June 23, 2003
Why? Why not?
Akili Smith did absolutely nothing during his four seasons in Cincinnati to make anyone think he could one day be the successor to Brett Favre in Green Bay.
Then again, the Packers didn't have anything to lose.
Thus, Smith signed a one-year contract with the Packers for a bargain-basement price that reportedly included a signing bonus of $15,000.
Now he will enter a crowded backup quarterback picture that includes old standby Doug Pederson, who is 35; second-year man Craig Nall, who is coming off an outstanding season in NFL Europe; and Eric Crouch, a former Heisman Trophy winner from Nebraska who quit last summer when the St. Louis Rams tried to make a wide receiver out of him.
"Talent-wise and stuff, when he came out of Oregon he showed a lot of talent in the workouts," Packers vice president of football operations Mark Hatley said. "You could see (in his workout for the Packers June 10) that he's still a very good athlete. There's a lot of things Akili brings to the table that you're excited about having.
"Obviously, we're happy with Doug, and Craig had a heck of a season over in NFL Europe and Eric has done a nice job for us. He's progressed faster than we thought that he might."
A sixth quarterback on the roster, free agent Zak Kustok, was waived Wednesday (June 18).
Favre, who will turn 34 in October, has hinted that he might retire, perhaps as early as January 2004. The Packers didn't have a chance to draft one of the top four quarterbacks this year and went for Smith, who was the third player picked in 1999.
Smith, 6-2 1/2 and 230, was drafted so high almost solely on the basis of his outstanding season for the Ducks in '98. He averaged 314 yards passing per game, throwing 32 touchdowns and merely eight interceptions. His offensive coordinator in '98 was Jeff Tedford, who also has developed Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller.
Smith, however, was a complete bust in Cincinnati. He played in 22 games in all, starting 17 and finishing with a 3-14 record. His career passer rating was 52.8.
"Every time he got in a game he seemed overwhelmed," a personnel director for an AFC team said recently.
Hatley said the Packers weren't concerned with Smith's numbers in Cincinnati.
"I don't think you try to (explain his past struggles)," Hatley said. "I think you try to bring him and coach him up and see if he can fit into your system.
"Every system is different and every organization is different. To have a chance to come in here and learn from one of the best -- if not the best -- quarterbacks ever is a big plus for a young quarterback like Akili. I'm sure that figured into it because he wanted to be here. There were some other teams, obviously, that were after him, but he wanted to be here."
One of the other teams that wanted Smith was the New Orleans Saints. However, sources indicated that the Saints wanted to sign Smith to a two-year deal and Smith wanted a one-year contract.
Smith will have a chance if Nall can win the No. 2 job away from Pederson. If Nall is impressive, then the Packers could give Smith the No. 3 job and see if sitting around in their system for a year might be the answer.
Crouch stands under 5-11 and was erratic throwing the ball in a pair of minicamps. However, he did show an NFL arm at times.
"He's really athletic," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "He can make a play with a scramble. But he's still way down on the learning curve. There is so much for him to digest. There's so much going through his head, it's hard to judge his accuracy."