The Packers did not need to draft a quarterback in 2020. The front office dearly wanted to, however, after they realized there was a chance they could get in a position to draft Utah State’s Jordan Love. They quickly moved up four spots in the lineup, by getting the 26th pick from Miami in exchange for the Pack’s # 30 pick and a fourth round choice.
At the time, here’s what GM Brian Gutekunst had to say:
“I think it’s certainly, this is something that is a long-term decision. I think when you go through kind of the way things went tonight, you run the short term and the long term. The way the board fell, this was the best decision for the Packers. I think obviously Aaron’s been around for a long time, and he knows what we’re playing for right now, and that’s what’s most important right now.”
In other words: Aaron is the present, but Love is the future, of the Packers.
As I recall, when Gutey stunned the sports world by drafting Love, there was an immediate backlash. The media, which sets the course for how most fans respond, not only doubted the wisdom of the Packers selecting a quarterback (as did I), but also reacted by belittling the ability and potential of the player who Gutekunst selected. After the pick was made, a chorus of commentators opined that Love was not round one material. But that doesn’t square with what most analysts were saying in the lead-up to the draft.
In revisiting Gutekunst’s bold and risky choice, I think most commentators downplayed just how talented and promising was/is this young man out of Utah State. Let’s take a look back to the time the 2020 NFL draft was approaching.
A bunch of prognosticators felt Love would be a solid first round selection. The Draft Wire’s Luke Easterling had Love going at #23 to the Patriots. So did Mel Kiper Jr. NBC Sports had Love going to the Colts at pick #25. Collegefootballnews.com projected Love as a first round pick, and the fourth QB to be taken in the 2020 draft. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller had him going to the Colts at Pick #34. The Sporting News had him going to the Chargers at #37. NFL.com did not have Love being picked in the first round.
Television analyst Todd McShay was all in for Love, picking him to be taken with the sixth overall pick (behind only QBs Burrow and Tagovailoa):
“I think teams would really like to get to know him a little bit better and spend more time with him. . .To me Love is so sudden, he’s got potential, but he’s not ready yet. He needs some time, so he’s got to go to the right place. . .He really, of these four quarterbacks, in my opinion, has the higher upside, even than Justin Herbert, but he’s going to need a little more time and he’s going to need the right supporting cast early in his career to get over the forced mistakes that he made.”
Then there’s Pro Football Focus. Though not high on Love at the time of the 2020 draft, PFF has changed its tune. It now projects that, if named the starter in 2021, Love will pass for 4,149 yards, and throw for 24 TDs and 15 interceptions.
These are better numbers than PFF projects for Justin Fields (chosen tenth overall this spring by the Bears, and on a par with PFFs expectations for top overall 2021 pick Trevor Lawrence. Without any film of Love from an actual NFL game, I can only surmise that PFF feels that Love will benefit greatly from a great supporting cast, and from the offensive strategies of Matt LaFleur and Nathaniel Hackett.
Another advocate for Love are the folks at sbnation.com. They say that Love’s ability to sling the ball is reminiscent of Patrick Mahomes. They point to his size and athleticism, and say that his throwing mechanics have no wasted motion and no long windup. With his strong arm he can easily make deep throws with just a flick of the wrist, and he even has a killer sidearm throw, and he can pass on the run, and he’s got a quick delivery. What he needs to do is improve on his reading of coverages and decision-making – faults that sbnation views as fixable. They conclude that “Love has the non-teachable parts down.”
Sports Illustrated’s Kevin Hanson, who ranked Love as the 28th overall player on his 2020 draft board, says:
“Part of Love’s 2019 regression can be attributed to a coaching change and lack of talent in his supporting cast, but he pressed at times and often made ill-advised throws. The epitome of a high-risk, high-reward prospect, Love has a live arm and plus movement skills to extend and make plays.”
At the end of its lengthy critique, sbnation’s James Brady issued these conclusions:
“Verdict: Love is absolutely worth the gamble, but he has a long way to go.
If there was ever a potential franchise quarterback who HAS to have at least a year or two of sitting on the bench, it’s Love. There’s so much to like about his game and the way he approaches it, but he’s simply not ready right now.
No team should be targeting Love as a rookie starter. That isn’t to say he wouldn’t look good occasionally – there’s too much innate talent for him to fail outright. However, there would be more ugly moments, and it would be detrimental to his growth.
He’ll have to be coached up an awful lot, but his ceiling is extremely high. He just needs to land in the right place – a team that believes in its quarterback room and its own process to develop him into a star.”
Going into the 2020 draft, Love was considered to be one of four first-round QB picks. This was borne out at the draft, with LSU’s Joe Burrow going to the Bengals at # 1, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa to Miami at # 5, Oregon’s Justin Herbert to the Chargers at # 6, and Love going to the Packers at # 26. The next QB chosen wasn’t until Jalen Hurts went to the Eagles at # 53, and that was it for QBs until the middle of round four.
It will be a few years before we’ll know which of these four is having the most success as a pro. Due to Love’s huge upside, however, few analysts question whether he’ll will become a star pro QB. The more pertinent question is when this will be: in 2021, 2022, or 2023.
Echoing Todd McShay’s and James Brady’s thoughts, I believe that Jordan, in landing in Green Bay, is in the right place – due to its solid roster and gifted coaching staff – to be developed into a star, and take his place as a worthy successor to the Pack’s two previous starting quarterbacks.
Rodgers Saga Update
A couple of indicators suggest that, just as the organization finally tired of Brett Favre’s selfish antics, the current saga is headed for a similar outcome.
First, well after the story of Rodgers’ discontent emerged (on draft day, April 23), and after there had been sufficient time for mending the rift (if that was going to happen), the Packers went out on May 21 and got veteran QB Blake Bortles. The most likely explanation for this is that the team was securing a solid backup for Love should Rodgers not rejoin the team.
A second indication is that, despite the Packers having five quarterbacks on the payroll, the recent 3-day mini-camp amounted to a crash course of learning and training for Jordan Love. Not only did he take almost every snap throughout the camp, but the team seemed to quicken the pace of the practice, so as to get as many snaps as possible for Love within the mini-camp time limitation – I believe that during mini-camp teams are allowed (by the CBA) two daily practices totaling 3 ½ hours on the field per day, though the second practice is limited to walk-through activities only.
In sum, the Green Bay coaching staff appears to be moving at breakneck speed to prepare Jordan Love to take the field against the Saints in New Orleans on September 12 – which is now less than three months away.
A Third Reason
There’s also a third reason to believe the torch is about to be passed – this season or next. Looking ahead to next season, the Packers are so much over the 2022 salary cap that drastic measures will have to be taken. I was originally anticipating that at least three of Gutekunst’s free agent signings of 2019 would have to be released after the current season (the Smith brothers and Billy Turner) – and that either Bakhtiari, Adams, or Aaron Jones would have to depart too. Yes, things are that desperate heading into next year.
If Rodgers is dealt away, however, the organization’s looming financial traumas can be mostly resolved in one fell swoop. Rodgers currently has the league’s highest salary cap number: his 2021 cap hit of $37.202M is more than five million more than anyone else and more than $10 million more than the player with the fourth highest cap.
Aaron is due to have an even greater cap number in 2022: $39,852,000. The team’s relieving itself of that obligation is the one way I can think of, other than parting ways with from four to five of its highest-paid players, to restore the team to financial stability.