The biggest question of the Green Bay Packers offseason is whether or not Aaron Rodgers will continue to play — and keep playing in Green Bay — in 2023. And a significant part of that equation is Jordan Love’s development. It’s been three long years since the Packers took in the first round of the 2020 draft to replace Rodgers. It’s a unique situation, even for a franchise that transitioned from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers in 2008.
Love is going to his fourth year in the NFL and has only played sparingly. In his rookie season, there were no preseason games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Love wasn’t active for any regular season games. His only start and full game was against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021 when Rodgers got COVID. Love has shown signs of development since then, and a good performance in a quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles started to change the perception around him.
“After especially the Chiefs game, that was my mindset,” Love mentioned after his appearance. “I was like, ‘Well, I’ve got to improve on that.’ So in the offseason, I really watched it. In my mind, it’s just ‘Go make the most of it.’ Opportunities like this [the Eagles game] don’t come around too often, and you’ve just got to go make the most of it.”
It’s clear that the 2022 version of Jordan Love is closer to the level the Packers hoped for when they drafted him than the one they saw in 2021. According to Dusty Evely, Packers writer for CheeseheadTV, Packer Report, and member of the Pack A Day Podcast, Love’s technical improvements are real.
Footwork and timing are the big ones, and that ties into his overall feel for the offense. Obviously we don’t have a ton of game film to base this on, but, based on what we saw in college and limited preseason and regular season action leading up to the 2022 Eagles game, he seemed to make some really significant strides. Footwork was smooth and perfectly timed up with the concepts. Moved cleanly from first-to-second-to-third read and got the ball out on time when he did that. That’s something we hadn’t really seen at the level he showed against the Eagles.
The numbers back up Love’s evolution. PFF gave Love a 30.0 grade in his start against the Chiefs two years ago. It was 85.7 against the Eagles last season. It’s a small sample size, for sure. But general manager Brian Gutekunst guaranteed he’s comfortable if the Packers need Love to be the starter.
“We really like the development of where Jordan is. I think he’s ready to play. I think that’s his next step in his development,” Gutekunst said. “If Jordan would have had to play significant time, we felt really good about that. But it’s like any quarterback in the National Football League, when they haven’t done it, you go into that with some unknowns. They have to handle a lot of different things, see a lot of different things before they can get to a point where they can win games in this league.”
Love was better in the 2022 regular season in every efficiency metric. He improved his completion percentage from 58.1 to 66.7. His touchdown percentage went from 3.2 to 4.8, while his interception percentage went down from 4.8 to 0. Love was also better in yards per attempt (6.6 to 9.3), yards per completion (11.4 to 13.9), passer rating (68.7 to 112.2), QBR (31.4 to 82.2), and adjusted net yards per pass attempt (4.51 to 10.24).
“We work on different route concepts each week, we did a lot in the spring, but then you have to see it play out when you have a defense out there,” said Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements. “You have to be able to go from 1-2-3 to your outlet quickly. You can’t lock on a guy. You have to process information quickly, figure out where to go, and your footwork plays into that as well. If your feet are right and you’re seeing things right, you’re able to decide where to go with the ball. His footwork, rhythm, and getting the ball off on time is where he’s gotten a lot better.”
Green Bay’s chief concern is whether Love can keep up the good performance if he is the full-time starter. He has never been that in the NFL and hasn’t played a full season since 2019 when he was still at Utah State.
“If we base this off the Eagles game from this past year, and that’s about all we can do at this point, he has shown an ability to understand what the defense is doing and make the correct pre-snap read, but also the ability to smoothly move off of that if the defense changes post-snap,” Dusty Evely analyzed. “That’s all good and encouraging, but we don’t know how that looks over the course of a full game, much less a full season. I don’t think there is any rust to knock off or anything like that. I think it comes down to whether he is prepared to navigate the challenges of a full NFL season. I feel like the answer is yes, but we simply don’t know because we don’t have enough information on the outside of that building.”
There are also financial and contractual considerations. Theoretically, 2023 will be the last year of Jordan Love’s rookie contract, with an inexpensive $3.94 million cap hit ($2.3 million in cash). However, Gutekunst has to decide between now and May regarding Love’s fifth-year option, extending his deal through 2024. The problem is that the cost of that is around $20 million, which would be fully guaranteed. The Packers could also apply up to three franchise tags on Love, so the team has control over him through 2027. This is not a probable scenario at this point, but everything is on the table as the Packers decide to keep their plan an internal secret.
If Green Bay’s front office wants to move forward with both Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love in 2023, the combined cap hit for 2024 could be up to $80 million. The Packers would certainly adjust any Rodgers’ retirement timeline to June to spread the cap, but it’s still a hefty price without guarantees that Love is a capable starter, much less a top passer.
The future of Jordan Love is uncertain in Green Bay. But his line of development and what he showed in 2022 give the Packers more hope that he can be the long-time answer. Now, it’s up to Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur to decide if this is enough and when the time will be right to make the transition.