Green Bay Packers

The 2022 Packers Will Again Be Schrodinger's Super Bowl Contender

Photo credit: Dan Powers (USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Six hundred forty-two days ago, Roger Goodell monotonously narrated the most consequential moment in recent history for Wisconsin football fans: “The Miami Dolphins have traded the 26th pick to the Green Bay Packers….”

Is it Tee Higgins? Is this finally the year they go receiver? Maybe it’s Patrick Queen. The Packers got manhandled in the NFC Championship, and now Blake Martinez is gone too.

“With the 26th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers select …Jordan Love, quarterback, Utah State.”

Oh. My. God.

Matt LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst made an incomprehensible yet precedented splash on that infamous April night. They set in motion the chaotic two-year journey of tantalizing uncertainty, constant speculation, incredible Tuesday editions of The Pat McAfee Show. And, of course, the devastating playoff losses that led us to this point.

Aaron Rodgers’ disdain for Gutey’s attempt to replicate Ted Thompson’s 2005 magic is well-documented. Throughout last year’s tumultuous offseason, the Green Bay Packers were Schrödinger’s Super Bowl contender – simultaneously a threat to win it all and a 9-8 team at best, depending on whether Rodgers returned.

For those unfamiliar, Erwin Schrödinger was a 20th-century Austrian physicist. His famous thought experiment, Schrödinger’s cat, posited the existence of a hypothetical cat in a box considered to be simultaneously dead and alive because its fate is linked to an event that may or may not have occurred.

The agreement that ended the Rodgers-Gutekunst Cold War brought him back for a whirlwind 2021 run, set the stage for his departure in ‘22, and, for some reason, rescued Randall Cobb from Houston purgatory. Rodgers’ fate is uncertain. Love could inherit a franchise in financial ruin if Rodgers departs. Therefore, the Packers are both dead and alive once again.

Green Bay is poised to terrorize Vegas sportsbooks this offseason on multiple fronts. In addition to Rodgers, there are no indications that the NFL’s top receiver, Davante Adams, will return. And the futures of key contributors De’Vondre Campbell, Preston Smith, Allen Lazard, Robert Tonyan, Rasul Douglas, Krys Barnes, and Za’Darius Smith remain uncertain.

Sitting at around $40 million above the projected salary cap, Gutekunst is going to have to pull some Mickey Loomis-esque sorcery to assemble a roster with a fraction of the talent they had last Saturday. That’s before we know whether they’ll be able to keep their MVP gunslinger or be forced to turn to a 23-year-old who’s more volatile than your weird cousin’s favorite crypto coin.

So, what do we know about Love? Well, he was born in Bakersfield, Calif. He was 5’6” in high school but somehow sprouted to 6’4”. He had only one college offer – oh, and he threw the same number of interceptions as Rodgers this year in 446 fewer attempts.

Yes, I’m being harsh. However, Love has primarily been as advertised, a talented kid with the physical tools but dubious decision-making ability. He mustered only seven points in his lone start and was careless with the football in his Week 17 showing against the Detroit Lions.

But this is probably right where Green Bay’s front office expected to be two years ago – preparing to inaugurate the Love era. Perhaps not with two more MVP trophies to Rodgers’ name, but things hardly go exactly as you expect them to.

The most concerning thing? I’m not sure Love’s development has gone as planned either. Gutekunst and LaFleur may be stuck deciding whether they want to enter the season with an offense headlined by Love, Aaron Jones, and Josiah Deguara, or desperately search for an alternative. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett better snatch one of those head coaching jobs before his scheme is bereft of Hall of Famers.

The early reviews of Love are mixed, but the sample size is also small at this point. Giving up on him would be impulsive, but so would building around him. Ideally, the Packers will bring in a competitor who will, if needed, buy him some time. However, it can’t be someone who will keep him on the sidelines for the remainder of his $18 million rookie contract.

Putting an incapable player under center next season risks bulldozing the team into the league’s cellar alongside their NFC North counterparts and pushing them toward the rebuild LaFleur insisted is not coming.

An interesting wrinkle could come with Rodgers’ departure. If he doesn’t retire, the Packers could net a replacement as part of a trade. Two long-rumored destinations, the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, do not have anything to offer in that area. But depending on how hot the sweepstakes get, there are plenty of possibilities.

My personal favorite is the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite Howie Roseman’s recent projection of confidence in Jalen Hurts, there’s no doubt he would ship him away along with some top-20 picks that he doesn’t know how to use for a shot at a run with the soon-to-be four-time MVP.

The Las Vegas Raiders and New England Patriots are other somewhat respectable squads with picks and decent QBs to package in a trade. If Gutekunst wants to get nasty, the Houston Texans and New York Jets have young signal-callers with untapped potential, but Rodgers likely has enough control over his fate to prevent such a nightmare.

Lastly, there’s one final intriguing option: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Brady is openly unsure of his future, and a 69-year-old Bruce Arians said he’s coming back and that he’s “comfortable” with Blaine Gabbert and Kyle Trask if Brady retires. I find it hard to believe both of those things will materialize, and a Rodgers deal would be a golden opportunity to repeat the formula of last year’s Super Bowl run – landing an all-time great who’s built a legacy elsewhere. Trask certainly wouldn’t be the solution for Green Bay, but a hedge in their bid to find their next franchise guy.

Rodgers may come back, rendering all our theories moot. Or the Packers could acquire outside help. Otherwise, it becomes time to put on our heart-shaped cheeseheads. It will be fascinating to see who’s on the field with Jones, David Bakhtiari, and Kenny Clark come training camp.

Gutekunst, LaFleur, and team president Mark Murphy will be watching with the same fear, yearning, and powerlessness as the rest of us as No. 12 opens the box and tells the world whether Wisconsin’s championship aspirations are dead or alive.

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Photo credit: Dan Powers (USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

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