Let the Jordan Love Era begin in Green Bay

That's right: It's time to embrace the heir apparent. Is this QB out of Utah State talented? Absolutely. And we talk to insiders on how things went south between Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

The best way one Packers teammate can describe this past week’s events is that it’s the execution of a diabolical plan and he, for one, is enjoying the show.

To him, it’s not that complicated in Aaron Rodgers’ mind. The quarterback is pissed the team drafted Jordan Love and, now, wants the organization to pay.

Rodgers wants to “expose” the Green Bay Packers.

“Aaron is an intelligent, trolling, petty, mother------,” says this teammate, as a compliment, who asked to remain anonymous because the Packers still employ him. “He’s going to get the last laugh. He’s going to make you look f------ stupid for disrespecting him. As a front office, why haven’t you anticipated this? Why are you getting blindsided?

“I’m not saying Aaron’s evil but this is like a criminal mastermind plan.”

Welcome, everyone, to the No. 1 storyline of the NFL offseason, written and directed by the 2020 NFL MVP. It’s not going away, either. Multiple sources continue to maintain they believe Rodgers will not play another down for the Packers. This teammate uses an analogy of water boiling in a pot, saying the water’s spilling out and there’s nothing the Packers can do at this point.

One former member of the Packers’ front office is all but certain Rodgers will either be traded or retire.

“Put it this way: they’d have to fire everybody,” this source says. “He is dug in. They’d have to make him the freakin’ owner of the team. The sense I get is the dude just wants control.”

All reports point to a split, of course. The latest? Green Bay offered to make Rodgers the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, and he refused. Any conversation that could take place, most likely, already has. This isn’t about money anymore, it seems. This cannot be about winning, either, considering the talent in Green Bay. Rather, this is what we meant Monday in writing when you’re out, you’re out. Rodgers has zero problem eliminating people from his life and appears the Packers are being shown the door.

So, if you’re the Packers, it’s time to stop the public fawning and go on the offensive.

When June 1 arrives — painful as it may be — the Packers should trade Rodgers and fully embrace the Jordan Love Era. Every screaming head on TV, every surrogate in print claims Rodgers has all of the chips on his side of the table so, hell, flip the table. Accept the king’s ransom, get behind the QB you’re forever tied to anyways and drive this franchise in a completely new direction.

For one, the Packers sure could restore a little order. After confirming that Rodgers did enjoy mocking Gutekunst as Jerry Krause — the deceased Chicago Bulls GM harshly cast as the villain in “The Last Dance” — one teammate who found the comparison hilarious assured that’s not even the worst of it. At this rate, you have to expect the state of affairs to only get worse the longer Green Bay clutches to any shred of hope Rodgers will change his mind.

If you believe Love is the future, this isn’t much of a decision. When Gutekunst drafted the Utah State quarterback 26th overall the night of April 23, 2020, he certainly had an idea this moment was coming. So, lean into it. Own it. The “beautiful mystery” was never Rodgers’ future, no, he evidently planned this all out. The mystery is a 22-year-old quarterback who nobody knows anything about.

Will there be growing pains? Absolutely. Love was drafted as a project and, with Rodgers bailing, the Packers would need to speed up their transition plan. The Packers might even (gasp!) go 6-10 like they did with Rodgers in 2008. But life after Rodgers doesn’t have to be nearly as scary, as apocalyptic as everyone’s making it seem right now. The dust will settle. Love will improve.

And you better believe there’s a reason this GM put his career on the line for him.

Those who know Love best supply a perspective you won’t hear on TV. Where everyone else dismisses Love as the gameday inactive who couldn’t beat out Tim Boyle for the No. 2 job, others see potential greatness in the 6-foot-4, 219-pounder from Bakersfield, Calif.

From Steve Calhoun, his private QB coach: “He has an elite arm. He can throw the ball better than most people on the planet.”

To longtime NFL personnel exec Marc Ross: “He’s taking this shrapnel unnecessarily when they have no clue. Last year, I liked him better than Tua and Herbert. He is legit, man. It’s some of the stuff that Rodgers does — the pocket feel, extending plays, being able to throw at different angles.”

To Henry Colombi, his backup at Utah State: “You’ll see flashes of a young Aaron Rodgers.”

To David Mulugheta, his agent inking the best NFL clients annually: “Arm talent-wise, there’s nobody in the NFL he can’t compete with.”

To Siaosi Mariner, his No. 1 receiver at Utah State: “The things Patrick Mahomes is doing, he can do as well. I don’t even want to put a cap on him. Patrick Mahomes is a great player but this is Jordan Love.”

There’s no turning back now.

The Packers need to believe.

The bomb dropped and the texts flooded in. Everyone closest to Calhoun knew the QB coach has worked with Love through his business, Armed & Dangerous, since Love was in eighth grade.

Is Jordan ready!? Is Jordan ready!? Get him ready! Get him ready!

Calhoun didn’t know what the hell happened. Initially, he thought something happened with Love.

He read Adam Schefter’s report. He talked to Love. They went back to work.

There’s no need to worry about Love’s mental state right now. He’s just fine.  

“The thing I always told him, ever since we started working together,” Calhoun says, “the things you have no control over — Why worry about it? Let’s control what we can control. We can control what we’re doing in our workouts and how hard we work and the mental side of how much film we can watch. Those are the things we can control. The narrative that’s being spun out there in the media, we have no control over.

“He goes about his business. That’s all you can do — go about your business and let everybody else do the talking.”

Quietly, Love has been working with Calhoun out in California. Quietly, he’s training like a starter.

This beautiful mystery is far more talented than anyone realizes.

It’s been a long time since Love has played in an actual football game — 504 days to be exact— so Calhoun puts Love through “every possible movement” he could ever encounter in a game. Their drills are creative. He wants Love to build new muscle memories so, on Sundays, his body will naturally take over with his eyes always staying downfield. Calhoun watches film of the legends to see how they escape different pressures — “How does Troy Aikman get out of it? How does Joe Montana get out of it? Or Terry Bradshaw?” — and incorporates it all into his training.

A step up here. A step back there.

Maybe Matt LaFleur “can’t fathom” life without Rodgers publicly but the head coach seems to be at least preparing for it privately.

Both LaFleur and QBs coach Luke Getsy have stayed in regular contact with Love all offseason, sending him specific things to work on each week. Love passes that information to Calhoun and then they throw every Wednesday and Friday. Calhoun sets up two cameras right on the field — one in front, one in the back — and, together, they meticulously dissect every throw on the iPad. No detail is too small, Calhoun insists. NFL receivers are on site, too, running routes.

Calhoun agrees with Mariner. There is some Mahomes to Love’s game.

“There definitely is, there definitely is,” he says. “But Patrick Mahomes is one of one. Aaron Rodgers is one of one. Jordan wants to be Jordan Love. He doesn’t want to be Patrick. He doesn’t want to be Aaron. He wants to be Jordan Love.”

Calhoun had to gently remind Love of this when they first reconnected this offseason, too. He realized Love had picked up some bad habits trying to imitate Rodgers and reeled him back in. Not that he’s restraining him by any means — there’s a natural, grip-it-and-rip-it style to Love’s game the world will soon see. Calhoun says Love can “throw receivers open,” a quality very few QBs legitimately possess.

“I know he’s excited to play in a game,” says Calhoun, who has also worked with Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. “He definitely has that, ‘I want to show the Packers why they picked me so high.’ He has that chip on his shoulder. That’s what drives him to keep him working extremely hard out here with me. And he is looking forward to that opportunity.”

Don’t just take Love’s personal Mr. Miyagi for it. Listen to an NFL executive who spent 20 years in front offices. NFL Network analyst Marc Ross, who also has been on the Go Long Podcast, developed a keen eye for the position with the Eagles, Bills and Giants. He knew Donovan McNabb would be a star in Philly and when it was time to pull the plug on Eli Manning in New York.

Ross has a feel for where this position’s going in the future and, in Love, he sees a potential star.

Of course, Love threw for 3,567 yards, 32 touchdowns and only six picks in 2018 before evidently regressing with 3,402 yards, 20 touchdowns and 17 picks in 2019. But it’s that ’19 season Ross points to as proof, when Love lost four offensive linemen, his starting running back, starting tight end and top three receivers.

Life was quite different for, say, Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama.

“Tua was always shooting layups or open 3’s with that offense,” Ross says. “He had the blocking. He had open guys. With Jordan, he was always trying to beat guys off the dribble or hit 3’s with people in his face because that team he had around him, the blocking was awful, the receivers were little dudes who couldn’t get open. Every play for him? He had to do it. It was rare, it was 10 percent, when it was just easy for him.”

Put Love on Alabama, Ross adds, and he’s the Heisman Trophy winner.

Tua on Utah State? Disaster.  

Right here is where you can often decode which quarterbacks boom and which quarterbacks bust. Tua’s numbers might’ve sparkled in college but he was often throwing a dink here, a dunk there and a dude with 4.3 speed took it to the house. With Love, you need to look deeper. You need to sit through a brutal 42-6 loss vs. LSU in which it’s not even “Varsity vs. JV,” Ross says, it resembles “Varsity vs. 7th grade.” Passes bounced off receivers’ chests all game.

Then, there’s his late drive vs. Kent State in something called the “Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl.”

“The plays he made in that last drive were like, ‘OK, this is it right here,’” Ross says. “He’s avoiding rush, throwing on the move, rolling out, buying time, looking off second and third read and going to a guy. He’s got movement. He’s got feel. He’s got that, holding the ball in one hand, looking around, juking guys to make the throw. He has that backyard sort of play style, easiness, naturalness with his ability and play style.”

And what stands out most to Love’s backup at Utah State, Henry Colombi, was his calm. When the pocket collapsed, when receivers dropped passes, when mayhem ensued all around him, Love never pointed the finger at anyone. There were no eyerolls. No death stares to the sideline. No arms thrown into the air or F-bombs directed at a coach. Colombi sincerely cannot remember Love showing any signs of exasperation that season.

The play on his mind? A touchdown thrown off his back foot vs. Stony Brook.

“I haven’t seen somebody with arm talent like he has, honestly,” Colombi says. “He can make every throw possible. It’s almost like he does it nonchalant. He doesn’t try to put his all into it. He just is so smooth when he throws. It’s crazy. He has all the tools. He can make all the throws NFL quarterbacks can make and the thing with him is he’s going to keep on getting better. His ceiling’s so high, he wasn’t even at his best in college when he came out.”

None of this can be detected in a climate-controlled NFL practice, either, so I suppose we should excuse anyone already writing Love off as a bust. He spent all of Year 1 on the scout team and, quite literally, never had a chance to be himself. We shouldn’t forget just how terrible Rodgers was his rookie year, too. If that decision was based on merit, Craig Nall would’ve been the No. 2 QB in 2005 just as Boyle was in 2020.

One player on Green Bay’s offense believes coaches had a figurative “collar” around Love’s neck all season, instead of just letting him be a gamer. Ross knows that once Love is cut loose in an actual game, it’ll “unlock everything.” We’ll see his rare feel, his instincts.

Until then, Love handles this madness off the field exactly like he would on it. Those closest to him — Calhoun, Mulugheta, Colombi — have all spoken with Love this week and they don’t sense a change in his temperament at all. Which brings Steve Calhoun back to Love’s passion for the game, the fact that he’s too obsessed with constantly learning and evolving to care at all about this Rodgers/Packers standoff.  

Whenever players are back in Wisconsin, there’s a good chance Love lines up as the No. 1 QB in practice.

He’ll have a chance to show LaFleur he’s ready to be The Man.

No pressure, Steve. All you have to do is get a quarterback ready to potentially replace Aaron Rodgers.

“I’ll take it. I’ll take that pressure,” Calhoun says. “Hell, that’s what I’m in the business for. That’s what I’ve been doing the last 15 years with Armed and Dangerous Football — developing guys to be the best possible NFL players they can be. So, yeah, I’ll take that. I’ll do everything in my power and do my homework to keep pouring that information into Jordan.

“He’ll be ready to go. He’ll be ready to go.”

If Packers deem that Love is in fact ready, it’d sure make it easier to declare that enough is enough with the current QB1, too.

To this receiver on a dominant Packers offense one decade ago, this sure felt… odd.

In any meeting, if the name “Alex Smith” came up or if the Packers watched the 49ers quarterback check the ball down on film, Rodgers couldn’t help himself. He’d start shouting “Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew!” and pretend to shoot a toy gun. Soon enough, the other quarterbacks joined in. Then, some linemen. Of course, Rodgers was mocking the team’s head coach — Mike McCarthy — for choosing Smith No. 1 overall a half-decade prior.

Other times, in front of the entire offense, this player remembers Rodgers saying “Why don’t you call, Checkdown Alex!?” or flat-out stating, “You wanted him over me.” And another round of Pew! Pew! Pew! peashooters weren’t far behind. To this player, it sure didn’t seem like McCarthy was in on the joke. He remembers McCarthy getting “red as a tomato.”

“Aaron let it be known, ‘I’m a better quarterback than he is,’” this receiver says. “He’s rubbing it in.”

Of course, Rodgers was an MVP, so everyone in the organization could look past the pettiness.

Fast forward to today and not much has changed. Now, it’s the GM of the team Rodgers mocks. Krause-themed texts may be playful and harmless and even a way for guys to rally together like the Bulls did in 1998. Further, every sports team with a transcendent talent — MJ, Kobe, etc. — is willing to take on a certain degree of ego. It’s a necessary evil in sports. The Bulls won six rings. The Lakers, five.

Yet, small acts like this can also add up and prove toxic over time. Every team has a breaking point. The Packers, who’ve won one ring with Rodgers, could declare once and for all this isn’t worth the headache.

So much dirty laundry is already public. Who knows what’s next? By all accounts, Rodgers is well-liked by teammates and very helpful to Love behind the scenes. But the Packers also cannot allow a player who got one coach fired to, now, fire the general manager. That’d leave irreparable damage. That’d most certainly be a problem that infects the organization for good.

Frankly, all parties should admit they’re at their wits’ end and get divorce court rolling.

The Packers are not blameless here. Several sources Go Long spoke to revert back to a common theme: They should’ve known.

This is an all-time grudge-holder. If Rodgers won’t let McCarthy forget about that Smith pick, if he’s unafraid to label two of his best pass-catchers ever “irrelevant” and render them pariahs, then what in the hell did the Packers expect when they drafted his heir apparent? No, Rodgers isn’t going to merely whistle while he works. He masterminds a plan that, now, has that shrapnel hitting everyone back at 1265 Lombardi Ave.

“I think Aaron is being extremely childish,” one former Packers front office member says. “Is there stuff Gutekunst could’ve done better? 100 percent. But Aaron is so petty. So petty. That’s where I cannot understand how they make this mistake knowing how petty he is. You’ve gotta be a little smart with how you manage him. To say, ‘Hey, Aaron, we’re going to do what we do and you have to fall in line because this is the Packers,’ that’s pretty shocking that they don’t know that dude.

“It’s a crappy situation because Aaron is not going to handle it like an adult. At all.”

Which is all the more reason the Packers should own the Love pick and declare, once ‘n for all, it’s time to move on.

Clearly, this has run its course.

Through all the leaks, at no point has Rodgers denied anything. Friends have defended him but Rodgers seems perfectly fine letting the franchise squirm… and squirm… and agonize over the reality that they need to press forward with Jordan Love sooner than expected. Rather than squirm, the Packers’ front office can acknowledge this is a defining moment in franchise history and go a new direction themselves. I suppose there’s still that minuscule chance Rodgers is screwing with everyone, gets the restructure he desires and, of course, blasts away at all the smears but that feels increasingly unlikely.

Source after source is convinced he will either be traded or retire.

Gutekunst is the primary source of his angst because Gutekunst was the one primarily behind the Love pick. Hence… the Krause texts. Hence… the QB legitimately being upset that the team cut a sixth-string wide receiver. One player vividly remembers Rodgers being pissed in the locker room when the team cut Jake Kumerow, a receiver from Division-III Wisconsin-Whitewater who went on to log one catch for 22 yards with Buffalo.

It’s hard to imagine anyone playing peacemaker at this point.

Rodgers does love offensive coordinator Nate Hackett. One teammate describes it as a “gooey, gah-gah” kind of love in meetings, too. It’s genuine. Real. But LaFleur? This player who’s unabashedly Pro-Rodgers in this impasse says the quarterback merely “tolerates” LaFleur and that Rodgers grew especially frustrated in ’19 due to the new coach overthinking the offense instead of just letting him play. Granted, this relationship is not nearly as bad as the quarterback’s prior one with McCarthy but it’s not as spectacular as everyone makes it seem publicly.

Players love Rodgers’ rebellious swagger. Having “12” on your side, they say, gives you a different level of confidence.

That certainly means something.

Now, Rodgers, wants a voice in personnel decisions. Just as Brett Favre likely felt responsible for the $295 million renovation of Lambeau Field and wanted Ted Thompson to acquire Randy Moss, Rodgers likely believes his play fueled the creation of the 34-acre “Titletown District” adjacent to Lambeau Field and doesn’t want to be Employee No. 789. He has a point, too. The Packers ultra-traditional way of doing business certainly did not help. Somewhere along the line, they lost Rodgers’ trust and — this offseason — they’ve tried to frantically get it back.

That being said, it sure sounds like there’s nothing the Packers can do at this point and “12” is not bluffing.

Says this teammate: “You think he’ll have a come to Jesus meeting and think, ‘Oh, I want to spend one more year with Robert Tonyan and Davante Adams?’ You think that’s going to make everything better? We’re in Green Bay. He’s been there for 16 years. So not only were you a hardass because you lost Aaron but, now, he’s going to retire? You better get something in a good trade.”

He’s not wrong.

And the Packers weren’t wrong in looking out for the Packers to begin with.

Does letting Rodgers know you’re considering a QB in the draft help? Eh. Maybe. There’s a good chance everyone’s in this exact same position today. Lost in the hour-to-hour, Panda Watch-like coverage of this all is the reality that the team’s decision to draft a quarterback had merit. There were legit signs in ‘19 that Rodgers was losing some RPMs on his fastball. A Week 17 win at Detroit was particularly ugly and Rodgers was not sharp in the NFC Championship at San Francisco.

Also, in that game, multiple sources recall Rodgers telling LaFleur he’d call plays in the second half.

Most all legends fade fast, too. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, any QB not named Tom Brady. There’s no telling when your legend could suddenly resemble a cross between TJ Rubley and Graham Harrell, so Gutekunst was proactive. Gutekunst didn’t want to get caught trotting an old Cam Newton and his eight passing touchdowns out as his starter like New England or caught staging a quarterback battle between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill like New Orleans.  The worst time to look for a quarterback is when you don’t have one, a lesson Gutekunst certainly learned from Thompson.

Rodgers isn’t going through anything past legends haven’t. It’s almost always bitter, always awkward.

Now, the quarterback who enjoys ripping the validity of anonymous sources has been communicating — it sure seems — anonymously. (Unless the Packers are sabotaging themselves?) The theme: The Packers screwed Rodgers over by drafting Love. And that’s ironic thinking back to one of Rodgers’ quotes in an interview with Madison.com in late January:

“I talk a lot about ‘an attitude of gratitude,’ and that’s something that really means a lot to me,” Rodgers said. “It’s kind of rooted in the understanding that things aren’t happening to you, they’re just happening. And when you change that perspective just slightly, you take out the opportunity for the ‘victim mentality’ to set in, which is associated with the excuses, the woe-is-me, a lot of I-statements. I’ve really tried to eliminate that mindset from my life.”

What’s happening is that the Packers genuinely want him to be the starting quarterback.

But between the Love pick… and releasing Kumerow…. and releasing an aging Jordy Nelson… and God knows what else, here we are.

It’s time.

Right now, it’s easy to imagine everything that could go wrong if you’re the Green Bay Packers.

We’re only two scenes into that mastermind film crafted by the QB.

Surely everyone — Mark Murphy to Brian Gutekunst to Matt LaFleur — fears where this plot’s heading. For them, it’s horror. Nothing but horror. If they do grant Rodgers his wish then, sure enough, Rodgers lights the NFL on fire. He hypothetically gets to the Denver Broncos, slays Patrick Mahomes and hosts a Lombardi Trophy. He goes full LeBron James right into the offseason, recruits more stars to Denver (Hello, Davante Adams), and builds a dynasty right through his 40s.

The screen goes black and the chilling epilogue appears:

Aaron Rodgers went on to win four Super Bowls.

Angry fans stormed Lambeau Field demanding the ousting of all parties involved.

The Packers did not make the playoffs for the next 30 years.

That’s the worst possible outcome, that the Packers slip right back into the Dark Ages. It could happen, too. Sixteen years of Brett Favre and 16 years of Aaron Rodgers are the reason some locals call this Entitled Town. They’ve been unbelievably fortunate. It’d be easy to live in absolute fear of becoming Siberia again — between 1968 and 1992 the Packers made the playoffs twice. Possibly, Murphy is praying to the Lambeau gods that Rodgers retires, too. Let’s not forget he once tried to pay Favre off to retire to avoid a mess.

But it doesn’t need to be this way.

The Packers can picture everything that could go wrong. Or the Packers could picture everything that will go right.

Trade the QB who doesn’t want to be there. Usher in the new QB. Build something new. And, eventually, win. And win. And win. Believe in Jordan Love right now when it absolutely matters most — gladly accept your bounty of assets — and start anew. Hell no, it doesn’t have to be a depressing time. It can be exciting to rebuild Titletown with a new face of the franchise. One AFC front office executive is blunt: There’s no way to “win” a Rodgers trade when Rodgers is guaranteed to go scorched earth but he also thinks a team would give the Packers whatever they want.

His guess is that two firsts, two seconds and two players such as wideout Jerry Jeudy and defensive end Bradley Chubb would do the trick.

Such a trade would be unprecedented. No team has ever dealt a reigning MVP.

But Rodgers is also an unprecedented personality and it’s OK to be hopeful when it comes to Love. His playmaking — unleashed — could be special. This isn’t some boring… limited… efficient pocket passer who was surrounded by five-star recruits in college. There’s a magic to Love’s game the Packers could accentuate in every way imaginable because he won’t be running for his life like he was at Utah State. Another fact lost amid all mainstream blathering is that Gutekunst has been an outstanding GM.

On offense, there are weapons galore. On defense, there’s a ton of young talent.

He retained stars like Aaron Jones and Kenny Clark without breaking the bank.

He added a star in edge rusher Za’Darius Smith.

It’s probably no coincidence Gutekunst reminded everyone how strong this roster was at his post-draft press conference. Rodgers is choosing to leave a situation that’s better than anything he’d get elsewhere. Now, for the GM, it’s all about Love. Maybe Murphy should give these fans more credit, too, if he’s worried about the backlash. No doubt, Favre winning a Super Bowl in Minnesota would’ve led to anarchy. But don’t forget: Favre wanted back in and the Packers said no. Rodgers wants out. That distinction will matter to Packers fans.

Most understand this impasse for what it is.

Chances are, we won’t hear a peep from Jordan Love through it all. He just wants to play.

He will be ready, too.

“He understands,” his agent Mulugheta says, “whether Aaron is traded, he stays, he gets hurt, he plays all year, he needs to be ready to go.

“He hasn’t done what Aaron has done. Hopefully at some point, we’re talking about him in the same way people talk about Aaron. As of now, the focus is exactly where it should be. It’s on Aaron. And he gets that. He’s not a ‘me’ guy. He’s not an attention guy. He’s a football player.”

He’s also a mystery the Packers themselves can get behind right now.

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