If, on draft night last April, you were not “thrilled” that the Green Bay Packers used a precious first-round selection on a backup/potential future quarterback, let alone that they spent a fourth-round selection to move up and get him, then you have reason to be even less thrilled now.
“Not going to say I was thrilled by the pick,” Aaron Rodgers said this offseason of his team moving up to take Jordan Love out of Utah State. Rodgers has, to his credit, done all he can to welcome and help develop Love, who the team plans to eventually have succeed him.
Rodgers also went 32-of-44 for 364 yards and four touchdowns in Sunday’s impressive 43-34 statement victory at division rival Minnesota. A few of those touchdowns were the kind of brilliant darts on the run that have defined Rodgers’ career and defy his 36-year-old age.
In doing so, he cemented what many expected out of this season — Rodgers is still in his prime, is showing no signs of tapering off, and the Packers are again legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
In other words, the QB and team are built (or should be built) to win now.
But there’s more. The Packers’ offensive line continued to be battered with injuries. Projected starter Billy Turner missed Sunday’s opener with a knee injury. Then during the game, Lane Taylor was lost for the season and Lucas Patrick injured his shoulder and didn’t return. (He may be back Sunday against Detroit). The result was a patchwork lineup that coach Matt LaFluer said gave a “gutsy” performance.
Green Bay finished 13-3 last season before losing to San Francisco in the NFC championship game. Coming out of that, the Pack looked like a team that was one offensive weapon away from breaking through — namely a high-end offensive lineman to add a pop of talent and depth, or a big-play wide receiver to go along with Davante Adams.
The Packers had 10 picks to move around and get what they needed in a draft that was deep on receivers. Instead they burned a first-rounder on Love, with the plan to groom him for the future the way Rodgers was once groomed to replace Brett Favre. And with no fourth-rounder, Green Bay didn’t address the line until the sixth and didn’t get a wide receiver at all.
Perhaps it all works out, Green Bay wins the Super Bowl and has Rodgers’ eventual replacement. Minnesota is likely their chief NFC North rival, and they already have a victory at their place.
Watching Rodgers play as well as Rodgers ever has, however, suggests the window to win is now. The time to go all in is now.
Or put it this way: If the Packers are about to line up in an NFC championship game this postseason, would they rather have more talent on offense or the maybe-QB of the future holding a tablet on the sideline?
Other than the offensive line injuries, little of this is new, of course. It has been the topic of the offseason among Packer fans and media since Love was drafted.
The team defended the choice, saying that they had Love rated as far and away the best available player regardless of position. That may be true after LSU receiver Justin Jefferson, who the Packers were believed to have coveted, went 22nd to the Vikings and had all of two catches for 26 yards in Sunday’s loss.
“We looked at it like we really do every year,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said after the draft. “We evaluate all the players and certainly quarterback is of the highest priority for an NFL franchise. We evaluate those guys very closely. And you set your boards … Love was the top guy left, and the gap was widening. As those players got picked, it was kind of like, with the way our board was, there really wasn't anyone else at that level that we felt comfortable taking.”
Rodgers, among others, wasn’t happy with the surprise. You get only so many chances with a team this talented. And what have we seen of late that shows Rodgers is on the downside of his career? He hasn’t missed a start since 2017. Two other NFC championship favorites are run by 41-year-old Drew Brees (New Orleans) and 43-year-old Tom Brady (Tampa Bay).
Instead, the Packers stuck to their philosophy rather than push their chips to the center of the table this season.
On Sunday, they got four catches and one touchdown each out of Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Adams, meanwhile, delivered 14 receptions for 156 yards and two scores. Maybe that’ll be enough. Maybe the second-tier guys can develop. Rodgers is adept at making those around him better.
That said, this didn’t look like a quarterback who was slowing down any time soon, or in need of a replacement any season soon. He looked like someone who could win a Lombardi Trophy, so why not surround him with everything you can?
Rather than another speedy receiver or bulky offensive tackle to work with, the Packers’ No. 1 pick stood on the sideline, where he’s expected to stay.
That may prove less and less thrilling as the season goes on.
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