In the lead-up to the 2020 NFL Draft there was speculation that the Dallas Cowboys would draft a quarterback. Nobody really thought they would do so early; drafting a quarterback with a top-100 pick while you already have a young and promising QB would clearly signal a level of panic within the organization about the signal-caller in question. Surely no team would do something like that. In all seriousness though, people expected a quarterback to be drafted on day three.
A big reason for such speculation was that Mike McCarthy talked about it to a great degree. He mentioned developing a quarterback during the team’s pre-draft press conference and even referenced the Green Bay Packers teams of the 1990s that featured players like Matt Hasselbeck and Doug Pederson behind Brett Favre.
Dallas did draft a quarterback and did so with their last selection. The Cowboys took James Madison quarterback Ben DiNucci in the seventh round, clearly not wanting to risk him in priority free agency, and suddenly McCarthy has the room for development that he has referenced (this in no way indicates a lack of faith in Dak Prescott by the way). What could DiNucci’s career with the Cowboys look like, though?
Could Ben DiNucci replicate Matt Flynn’s trajectory under Mike McCarthy?
Mike McCarthy took over the Green Bay Packers officially in 2006, but the 2008 season is perhaps the more interesting one when looking at new beginnings.
For the first two years of his career as the head coach in Green Bay, McCarthy operated with Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre at quarterback. Having a HOFer at the game’s most important position is hardly an issue and to that point the Packers were extremely successful in Favre’s final year with them (2007). You likely remember that they were the NFC’s two seed behind a Dallas Cowboys team that broke all of our hearts.
2008 was when Mike McCarthy really had to get to work though as he set forward for the full Aaron Rodgers regime. While Packers fans in the here and now are upset that their team drafted a quarterback in the first round, the 2008 version of the team actually drafted two quarterback (although not in the first round): Brian Brohm (second round) and Matt Flynn (seventh round).
The Packers waived Brohm just one year after drafting him, signed him to their practice squad, but he was ultimately poached by the Buffalo Bills. Green Bay felt comfortable enough moving on from him due to the other quarterback that they drafted in 2008 in Matt Flynn.
Matt Flynn became the ideal backup quarterback for Mike McCarthy
It really is amazing that a seventh-round quarterback beat out a second-round one for the 2008 Green Bay Packers, never mind the fact that both were drafted in spite of having Rodgers. Sometimes the way teams built their rosters even just 12 years ago feels so different. It was a testament to how hard Matt Flynn worked and ultimately had success.
Flynn was known by many football fans prior to joining the Packers due to the success he had at LSU. He won a national championship with the Tigers just before being drafted and was extremely high profile.
Obviously with Aaron Rodgers in front of him playing time was not available too often for Flynn; however, he did get his share of starts before his rookie contract expired. Flynn’s first start came in his third season when Rodgers was hurt and the Packers were on the road against the New England Patriots. Green Bay lost, but Flynn was fairly good. He went 24 of 37, had 251 passing yards, threw three touchdowns, and one interception.
Those Green Bay Packers would go on to win the Super Bowl as many people know, but Flynn’s finest hour was still a ways off. The Packers went 15-1 in 2011 following their title and in a meaningless regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions they put Matt Flynn in so as to preserve Aaron Rodgers for a playoff run (they would lose their first game to the New York Giants).
This game is what got Matt Flynn paid. He went 31 of 44, had 480 yards, threw six touchdowns, and had one interception. It remains one of the more impressive individual days that a quarterback has had in Packers franchise history.
The Green Bay Packers have had a long tradition of developing backup quarterbacks that goes all the way back to the 90s when Brett Favre was their starter. Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck, Doug Pederson, and Kurt Warner are just a few examples of quarterbacks that were behind Favre, developing the game’s most important position is something that separated those Packers teams.
Could Ben DiNucci follow Matt Flynn’s path under Mike McCarthy
New Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has made it known that he wants to develop a young quarterback behind starter Dak Prescott. He has specifically made reference to the Packers of the 90s when talking about this idea, again development behind an unquestioned starter is a very good thing. If you end up with a legitimate option behind your starter you could potentially wind up trading him for some sort of value.
While he had Matt Flynn in 2008, McCarthy now has Ben DiNucci in 2020. Both were seventh-round picks and both were “beginning of their career projects” for Mike McCarthy and his staff. Flynn experienced perhaps the best results possible, not to mention that the team did too since they won the Super Bowl, as he cashed in with the Seattle Seahawks after his rookie contract expired.
In 2012 Flynn signed a three-year deal with Seattle worth $20.5M and $9M guaranteed (eight years ago was a different time, haha). Ultimately the Seahawks decided to play then-rookie Russell Wilson over Flynn which was a great decision on their part but it doesn’t change the fact that Flynn had a pretty great career for a backup.
Flynn would actually haunt the Cowboys a year later as the Packers broke Dallas’ heart with an unbelievable December comeback. Flynn bounced around a little bit throughout the NFL before calling it a career, and if that’s the path that DiNucci takes with the Cowboys then there are far worse things that can happen besides that.
When you take a quarterback in the seventh round he is unquestionably a project. Matt Flynn came from a big-time program in LSU while Ben DiNucci is coming from the obviously smaller James Madison, but their career trajectories under Mike McCarthy specifically could mirror one another.