Will Packers keep 3 quarterbacks on 53 man roster?

Green Bay Packers quarterback Danny Etling (19) smiles during practice on Monday, July 31, 2023, at Ray Nitschke Field in Green Bay, Wis.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Danny Etling (19) smiles during practice on Monday, July 31, 2023, at Ray Nitschke Field in Green Bay, Wis. /

The Green Bay Packers have kept three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster just one time during the Matt LaFleur era, and that was back in 2020. But given the inexperience at this position, perhaps the Packers are considering going that route again this year.

Behind Jordan Love and competing for that backup role is rookie Sean Clifford, Danny Etling, who has been with the team since last summer, and the recently signed Alex McGough, the 2023 USFL MVP.

"“There’s some good competition,” said Brian Gutekunst on Friday. “Each guy’s had their moments, which is good. I think, particularly, a couple of the new guys are learning the offense and making plays in the offense. That’s going to be important. In the preseason games they are going to get a lot of work, and that should probably separate some things.”"

Since training camp began now over a week ago, Etling has been the backup quarterback in team drills, with Clifford and McGough rotating with the third-team offense. Just like with the first-team offense led by Love, the trio of Etling, Clifford, McGough, and their respective units have all taken their lumps, with the defense coming out on top more often than not.

With that said, while, of course, how each of these players performs is important when it comes to determining who is going to be the secondary option behind Love, the job of the backup quarterback goes deeper than that. If we are being honest, the Packers are going to likely be in a world of hurt if they are without Love and have to rely heavily on any one of these three quarterbacks. So a key aspect of the role is to support Love as the starter and being an extra set of eyes on the sidelines, in the film room, and on the practice field.

"“Also, part of that is being supportive of Jordan,” said Gutekunst, “and making sure that working relationship is really good because that’s more important than people think. To me, it’s about taking that group of guys out there, lead them, make plays, score points, and make good decisions.”"

The backup role is still very much up for grabs, but what I have a hard time imagining is Green Bay releasing Clifford if he doesn’t win the job. The Packers, who very much value draft picks, spent a fifth-round pick on him and have spoken very highly about Clifford, highlighting his college experience, athleticism, and fit in the locker room as key reasons why they drafted him.

I’m sure that when the Packers drafted Clifford, knowing that it was a possibility that he might not win the backup role had to be a part of the calculation in the decision they made. This is what leads me to believe they are willing to keep three quarterbacks, with Etling and McGough auditioning for that roster spot. Now, if Clifford wins the backup job, then I would almost expect Green Bay to keep just two quarterbacks. But if not, then three feels very much in play.

However, in going heavy at the quarterback position, the tradeoff is that the Packers will have to go light at another, letting go of a potential special teams contributor elsewhere.

Before any of these decisions are made, we are still just over a week into training camp, with Family Night, two joint practices, and three preseason games still on the calendar. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to day-to-day consistency, along with how each quarterback performs during this upcoming stretch. As of now, it is still unknown how much time Love will see in those games.

While adding a veteran to the mix to help Love navigate his first season as the starter has always made sense with the amount of inexperience in this room, that is still a move that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the Packers. As of now, the backup quarterback and potential third quarterback are coming from the group of players already on the roster.

"“Right now, again, it’s very early in camp,” added Gutekunst, “and they’ve done some good things that Matt’s very happy with they’ve done. They all have a little bit of a different skill set, but they all have athleticism and the ability to make plays with their feet, which is important. As of right now, it’s my mindset to see who comes out of that group.”"