Queensland and Wallabies great Tim Horan has warned the decision to dump Quade Cooper could backfire if the next crop of Reds playmakers struggle to cope immediately with the rigours of Super Rugby.
Wallabies fly-half Quade Cooper.
Cooper, a long-time Reds fan favourite, is believed to be exploring his options after he and halfback Nick Frisby were told they weren't in new coach Brad Thorn's plans for 2018.
If Cooper leaves, it'll mean the Reds head into next season with one specialist five-eighth on their books.
That player is 19-year-old Hamish Stewart, who is nearly a decade younger than Cooper and considered a bona fide star of the future but has played just five games at Super Rugby level.
The Reds' last experiment with a young five-eighth ended in disaster - Jake McIntyre was thrust into the role last year in Cooper's absence but the team slumped to their worst season.
Horan said the Reds couldn't afford for the same thing to happen again.
"Is it a good decision? Well, it's a brave decision from Brad Thorn," Horan told AAP.
"Time will tell whether it's the right call.
"In the end, Brad Thorn as a coach has to be comfortable with the players he's got around him and the style he wants to play.
"When you don't have Quade Cooper, Nick Frisby there, no Stephen Moore, probably no George Smith by the look of it - he's got a very serious back injury - you're losing a lot of (experience). He's backing the younger players to come through."
Thorn should know best, having coached Stewart and his other option in the No.10 jersey, Duncan Paia'aua, in Queensland Country's title-winning National Rugby Championship campaign.
But Horan said: "It's a massive difference from under-20s and NRC to Super Rugby and you've got to be very careful ... whilst he could be a good player going forward, you don't destroy him early."
"Hopefully they take it steady with him. He's a tough character and that's what Brad Thorn's looking for."
Neither Cooper or his management responded to requests for comment on Monday.
Former Red Drew Mitchell said he didn't agree with Thorn's ruthless axing of Cooper and Frisby.
"We don't have the luxury of depth to ask 2 experienced players to move on (in my opinion)," Mitchell tweeted.