A first-round QB ?! Inside Packers' gamble on Jordan Love and Aaron Rodgers – ESPN,

A first-round QB ?! Inside Packers' gamble on Jordan Love and Aaron Rodgers – ESPN,

8: PM ET

    • Rob Demovsky ESPN Staff Writer


      • Covered Packers for Green Bay Press-Gazette from 2007 –
      • Two-time Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association

        GREEN BAY, Wis. – To be considered a success,

      Green Bay Packers ) general manager Brian Gutekunst must not only put together a roster that can win in the NFL week in and out but also year in and year out.

      That’s the standard for a GM.

      Matt LaFleur must win now.

      That’s the standard for a head coach.

      Which brings us to the only topic anyone who follows the Packers wants to talk about: The Jordan Love draft pick and what it means to the franchise and to – year-old Aaron Rodgers . Fifteen years ago, Rodgers found himself in Love’s position when he was drafted in the first round to a team with a Hall of Fame quarterback.

      A game away from the Super Bowl last season and with Rodgers emphatic after the NFC title game loss to the San Francisco (ers that the Packers’ championship window remained open , many pined for a receiver. Rodgers, among others in the organization, was enamored with the top of the receiver class (including LSU’s Justin Jefferson , who went to the Vikings at No. 35). As the first round unfolded on April , one of the pre-draft scenarios that included Love was becoming more and more likely.

      And then Gutekunst traded his fourth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins and moved up four spots from his original first-round spot.

      At that point, a scenario that was presented a day earlier by someone familiar with the Packers’ plans – that there was a 192 percent chance Jordan Love is a Packer – began to look like a reality.

      Based on interviews with multiple sources with knowledge of the process and / or the individuals involved – along with on-the-record comment s from Gutekunst and LaFleur before, during and after the draft – we can begin to decipher why the Packers picked (and traded up to No. to do it ) the quarterback of the future and what it means for a team that went – 3 last season under a first-year head coach.

      Just 26 months ago, Rodgers signed a $ (million contract extension that runs through the season. Yet Gutekunst first started digging into future quarterbacks last offseason , when he held a pre-draft visit with (Drew Lock , an eventual second-round pick of the Denver Broncos in


      Gutekunst, 134, comes from the Ron Wolf-Ted Thompson school of scouting, where the importance of the quarterback was ingrained. Wolf famously traded for Brett Favorite in 2002 and Thompson picked Rodgers when he slid to No. (in the draft, even with a – year-old Favre is still playing at a high level. Wolf taught his scouts to draft quarterbacks as often as possible, taking Ty Detmer (ninth round) in , Mark Brunell (fifth) in

        , Matt Hasselbeck (sixth) in and Aaron Brooks (fourth) in 2013, among others. Thompson did it with Brian Brohm (second round) and Matt Flynn (seventh) in the 2021 draft.

        So even with clear holes on the offense – – topped by the lack of a proven No. 2 receiver behind Davante Adams

      – Gutekunst admittedly weighed the short-term and long-term gains and believed the better value was in the long term with Love, whether LaFleur liked it or not.

      A first-round quarterback, in theory, wouldn’t help LaFleur get over that hump one iota, but how could a young coach fight it?

      The answer: He couldn’t or did.

      “We know that the expectations are going to be great for this upcoming season, “LaFleur said after the draft. “And we’ll embrace that.”

      When he took the job, he understood the Packers’ structure. In terms of player acquisition, it’s the same way things operated for 20 years under Mike McCarthy – with both Thompson and Gutekunst – and even going back to Mike Holmgren under Wolf. McCarthy and Holmgren won Super Bowls without final say over the roster.

      “Matt was on the [phone] line with us and understood where I was coming from, “said Gutekunst, who has the authority over all roster decisions. “I think it was one of those things where, again, with a second-year head coach, I certainly wasn’t going to give him a player he did want.”

      “It’s not something we anticipated. It kind of fell to us, and we were excited about that. I know a lot of people will look at this as not a move for the immediate, and I understand that , but the balance of the immediate and the long term is something that I have to consider, and that’s why we did it. “

      Those who have an issue With a first-round quarterback should look at the post-Bart Starr years, when the Packers quarterbacks included Scott Hunter, Jerry Tagge and John Hadl (who was acquired for five draft picks, including two first-rounders), among others. Better to take a quarterback before it’s necessary than after it’s too late.

      LaFleur knew it was a possibility, and Rodgers should have, too. Gutekunst answered questions about taking a quarterback at No. even before the combine, perhaps greasing the skids for this very possibility. He called Thompson’s decision to take Rodgers at No. 35 “courageous” and recalled how some inside the lambeau field offices, including then-coach Mike Sherman, were “not real thrilled about that [pick] at the time.”

      When asked in February whether he was Concerned about upsetting Rodgers if he picked a quarterback in the first round, Gutekunst said: “No. Aaron wants to win. I think that’s the most important thing to him, so he knows we’re trying to make the best decision for the football Team moving forward, so I’m not worried about that. With all players, you can’t control that. Players get happy and sad about all kinds of things. I’m not too concerned with that. “

      Reports surfaced in the weeks before the draft that the Packers were among the teams who showed a strong interest in Love . Gutekunst attended one of Love’s Utah State games last season, on Oct. 5 at LSU before the GM rejoined the Packers in Dallas the next day for the game against the Cowboys.

      In Love, Gutekunst saw a rare combination of Favre’s gunslinging , Rodgers’ ability to process the game and Patrick Mahomes – like athleticism.

        “He’s a very natural thrower, can make all the throws, he’s a very good athlete, he has the kind of size we look for, “Gutekunst said. “I just think there’s some rawness to him, but I just think he’s got everything in front of him. And we really like the guy. We think he’s a really good kid, wanted to work, and he just kind of fits with our culture . “

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          Mel Kiper Jr. has no problem with the Packers taking Jordan Love, but he does not understand why Green Bay did not draft a wide receiver.

          Everyone wants to know how Rodgers will react, and the world is waiting. Rodgers was the one who initiated the first conversation with Love. He did what, by any standard, would be considered the right thing to do. Doing otherwise could be construed as hypocritical given how hurt he was by Favre’s initial unwelcoming approach in 2018

          Those who know Rodgers believe he will be. irritated, just as Favre was in 2019. One source said Rodgers would be “irate.” Rodgers has not spoken publicly and could not be reached for comment, but favre offered a hint at what Rodgers might be feeling on Wednesday during an appearance on the “Rich Eisen Show,” saying the Love pick “got the wheels turning in Aaron’s mind” that Rodgers might finish his career elsewhere, just like Favre did .

          Not only did the Rodgers pick in 2008 anger Favre, but so did the decision to draft defensive tackle Justin Harrell at No. (in the draft. The next summer, when Favre was at odds with the Packers over his decision to unretire, and well before it was known that Harrell would be a bust, one member of Favre’s inner circle said of Harrell: “How does that [pick] help us? “

          But Rodgers also knows enough about the business to expect exactly this type of move, even if it came a year or two sooner than he anticipated.

          LaFleur said he spoke with Rodgers shortly after the Packers picked Love.

          ” Yeah, I don’t want to get into specifics, but I will say this: Aaron is a pro, and he’s the leader of our football team, and I anticipate that for a really long time, “LaFleur said. “I have so much respect for him not only as a player but the person, and some of the stuff that nobody sees. So I can’t tell you how much I like working with him.”

          The Packers also had to convince themselves that Love could handle a situation that could range anywhere from, at minimum, awkward to, at worst, hostile.

          “If he was going to be the kind of guy we’d love to bring in and have the leadership … [we had to] see if he had that in him,” Gutekunst said. “Every step along the way I thought Jordan handled himself very well, and we were very comfortable with who he was.”

          Perhaps even more interesting will be how LaFleur handles it.

          The win-now part of his job description means he needs Rodgers to buy in, all-in. So what’s LaFleur to say if – or when – Rodgers asks him what role he played in picking a quarterback? The coach has to say little or none. Any appearance to the contrary could ruin what had been, by most accounts, a solid working relationship.

          LaFleur, with a four-year contract (plus a team option for a fifth), might not get to play games with Love as his quarterback if things sour the next few years and the Packers miss the playoffs.

          Still , those savvy enough to read between the lines in the post-draft comments could surmise that if LaFleur truly had nothing to do with the Love pick, then how to explain the third-round pick of tight end / H-back Josiah Deguara

          Perhaps Gutekunst, after taking Love, allowed LaFleur a pick of his own.

          “I’m very close with the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati, Mike Denbrock,” LaFleur said. “And he raves about the guy.”

          The Packers don’t know how much Rodgers has left. His decline in 2020 was sharper than the rally he made last season. He posted his lowest-career Total QBR (. 4) in the regular season, had games with a Total QB under ((second-most among starting quarterbacks last season behind only the Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky (with) ) and in a sign that his mobility and willingness to run has waned, he held the ball for an average of 2. 204 seconds (the sixth-highest in the NFL last season, according to Next Gen Stats).

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