The Packers' Graham Harrell dilemma

August, 17, 2012
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Graham Harrell's underwhelming performance Thursday night as the Green Bay Packers' backup quarterback merits a visit to Adam Schefter's weekly mailbag. Even before the Packers' 35-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Schefter suggested the Packers offer a fifth-round pick Insider to the Browns for backup Colt McCoy.

"Cleveland would be willing to deal McCoy for the right price, no matter what it says," wrote Schefter, "and the Packers could use McCoy as much as any team in the league right about now. He would be great insurance for [Aaron] Rodgers and give the Packers the type of backup they would need to sustain their playoff hopes in the event of an injury."

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Colt McCoy
Andrew Weber/US PRESSWIREColt McCoy's starting experience and knowledge of the West Coast offense might make him an ideal fit as Aaron Rodgers' backup.
McCoy has been displaced as the Browns' starter by rookie Brandon Weeden, but he has always been considered a good fit for the West Coast offense. As the theory goes, the Packers' well-respected quarterback trainers -- coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Tom Clements and quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo among them -- could bring him up to speed relatively quickly. While McCoy won't remind anyone of Rodgers, he also won't draw many comparisons to Harrell at the moment.

In brief playing time this preseason, McCoy has completed 10 of 14 passes for 146 yards. Harrell has completed 27 of 51 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown along with two interceptions.

On the one hand, a fifth-round draft pick is a fair price for a backup quarterback with starting experience. While most teams would suffer if it lost its starter, the hope for a good backup is that he can keep a good team in playoff contention. Consider it the difference between Caleb Hanie of the 2011 Chicago Bears and, say, Gus Frerotte of the 2008 Minnesota Vikings. At the moment, McCoy appears more qualified to do so than Harrell.

On the other hand, the Packers have invested two full seasons in Harrell's development, via the practice squad, and wouldn't seem likely to give up on him midway through the preseason. He has not been as sharp as former backup Matt Flynn's eye-opening preseason, but it's only fair to spread the blame for some of his statistics to poor pass protection and, in at least one case, a receiver falling as the ball arrived.

In the end, however, part of the Packers' decision-making process must take into account the timing of acquiring an alternative. The Browns have some incentive for keeping McCoy on the roster, given the perceived short leash that president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur face under incoming owner Jimmy Haslam. And the nature of the position suggests that other teams could also be interested in McCoy.

Part of me refuses to get worked up about an unestablished backup quarterback. If that's your worst problem, you're doing OK. Harrell doesn't have to be McCoy or Flynn or Jason Campbell to qualify for this job.

But at some point, you want to see the kind of extended preseason success that suggests he would function competently should he be thrust into a regular-season game. We've yet to see that this summer. If the Packers need to address the situation, and can do so with a fifth-round draft pick, they should consider themselves fortunate.

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