The Green Bay Packers are undergoing a transformation.
It’s likelier than ever that they are indeed going to move on from 19-year veteran Aaron Rodgers, as they’ve reportedly granted him permission to speak with the New York Jets. That meeting took place Tuesday when Jets brass hopped on their private jet to California and spoke to Rodgers.
While it’s not imminent Rodgers will head to the Big Apple (this all feels a part of the process), it does seem as if Rodgers’ time in Green Bay is over.
It’s Jordan Love’s time now.
The Packers acquired Love in the 2020 draft when they traded the 30th pick and a fourth-round selection to the Miami Dolphins for the 26th pick, with which they selected Love. Rodgers responded with back-to-back MVP seasons and forced Love to ride the bench behind him, just as Rodgers had done with his predecessor.
In fact, taking a quarterback in the first round and sitting him for his first three seasons has a shocking amount of precedent for the Packers. According to FOX Sports Research, since the 1967 NFL Draft, there have been 126 QBs drafted in the first round. Of those 126 QBs taken, only three have started one or fewer games in their first three NFL seasons. All three of them played for the Packers.
Love is one; Rodgers is another. The third quarterback is Rich Campbell. He was taken the highest of the three, sixth overall in the 1981 NFL Draft. He never ended up starting a game in the league. But if we’re focusing on the parallels between Love and Rodgers, those are plentiful.
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The Packers have to make a decision on whether to pick up Love’s fifth-year option in May. It would have been nice to see Love play meaningful football before having to commit to him, but this has worked out once in Green Bay’s favor. Rodgers took over the starting job in his fourth year, playing in just seven games prior to that. During his first full season as the starter, he threw for more than 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. Who’s to say it won’t work out again?
The Packers’ front office seems sold on Love, anyway, even if their options are limited.
“We’re excited about him,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. “I think I’ve expressed to a lot of people that he needs to play. That’s the next step in his progression. He needs to play.”
Whereas Rodgers appeared in seven games to this point, Love has actually played in 10. His career stat line thus far is 50-of-83 for 606 yards and three touchdowns against three interceptions. But his 2022 play was enough to encourage Gutekunst and the rest of the Packers’ front office.
“I just think the [comfort] of the offense and the confidence in it, I guess, is the biggest thing,” Gutekunst said of the improvements he’s seen from Love. “I think he was just making quicker decisions and just letting it rip a little bit more. And I think he was thinking less and playing more.
“Certainly, he didn’t get a lot of opportunity during the season to go out there and perform. When he did, we thought he executed very well. But I know just watching him through practice, not only in the offseason last year, training camp, but into the season how he approached the weeks, there was just a different level of intensity week in and week out than there had been prior.
“We took him for a reason back in 2020,” Gutekunst continued. “He’s been progressing nicely, and to see him kind of take the jump he did this past year was nice. Again, it’s much different than going out there week in, week out, taking on the challenges when teams are game planning for you.
With it looking increasingly like Love is going to get that chance to follow up on his successful (albeit small) 2022 sample — a 66.7% completion rate, 195 yards on just 14 completions, a touchdown and no picks — the focus turns to what Love has to work with. Green Bay has to be pleased there, as well.
What can help ease the transition for a young quarterback? How about a solid run game and stacked defense?
The Packers have an excellent one-two punch in the backfield with Aaron Jones (fresh off a reworked contract) and AJ Dillon. Love can easily lean on them and Green Bay can take advantage of a robust play-action game that can help mitigate the pressure Love is under each snap.
On the other side of the ball, with the return of Rashan Gary, the Packers should still have seven first-round picks among their starting 11. It took a while for the unit to get going last season, but the talent is there. If they live up to their roster, they should be putting the ball back in Love’s hands quite a bit while keeping opponents off the field, and therefore, out of the end zone.
It’s a relatively young team, too. Love can grow with his skill players, such as second-year players Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. If they inject more youth via the draft, this team can lay a foundation for decades to come … again.
Consider that Green Bay’s leading receiver in Rodgers’ first season as starter was Greg Jennings, who was in just his third year in the league. Jordy Nelson was a rookie. Rodgers had the benefit of a veteran Donald Driver, but Love could still have Allen Lazard, should the team retain him. I’m not comparing Lazard to Driver in any way but their veteran presence, mind you. That’s an important intangible, however.
Every indicator points in the direction of the reins being handed over to Love, and the Packers are positioned as well as ever to make that transition go as smoothly as possible and stay in the mix for the NFC North in 2023.
“We were talking earlier about the length of time it takes a quarterback to go from playing well to winning in this league, and he’ll need to go through those things just like every other quarterback. He’s taken some really good jumps, and there’s more out there for him, but I think the things that are out there for him, he’s going to need to play to do that.”
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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