We should just start to remember about the NFL Draft is this: in the days and weeks leading up, there is always talk of teams possibly making trades in the first five picks yearly. This year we heard the possibility of the Lions trading out of #3, the Falcons, Patriots, and Cowboys moving into that spot. We heard chatter of the Giants moving out of #4. We heard the Niners were trying to make a splash to get in the top 3 and back out of the top 3, etc.
And the Draft occurred….nothing mind-boggling early on. But then as we should remember still, the back end of the first round is where the must-see TV is on draft night.
This year, the winner of the shocking move: the Green Bay Packers trading up to select quarterback Jordan Love.
Of course, the first reaction many had was “deja vu” as Green Bay 15 years before selected Aaron Rodgers as the quarterback of the future while many viewed Brett Favre as the firmly solidified franchise guy. However, for 3 seasons, Rodgers sat the bench while Favre played for the Packers.
But the times are a little different with a rookie cap. Love will not be given a nice contract for four years just to be the backup for Aaron Rodgers. One year, yes. But let’s face it, despite the long-term contract Rodgers has signed, he is likely going to be moved before the 2021 season somewhere (heck, maybe even before 2020 if the Patriots are salivating for him).
Many were stunned by the move and my initial reaction was that too, but I also remembered last year there were rumors swirling around that the Packers were high on Drew Lock. So I’m surprised, but not (if that makes sense).
Did the Packers do well on the logistics of the pick? I will reference my fellow writer in Sports Awakening with unpopular opinion takes: yes. The Packers made a good selection.
“Are you insane????? Rodgers is one of the best ever and still a top 10, perhaps top 5 QB!” I would actually say he is the 5th best QB currently in the NFL (Mahomes, Jackson, Wilson, and Watson I’d only rank higher). He doesn’t turn the ball over, still accurate, and knows when to run and when not to run and he was better at it this year. The numbers aren’t as gaudy was it was from 2008-2016 but still throws for 4,000 yards like it’s nothing.
Rodgers in the past few years, whether justified or not, has been ridiculed for his “lack of leadership” on the Packers, quarreling with head coaches (notably Mike McCarthy), some say blaming his receivers not named Devante Adams for not performing well, tongue-in-cheek comments that come off as arrogant and snotty, etc. Even this year the body language towards Matt LaFleur (yelling about offensive plays he didn’t like on the field) just seemed like he isn’t happy with how things on offense is run in Title Town.
So, let’s look at what I feel are some of the reasons the Packers are developing that blueprint from moving on to one of the best ever.
THE BALANCE OF THE OFFENSE: Green Bay made the playoffs for the first time in 3 years and went 13-3. Largely because there has been a running game that improved tremendously thanks to Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. With the running game improved and eating time off clocks and timely passing, Green Bay’s defense also showed growth as they weren’t gassed out from having to be on the field all the time (save the NFC Championship game). “But the NFL is a passing league and it has been that way for some time!” Check out the teams who were there in the playoffs last year: Ravens, Titans, Seahawks, 49ers, Bills,Vikings and Texans were top 10 in rushing. Packers, Eagles, and Saints were top half of the league in rushing as well. Compare that to the likes of the Falcons, Chargers, Buccaneers, and to a lesser extent the Patriots last year (near the top in passing and made an attempt to run the ball but were terrible at it) and you see that the league is evolving again. And then also look at 2018 for Green Bay as they were one of the most elite passing squads there was. A 6-9-1 squad that was dead last in running the ball (in attempts) and a continued maligned defense that had more holes in it than a cheesehead. The offense had to go through Rodgers, and honestly that may have been the key reason why the Packers struggled, not necessarily because of McCarthy. And I think Rodgers wants that offense to go through him where he can dictate how the offense works (i.e. passing). And it is another presumed power struggle with Rodgers and a head coach, that this time Rodgers won’t win on.
LAFLEUR’S SYSTEM: As mentioned above, LaFleur is focused on more balance of offense in Green Bay, maybe more of a run-style squad than anything else. And LaFleur is probably wanting a quarterback he could mold to fit his system. Love seems to be that guy perfect in his system. “But Rodgers is a first-ballot Hall of Famer! LaFleur has to build the offense around him!” Not how it works. Rodgers is one of the most complete quarterbacks ever, both having the ability to pass and run when needed (probably ran too much at times). And Rodgers is 36…he isn’t inclined to run around like he used to and hasn’t been used to. And whether you like him or not, one thing I think everyone agrees is that he is a stubborn bull. It is what makes him great, but also at times a lightning rod for controversy. Telling a passing QB that they need to change the style of being more run oriented isn’t something that will be done easy. Think of Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson in the late 90’s in Miami. That did NOT work out too well.
“But who is Matt LaFleur to say that Rodgers needs to change the way things are done in Green Bay?” That’s probably the same attitude Rodgers has right now. Remember, it’s a team game. Quarterbacks, even ones who have been stellar for their careers, can also be a liability down the stretch of their careers for their teams in some manner (Marino, Roethlisberger, Cam, Aikman, McNabb, Rivers, Vick) and do more damage than good for the team. And quite honestly, Green Bay playing shootout in the passing game from 2011-2018 netted them playoff exits if a team was able to contain the Packers passing attack (49ers, Falcons, etc.)
“But LaFleur isn’t Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay!” Yes, you’re right. In LaFleur’s first season Green Bay won 13 games and guided the Packers to an NFC Championship appearance. It took 3 seasons for Shanahan to get to the playoffs. McVay got to the playoffs his first year and he was bounced by Atlanta in the Wild Card game before getting to the Super Bowl in his second season where he laid a massive egg (nearly a goose egg at that too). Let’s see where seasons 2 and 3 happen.
In regards to LaFleur, he needs his own quarterback to work his system. If you look around, the teams with newer coaches around want that young quarterback to build off of (McVay-Goff, Shanahan-Jimmy G, Kingsbury-Murray, and to a lesser extent Pederson-Wentz). I’m not saying Rodgers wouldn’t or refuses to work LaFleur’s way but telling a guy who has been around long enough and doing it the way he knows best and feels like he can be at his best it is a hard adjustment. And for someone who is proud like Rodgers is, it is almost impossible.
WHAT’S NEXT? It will be very interesting on how things are handled by Rodgers, LaFleur, and the Packers. Rodgers is one that pretty much once that chip is on his shoulder it stays on. Does he come out and vent? Does he make an underhand potshot? Does he have people “close to him” say things on how he feels (look at the Brett Favre comments)? Does he say “all the right things?” Rodgers could force Green Bay to push a trade this summer and I can see that happening (which probably has him going to New England). Either way he will be in a new uniform by 2021. As for LaFleur, it will be interesting on how he handles things with this situation. He has been grilled for the draft of not getting any wide receivers which many believe was desperately needed outside of Adams. Does he say “enough is enough” if he considers Rodgers a problem and start Love? Does he play Love for a series here & there in the regular season and have Rodgers get angrier? Or does he let Rodgers with a little more control of the offense?
I think it may be best if Green Bay moves Rodgers before the 2021 season. All parties should just let it play out and see while Love learns from the sidelines on how the offense is run. And in the next off-season the Packers could have more takers to move Rodgers out with some sort of value coming in besides one or two teams now.
But to me, I think the Packers did right in drafting Love. They’ll be a better team for it, maybe not next year but down the road.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat