Post-Draft, Looking on the Bright Side – Part 3
Packer Nation is understandably nervous. After fifteen years of intense observation, Green Bay fans know that Aaron Rodgers is a prideful, and sometimes prickly, guy. How will he react to Brian Gutekunst choosing a potential future franchise quarterback in the first round of the 2020 draft?
The future HOF quarterback can react to his new teammate, Jordan Love, in a variety of ways. I hope he views the event as a positive thing, and uses it to engage in a self-analysis and self-improvement program. I believe it’s entirely within Aaron’s own power to improve his game.
It’s Not an Age Thing
There’s a bright side to all this. I’ve repeatedly said that a decline at this stage in a QB’s career cannot be blamed on the aging process in general or, absent some notable injury, on a lessening of physical abilities. Let’s give that premise a more detailed look.
The six seasons from 2014 through 2019 took Aaron from age 31 through 36. This should be his prime, not his descent.
Tom Brady was on the ascent through 2016, when he had his second-best passer rating at age 39. Drew Brees just peaked last season (or has he?), with a 116.3 rating at age 40. Since he turned Aaron’s age of 36, his ratings have been 101.0, 101.7, 103.9, 115.7, and 116.3.
From ages 36 through 38, Peyton Manning recorded ratings of 105.8, 115.1, and 101.5. Though never a passer rating dynamo, Brett Favre still managed to put up ratings of 95.7, 81.0, and 107.2 when was 37 through 39 years old.
Rodgers has adhered to a strong nutritional and fitness program for many years. His downhill descent isn’t due to any physical decline.
A Steady Descent
Aaron’s passer ratings from 2014 forward have been: 112.2, 92.7, 104.2, 97.2, 97.6, and 95.4. Among his peers, he ranked 2nd, 15th, 4th, 7th, 13th, and then 12th last year. That’s a half-dozen years of slippage.
If Aaron doesn’t reverse these numbers, it’s only sensible to extrapolate that after two more years he’ll be in the bottom half of the passer rating column – which in turn would make it likely that the Packers will be going to a new starting QB by the start of the 2022 season.
One can argue that Gutekunst was only being practical when he drafted Jordan Love. Perhaps having no plan in place if Aaron’s descent continues would be the wild gamble on Gutekunst’s part.
Room for Improvement
For a few years now, I’ve advocated that almost all of Aaron’s problems can be rectified: he just needs to commit to releasing the ball more quickly. It’s that simple. Putting it another way, he needs to commit to largely becoming a pocket or rhythm passer.
Here are a couple of specific areas at which Aaron needs to, and can, improve on: the long pass and the short pass.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling was targeted 56 times in 2019, but caught only 26 balls. I’d bet that a third of those passes were deep balls – Rodgers just kept going and going deep to MVS, and for a good reason: he was usually wide open. Rodgers just couldn’t hit these targets.
MVS wasn’t the only one. Aaron missed on several deep balls intended for Davante Adams, and even on a couple meant for an open Aaron Jones. Call it a lack of concentration, or choking up on these chunk plays, but these misses weren’t due to Rodgers’ age or the condition of his throwing arm.
As for short passes, how many times did you see Aaron flip a pass out to a receiver or running back in the left or right flat – only to have it peter out and land at the receiver’s feet? Again, it’s not a physical problem. Rodgers has gotten quite undisciplined over the years when it come to setting his feet and making a proper release and follow through on these tosses. He needs to get his fundamentals back in order. That’s certainly doable, and it’s not asking too much.
Quarterback trajectories aren’t inevitable. The QB with the top passer rating in 2019 – a superb 117.5 – was none other than the Titans’ Ryan Tannehill, who had never before had a rating above 93.5.
The bottom line to this sub-heading: Aaron is at a stage where he needs coaching assistance – he needs to accept and follow the advice of his coaching staff. He needs to make changes – to clean up – his game.
The discussion leads back to the acquisition of Jordan Love. No question, the Packers’ general manager has put Aaron on notice, and that strikes me as a good thing.
Aaron needs to get himself back to where he belongs: into the top-six group of quarterbacks – I’m not asking for more than that. If he won’t or can’t do this, I fully expect that Jordan Love will get some shots sometime during the 2021 season at the latest.
Aaron signed a four-year deal, and it’s good through 2023. No team, however, can afford to pay premium money to a QB who’s performance has slipped to average or below. Just ask Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Rodgers’ deal was for $134,000,000; importantly, $98,700,000 was guaranteed. That means he’s getting his money, regardless, for the first three years. After the 2022 season, the Packers could release him with little or no penalty .
Now he has a new head coach, who is in a slow process of installing a new offense. As I see it, unless Rodgers’ faults are also attended to, the Packers’ new offense won’t fare much better than the old offense.
Here’s another post-draft bright side: due to the presence of Jordan Love, Matt LaFleur suddenly has genuine leverage over his veteran, and revered, quarterback. Gutekunst’s bold move just incentivised Rodgers.
From McCarthy to LaFleur
In all those years that Rodgers was McCarthy’s starting QB, the head coach had next to no leverage. Rodgers ruled the roost, and none of his backups had the skills to pose a threat to him. I’m not putting the blame on Big Mike – it’s just not in the cards to try to change the game of a QB who was the league’s MVP a short time ago (in 2011 and 2014).
Thanks to Gutekunst’s daring move, however, Matt LaFleur can be insistent that Rodgers make certain changes to his game – with Love in the wings it won’t be an idle threat.
I don’t think anyone doubts whether LaFleur was completely on board with Gutekunst’s draft strategy. I seem to remember a TP commenter indicating that the head coach looked ecstatic when the pick was announced.
In a Q&A session following the Love selection, LaFleur was asked about his inclusion in the decision to trade up and make the controversial pick:
“Yeah, we definitely spent some time with Jordan, had a Facetime interview, myself and Offensive Coordinator] Nathaniel Hackett, as well as [Quarterbacks/Passing Game Coordinator Luke] Getsy. . .extremely talented. . .what I love about him is just the accountability he took for everything, whether it was a good play, bad play. . .it’s one of those rare opportunities where you never thought you’d be in a situation like you were.”
Coach LaFleur pointed to his own past experience with Robert Griffen and Kirk Cousins when they were rookies with the Redskins, and with Jared Goff in his second year with the Rams, adding: “I feel very confident that we can train these guys in the right way.”
You might recollect that a young Matt LaFleur quarterbacked Saginaw Valley State for three seasons, and he led the Cardinals to the playoffs each time. I can’t think of a lot of current NFL head coaches who were former college quarterbacks – there’s a quiz for you readers. I’m sure Matt has some strong feelings as to how a quarterback can best serve his team’s needs.
Competition is a good thing – it just might bring out the best in both quarterbacks.