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Graphic Credit: Mike Dancy Jr.

 

 

WWJD #32: Why Love? Why Not!

www.FranchiseSportsMedia.com

 

I have to get this off my chest because it’s been bothering me for a while. I know I mostly report on Las Vegas sports, but TQ and I have this ongoing debate at least three times a week. It happens in person, over the phone or through text messages. So I figured I’d use my forum to express myself.

 

WWJD
Photo Credit: Packers

The debate is about former Utah State quarterback and Green Bay Packers 2020 first-round pick, Jordan Love. Much has been said and continues to be said about the Packers selection Love with the 26th overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. It is a hot topic for those who don’t follow the team closely, as well as die-hard Packers fans. Why would the Packers, who were coming off an NFC Championship Game loss to the San Francisco 49ers, select Love when they have Aaron Rodgers? Why would they do that when Rodgers “needed playmakers” other than Davante Adams? Why would they take a QB when they got their defensive line ran through by the 49ers?

We were doing the Franchise Sports Media draft show when the Packers took Love, and I wasn’t shocked. In fact, last year, in the final mock I did with Chris Sproule, I picked Love for the Packers at pick 30. Since I am unapologetically a Packers fan (and owner since I have shares in the team), TQ went in on the pick. He didn’t (and still doesn’t) understand the reasoning since the Packers were so close to playing in the Super Bowl. He has valid reasons, but I contend that it is more than a surface pick; rather, the drafting of Love has positioned the Packers to contend for the foreseeable future. I know, even typing that had me shake my head, like some of you may have, but I’ll explain in this article.

 

TQ thinks ANY PLAYER would’ve been a better pick than Jordan Love, but more specifically the QB position for the Packers. I mostly disagree with his point. Just because there are 32 NFL teams, doesn’t mean there are 32 players worthy of a 1st round grade.

 

WWJD
Photo Credit: Packers

I say mostly because depending on how the Packers draft board was set, there could have been a more impactful selection. Looking at who was drafted (after the Packers decided to trade up for the #26 pick), Patrick Queen, the linebacker out of LSU, was selected two picks after Love by the Ravens and had 66 tackles in what many would call an uneventful rookie season. Tee Higgins had 908 yards on 67 receptions, with six of those being TD’s for the Bengals, who took him 33rd overall, while Michael Pittman Jr. caught 40 balls for 503 yards and a touchdown for the Colts. Pittman came on late in the year and was a fit for the Packers offense, but it’s now obvious that Packers GM Brian Gutekunst didn’t have Pittman or Higgins as first-round grades.

Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool is another popular name that gets brought up as “what could have been” for the Packers. He did have a good year for the Steelers, catching 62 balls for 873 yards and nine touchdowns. But there were questions regarding Claypool coming out. Some scouts had him as a hybrid tight end, while others questioned if he had the wiggle needed to play receiver in the NFL. Other offensive players that have been brought up as guys “the Packers should have drafted” are Van Jefferson (57th overall), Denzel Mims (59th overall), and Brandon Aiyuk (25th overall) didn’t have impactful seasons, or they were marred by injury.

As for the defensive side of the ball, some players that the Packers passed on that were linked to them or continue to be mentioned by some people as “better picks than Love” are Yetur Gross-Matos (38th overall, 9 tackles, 2.5 sacks), Ross Blacklock (40th overall, 10 tackles), and Raekwon Davis (56th overall, 19 tackles). All are defensive linemen, and none set the world on fire. As for linebackers, besides Queen, Logan Wilson (65th overall, 23 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack), Alex Highsmith (102nd overall, 30 tackles, 1 interception, 2 sacks), Akeem Davis-Gaither (107th overall, 20 tackles, 1 interception, .5 sacks) were the most productive linebackers in the class that could have been drafted.

I will share publicly for the first time. This what I was told by a long-time source I have. He told me that the Packersreally liked LSU wide receiverJustin Jefferson. They felt his skill-set could pair-up with Adams perfectly and form one of the best receiver combos in the NFL. When they couldn’t get a deal done to move up for him, the last ‘elite talent’ they had on their board was Love, and they didn’t want to take the chance not to draft him. Since the receiver draft was so deep, they figured one of the other guys who graded out similarly would be available, but the draft didn’t fall that way for them, so they passed altogether.

This is what happens in the draft sometimes. Teams have “X” amount of players graded as elite (or 1st round) prospects, and the next group is all bunched together and are basically graded out equally. The trick is there are 32 teams and 32 first-round picks, but there might not be 32 players graded to be first-round selections. And sometimes, the draft doesn’t fall the way you want or need it to, so you adjust and stay true to your board. That seems to be exactly what Gutekunst did and traded up 4 spots to draft Love.

 

Where is/was the “instant help” so many people claim to have been there? Furthermore, how the hell can anyone call a player a “bust” after their first and only year in the NFL? That is precisely what Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk did on his show on Monday. He showed who “surprises” and who were the “busts” on the 2020 NFL Draft.

 

WWJD
Photo Credit: ProFootball Talk

By using his reasoning, Aaron Rodgers would have been a bust. Rodgers, if you recall, didn’t see the field more the majority of his first three seasons, only seeing time in the Packers Family Night game, pre-season, and in his third year, getting in games when they were out of reach or when then starter and NFL ironman Brett Favre went out with an injury (in Dallas to be specific). But in that Cowboys game, Rodgers almost led the Packers back to victory after being down big and flashed enough for then General Manager Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy to know they had a special player. They knew that future would be just fine with Rodgers running the show.

So by Florio’s standards, Rodgers would’ve been called a bust after his rookie year, hell, even after his second year in the NFL. Another reason why he isn’t an NFL GM and is one of the “Kings of Clickbait.”

The point is Rodgers had time to develop and grow into the player he became. He wasn’t the finished product coming out of Cal and had mechanical issues that needed to be fixed. Favre, the 3-time NFL MVP,  was also in the back end of his prime years, and the Packers had to think about their future. While Favre wasn’t “done” as a QB, the injuries were piling up, and the end was closer than anyone wanted to admit. In Rodgers case, 2020 excluded, he was getting injured more frequently, and the Packers needed to have someone that they could count on long-term. Brett Hundley wasn’t the answer, and, sorry Packers fans, neither is Tim Boyle.

In 2017, Rodgers played and started in seven games due to injury. During that time, the Packers and their fans got a chance to see if Hundley was the guy they could count on if Rodgers were to go down for an extended period of time, and the answer was a resounding no. The following two seasons, Rodgers played and started in 16 games, but his play wasn’t bad at all, but it also wasn’t Rodgers-esque. He threw for 4,442 & 4,002 yards, with 25 and 26 TD’s, respectfully, but he would say it wasn’t his best years by any stretch.

But in 2018, after the firing of McCarthy and after a 2019 playing in new Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s offense, Rodgers had a resurgence in 2020. Rodgers won the NFL MVP for the third time after throwing for 4,299, a league-leading and career-high 48 touchdowns, and just 6 interceptions. He led the Packers to a 13-3 record and also back to the NFC Championship Game for the second straight year. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay beat the Packers in Lambeau Field and eventually won the Super Bowl.

 

After that game, Rodgers, who was upset at the loss and emotional. He also was very honest and transparent publicly, something that isn’t seen too often. He was reflective as to where his career is and that led to speculation that he may want to move on from the Packers, in-part, because they drafted Love in the first-round.

 

WWJD
Photo Credit: ClutchPoints

If I am all the way real with you, Love isn’t ready to start. He needs time to learn, just as Rodgers did. Love has things he needs to improve on and some things he needs to “clean-up” before becoming the full-time starter. And for some, he won’t ever be good enough, and he wasn’t the right pick no matter what, the same way some still feel about Aaron Rodgers after Green Bay drafted him with Brett Favre still on the Packers.

They want to point out Love’s final season at Utah State. Some want to point out Love threw for 3,402 yards, but 17 interceptions to just 20 touchdowns. But what they also fail to point out is Love had a new head coach, a new offense, new offensive staff, and had a CFB leading 7 balls that were deemed catchable, only become interceptions because the receivers couldn’t hang on to it.

I say watch his sophomore season in 2018. Love started all 13 games for the Aggies, completing 267 of 417 passes for a school season record 3,567 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He made every throw look easy, displaying arm strength, accuracy, touch, and the ability to throw on the run. Love also is a leader and has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches (while at Utah State and in Green Bay).

Don’t get me wrong, Jordan Love isn’t without his faults, but he possesses a high-level physical skill set and peaks on tape that reveal the ceiling of a potential dynamic NFL starting quarterback. Love can hit on throws from various arm slots with an over-the-top release that is lighting quick. He has the arm talent and mobility that is perfect for the trends of today’s NFL, and there are no limitations to what he can do on the field. The full playbook is open for Love and then some, but patience is needed for him to reach that limitless potential.

 

But let’s not be so short-sided and look at the long-term effect Jordan Love can give the Green Bay Packers.

 

Let’s look at the Packers starting quarterbacks from 1980-1991:

1980: Lynn Dickey

1981: Lynn Dickey & David Whitehurst

1982 – 1983: Lynn Dickey

1984: Lynn Dickey & Randy Wright

1985: Lynn Dickey, Jim Zorn & Randy Wright

1986: Randy Wright

1987: Randy Wright, Don Majkowski & Alan Risher

1988: Don Majkowski & Randy Wright

1989: Don Majkowski

1990: Don Majkowski, Anthony Dilweg & Blair Kiel

1991: Don Majkowski, Mike Tomczack & Blair Kiel

Now let’s look from 1992 through the present day:

1992: Don Majkowski, Brett Favre

1993 – 2007: Brett Favre

2008 – 2009: Aaron Rodgers

2010 – 2011: Aaron Rodgers & Matt Flynn

2012: Aaron Rodgers

2013: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien & Seneca Wallace

2014 – 2016: Aaron Rodgers

2017: Aaron Rodgers & Brett Hundley

2018 – Present: Aaron Rodgers

Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, Rodgers plays 3 more seasons at an MVP level, then decides to move on to the next chapter of his life. Love is now the Packers starter, in year 4 of a system he would have full command of, and, pie in the sky thinking here, would give the Packers a decade or more of stellar QB play. That would be at least 40+ years of elite-level quarterback play for one organization in a day and age of the salary cap, free agency, and players wanting to leave a team at the drop of a hat.

 

Aside from Hundley starting nine games in 2017, the Packers have had the same two starting quarterbacks since 1992. Almost 30 years of consistent, NFL MVP level quarterback play for one organization.

 

WWJD
Photo Credit: Madison.com

That is unheard of in the NFL. Since Ron Wolf took over as the team’s General Manager and V.P. of Football Operations in 1991, the Packers seem to know what they are doing with the quarterback position. He gave Thompson and Gutekunst the blueprint for what to look for in their next signal-caller, and both seem to have stuck to the script. Thompson’s first-ever draft pick was a ballsy one; it was Rodgers and Gutekunst, who seems to have hit on his previous first-round draft picks in Jaire Alexander, Rashan Gary, and Darnell Savage, should have the trust of the Packers fan base when it comes to Jordan Love.

In 2021 there was uncertainty with the NFL’s salary cap due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams didn’t know where the cap would end up. At one point, the cap was supposed to be $175 million, but the NFL announced on Tuesday that the salary cap will be around $182.5 million, still well over $20 million less than what was expected pre-pandemic. But as former Packers front office executive Andrew Brandt pointed out on March 10th, “NO TEAM will actually have a Cap of $182.5M. With cap carryover and reconciliation of 2020 earned and unearned incentives, each team’s Adjusted Cap will be different.

 

The Packers, as of the writing of this article, are still over $9 million over the cap, so work has to be done, even with the NFL’s new T.V. deals, which is expected to help, but not solve the cap issues for teams.

 

One option to create salary-cap space is to extend Rodgers’ contract, giving him a “more certain” future remaining in Green Bay which would create over $14+ million in salary-cap space. How would that affect Love and the timeline for him to start, or will it? That also remains to be seen, but the Packers front office and coaching staff believe that Love is the future based on what I was told recently.

I was asked a question by a longtime NFL personnel man recently. He said, “Joe, if a team, let’s use New England as the example, called you up and offered their 2nd round pick this year and their 4th rounder that could go to a 3rd if he meets certain escalators next year, for Love, would you take it?” I paused and said I would think hard about it and has a discussion with my team, he stopped me mid-sentence and said, “I’m telling youGuty would turn that down. They believe in the kid & his ability. They think he’s the future in Green Bay. They like him that much.

 

Photo Credit: ACME Packing Co.

If what my source says is indeed true, that speaks volumes about how highly the Packers‘ brain trust thinks of Love. he truly will be the heir apparent to Rodgers. And to Rodgers credit, he has been accommodating with Love, answering questions, giving suggestions, and helping him make the transition from college to the NFL. That is something he didn’t receive from Favre (for the most part) and the type of person, leader, and teammate Rodgers is.

At the end of the day, the NFL is a business. Fans, media members, and armchair GMs think they know what’s best for their favorite team. We make our own draft boards and get pissed off when “our guy” isn’t the pick or our team “reached for a player” that we didn’t have rated as high as others. But I don’t think that is the case with Jordan Love and the Packers. They traded up for a player that they believe has the skill-set to be elite, a skill-set that they feel has the traits of both Favre and Rodgers, and a player that they feel will be the next great quarterback in Green Bay while teams like Minnesota and Chicago are still trying to find their guy.

 

Instead of ripping the player, the GM, and be quick to label a player a bust, why not wait and see how things turn out? I know it isn’t popular or won’t get a ton of clicks, views, or likes, but if it is the way the people making the decision for the teams do it, it should be good enough for those who aren’t  the decision makers.

Peace✌                                

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-Joe Arrigo – Franchise Sports Media

Follow Joe on Twitter @JoeArrigo

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