bay's forgotten QB

Third-string quarterback Craig Nall is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 3. But before he signs with another NFL team in hopes of getting more playing time, Nall should seriously consider re-signing with Green Bay, especially if Brett Favre retires. Columnist Doug Ritchay explains why:

Ever since the Green Bay Packers selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft, Craig Nall has been pushed so far back in quarterback conversations that he's not taking a back seat to Rodgers and Brett Favre, but more like the trunk.

Nall is the forgotten man in Green Bay, but if Favre decides to retire this off-season, Nall will certainly move out of the trunk – if he's not with another team.

Nall is a restricted free agent this spring, and it's possible the soon-to-be fourth-year quarterback could move into a situation which in his mind would allow him to play sooner than in Green Bay.

But before Nall looks seriously at leaving, he better wait. If Favre retires, Rodgers becomes the starter and Nall the backup. This isn't knocking Rodgers, but how many first-year starters ride a smooth road and never look back? All we have to do is look back at the most recent situation that mirrors this one. That would be in Buffalo this past season. The Bills let Drew Bledsoe go in favor of starting second-year QB J.P. Losman, who was drafted in the first round of 2004.

Losman opened 2005 starting, but he struggled, got injured and was replaced by journeyman Kelly Holcomb, who was more effective. Now the Bills hope Losman will begin flourishing next season under new coach Dick Jauron. Good luck.

This is the same road Cincinnati took with former top pick Carson Palmer. Palmer, the No. 1 pick in 2003, sat his rookie season while Jon Kitna revived his career. Then in 2004, Palmer was so-so before he exploded in 2005, leading the NFL with 32 TD passes as the Bengals – not the Super Bowl-bound Steelers – won the AFC Central Division.

With these two examples in mind, whoever backs up Rodgers will likely get playing time, and that playing time can do wonders for an unproven QB. Think about the QBs who went through Green Bay during Favre's career – Mark Brunell, Ty Detmer, Aaron Brooks and Matt Hasselbeck all backed up Favre, but left Green Bay for starting jobs elsewhere.

It isn't a stretch to say Nall's best chance to play in 2006 is in Green Bay, if Favre retires. He knows the players, is familiar with his surroundings and has an experience edge over Rodgers. Also, the quarterbacks will need to learn new coach Mike McCarthy's offense, and what if Rodgers is slow to learn? Nall, who has a 139.4 passer rating in five regular season appearances, could step in.

One situation in the 1990s that could repeat itself here was in Washington when the Redskins drafted Heath Shuler in the top 10. Shuler was expected to be the quarterback for a decade, but it was a quarterback drafted in the seventh round from Tulsa – Gus Frerotte – who ended up being the Redskins' starter.

Frerotte is playing today, while Shuler is just a bad memory for Redskins fans.

It's all speculation as to what will happen with Nall, but it would be wise for Nall to wait until Favre makes a decision, and it would be wise for the Packers to pursue Nall for a new contract.

If Nall leaves, the Packers have to go shopping and try to find a veteran quarterback willing to come in and be a backup, and possible mentor, to Rodgers. This player will not be easy to find.

But the Packers have the answer on their roster. They should want to retain Nall, while Nall should want to retain a residence in Green Bay. And a move in this direction could benefit the franchise and Nall for years to come.


Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.


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