Ready for Love: Aaron Rodgers' exit would mean new era for Packers
GREEN BAY, Wis. - Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst valued Jordan Love’s potential enough three years ago to trade up in the draft and select him in the first round, catching the Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback already on roster by surprise.
Love finally has a chance to show he was worth the gamble.
Four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers said Wednesday on "The Pat McAfee Show" on YouTube and SiriusXM that he intends to play for the New York Jets in the 2023 season and is waiting for the Packers to trade him. Assuming that move is made, Love will take over as Green Bay’s starting quarterback.
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"We’re excited about him," Gutekunst said Feb. 28 during the 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."
Love’s two predecessors set quite the standard.
The Packers have had three decades of Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback production from Brett Favre and Rodgers, who won a combined seven MVP awards during their time in Green Bay.
Love has spent the past three seasons backing up Rodgers, just as Rodgers took over after backing up Favre for three seasons. Rodgers said during his "Pat McAfee Show" appearance that he got the impression the Packers wanted to move on from him and make Love the starter.
"Jordan’s going to be a great player," Rodgers said. "He’s a ... great kid. He had a really good year this year, getting better on the look team. He’s got a bright future in front of him."
Love has made only one career start, a 13-7 loss at Kansas City in 2021. His other most notable appearances came in the second half of a meaningless 2021 regular-season finale at Detroit and in relief of an injured Rodgers at Philadelphia last fall.
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He has gone 50 of 83 for 606 yards with three touchdown passes and three interceptions since the Packers selected him out of Utah State with the 26th overall pick in the 2020 draft.
"I have complete confidence in his ability but also just his approach," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said at the end of last season. "It’s been fun to watch him mature as a football player, as a man, over the course of these last three years. Just the way he walks around the building, his approach, his urgency, his fundamentals, everything that goes into being a quarterback, I think we’ve seen significant growth from him."
It’s difficult to analyze Love’s performances because of the circumstances surrounding many of them.
Love didn’t realize he’d be starting at Kansas City until Rodgers discovered the Wednesday before the game he had tested positive for COVID-19. He threw two interceptions and one touchdown pass in the second half of a meaningless 2021 regular-season finale against Detroit when the Packers rested many starters because they already had clinched the NFC's top seed.
Packers receiver Randall Cobb and quarterback Aaron Rodgers walk off the field together after a loss to the Lions at Lambea Field on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.
His best outing came last season when he went 6 of 9 for 113 yards and a touchdown in relief of an injured Rodgers in a 40-33 loss at Philadelphia. The Eagles led 37-23 in the fourth quarter when Love entered the game, which impacted how they defended.
"I’d say I just feel more comfortable, more confident, just seeing things a little bit more clean and faster," Love said four days after the Eagles game.
Love’s job could be particularly difficult if the Packers don’t add more playmakers.
Green Bay has a quality offensive line and one of the NFL’s top running back tandems in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, both capable pass catchers. The Packers drafted three wideouts last season, with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs combining to score 12 touchdowns as rookies.
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But they could lack veteran receivers and tight ends.
Allen Lazard, who had 60 catches for 788 yards last season, is an unrestricted free agent who tweeted out a farewell to Green Bay on Wednesday. Wide receiver Randall Cobb and tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis also are free agents.
Love will have to draw on everything he picked up the past three seasons while backing up Rodgers. In his news conference after the Packers’ season finale, Rodgers was asked about Love’s readiness to take over in case the four-time MVP retired or got traded.
"You don’t know you’re ready until you’re in that position," Rodgers said at the time. "I remember the day I was sleeping in San Diego and woke up to 50 text messages that Brett had retired. Then the emotions hit you. ‘Oh, man, now I’m the guy.’ But you’ve still got to go out there and find your stride with leadership and withstand the first year of different defenses throwing things at you and all the pressure that comes with everything.
"But I think he’s done a nice job of improving, working on the little things, done a nice job at practice. I think he’s got a chance to have a long future in the league."