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It's Jordan Love Time
Don't fear the future. This moment has been years in the making for the Green Bay Packers quarterback. From coaches to teammates, everyone knows Jordan Love is ready to start. Right now.
Every red-blooded competitor in the sport has a breaking point. One humbly accepts their plight for only so long.
Talent cannot be confined to a practice field forever. Frustration boils over. And the night of Nov. 27, 2022, Jordan Love proved he deserves to start in the NFL.
Against the NFC’s best team, he was nearly perfect. Afterward, however, he was in no cheery mood. When longtime mentor and personal quarterbacks coach Steve Calhoun texted him — “unbelievable game” — Love was… glum. “But Steve,” he responded. “We lost.” Love made it clear how badly he wanted to win this game. Deep down, both knew a comeback win smashes perception for good.
“It would've put the rest of the NFL on notice,” says Calhoun. “Like, ‘OK, you got somebody to deal with here over the next 10 years.’”
Love received all of seven snaps the final five games.
Of course, he wanted to remain the Packers’ starting quarterback after that game. Of course, he’s growing irritated by this whole charade.
“We’re all human,” Calhoun says. “There’s definitely frustration but you understand the dynamic and you’ve got a future Hall of Famer in front of you that you can’t be upset about. You can be frustrated but you just control what you can control. He is working. He’s trying to learn the offense as well as Coach LaFleur knows it. That's his whole deal: ‘I want to know the offense as well as Coach LaFleur.’ Almost be that second coach on the field. If Coach starts to talk about a play or how they can scheme up, Jordan wants to finish the sentence. That’s what he's working toward every day.”
Good news, Jordan.
We think the Packers are finally seeing the light. If anyone has learned anything through this soap opera, it’s that emotions change. Someone atop the Packers’ org chart could still get weak in the knees. But as our Bob McGinn strongly reported, right now, the team is ready to move on from Rodgers and start Love.
So, how did we get here?
Why is Jordan Love prepared to be the face of the Green Bay Packers?
That’s the question we answer with this feature. In truth, nobody’s jaw should’ve hit the floor when this news broke.
The genius in selecting Love was realized immediately. In the short term, the Packers wanted to ever-so-gently strike Aaron Rodgers with a cattle prod. They know his wiring better than any of us. He’d respond the only way he knows how — pissed off. In the long term, the Packers’ goal was to seamlessly transition from one franchise quarterback… to the next…. to the next… for an unprecedented half-century of quarterback bliss. GM Brian Gutekunst was following GM Ted Thompson’s playbook. Then, things got weird. All Rodgers was missing in the summer of 2021 was the green hair, white face and sloppy red lipstick forming an evil smile. The NFL’s own Joker incited mass chaos in making it quite clear he was finished with the Packers.
Everyone at Lambeau Field begged and pleaded and, finally, convinced the quarterback to return on the eve of training camp.
He won another MVP. He withered in another playoff loss.
Out was Davante Adams to the Raiders. In was a trio of rookie wide receivers. Whereas Patrick Mahomes brought all of his new receivers down to Fort Worth, Texas for a crash course on the Chiefs’ offense — he had also lost his No. 1 wideout — Rodgers skipped OTAs. An absence that undeniably delayed the offense’s progress. Age caught up to him. His arm. His legs. When the season began, Rodgers was in obvious decline.
One championship window closed but what nobody on the outside realized was that another championship window was starting to crack open. Amid all the racket, Jordan Love was improving. Drastically. To the point now, where, the Packers appear ready to move on from their future Hall of Famer. Down in Phoenix during Super Bowl Week, Hall of Fame cornerback Charles Woodson said he and fellow Packers teammates knew Rodgers was ready to be the starter the summer of 2008. The rest of the world was in freakout mode — saying “no” to Brett Favre was sacrilegious in this state — but the players on that 13-3 team who had just hosted the NFC Championship Game knew Rodgers was ready replace a legend…
…exactly as many of these 2023 Packers know that Love is ready.
The Packers should have no problem pitting desperate owners (Hey, Woody Johnson! That a new haircut, Mark Davis?) against each other in negotiations. They missed their glorious opportunity at a bounty of picks but, given the dearth of quality starters, Rodgers will command a ripe market. A first-round pick is reasonable.
So, friends, don’t be afraid of the other side. Those who’ve spent the last 72 hours spamming us with obscenities on the bird app and pontificating on local radio, please calm yourself. Count to 10. Treat yourself to a warm glass of milk and a few Cocomelon singalongs, if needed. I know this is an especially difficult time for the hyperventilating sycophants. But the 2022 Packers weren’t one play away from the Super Bowl like those ’07 Packers. They finished 8-9. When one era ends, something greater can begin. Waiting has not been easy for a quarterback cryogenically frozen most of three years. Love has had zero choice but to watch the other four quarterbacks in his draft class — Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts — endure invaluable ups and downs.
Those who know Love best see no reason why he can’t ascend to this stratosphere.
His offensive coordinator at Utah State, David Yost, describes Love’s right arm as more of a firearm that requires a license. He saw exactly how this QB wins over a locker room.
The last time you heard from Siaosi Mariner, the Utah State wide receiver freely described Love as another Patrick Mahomes. He’s not backing down now and — in reality? — Mariner doesn’t even want to pigeonhole Love in the same class: “Mahomes is obviously great. He’s doing what he’s doing at a very, very high level. But I want to see Jordan Love 1.0. I’ve seen the Jordan Love college version, which is really good. I can’t wait to see what he does in the league.”
Current Packers teammates witnessed Love’s massive Year 2-to-Year 3 jump and believe Love is ready to be their starter. They also point out that Love received a ton of reps with the No. 1 offense the final month of practice.
Then, there’s the man who has coached Love since eighth grade. Calhoun was one of the 113 million watching Jalen Hurts author one of the best statistical performances in Super Bowl history. The same Hurts selected 27 picks after Love. The Eagles supported Hurts and Hurts rewarded them with a trip to the Super Bowl.
“I don’t see why that wouldn't happen with Jordan Love as well,” Calhoun says.
The Aaron Rodgers Era may be in its final days, and that’s just fine.
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We cover pro football through a longform lens:
Reliving the last time Jordan Love started at quarterback for a football team feels like a day at the museum. It’s been a while. To understand why he’s ready to become a pro starter, first revisit how he became a college starter six years ago.
The offensive coordinator at Utah State then — one of the best teachers of the position in college football — supplies the blow-by-blow account. David Yost had just arrived that winter from Oregon, where he tutored Justin Herbert. In Love, he inherited a quarterback with all of one FBS scholarship offer. The Bakersfield, Calif., native redshirted the prior fall. He didn’t play a snap. He was roughly fourth on the depth chart. And, yet, Love knew the X’s and O’s as well as any quarterback on the roster. That’s why Yost always viewed Green Bay as the best possible landing spot. He knew Love would maximize every hour of every day away from the cameras. The quarterback’s knowledge of the offense was jarring.
Says Yost: “You could tell he hadn't just kind of hung out as a freshman that year in the dorm chasing girls.”
Utah State returned third-year starter Kent Myers but it was impossible to ignore Love.
When Myers banged his thumb on a teammate’s helmet in practice, a door opened. Love received No. 1 reps in practice, and Yost grew more fascinated.
At the tail-end of Utah State’s second game, a blowout win over inferior Idaho State, Love got his first game action. Three completions, three runs, nothing major. The next week, a blowout loss at superior Wake Forest, Love replaced an injured Myers and showed a little more. “Wake Forest was better than us,” Yost says. “Now he’s under duress. You could see the progression.” His first career TD was anticlimactic — the Aggies trailed 36-0 — but this bullet turned heads. So, coaches hatched a plan. They decided to give Love snaps when a game hadn’t yet been decided: the first drive of a second quarter. The next week against San Jose State, two penalties led to a third and goal from the 23, and Love lobbed a touchdown to Ron’Quavion Tarver in 1-on-1 coverage. Myers got the next series. But when Love returned? He looked “totally different,” Yost says. Like a “veteran.”
The dance continued. Subbing in on the fly, Love received a crash course.
Yost recalls receivers dropping back-to-back-to-back passes vs. BYU, and then Utah State faced the Josh Allen-led Wyoming team. When Love entered the game, “bang, bang, bang,” Yost says. He drove them right down the field. So, they left him in. A major reason? The look coaches saw on the faces of the other 10 in that huddle.
“The players got excited when it was his drive,” Yost says. “There was an energy. When he went in the huddle, the first drive in the second quarter, the O-Line was like, ‘Here we go.’”
He didn’t hoot ‘n holler ‘n pump his fists in cartoonish collegiate fashion. No, there was a mature stoicism to Love. When he stepped into the huddle, coaches audibly heard players say, “Oh yeah, this is Love’s drive.” It didn’t matter that a tipped ball led to an interception. And after telling Myers at halftime that he was sticking with Love, the OC actually did have Myers supplant the redshirt freshman in the second half of a 28-23 loss. Yost saw enough. Everyone did. That next day, Utah State decided to give Love the reins.
Sure, he’d make mistakes. Game reps would speed up his growth. The Aggies started Love and never looked back. The next week, vs. UNLV, he threw for 316 yards, ran for 42 and scored three touchdowns. The next season, he became a legitimate NFL prospect in completing 64 percent of his passes for 3,567 yards with 32 touchdowns, only six interceptions and another seven rushing scores.
It took vision and guts.
Looking back, the team’s thinking was simple, Yost says: “We’re going to bench the starter because Jordan’s better now.”
Today, the coach doesn’t see much difference between Love and the best quarterbacks in pro football. Maybe Herbert and Allen can throw the ball a little farther, but Yost notes that the ball flies off Love’s hand quicker. Maybe Lamar Jackson is a more aesthetically fun runner, but Love eats up yardage in the open field with an unusually long stride. Best of all, like a young Rodgers, he is unafraid to push the ball vertically.
“Because of his arm strength and his confidence and what he has, he’s able to get the ball down the field at a high rate,” Yost says. “It’s a strong arm. It’s a big arm. But it’s a very, very catchable ball. When he's balanced, and in good position, he can throw the ball right where he wants to throw it 20-, 30-, 40-yard throws down the field. It’s not just a ‘throw it up and let him go get it’ thing. There were numerous times where he threw back-shoulders that were 30 yards down the field to a guy and he threw it knowing exactly where his guy would go make the play. If he missed a throw, it's kind of like, ‘Oh, what happened there?’”
Yost departed in 2019. He missed Love’s final season… as did most of the talent on Utah State’s offense. The quarterback’s numbers predictably dipped without four offensive linemen, his starting running back, starting tight end and top three receivers from the previous season. But it’s easy to see why the Packers fell in love with him. This fall best replicated life in the NFL. The pocket was muddy. His receivers dropped balls. There was not much of a run game.
Adversity of all varieties struck — weekly — yet Love fought. Utah State won seven games.
Love’s No. 1 wide receiver on that team, Mariner, grew to expect the unexpected. Laugh all you want at the name of this opponent. This touchdown pass vs. Stony Brook is his favorite memory and certifiably Mahomesian. Love rolls left, plants, flips his hips at the 37-yard line and effortlessly flicks a completion to Mariner four yards deep in the end zone with a pass rusher in his face. When they ran this play in practice, Love never threw to Mariner on the backside. Not once. But Love never forgot Mariner telling him he was open on the play.
The authentic swagger Mariner saw in Love off the field oozed from his brand of quarterbacking on it. He describes his style as “smooth” and “effortless.” Like the Chiefs’ star, Love was making off-schedule throws and releasing the ball at quirky arm angles.
Given several opportunities to cool his comparison, he never does.
“The moment is never too big for him,” Mariner says. “He went out there and fought week in, week out. He didn’t shy away from what came with the territory. He didn’t complain. He didn’t say it’s this or that fault.”
Obviously, Mahomes is the best player on the planet. In only five seasons, he has tripled Rodgers’ Super Bowl appearances. Yet, it’s a name Yost also doesn’t run from. Since those Utah State days, Yost has spent three seasons at Texas Tech and is now on his second season at Florida International. When he pops in Love film, the jaws of other coaches tend to drop. “Oh my God,” a coach will say. “Look at that.” Then, they all agree they can’t ask their starter to do the same thing.
“He does have a really, really strong arm,” Yost says. “More of a power arm. He can make a lot of downfield throws where he doesn’t have to throw it high to throw it far. He can drive the ball at a really good rate. He’s athletic. He has genetics where he can snap his hips and put the thing where he wants to. … That ball is going to get there with a lot of zip.”
LaFleur noticed. He’s the only head coach Yost spoke to through the entire predraft process. One of Yost’s former student assistants at Missouri who lived at his home for two years, Darryl Franklin, is LaFleur’s chief of staff. He connected the two. The OC informed LaFleur that Love had total control of his up-tempo, spread-shotgun offense and that he’d push the ball downfield. He’d play both within the rhythm of the offense and attack the secondary. At one point, LaFleur pressed Yost on how people in the building react to Love. Trainers. Teammates. Coaches. Yost told him Love was friends with everyone with a personality that wasn’t fake.
Gutekunst noticed, too. He selected Love in the first round of the 2020 draft and most in the national and local media reacted as if the GM should be jailed.
At his home, Rodgers poured four fingers of tequila. He later said he poured more than usual, so no refill was needed.
At his home, Love had a subdued reaction given this life achievement. He knew he’d be waiting.
The pinkie jetted out at a disgusting 90-degree angle. A sight so grisly Nathaniel Hackett reacted as if a ghost had drifted into Green Bay’s practice. The team’s mortified offensive coordinator begged Jamaal Williams, “Don’t look at it!”
As the running back hilariously retold on a recent Go Long Happy Hour, Jordan Love was to thank.
Early in the 2020 season — running routes vs. air — the rookie gunned passes as hard as he could. Williams recalled an audible zing to Jordan Love’s passes, imitating the noise himself with a hissing sound. He caught one pass, looked down and… holy hell. Pinkies don’t bend this direction. Hackett freaked, a trainer snapped Williams’ pinkie back into place, and the tough-as-$3-steak running back continued practicing. To this day, the finger’s visibly mangled.
“He’s an ass,” Williams joked. “Broke my pinkie.”
And this served as the rookie’s greatest achievement in Year 1. He spent the entire season as a third-stringer, as locals fawned over the the “Tim Boyle Laser Show.”
Meanwhile, the Packers’ season ended in the NFC Championship for a fourth time under Rodgers. In the 31-26 loss to Tampa Bay, the quarterback had a chance to run it in himself on third down and instead threw across his body to a blanketed Adams. Moments after the loss, he cryptically referenced his future as “uncertain.” Three months later, the atomic bomb was dropped. On draft night, ESPN reported that Rodgers was done with the Packers. For a quarterback forever in-tune with messaging, the draft-night timing seemed suspiciously strategic. And the next three months, the Packers were given a very public spanking on every sports show. At any point, Mark Murphy, Brian Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur could’ve made the hard, yet correct decision to unload their disgruntled quarterback.
Lord knows the haul a reigning MVP could’ve netted the Packers. Three first-rounders? Four?
It’s true that Love was greener than the grass beneath his cleats. But, news flash: So is every 22-year-old quarterback. Professional football players, it turns out, can improve. Ask Tua. Ask Hurts. Nonetheless, our proposal was ridiculed and I recall one Milwaukee radio insider who used to co-host a show with Rodgers treating a practice by Love as more of a funeral on-air that spring.
This is also unequivocally true: Every quarterback this side of Tom Brady inches dangerously close to the cliff as age 40 nears. Dan Marino made his last Pro Bowl at 35. Peyton Manning morphed from record-setting cyborg (at 37) to completely shot (at 39) in record time. Drew Brees faded fast. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, too. The Packers had two golden opportunities to move Rodgers — at age 37 and 38 — yet declined.
Trading a future Hall of Famer is the GM equivalent to getting a root canal and kicked in the groin at the same time. There’s an inherent fear factor. Everyone in that Green Bay front office knows the franchise toiled in purgatory for an entire generation. Between 1967 and 1993, Green Bay reached the playoffs twice. And, generally, people in power want to stay in power. If you execute this trade and your unproven replacement struggles — while the MVP plays well elsewhere, smirking after each TD — the public outcry is so deafening, so vile, you’re fired. One NFL exec told me at the time that, sure, Murphy could unload Rodgers… but that he’d then be run out of town.
From a self-preservation standpoint, it was much easier for paying consumers to never see the first-rounder than to see Rodgers excel elsewhere.
Lines hadn’t crossed yet in their mind. Talent justified the drama.
Yet, Brady is the outlier. Not the benchmark. Yost uses a perfect NBA analogy in pointing out that LeBron James broke the NBA scoring record, while averaging thirty points per game this season. That’s extraterrestrial. The greats right below James on the all-time list stammered to the finish line their final season. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 10.1; Karl Malone 13.2; Kobe Bryant 17.6; Michael Jordan 20.0; Dirk Nowitzki 7.3; Wilt Chamberlain 13.2; Shaquille O’Neal 9.2; Carmelo Anthony 13.3; Moses Malone 2.9.
Legs give out. Athleticism wanes. It’s inevitable.
Adds Yost: “Tom Brady’s different. So when they say, ‘Oh, quarterbacks can play the 45.’ No, no. Tom Brady can play ‘til he’s 45.”
That’s why the Love pick was smart all along. It cut against the NFL grain.
Many GMs who take a quarterback in Round 1 solemnly swear the night of the draft that the journeyman veteran he signed to peanuts one month prior is his guy and that he doesn’t even want the rookie to play this season. By Week 5, losses and pressure mount to the point where the team has zero choice.
The Packers are different. The Packers take QBs when nobody expects them to — stripping sentimentality from the equation — to let that QB genuinely develop. At every position, GM Ted Thompson preferred to part ways with a player one year too early, rather than one year too late. That means keeping a healthy distance from players. Ex-guard T.J. Lang joked that Thompson only spoke a handful of words to him his eight seasons. (Even though those words were powerful.) And, hello, Rodgers is the Grade-A example of this playbook working. He benefited from this philosophy himself, which is why his first words out of exile were so strange. After returning to the Packers at the eleventh hour ahead of training camp in July 2021, he blistered the organization for not re-signing vets and listed them off by name. Never mind that Green Bay was proven correct in most of those cases.
Gutekunst learned the trade under Thompson and followed the same principles.
Nonetheless, the organization decided that Rodgers’ play changed the calculus.
Gutekunst traded for the dusty bones of Randall Cobb and gave his quarterback a seat at the front-office table. As written then, Green Bay willingly accepted all drama and, naturally, drama soon arrived. To avoid the backlash that came with unvaccinated status — Cole Beasley was a pariah, others shunned — Rodgers pretended that he was vaxed and Green Bay happily played along. The quarterback got Covid-19. People lost their minds. Jordan Love finally started a game and, no, it did not go well. Love didn’t find a rhythm until the fourth quarter in Kansas City, though his performance wasn’t nearly as catastrophic as Troy Aikman led viewers to believe. My God, you would’ve thought this was Peak Nate Peterman. Even Charles Woodson points out that LaFleur’s gameplan was poor that evening.
The Packers lost at Lambeau again in the postseason. Rodgers was outplayed by an injured Jimmy Garoppolo.
He was too dialed into Adams, again, missing a wide-open Allen Lazard on his final throw.
Again, management acquiesced. This time, in the form of the sport’s richest contract. And it’s this albatross of a contract — three years, $150 million — that led to much head-scratching when McGinn said on our podcast that the Packers viewed Love as “Aaron Rodgers 2.0.” If this was the case, many asked, why would they give Rodgers so much money? Even ex-Packer great Mike Wahle wondered aloud.
Look closely and that’s precisely the point.
In the Packers’ minds, so much changed between Year 2 and Year 3 of the backup’s growth. Love became the ideal point guard for the offense LaFleur wants to run; as opposed to an Adams-less Rodgers still trying to rely on a vast encyclopedia of audibles. Love was the quarterback in peak physical shape; as opposed to an 18-year vet showing obvious signs of decomposition. He didn’t throw for 300 yards in one game.
After Gutekunst appeared to go all-in on Rodgers with that whopper of a contract in March 2022, all Love did was blossom into everything the GM envisioned.
With Adams off to Vegas, the Packers drafted three receivers — Christian Watson (34th overall), Romeo Doubs (132nd), Samori Toure (258th). The QB did not work with these new players during OTAs. We did, however, hear on Aubrey Marcus’ podcast all about his love of ayahuasca, the psychedelic drug that causes you to hallucinate. We did hear on Joe Rogan’s podcast that he also did mushrooms, and enjoyed “an incredible connection to nature and life and all sentient beings and all plants and fungi.” Tabloids continued to obsess over his latest flames. (The Internet wondered if his latest was a legit witch.) And, yes, the Nicolas Cage arrival to camp was neat. The point: Headlines galore distracted everyone from the very real fact that Love was transforming himself into an NFL starter.
The football universe wrote Love off after seeing him struggle at Arrowhead.
But quietly, he attacked that film head-on. In Calhoun’s living room, Love agonized over every snap of that KC loss. It wasn’t easy. He cringed. (“Like, “Ew, look at that!” Calhoun recalls.) But Love fixed what needed to be fixed. His reads. His footwork. His eyes. Yes, Calhoun taught Love how to direct his two eyes two different directions — like a chameleon. “With my left eye I’m looking to where I want to throw the ball and with my right eye I’m just tracking that receiver into that window,” Calhoun told us then. “Because if I turn my head to look at that receiver, by the time I throw the ball and the ball gets there? It’s behind him.”
Dialogue with LaFleur was constant. The Packers head coach gave Calhoun and Love specific drills to work on. They filmed everything and sent it back to LaFleur. Those “off-platform” throws became more of a focus. “Layering” throws in front of a safety, too. Love worked on changing his ball speed. Oh, Calhoun can relate to Williams — many 100 MPH’ers have jammed his fingers over the years. Love learned how to decipher which throws require a fastball and which require a changeup before the snap. That way, he’s not frantically doing the math in real time.
Both watched film of Rodgers to simulate game situations.
The cherry on top was extra throwing sessions with his pal Mariner back at Mariner’s old high school in Tustin, Calif.
There was an edge to Love last offseason. Rodgers’ historic contract only fueled him.
“He never got comfortable or complacent as the No. 2,” Mariner says. “He always had that hunger to get back to work. He definitely put in the time, the effort, the work and it all showed. It is not by mistake.”
By the time Love got extended action in the preseason, he was ready to start. The final stat lines in August were plagued by wrong routes and drops but his playmaking resembled a young Rodgers.
All he needed now was a chance to show it.
The parallels to Aaron Rodgers now and Brett Favre then are spooky. When Favre first started flirting with retirement, the Packers let him contemplate his future as long as he pleased. By 2008, enough was enough. They wanted an answer early. Calhoun began this conversation by stating flatly that the Packers aren’t going to let Rodgers’ decision — to play, to retire, to demand a trade — drag out all offseason.
“So they can try to figure out what they’re going to do with the organization and with Jordan,” he adds.
Love himself has spent time with family since the season ended. As Calhoun explains, Love genuinely prepared as a starting NFL quarterback throughout the 2022 season. He poured endless hours into studying every gameplan. The final exam only hit his desk once, but Love was in such a mental zone that it’s been nice to reset with loved ones. On March 1, he’ll hit the field again with Calhoun. His wait shouldn’t be long.
The reason for the Packers’ newfound urgency? Everything Murphy, Gutekunst and LaFleur saw out of Love when he returned to the team in 2022.
The season itself spiraled quickly.
Through three particularly excruciating defeats — Giants, Jets, Commanders — the Packers were oddly pass-heavy despite possessing one of the best 1-2 punches in the sport at running back. Rodgers dropped back to pass 121 times during that stretch with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon given only 50 carries. A warped ratio that hinted at a disconnect between what LaFleur wanted to run and what Rodgers adjusted to at the line of scrimmage.
One offensive player estimated to Go Long that Rodgers changed about a third of the plays last season. Nor does he mean this as a slight. For years, such adjustments have been legendary. Rodgers is capable of audibling to a perfect play called three or four years ago. As Marquez Valdes-Scantling once explained to us, there are two playbooks in one. Tens upon tens of thousands of reps is what fueled a freaky rapport with the likes of Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. Everyone understood the hierarchy. One wideout on the historic 2011 team told me once that his position coach, Edgar Bennett, implored them to simply do whatever Rodgers asks. Regardless of the call.
With vets, this is poetry in motion. With rookies… not so much.
Hence, the 4-8 start.
It’s not as if LaFleur calls a play and Rodgers says “F--k that, we’re going to run this,” this player explains. Rodgers will diagnose a weakness on one side of the field and audible.
“It was tough,” this player said. “For Aaron, the biggest thing is being quarterback-friendly. Aaron is a great player and he has to get comfortable with you. It was a lot of learning for everybody to learn how to be comfortable, how to run the right angles out of your breaks. Being where he wants you to be. And it was different for him. He had whole different offensive guys and those were the reps that was going to take for us to get there. It’s complex as hell.
“To get on the same page, it takes a little time. You need those reps.”
After the Commanders loss, Rodgers advocated for benching players who make mental mistakes. The players I spoke to for this story did not have a problem with the comment. One wide receiver says “Twelve is the general” so they respect everything he says. That being said, he admitted it would’ve been nice if Rodgers went out of his way to work with receivers like Mahomes. Perhaps more of an effort from the quarterback in the offseason could’ve alleviated issues that plagued the passing game.
“I would’ve loved that opportunity to put that work in with him,” this wide receiver said. “I was dying for that in the offseason — and it would've been better for us for sure. He felt it was best for him to get what he needed.”
Chemistry was found, but it was too little, too late.
From the get-go, LaFleur granted Rodgers full autonomy and, often, it has produced sterling results. Still, the selection of Love gave the coach a chance to build two offenses within one. For three years, Love meticulously mastered LaFleur’s offense. What he lacked in Rodgers’ MacOS of audibles, he gained in turning himself into a direct reflection of everything LaFleur wants out of his QB. One recent ex-Packer (who’s staunchly pro-Rodgers) believes that while LaFleur never calls out Rodgers publicly, he cannot wait to work with Love.
If there was one benefit to Rodgers blowing off the offseason, it was Love throwing so much to those rookies.
Says Calhoun: “The fact that Jordan doesn't know the offense as well as Aaron, he can’t go that far outside the playbook. Aaron can check to a play they schemed up two years ago. Aaron and maybe a couple other players on the offense actually know it and everybody else is like, ‘Oh wait, wait. What was that?’ Because they were just installed so long ago. I think (Love starting) will have everybody on the same page because everybody would know the same playbook and not be able to go back from an install from three years ago to try to draw from that. Everybody would be on the same page. There are advantages to having Jordan play within the framework of the offense.”
Internally, excitement grew. On Clubhouse Live, as special-teamer Dallin Leavitt effusively praised Love, vet linebacker De’Vondre Campbell cut in to say, “He’s a starting quarterback. … He’s better than a lot of starting quarterbacks.”
Two weeks later, we saw for ourselves.
Against Philly, Rodgers suffered a rib injury and Love got his shot. He completed 6 of 9 passes for 113 yards with one touchdown, and two of those incompletions were drops. One would’ve been a 20-yard dart to Aaron Jones up the right sideline. Another a 15-yard touchdown to Cobb. Afterward, Eagles corner Darius Slay gushed over Love on his podcast, saying he “looked like A-Rod.” During Super Bowl Week, I caught up with the DB burnt on Love’s scoring strike to Christian Watson. Safety Marcus Epps insisted Love’s game was no surprise to him since he faced him twice in college: “He’s a great talent. I’m rooting for him. Hopefully he'll end up getting his shot.”
Most striking to Calhoun that night was Love’s “calmness.”
Inside a loud stadium — facing an excellent defense — he produced. And, yes, Love was angry Green Bay couldn’t complete the comeback. “He’s an absolute competitor,” Calhoun adds. “Doesn’t want to lose anything.” Within the design of the offense, you could see a quarterback hitting his back foot and spitting the ball out. The cameo was more of a short-lived tease but Love sure looked like a quarterback constructed in LaFleur’s personal lab. Exactly as Rodgers did for Mike McCarthy in that 2007 spot against the Dallas Cowboys.
Everything Calhoun simulated on his practice field materialized in a substantive way.
“I’m like ‘OK, wow,’” Calhoun says. “I had a quick flashback to all the workouts that we'd done throughout high school, throughout when he was at Utah State, the early years of him being in Green Bay. Think how much better he would be if that Philly game is Game 1 and you’ve got 16 more? … It's definitely exciting. He’s ready to do that in the 17-game schedule.”
Yost had flashbacks, too.
Watching the KC game in 2021, David Yost thought the Packers were asking Love not to lose. Philly was a 180. That night, Yost was at the office with fellow FIU coaches. A colleague had the game on his laptop — “Love’s in,” he said. Yost’s eyes immediately zeroed in on No. 10. What stood out most to him was that Love looked “bigger.” He knew the quarterback technically wasn’t taller, but he carried himself that way. Love exuded the same presence that got teammates excited those early Utah State days. Yost vividly remembers Love projecting an “It’s my time, it’s my team” attitude. That’s what he saw vs. the Eagles.
After his knockout 2022 offseason — from Calhoun to OTAs to those preseason games — Love was ready to handle the full offense. No wonder the Packers may be ready to move on. Rodgers did finish last season as the starter but players point out that Love was also getting reps with the No. 1 offense down the stretch. Green Bay had its practice-squad quarterback handle scout team.
And, again, players know best.
From the stars. Running back Aaron Jones said on Undisputed: “Jordan Love is ready. Jordan Love will be that guy. He made a huge jump this year. OTAs, we could see it. And it kept snowballing, snowballing, snowballing. You can tell he wants to play. He’s itching to play.”
To the scout team. Running back Patrick Taylor and wide receiver Juwann Winfree have seen Love’s progress up close since 2020.
“I feel like you can't go wrong either way with Aaron or ‘J-Love,’” says Winfree. “Aaron is still Aaron. ‘J-Love’ is a building project and he’s going to be great. I’m excited to see him because he can run, he can throw, he’s smart, he's tough and he's young. People are going to rally behind a young guy. Once you start to see what he could do, people are going to really rally behind him and I’m excited to see wherever that takes him.”
What’s changed? Winfree first points to his decision-making. How easily Love is reading the field. When Love got those late-season reps with the Packers’ starters, Winfree saw his confidence skyrocket. Confidence that was most evident on Love’s deep ball, always a sight to behold on the Packers practice field. And as Winfree correctly points, the next step is killing opposing defenses with this big arm.
Like Herbert, Tua, Burrow, Hurts, he needs game action.
“You can’t expect anybody to evolve,” he says, “and be a great player without getting got time on the field.”
Adds Taylor: “With him being able to learn and sit behind a guy like Aaron Rodgers for the past three years? He definitely picks up a lot. I think Jordan Love is more than capable. I really like his game as well. The ball flies out of his hand.”
No, the Packers do not boast a wide receiver who’s had an infinite number of reps with Rodgers. It’s a very young group. But there’s upside to a young group all growing together. Another player on Green Bay’s offense said he loves the fact that Love will simply throw the ball to whoever’s open, adding that it’s much easier to come to him with questions than Rodgers because they’re able to speak the same language. LaFleur’s language. This is a young man’s position. When the NFL postseason was down to the round of eight, all quarterbacks were between the ages of 23 and 29.
Back in ’07, when the Packers lost to the New York Giants, there were a few players who wondered if they would’ve won that game with the backup. That likely was the case in Green Bay’s Week 18 home loss to the Lions. Rodgers went 2 of 6 for 12 yards with an interception the final quarter and ominously exited the field with an arm around Cobb. Since then, he has said plenty on The Pat McAfee Show. If he’s back in Green Bay, Rodgers said he wants Marcedes Lewis, David Bakhtiari, Robert Tonyan, Allen Lazard and Cobb with him.
Green Bay made this bed, right? Terry Bradshaw wasn’t wrong. They all but gave him an administrative title.
Unless, the Packers finally move on.
Gutekunst can choose to reap the rewards of the draft pick that rocked the football world or do more cap gymnastics and trick himself into thinking Rodgers has one more run in him. Crazy as it sounds to those who fell under Rodgers’ spell long ago, there’s a strong case to be made that Jordan Love is the better player right now. A slew of draft picks sure sounds sweeter than owing Rodgers $59 million, but there’s still time to do the right thing.
With another draft season underway, Calhoun says he’s been asked one question: If you’re running a team, would you prefer Love (in Year 4) or a rookie — Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, etc. — who hasn’t experienced NFL speed yet? He’d obviously choose his guy but it’s an interesting debate. For all the hours spent analyzing this rookie class, Love may be the better option. Translation: There would undoubtedly be a trade market for Love and, no doubt about it, Love plans on starting in 2023. At one point, Calhoun referenced the fact Love is ready to start for the Packers “or another team.” Another point, he says Love proved to people inside and “outside” the organization he’s ready to start.
The Packers need to consider the very real possibility that Love would demand a trade if they stick with Rodgers.
Trashing everything you’ve spent three years building is now the terrible business strategy.
“He has a really, really high ceiling,” Calhoun says, “and I just want to see how fast he can establish himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the league.”
Mariner also sees a Hurts-sized leap in Love this season.
“His opportunity has been scarce,” says Mariner, who’s playing in the CFL, “but he does have people in the building that believe in him and are keeping him around. It’s getting in and showing what he can do.”
Frustrating as this whole situation is, everyone who knows Love best guarantees he’ll only work harder this offseason. Situational football will be the focus. Calhoun will set the ball on the right hashmark and simulate a “cat corner” blitz. If that cornerback’s screaming off the edge, what are the checks? They’ve advanced beyond fundamentals. Love is diagnosing which disguised blitzes give him trouble. If a safety’s creeping down to take away his tight end and that outside linebacker’s blitzing, he’ll be ready.
“That situational football play where if he does see it, he's already repped it 40 times,” Calhoun says. “He sees it and now it's just a reaction like, ‘OK, I saw it. Bam.’”
Rodgers will soon emerge from his “darkness” and decide on his own NFL future. It’s hard to imagine the quarterback walking away and entering the same Canton class as Brady. He said himself he can still play at an MVP level. He’ll have a conversation with the Packers’ brass but — unlike that July 2021 chat — don’t expect the Packers to grovel.
All signs indicate that, this time, Gutekunst will show the same guts as his mentor.
Because, honestly? This is one of his easiest decisions yet.
We continue the conversation with another one of Jordan Love’s go-to receivers at Utah State, Ron’Quavion Tarver. He offers insight into the quarterback’s mindset and leadership skills right here…
Previous longform posts on this subject…