Aaron Rodgers is back, the Green Bay Packers are once again projected to win the North, and everything is good in the world. Right?
Maybe for the 2021 season, but that’s it.
Chances are, Rodgers won’t be in Green Bay after this season, given the terms that prompted his expected yet mystical return to Lambeau on Tuesday. It prompts a question that no Packers fan wants to think about but is inevitable: What does the organization do after Aaron Rodgers is gone?
An attempt to answer the question came in the evening of Aug. 23, 2020, when general manager Brian Gutekunst selected Jordan Love in the first round of the NFL Draft. There’s no doubt that the intention at the time was to mold Love into the future leader of the franchise, taking the reins following the completion of Rodgers’ contract in 2023.
Now, the tables have turned. One of A-Rod’s stipulations of coming back is that the final year of his contract (2023) will potentially be voided, meaning that this season is likely his last dance in green and gold.
It’s unlikely that Gutekunst would have been able to predict the fallout that would commence following his pick on that polarizing night. He likely assumed Love would be groomed under Rodgers, take occasional snaps, and make his debut in 2024, not 2022.
Yet here we are. If things unfold as expected, does Love have what it takes to shift into the QB1 role prematurely and save Gutekunst’s ass? There are a few things to weigh.
Any Packers fan can recite the story of Aaron Rodgers’ trail to fame. After being passed over by his home-state San Francisco 49ers, Rodgers was picked 24th-overall in 2005. He shadowed Brett Favre for three seasons before becoming a starter in 2008.
Love, a fellow California native, was chosen 26th-overall in 2020. This year will mark his second year shadowing Rodgers, and if things would have gone Gutekunst’s way, Love would probably have at least three (if not four) years before taking the helm.
That’s just not going to happen.
It’s going to be critical that Love gets some action this season to make up for lost time after spending the entirety of 2020 on the inactive list. And by some action, I mean any action. In his three years backing up Favre, Rodgers only threw 59 passes, completing 35 of them for a combined 329 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Most if not all of that was in garbage time, but garbage time matters to a young quarterback.
Any top prospect can toss a ball on the practice field, but it’s playing actual minutes that solidifies a player’s confidence and strengthens his mental core. Being an NFL quarterback requires as much mental/psychological composure as it does physical ability, and getting those reps plays a huge role.
It’s disappointing that Love didn’t see a single snap last year, yet his teammates have noticed growth that indicates he will this year.
“You can tell he’s just a lot more comfortable out there, even from communicating in the huddle to the command of the huddle to just everything,” Packers running back Aaron Jones told ESPN’s Rob Demovsky in May. “He’s had a year under his belt. He’s had time to watch and learn, so you can tell it’s a little bit different from what it was before. He’s going to continue to grow, and I’m happy to be here working with him.”
Add in the fact that the Packers released journeyman Blake Bortles on Tuesday afternoon, and it’s almost certain that Love will have a chance to get his feet wet.
Listen, He Isn’t That Bad!
Cries of divisiveness and anger echoed from Packers fans following Love’s selection in the draft. Most of this can be ascribed to the inaccurate assumption that the organization would select a WR to complement Rodgers’ needs. That, followed by the lack of communication with the franchise quarterback, resulted in more rage.
Yet if we take Aaron Rodgers out of the picture (which is hard to do), Love isn’t a bad draft pick.
A top-five QB in most projections before the 2020 draft, Love was outstanding at Utah State, passing for 8,600 yards and 60 touchdowns in three seasons. Sure, his senior year wasn’t as great as his junior season. This can be attributed to the loss of some of his prime targets from 2018.
Love ended his college career with a 137.9 QBR. After two seasons at Cal, Rodgers earned a QBR of 150.3. Both excellent.
Viewed by many draft experts as a high-risk/high-reward pick, Love may need a stronger supporting cast than Rodgers to find peak success. Davante Adams, the rise of Robert Tonyan, and the re-signing of Aaron Jones could provide that.
At the end of the day, Gutekunst’s long-term plan for Jordan Love didn’t necessarily pan out as he expected it to. Yet the young talent isn’t a lost cause by any means. Love’s success will come down to him getting a few reps this year and a continued progression.