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Bravo, Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers is out, Jordan Love is in and the Green Bay Packers rediscovered their backbone. Here's why this should be celebrated as a great day... despite the departing quarterback's angst.
The Aaron Rodgers Era is over.
After 15 seasons as the Green Bay Packers’ starter, the quarterback will be traded to the New York Jets. He confirmed as much Wednesday afternoon.
As first reported by Go Long in mid-February, the Packers have made the organizational decision to turn to Jordan Love, their first-round pick in 2020. Everyone’s on board. In a carbon-copy repeat of the franchise’s shift from Brett Favre to Rodgers, the team president, general manager and head coach are all in lockstep agreement that the time is now.
This is a move the franchise should’ve made the last two offseasons, yes. But it’s worth taking a moment to applaud the Packers for finally doing the right thing. It’s a great day in the history of a storied team. Saying goodbye to a quarterback who delivered a Super Bowl title and will be enshrined in Canton is not easy. The norm is for every team to hang on too long. Yet everything about this overdue breakup has been comically abnormal. Right down to Rodgers vowing in January he wouldn’t hold anyone “hostage” before handing the Jets a wish list (ransom note?) that included the name of an old, slow, USFL-level slot receiver, one blocking tight end who turns 39 in May and another former star who reportedly wants $20 million a year despite being worth a fourth of that.
Per usual, Rodgers used Pat McAfee’s platform to spin this and put all pressure on Green Bay. He aired more grievances. He again complained about how the Packers don’t let veterans leave with “dignity.” He said “I’m not a victim” before, then, painting himself as — ding, ding, ding — a victim.
Now, the Jets’ brass can work these YouTube shows into their work schedules.
Good Lord. I hope Brian Gutekunst enjoys a minimum five Spotted Cows tonight. Imagine everything we didn’t see behind the scenes. The poor bastard deserves to exhale, celebrate and ring in a new era. The Jordan Love Era.
How did we get here?
Pop three Advils. We must relive the headaches. (Quickly, I promise.)
First, in 2021, Rodgers grabbed Gutekunst by the collar and dragged him into the public square for a Thrones-style shaming. Local and national media happily obliged those four months because how dare a GM ensure the long-term health of his team by drafting a talented, yet raw quarterback to develop. The gall. The horror. Rodgers, a masterful manipulator, knew his vast army of surrogates and toadies would do his bidding. A slew of reports indicated that the QB wanted Gutekunst fired, reports he never really refuted. Love was trashed, Rodgers was lionized, management sadly bent the knee on the eve of training camp.
Next came the epic press conference in which Rodgers blistered the Packers as a crass front office that refused to keep veterans around. He was dead wrong. Obviously. If the Packers took his advice, he would’ve never seen the field himself. But, whatever. The organization accepted its floggings in officially making its bed in this moment. Mark Murphy all but named the complicated fella the team’s new Assistant GM. (Welcome aboard, Randall Cobb!)
Then, the lying. Shot, no shot, I sincerely do not care. To each their own. Free country. But this gross episode revealed both the absence of the quarterback’s character and the team’s spine. Unlike his equals, Rodgers cares deeply about what people think of him. So we shouldn’t have been shocked that the “immunized” Rodgers wanted everybody to think he was vaccinated in order to avoid the arrows raining down on Cole Beasley and others. The Packers allowed their maskless quarterback to play pretend at the podium. Say what you want about Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz and Lamar Jackson. At least they owned their decisions from Day 1.
He won MVP. He lost to an injured Jimmy Garoppolo at Lambeau Field.
His reward was the richest contract in the sport.
He responded by blowing off another offseason and, oh, what was that? You thought losing Davante Adams and breaking in three rookie receivers would compel Rodgers to care about OTAs? Fat chance. He essentially did the opposite of Patrick Mahomes, who brought the Kansas City Chiefs’ new weapons to Fort Worth, Texas for a crash course on Andy Reid’s offense. Physically, Rodgers’ skills diminished and he flat-out didn’t see the field well. Not only did he fail to throw for 300 yards in a single game, but his interception number spiked to 12. He posted the worst passer rating of his career.
At home, against the Lions, he completed 2 of 6 passes for 12 yards with a pick in the fourth quarter. Season over. Packers career over.
There’s always a hodgepodge of baggage — the ayahuasca, the shrooms, the informing teammates that 9-11 was an inside job. Before he could squeeze a phone call to Gutekunst into his schedule, Rodgers sat down with Aubrey Marcus for 96 minutes to detail how he wiped his ass in the dark, amongst other hot topics.
Production no longer equals tolerance. The headache alone is enough.
He has become selfish, dictatorial, unequivocally the problem.
And yet the reason the Packers should be celebrated today is that this trade is a return to logic. The franchise did what’s best for the franchise. Not Aaron Rodgers. The selection of Love — whether Love pans out or not — was always sound. The position is too valuable. More teams should draft a quarterback when they don’t necessarily “need” one. Nurturing Love at their pace has now given the Packers a chance at something unprecedented in the sport itself: half a century of quarterback bliss. Half of the 32 teams in this league are hamsters on a wheel, perpetually hitting reset at QB.
Vet to vet to vet to aging vet, Jim Irsay steered the Indianapolis Colts deeper into the wilderness.
Many quarterbacks drafted in the first round play too soon and their careers are permanently damaged.
And here were the Packers perfectly willing to draft a quarterback… and wait.
They knew it’d piss off Rodgers and took this project out of Utah State anyways. Gutekunst wasn’t going to allow the entire organization to be caught with its pants down when Father Time inevitably slugged Rodgers in the jaw. Like the Giants. Like the Steelers. Like the Saints. Like every team that gets overly sentimental as The End nears. Their mistake was thinking Rodgers changed the calculus with two more MVPs. Given the silo nature of the Packers’ organizational structure — both Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur report directly to Murphy — who knows if Gutekunst even wanted that abomination of a contract.
Either way, the Packers were blinded by regular-season success. They skimmed past the fact that Rodgers kept on shrinking in the playoffs. They didn’t realize just how different of a quarterback he’d be without Adams.
The easy decision this offseason would’ve been to wrap Rodgers in their loving arms once more. To let him skip OTAs (again). To let teammates follow his lead by skipping themselves (again). To let the QB call for the benching of any players who aren’t up to snuff on his paid television appearances, even when his own play is subpar. They could’ve viewed the three-year, $150 million contract as a timeshare from hell they’d never escape from.
Instead, they were proactive. Instead, the Packers made it clear that they’re in charge.
Because, all along, their eyes were wide open to another development. The Packers realized that Jordan Love was the one who completely changed the calculus.
When it appeared that Love was destined to be trade bait this point last offseason, all the 6-foot-4, 219-pounder from Bakersfield, Calif., did was turn himself into an NFL starting quarterback.
Those who know Love best explained the Year 2-to-Year 3 leap in this feature. Siaosi Mariner remembers training with Love shortly after Rodgers signed that deal. The former Utah State receiver saw an edge to his friend. Steve Calhoun, Love’s longtime mentor and private coach, stayed in direct communication with LaFleur. The Packers head coach sent specific drills for them to work on, Calhoun filmed it, Calhoun sent it back and — day to day to day — Love worked. As one Packers receiver told me, it’s easier to have a conversation with Love about the offensive plays than Rodgers because Love is actually running LaFleur’s offense.
What we all saw that night in Philadelphia was the case behind the scenes all of 2022. He worked with the No. 1 offense a ton the final two months of the season.
Now, there is no debate. The 24-year-old Love is the clear choice over the 39-year-old Rodgers. No sane team meticulously develops a quarterback for three years — sees substantial proof that he can play — and then lights a match to that development. The Packers learned this lesson themselves under Ted Thompson. As Charles Woodson said, players knew Rodgers was ready in 2008. And players know now. That’s why Gutekunst (at the Combine) and Murphy (at the state girls basketball tourney) were so adamant that Love “needs to play.” Perhaps Love only wins six games in his first year as a starter like Rodgers.
There will still be growing pains, and that’s OK. He needs to face the live bullets that a quarterback in his own draft class, Philly’s Jalen Hurts, has experienced for 2 1/2 seasons now.
Love, too, is capable of leading his team to the Super Bowl.
Trot 40-year-old quarterbacks out at your own peril. This is a young man’s position. The average age of the final eight QBs in the dance last postseason was 25.3. Nobody was even 30. As our Bob McGinn reported, the Packers view Love as “Aaron Rodgers 2.0.” Athletically, he can make the improvisational throws Rodgers can now only dream of at this point of his career. Green Bay got a glimpse of this in the preseason where a few of Love’s escapes on incomplete passes were as impressive as anything Rodgers did during the regular season. After the Packers’ preseason win over New Orleans, LaFleur was giddy. He said Love was “light years” ahead of where he was a year ago, adding that everyone in the locker room could see it.
The brilliance of the selection all along was that it allowed the Packers to build two offenses within one.
There was the clairvoyance between Rodgers and Adams hypnotizing defenses. Then, beneath this, there was Jordan Love growing with other 22- and 23-year-olds on a day-to-day basis. A.J. Dillon, the back drafted in his class, gushed over Love’s personality when we chatted in 2020. They got to know each other in predraft training.
“He’s definitely a leader,” Dillon said. “And this is not just me trying to hype him up. He has a presence in the room. He is somebody that won’t be hard to follow.”
More teammates soon joined. North Dakota State’s Christian Watson looks like a potential star. Nevada’s Romeo Doubs could become a solid No. 2. Aaron Jones knew there was a good chance Rodgers was leaving and still accepted a pay cut. Next month, the Packers will have a chance to draft both a tight end and a wide receiver. All while cutting the fat off the roster. No longer will Marcedes Lewis and Cobb stunt the growth of others simply because Rodgers needs his buddies around.
We saw the same effect as Rodgers supplanted Favre, another legend who followed his own set of rules those final years. The entitlement we heard in Favre’s voice on Greta Van Susteren in ‘08 was alive and well in Rodgers’ voice Wednesday. Listen carefully and you’ll hear desperation in both interviews — it’s difficult for every longtime great to know their services are no longer required.
Removing such an ornery voice from the team equation will be beyond refreshing.
A younger core can relate to its younger quarterback. This manifests in ways we see and don’t see.
One of Love’s best wide receivers at Utah State who also happens to be one of his best friends to this day — Ron’Quavion Tarver — brings up the day Love helped him move in college. Love could notice something was wrong. Typically, Tarver is an outspoken, fun-loving dude. Tarver told him that his grandfather had just died. So, right then, Love brought him to the practice field to run routes and take his mind off it.
“Jordan’s a good guy,” Tarver says. “You can always talk to him. You can always rely on him.”
Even when Love became the big man on campus, even when he was drafted in the first round, Tarver insists his personality never changed: “No cockiness. No arrogance. None of that.” They still chat daily via text and Snapchat. Love visits him in Miami any chance he can. Tarver believes the unspeakable trauma Love endured as a teen — losing a father to suicide — shaped his life perspective. He knows what’s truly important. Waiting three years to start hasn’t weighed on him mentally because, as Tarver notes, “he’s been through much worse things in life.”
Tarver promises that Love will get to know every single player on the team. He’ll seek true relationships, on and off the field.
“It’s going to be more than just football in the locker room with Jordan,” Tarver says. “It’s going to turn into a family.”
And by finally ushering in a new era, the Packers have a golden opportunity to rebuild a stronger culture than the one Rodgers leaves behind. You know, a quarterback who’ll actually give a damn about the offseason. When Love entered the ‘18 season as Utah State’s starter, he stayed on campus through the summer — and teammates followed his lead. They made breakfast together. Cooked steaks. Love didn’t ask players to join him on the field for extra reps. He told them.
Tarver didn’t have a car, so Love picked him up every morning for meetings. He grasped the importance of each session.
He’ll keep football fun, too.
“You know how everyone loves Cam Newton?” Tarver says. “He likes to dance. He loves kids. I think Jordan could change the culture. I don’t know how to say it, but he’s totally different from A-Rod. He’s more outspoken. He likes to have more fun. A-Rod is an older guy than Jordan. Eventually, he’ll get to the point like A-Rod where he’s more laidback but Jordan, he likes to have fun. He loves fun. And that comes with winning.”
That’s why his favorite memory from college is Love shushing the BYU crowd after an RPO touchdown.
There’s no doubt in his mind that Love will be one of the best quarterbacks in the sport. “If there’s anything close to Patrick Mahomes,” he says, “it would be Jordan.”
What always blows my mind through this melodrama is not the fact that kids hear a famous quarterback freely pontificate about the wonders of doing drugs or even that Rodgers penned a “wish list” for the Jets like all of our kids writing letters to Santa, no, it’s that all of the deafening noise clouds the fact that Rodgers has been a postseason failure.
Especially of late. Each loss is worst than the last.
The punt-punt-punt-fumble-interception-punt to start the ‘19 NFC title at San Francisco.
Forcing a wayward incompletion to a double-covered Davante Adams on third and goal in the ‘20 NFC title vs. Tampa Bay, when he had a shot to run for a TD.
Forcing another incompletion to Adams on his final throw with Allen Lazard wide open in the ‘21 NFC title. He led the Packers to all of 10 points as a No. 1 seed at home.
Last season’s virtual playoff game at Lambeau Field was the worst of them all, of course. A total apathetic no-show.
Forget the career resume. These losses demand accountability. Since Rodgers’ lone Super Bowl title, quite literally everyone else has fallen on the sword: Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson, Brandon Bostick, Dom Capers, players at every position. The Hall of Famer has skated on by — until now. Any frustration Gutekunst feels off the field pales in comparison to what he feels about Rodgers’ comatose performances in crunch time.
From the moment the Packers begged Rodgers to return in 2021, it’s been Super Bowl or Bust. The quarterback busted — repeatedly — so it’s time to move on. There are consequences for such feeble defeats.
Maybe Love won’t wither away when the season’s on the line. It’s worth finding out.
The Packers will look back at this March as a moment of triumph. They reclaimed their backbone.
As for those New York Jets? Those sorry, sorry, sad Jets are now repeating all of Green Bay’s mistakes in twisting to Rodgers’ will. All of the updates on Tuesday ran like headlines straight out of The Onion. With the veteran quarterback market drying up — surprise, surprise — Rodgers likely knew he had his foot on the team’s throat and took advantage. He tried to push back on the wish-list report Tuesday but, as usual, it’s a matter of semantics. At any point, the Jets could’ve signed Lamar Jackson to whatever the hell Lamar Jackson wants. Five years of guaranteed money to a quarterback squarely in his prime is a lot more promising than whatever these next five years entail in New Jersey.
He could use all of this for good. A pissed-off Rodgers tends to perform. But all of the red flags are painfully obvious. He’s only getting older. He’s the eighth-best quarterback in his own conference. He’s surrounded by more enablers.
Maybe Rodgers leads the Jets to the playoffs, but we know how that’ll end.
Even with Zach Wilson proving to be an all-time bust, the Jets never needed to act so desperately. GM Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh now run the risk of contaminating one of the best young rosters in the NFL. This reeks of panic.
Not that the Packers will shed a tear.
Years from now, Aaron Rodgers will be enshrined into the Packers Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and get his number retired. He’ll probably have a street named after him, too. Fed up with Rodgers right now? You’ll love reliving the lights-out playoff game in Atlanta, the Super Bowl strike to Greg Jennings, the fourth-and-8 knife through the Bears’ chest at Soldier Field in 2013, the impossible throw to Jared Cook in Dallas, the “I own you!” taunt in 2021 and everything in-between. His legacy is strong, secure.
But the Packers are bigger than one player. What made this franchise great in the Summer of 2008 is back. They aren’t living in the past 15 years. They’re concerned about the next 15 years. That’s how smart sports organizations function.
This time? The GM has the fans on his side.
Enjoy that beer at the local pub, Brian. I doubt you’ll need to pay for it.