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Breaking up is hard to do
In Indy, there are more signs pointing toward the Packers and Aaron Rodgers parting ways. The tone of Brian Gutekunst's answer was telling.
INDIANAPOLIS — If the Green Bay Packers do indeed want Aaron Rodgers back as their starting quarterback, this would figure to be the softball of all softballs floating Brian Gutekunst’s direction.
Here at the NFL scouting combine, the Packers GM began by saying he has exchanged texts with Aaron Rodgers since the quarterback’s darkness retreat but that they haven’t spoken yet. He hopes to have the position sorted out before free agency begins. Then came the point-blank question.
Do you still want him to be your quarterback?
“Our feelings haven’t changed about Aaron. But we need to have some of those conversations about our team and where it’s going, where he’s at, before we go forward.”
Next, he was asked about Jordan Love.
“We’re excited about him. I’ve expressed to a lot of people that he needs to play. That’s the next step in his progression. He needs to play. Jordan’s done a great job. He’s worked really hard. So he’s doing everything we’re asking.”
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Note that repeated line: Love needs to play. That was central to what Bob McGinn reported here on the Packers’ plans to transition from Rodgers to Love in 2023. Gutekunst traded up to take Love in the first round of the 2020 draft for a reason. After seeing significant strides in Love from Year 2 to Year 3 — examined in last week’s feature — the Packers appear to be gently inching closer and closer to publicly tearing the bandage off. The last two offseasons, Gutekunst very publicly insisted the Packers were not trading Rodgers. Today when asked about Rodgers’ future, he said all options are on the table. That’s quite a shift. The sense here is that the Packers and Rodgers are delicately handling the terms of a breakup. It’s very public. It’s all over every sports show. Both sides are cognizant of how this divorce will be perceived by everyone.
Now, it may be a matter of each party navigating an exit strategy with minimal collateral damage.
At this point last season, the two sides were negotiating the terms of the sport’s richest contract. Everyone was in lockstep. Now? Rodgers still hasn’t told the Packers if he intends to play football and, if so, if he even wants to play for the Packers. The start of free agency is March 15, so Gutekunst would like clarity soon.
And all of this does not matter if the Packers are all-in on Love. Clearly, their confidence in the quarterback has grown. He has always been the ultimate variable along this year-to-year-to-year odyssey. The jump Love took Year 2-to-Year 3 may be the reason for Gutekunst’s shift in tone. I asked the GM where Love improved the most last season:
“The comfort in the offense and the confidence in it is the biggest thing,” Gutekunst said. “He was making quicker decisions and letting it rip a little bit more. He was thinking less and playing more. He didn’t get a lot of opportunity during the season to go out there and perform but, when he did, we thought he executed very well. I know just watching him through practice — not only in the offseason last year, training camp, but into the season with how he approached the weeks — there was a different level of intensity week-in and week-out then there had been prior.”
In May, the Packers will need to decide whether to pick up Love’s fifth-year option for 2024. Gutekunst cited “other dominoes” that must fall first, obviously.
The Packers will need to consider the very real possibility that Love will request a trade if they roll out the red carpet for Rodgers once more.
Love, the GM added, is eager to play.
“He wants that opportunity,” Gutekunst said. “Sometimes, those things are out of your control like they have been for him the last few years. But I think he’s ready and excited.”
Love wants to play in the actual games and, well, it sure sounds like Gutekunst wants the same exact thing. This has been an investment of draft capital and time. Now, the Packers need to see how Jordan Love performs as their starting quarterback. Perhaps waiting until this point was for the best all along.
Whenever any player progresses, Gutekunst added, it affects decision-making. Just so happens this is about as big as decisions get in the NFL.
“We took him for a reason back in 2020,” Gutekunst said. “He has been progressing nicely. To see him take the jump he did this past year was nice. Again, it’s much different than going out there week-in and week-out, taking on the challenges when teams are game-planning for you. We were talking earlier about the length of the time it takes a quarterback to go from really playing well to winning in this league, and he’ll need to go through those things like any other quarterback. He has taken some really good jumps and there’s more out there for him. The things that are out there for him, he’ll need to play to do that.”
First comes the hard part. The breakup. Right now, the team and the quarterback seem to be engaged in a passive-aggressive dance where neither one wants to be viewed as the bad guy. The “it’s not you, it’s me,” Costanza routine can only drag on so long.
Will be sure to share anything and everything we hear in Indianapolis on the matter throughout the week. To get it all, join our community today: