Don’t Write Off Jordan Love and the Packers After Aaron Rodgers Trade to Jets

After the blockbuster trade that sent Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers to the New York Jets, a couple of narratives have developed. The first is that with Rodgers in the fold, the Jets are now Super Bowl contenders.  The second is that after dealing the four-time MVP, the Packers are somewhere they haven’t been for a very long time. Back at square one. Rebuilding.   The thing is, it isn’t a rebuild so much as a retool.

This isn’t the Houston Texans starting from scratch with no idea what the future holds at quarterback. The Packers are one year removed from three straight 13-win seasons and have talent on both sides of the ball with a first-round signal-caller waiting in the wings.   In other words, while losing Rodgers may have been a blow in the here and now, it isn’t the crusher some think. And given the draft capital Green Bay received in the deal, its time as an also-ran could be short—or even non-existent.

It was a whopper of a swap. For Rodgers, the 15th pick and a fifth-rounder this year, the Packers received the 2023 13th pick, 42nd pick and a sixth-rounder plus a conditional 2024 second-rounder that will become a first-round choice if Rodgers plays 65 percent of the Jets’ offensive snaps in 2023.

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Yes, it was a deal Green Bay essentially had to make after Rodgers requested to be traded to New York. But Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst also said it was made with the franchise’s future in mind.   “That’s part of the job, right?” Gutekunst said, via Matt Schneidman of The Athletic. “Absolutely. That’s part of this job. Obviously, Aaron was going to enter a time in his career where he was going to be ending, and we had to be prepared for the future and get prepared to try to move forward. Yeah, that’s part of the National Football League.

Great players are going to come, they’re going to go. And you’ve got to be prepared to continue to add good football players to your roster so that your team can win.”   Of course, Rodgers’ departure left a hole behind center in Titletown. But for some time there has been a player waiting to fill that hole in fourth-year pro Jordan Love. The Packers believed enough in Love to move up to draft him in the first round in 2020, and Gutekunst said Monday the time has come for the youngster to get his shot.

“We’re really excited where Jordan could go,” he said, via Steve Megargee of the Associated Press. “He needs to play, and having him sit another year, I think, would have really delayed kind of where we were going and what we’re trying to build.”

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Love has played sparingly and has just 83 career pass attempts. But he looked good in spot duty last year and has all the traits teams covet, whether it’s his mobility or cannon of a right arm. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said he’s confident Love has what it takes to be a successful starter.

“I have complete confidence in his ability, but also just his approach,” he said, via Schneidman. “It’s been fun to watch him mature as a football player, as a man, over the course of these last three years. … The way he walks around the building, his approach, his urgency, his fundamentals, everything that goes into being a quarterback, I think we’ve seen significant growth from him. So I’m definitely excited about where he could be.”

Make no mistake: Love’s success (or failure) is the heart of this gamble. The fulcrum on which the Packers’ future will pivot. If Love bombs in 2023, Green Bay really will be back at square one. It will be forced to use a high draft pick on a quarterback in 2024. Maybe deal that conditional first-rounder from the Jets to trade up.

But Gutekunst and LaFleur have enough confidence in Love to close the door on one of the most successful eras for one of the most successful franchises in NFL history. Per Richard Ryman of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, players such as offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins have already expressed their support for Love.

“We’ve got to embrace that and moving forward put points on the board, like we always do,” he said. “It’s going to be different because [Rodgers has] been playing the game for so many years, but I feel like we’ll be good.”

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Love isn’t going to be Rodgers. Or Brett Favre. But what if he’s, you know, good?

Besides Christian Watson, the Green Bay receiving corps is a glaring weakness. But with the 13th pick in this year’s draft, the Pack could have their pick of this year’s crop. With one of two second-round selections, they could add a starter at the position. And at the very least, Green Bay has one of the best one-two punches in the league at running back in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon—a duo who should take some pressure off the passing game.

Dallas Robinson of Pro Football Network in March ranked the Packers offensive line eighth in the NFL, and it will also help alleviate some of the pressure on Love. Defensively, Green Bay finished sixth in the league against the pass in 2022.   Love didn’t inherit a three-win dumpster fire. Even in a massively disappointing campaign, the Packers won eight games and nearly made the playoffs—and it wasn’t because Rodgers stood on his head.

Also, it’s not like the NFC North is especially imposing. Yes, the Minnesota Vikings won 13 games last year, but they did so with a negative point differential. The Detroit Lions haven’t posted back-to-back winning seasons since 2016 and 2017 and haven’t won 10 games since 2014. The Chicago Bears had the worst record in the league in 2022.   Green Bay Packers’ Jordan Love plays during an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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The NFC East it ain’t. And it won’t be a big surprise if Green Bay doesn’t finish fourth.  Of course, avoiding the basement and making a deep playoff run aren’t the same thing. Even longtime left tackle David Bakhtiari said on Mike Silver’s Open Mike podcast that the Packers are rebuilding with Love.

“I literally today talked to Jordan about this,” Bakhtiari said last week, via Steve Gardner of USA Today. “I’m like, ‘The Packers rebuilt from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers.’ What are we going to say? It’s not a rebuild? Like, that is what that is. And that’s totally fine.

“I’m not saying that we’re going to be bad. I’m not saying we’re going to be good. I don’t know, and that’s the beauty. No one really knows how good they are. We start the season, everyone is batting 1.000. No one has any losses. No one has any wins. And let the season play out however it may be.”

How 2023 plays out for Green Bay may well be better than many expect. And if the Packers have half the success replacing Rodgers with Love that they had replacing Favre with Rodgers, the “rebuild” will be quick.  In Rodgers’ first season as starter, the Packers won six games. In his second, they won 11 and made the postseason.In his third? Green Bay won    the Super Bowl.


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