GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Quarterback Matt Flynn could be given the Packers franchise tag this offseason. He may just be allowed to walk away in free agency. Whatever the case is, Flynn will not be back in Green Bay next season.
Flynn was just too good in his record-breaking Week 17 performance to be a backup quarterback any longer. Flynn's teammates don't even expect him back. After Flynn's six touchdowns and 480 yards led the Packers to a win over the Detroit Lions, many Green Bay players were already wishing him well on his next stop.
Flynn's inevitable departure will give an opportunity to Graham Harrell to take a step up the ladder. Spending most of this season on the Packers' practice squad, Harrell was promoted to the active roster when the Buffalo Bills tried to sign him away from Green Bay after Week 13.
That move to keep Harrell -- which came with a significant pay increase -- further emphasized that general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy were preparing for Flynn's upcoming free agency and couldn't lose both backup quarterbacks in such a short amount of time.
"This offseason is all about learning and developing," Harrell said the day after the Packers were eliminated from the playoffs. "That's how any offseason is, continuing to improve, and hopefully I can do that. If I do that, the rest will take care of itself."
Harrell, a 26-year-old who went undrafted in 2009, has been with the Packers since May 2010. Since then, Harrell has been working with Aaron Rodgers, quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and McCarthy.
There is only one scenario in which Harrell will play in a meaningful game at quarterback for the Packers next season: An injury to Rodgers. However, that can be a very important spot on an NFL team. Just ask any member of the Chicago Bears what happens when your team is not equipped with a proper backup quarterback.
As Harrell prepares for this next step in his career, he can draw from the experience of watching Flynn go from a relatively unnoticed seventh-round pick to one of the biggest prizes in the free agent market.
"Green Bay has had a history for a long time of doing that with guys, (and) with the coaching staff they have here, it's a great place to develop," Harrell said. "And with Aaron, he really helps out the guys behind him. So this is a great place to learn and develop and tune in your skills and get an opportunity hopefully to some day start. But this is a great place to kind of learn it."
Harrell has had a lot of success as a quarterback. In his senior year at Texas Tech, Harrell won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which is given to the most outstanding fourth-year quarterback in college football. That season, Harrell threw for 45 touchdowns and nine interceptions as Texas Tech went 11-1, including a win over No. 1 Texas.
One of the biggest offseason programs that will benefit Harrell as he's elevated to No. 2 on the depth chart is going through McCarthy and Clements' quarterback school. A year ago, due to the NFL lockout, Harrell never had an opportunity to make his debut in the quarterback school. This season, he'll get a chance.
"The quarterback school is great and I think it's helped develop a lot of guys here," Harrell said. "It'd be a great learning experience for me, and hopefully we get an opportunity to go through it this season."
While Harrell will get that opportunity, it will be abbreviated in comparison to previous years. Due to the parameters agreed to in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, coaches will have less access to their players during the offseason. And McCarthy said he doesn't like it at all.
"It takes a chunk out of it, that's for sure," McCarthy said when asked how it will affect the quarterback school. "The offseason program that's going into effect in 2012 is, the time allotment with your football team and the opportunity to have individuals spend one-on-one time with the coaches, a lot of that has been depleted.
"Unfortunately for Graham, it won't be like it has been in the past."
As the Packers continue to prepare for Flynn as another team's starting quarterback next season, Thompson signed Arena League quarterback Nick Hill to a contract last week. While it's highly unlikely for Hill to step in and surpass Harrell, Hill did throw for 97 touchdowns in an Orlando Predators jersey last season.
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