Turning the page from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Hannah Lucca)

It’s not like the Green Bay Packers would ever say they were relieved to see the Aaron Rodgers era end. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks ever. It’s possible Green Bay goes many years without adequately replacing him. He was undeniably great.

And still, it would be understandable if some privately felt that way.

We don’t need to go through the years of cryptic quotes from Pat McAfee’s show, dalliances with “Jeopardy!” and whatever darkness retreats are, but the drama regarding Rodgers’ future had gotten to be exhausting. No matter how great Rodgers was as a quarterback, the team had to feel that too.

After a very disappointing 8-9 season, which fittingly ended with a home loss to the Detroit Lions with a playoff spot on the line, it was time to move on. The Packers did well to get what they did in a Rodgers trade with the New York Jets. He’s going to turn 40 in December, after all. And now the Packers can see if the controversial Jordan Love draft pick back in 2020 was worth it.

Love is an unknown. He has one career start and 83 NFL passes. Mystery isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Love was a first-round pick for a reason and the reports on him were mostly similar: There was an exciting upside but a lot of risk. That hasn’t changed much. His 83 passes really haven’t revealed who he is as an NFL quarterback.

For months, going back to last season, the message from the Packers’ front office, coaches and players has been consistent: They’re excited to see Love play. Maybe that’s relief over the Rodgers drama being over, but the optimism about Love is worth noting.

“He believes in himself, he cares about everybody around him and we’ve seen him just come in consistently and just work, work, work,” running back Aaron Jones said, via Packers.com. “He did it the right way, he waited his time and you never heard one peep or complaint out of him. He has everyone’s full respect and we’re all going to go lay it out on the line for him.”

Love might be stepping into a better situation than last year’s record would indicate. You couldn’t read about the Packers defense before last season without the word “loaded” being involved. The Packers were young at receiver but they showed some promise and added even more talent there. Green Bay has two very good running backs to help out. Last season was a confusing mess. It seemed like the Packers underachieved. What if it was just a strange season and the talent rebounds as the Packers rally around a new QB?

It still might not be easy. We remember the Brett Favre-to-Rodgers transition as being seamless, but it wasn’t immediately. Rodgers played pretty well in 2008, his first season as a starter, but the Packers went 6-10.

“I think the one thing you see in this league, it’s very rarely are guys shot out of a cannon winning-wise,” Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said this offseason, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “There is some great play, there’s instances you see flashes, but I think it takes most of these quarterbacks a little bit of time to learn how to win.”

Jordan Love takes over as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers after they traded Aaron Rodgers. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Jordan Love takes over as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers after they traded Aaron Rodgers. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

We’ll see what it’s like for Love, who hasn’t played much meaningful football since 2019 at Utah State. We’re also about to get a lot more knowledge on coach Matt LaFleur, who has an outstanding record but not much credit because Rodgers has been his quarterback. It’s also a chance for the rest of the Packers to get out of Rodgers’ shadow.

Either way, it will be an interesting transition season in Green Bay. Maybe it won’t lead to another era of Hall of Fame quarterback play, but it was time to try something new.

Offseason grade

It’s fair to dislike the Packers’ entire offseason simply because they traded one of the best quarterbacks ever. But once the Packers decided to move on from Aaron Rodgers, they did OK. They waited out the Jets for a bit and got a move up from No. 15 to No. 13 in this year’s draft, a second- and sixth-round pick this year, and a conditional second-round pick in 2024 that becomes a first if Rodgers plays 65 percent of the snaps. That’s a given if Rodgers stays healthy. Green Bay also sent a fifth-round pick this year. Overall it was a good return for a 39-year-old quarterback. Free agency wasn’t great. It was fine to let receiver Allen Lazard go when the Jets overpaid him to make Rodgers happy, but the Packers also lost defensive linemen Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry and didn’t sign anyone of note. The draft brought some help. Edge defender Lukas Van Ness was the first-round pick. After that the Packers invested in some pass catchers for Love: tight ends Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft, receiver Jayden Reed and two more late-round receivers. Drafting kicker Anders Carlson practically marked the end of Mason Crosby’s Packers career. It’s nothing to get that excited about, but it wasn’t bad.

Grade: C-

Quarterback report

We don’t have much of a track record with Jordan Love, but he has played some. If people are dismissing Love, either they studied his 17 interceptions his final season at Utah State or they are putting a lot of emphasis on his one NFL start, which wasn’t under ideal circumstances. He didn’t find out until Wednesday that he’d be starting, after Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19. The start was at the Kansas City Chiefs, which is a tough assignment. The Packers scored just one touchdown in a 13-7 loss, though that wasn’t all Love’s fault. He didn’t play that well either, completing 19 of 34 passes for 190 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Love did play better when he had to come in for an injured Rodgers against the Philadelphia Eagles last season, completing six of nine passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Love’s career passer rating of 79.7 on 83 attempts isn’t good, but it’s a small sample size. We really won’t know much until we see Love play this season.

BetMGM odds breakdown

I’m optimistic about the Packers. Their win total at BetMGM is 7.5 and I like the over there. I also don’t mind them at +350 to win the NFC North. Who’s to say Jordan Love isn’t pretty good right away? The Packers seem optimistic. My favorite Packers bet this season might be on Matt LaFleur to win NFL Coach of the Year at +1800. If Love is good and the Packers go to the playoffs without Aaron Rodgers, people will look at LaFleur’s coaching resume (he does have a 47-19 career record) in a different light and he’ll get a lot of credit.

Yahoo’s fantasy take

From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “AJ Dillon is a respectable pro player, but the Packers probably messed up when they selected him with a second-round pick three years ago. Dillon did punch out seven touchdowns last year, four from short distance, but his yards per carry was 1.2 yards behind Aaron Jones, and Dillon struggled in the passing game (28 catches, seven drops, just 4.8 yards per target). Green Bay’s offense heads into uncharted waters as Jordan Love takes over for Aaron Rodgers, and Dillon is the type of back who needs positive game flow to hit his fantasy ceiling. Although Dillon’s early Yahoo ADP is reasonable (just inside the top 100), he’s not on my target list.”

Stat to remember

Over the last eight games of Christian Watson‘s rookie season, he had 523 yards and seven touchdowns. Over a 17-game season, that’s a pace of 1,111 yards and 15 touchdowns. Most rookies don’t get close to that level of production. Watson put up those numbers over the last eight games on just 31 catches, and while it’s nearly impossible to maintain that touchdown percentage, it speaks to his big-play ability. The second-round pick got off to a bad start in Week 1 when he dropped a sure touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings, but by midseason he was healthy and confident. Watson is a centerpiece of a young passing game that also features fellow 2022 rookie Romeo Doubs and 2023 rookies Jayden Reed and tight end Luke Musgrave. Factor in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon at running back, and Jordan Love has plenty to work with.

Burning question

Why did the Packers bring DC Joe Barry back?

The Packers’ defense was supposed to be excellent in 2022. Instead, it was worse than the season before. Packers fans — and even players — started to question Barry, the coordinator of one of the league’s most disappointing units. It would have been easy to fire Barry and go after one of the many interesting defensive coordinator candidates on the market. But Matt LaFleur stuck with Barry. He wanted continuity and said he saw improvement late in the season.

“I thought it got better,” LaFleur said, via the Wisconsin State Journal. “I felt like that was in the best interest of us to bring all those (coaches) back.”

The Packers’ defense did get better as the team clawed back into the playoff race, though it faced some shorthanded offenses in that stretch. And the defense played better, but still not great. Over the course of the season the Packers gave up way too many yards per play against the pass and the run. Green Bay was 17th in yards allowed and points allowed and 20th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and there was way too much talent on that side of the ball for those rankings.

If the Packers can build on their improvements late in the season, LaFleur’s patience will look smart. But the decision to stick with Barry will be under a lot of scrutiny.

Best-case scenario

Remember the common scouting report on Jordan Love: He was flawed but had a big upside coming out of college. What if he hits that upside? He was a first-round pick for a reason. If all those years of sitting and learning help Love’s transition to the starting spot, the rest of the Packers’ roster is pretty good. It’s a team a lot of people were very high on coming into last season, and not just because of Aaron Rodgers. If Love is a top-15 starting quarterback right away, the defense plays like it was expected to last season, and the talent at running back and receiver shines, the Packers could shock everyone and win a division title. That would be a pretty good first season after Rodgers.

Nightmare scenario

Just imagine if Aaron Rodgers, after all those playoff disappointments with Green Bay after Super Bowl XLV, leaves the Packers and wins a Super Bowl with the New York Jets right away. What if that is combined with a bad season from Jordan Love which makes it clear the Packers still have to find their next quarterback? It has been a long, long time since the Packers were in the quarterback abyss. Many are down on the Packers after they disappointed last season and moved to an unproven quarterback. It’s possible the critics are right. And if the Packers have a terrible season, they don’t have the hope that a Brett Favre or Rodgers will turn it around for them next year.

The crystal ball says …

Maybe I’m too optimistic on the Packers winning right away with Jordan Love, but I also don’t know why he is being dismissed so quickly. The Packers have a talented roster with plenty of support for their young quarterback. Love has been waiting a long time for his shot. I don’t know that Love will give Green Bay another 15 or so years of Hall of Fame QB play, but I think he will work out OK and the Packers will be in playoff contention. I can’t pick them to take the NFC North, but I might pick them as a wild-card team. Don’t underestimate the Packers.

Other team previews

32. Arizona Cardinals

31. Houston Texans

30. Chicago Bears

29. Tennessee Titans

28. Los Angeles Rams

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

26. Indianapolis Colts

25. Washington Commanders

24. Las Vegas Raiders

23. Carolina Panthers

22. Denver Broncos

21. Atlanta Falcons

20. Green Bay Packers

19. New England Patriots

18. New York Giants

17. Minnesota Vikings

16. New Orleans Saints

15. Pittsburgh Steelers

14. Cleveland Browns

13. Los Angeles Chargers

12. Jacksonville Jaguars

11. Seattle Seahawks

10. Baltimore Ravens

9. Miami Dolphins

8. New York Jets

7. Detroit Lions

6. Dallas Cowboys

5. San Francisco 49ers

4. Buffalo Bills

3. Cincinnati Bengals

2. Philadelphia Eagles

1. Kansas City Chiefs

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