With every passing day over after NFL draft weekend, we learn something new and delicious about the Aaron Rodgers-Brian Gutekunst feud. Rodgers, the future Hall of Fame quarterback, has reportedly requested a trade with wide receiver Jake Kumerow’s cut as the final straw; while the Packers wanted pass-catcher Brandon Aiyuk in the 2020 draft, they traded up for quarterback Jordan Love as a consolation prize. Rodgers is comping Gutekunst to Jerry Krause in Packers’ group chats, the late general manager of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. What a way to kick off the offseason content wheel.
Count me among those who firmly believe that this all gets riddled out and Rodgers plays for the Packers next season. The best explanation as to why? It’s Rodgers. This is not just a good veteran quarterback—it is arguably the best veteran quarterback in the league, coming off of one of his best seasons, and clearly feeling as competitive and driven as ever. He likes the media spotlight, yes; he isn’t shy with his opinions, which is often inconvenient for team brass. But he’s also the league MVP.
When the Packers drafted Love, all that wasn’t true just yet. But Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur made it work with unbelievable chemistry and balance last season and most of the key starters on offense return. Rodgers’ performance should give the Packers faith that he can continue to win in the short term, which gives them more time to bring on developmental backup and potential starter Love for his eventual long-term opportunity.
We know more about Rodgers than we did then; but we don’t really know anything more about Love than we did when the pick was made, as he hasn’t seen a snap. That’s true of us as onlookers, and it’s largely true of the Packers’ brass too. Most QB2 or QB3 development occurs during training camp and in the preseason; during the weeks of the regular season, second- and third-string passers are prepping for that week’s opponent, both for work on the scout team and the off chance that they’re thrust into a playing role. There was no 2020 preseason, due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, so Love didn’t get those reps. Training camp practice schedules were abbreviated. The Packers’ exposure to Love was largely limited to virtual meetings and board work. Just because the Packers didn’t have a great opportunity to change their opinion on Love doesn’t mean they’re low on him; lest we forget, they traded up for him in the first round. They also cut longtime backup and Rodgers’ buddy Tim Boyle, expressing a show of faith in Love’s ability to step in and play. They like him in the building.
But what we knew of Love coming out of college remains true as well. He’s an inconsistent player, who has moments of tremendous accuracy but is affected by pressure, tight windows, progression reads, and adjusted throwing platforms. While Love is a good athlete who can scramble and create, his big drop-off in accuracy under adverse conditions is reminiscent of true pocket passers who have struggled in the league, like Josh Rosen, Dwayne Haskins, and Tua Tagovailoa.
The good (and bad) news is that the Packers can baby Love if he is thrust into playing time in 2021. The Packers’ offense was the most dangerous in the league last year, and their quarterback won the NFL’s MVP, in large part because of the way LaFleur blended the QB-proof play-action passing game of Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay with more pre- and post-snap run-pass option plays that relied on Rodgers’ recognition and decision-making. It was the McVay/Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers) offense plus in Green Bay last season, and with Love at the helm, the Packers likely have to revert back down to the classic McVay/Shanahan offense, which tries to take the decision making out of the quarterback’s hands. This would help Love out as a second-year starter, but it would take some of the most deadly layers away from Green Bay’s attack. The offense would probably remain solid, in the way that most offenses in that system remain solid so long as they get passable QB play, but it would certainly feel the absence of the MVP. Just because we don’t know anything new about Love doesn’t mean he’s exactly the same player he was when he left Utah State and entered the draft. But this does serve as a good reminder when we look at other “developmental” or “project” quarterbacks entering the NFL, like Trey Lance with the 49ers. Real, actionable development doesn’t necessarily happen on the bench. It’s tough to get better without live reps, especially with an abridged offseason under your belt. For Love to become more than he was out of Utah State, he really does need playing time—hopefully in the preseason, but in the regular season if it has to be.
Inarguably, the better time for Love to take over for Rodgers is some year[s] into the future; how many exactly, I can’t really tell you. In that he hasn’t enjoyed a regular offseason, being thrust directly into Rodgers’ shoes in the wake of a tumultuous offseason and MVP-caliber performance feels like a debilitating ask for a young player, especially when you consider that some in the locker room will somewhat begrudge the fact that he is there and the starter. The transition from veteran starter to franchise-QB-in-waiting is almost always a bumpy one, and it will not be made any smoother by Rodgers. If Love is to succeed, he needs a cleaner baton pass than one this season will afford.
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