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The Bargaining Stage: a conversation with myself about Jordan Love

Rcon14 talks to...himself to make some sense of the Packers’ first-round pick and what he could become in the NFL.

BYU v Utah State Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

In this article I’m going to go over the positives and negatives of Jordan Love through the internal dialogue of my own mind. I will also include points that I’ve seen, both positive and negative for the Love pick. Hopefully, this will provide a holistic view on all the different viewpoints on the pick, and which things are true versus “fake true.” The characters with be O and P. O is the optimist and P is the pessimist.

O: The Packers did a similar thing in 2005 when they took Aaron Rodgers at #24. Brett Favre was approaching the end of his career, and Ted Thompson did the difficult thing and prioritized the next chapter in Packers history over trying to optimize it in the short-term, and no one now says that was a bad idea.

P: That is true, but there are many things that make the 2005 Aaron Rodgers selection different than the 2020 Jordan Love selection. First of all, Aaron Rodgers was a potential #1 overall pick, whereas there were real questions about if Jordan Love would even go in the first round.

Rodgers finished 2004 14th in the country in AY/A at 8.1 If you only include players who played in BCS conferences, Rodgers was 7th. The year prior, Rodgers was also highly productive, ranking 15th among all QBs and 8th amongst BCS quarterbacks.

Compare that to Jordan Love, who wasn’t even the best quarterback named Love in college football last year. His AY/A ranked 85th out of 101 qualified quarterbacks. That comes while playing in the very pedestrian Mountain West conference.

O: But what about Jordan Love’s 2018? He was quite a bit better then, no?

P: He was substantially better in 2018, yes. In fact, he ranked 11th in AY/A.

O: And didn’t he have a plethora of changes happen in 2019?

P: Certainly, he lost pretty much everything he had around him in 2018. It’s still very concerning to me that he went from good to legitimately bad when his supporting cast worsened. The quarterback is supposed to be the primary driver of an offense’s “goodness” and the fact that he was struggling at a pretty mediocre level of competition is quite concerning.

Also, if you look at his 2018 game logs, we really need to question the strength of schedule. In 2018 he only played one defense that ranked in the SP+ top 30 for defense (Michigan State). If we expand that out to top 60 defenses, we reach a grand total of four. Only 1/3 of the games that Love played in 2018 were against defenses that ranked in the top half of FBS.

O: How did Love fare in those games?

P: Not well. His AY/A in those games was 5.85. To give context, that number would have ranked 101st out of 107 qualifying QBs in 2018.

And with 2019, he posted that terrible season against the easiest pass defense schedule of any of the major quarterback prospects this year, per Football Outsiders.

O: Okay, but what about his tools? He has an incredible arm, he’s a good athlete, and he has some incredibly impressive throws on tape.

P: I can’t even argue against that. The “stuff” he has is incredible. Except quarterback is not as much a highlights position as it is an efficiency one. Highlights are of course amazing, but Drew Brees doesn’t really have those, and he’s been one of the most lethal quarterbacks of all time. Similar stories for Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Not every great quarterback is an Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, or Patrick Mahomes in terms of play-style.

O: Sure, but it’s good to have those tricks in the bag, and it gives you some real upside.

P: Possibly. It doesn’t really matter if you can make all the throws if you don’t actually make them all that often, or if you’re constantly giving the ball to the other team.

O: He has the things you can’t teach, though. We can coach up the rest.

P: Can you really coach up the rest? I know everyone uses Mike Holmgren reining in Brett Favre as an example of that, but the game has changed so much, both at the college and professional levels, that I’m not even sure we’re talking about the same position anymore. Not to mention, every time a quarterback has accuracy problems or decision-making problems, the same few exceptions get brought up repeatedly. I’ll defer to Mike Leach on this one.

O: Alright, but he will have time to learn behind Aaron Rodgers, just like Aaron did with Brett.

P: The sample size on this is super small, but how many cases of quarterbacks who sat behind a veteran and then played and were good do we have? Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, and … Colin Kaepernick for like five minutes? Now it’s hard because most teams don’t sit “their guy” for very long, even when they do have a veteran, but if sitting behind a vet for YEARS was something that worked, you would think we would see more examples of it than just the one. It’s possible that it would work, but I don’t think we should apples-to-apples Rodgers with every quarterback who gets drafted behind a competent-or-better veteran.

O: But we do have to start thinking about the future and replacing Rodgers eventually.

P: Absolutely, but I don’t think 2020 was the right time to do that. The value in a rookie deal quarterback is that you get production from a position you are vastly underpaying. With Aaron’s current contract situation, the earliest they could possibly get out is 2021 and that would be if they were blown away by a trade offer, because they would only free up about 5M in cap space. With Rodgers dead cap and Love’s contract, they’d still be spending around 35M on the quarterback position. A post-June 1st alters the calculus where Green Bay could create 22M in cap space for the 2021 season, but Rodgers dead cap would be 14.352M in 2021 and 17.204 in 2022. Again, not really creating value on your rookie deal when your QB cap hits are still north of 20M.

2022 is the most likely outcome where Green Bay would create 22.648M in cap space. Even in this scenario, Rodgers would still leave a dead cap of over 17M, pushing the total spending on quarterback north of 20M yet again. A post-June 1st designation spreads those numbers across 2022/2023, but still makes the numbers far larger than would be useful to optimize a rookie contract.

By the time Green Bay could truly utilize the rookie contract quarterback cap space, it’s 2023 and Jordan Love is in the last year of his initial deal and Green Bay would have already needed to make a decision on his fifth-year option.

So, there’s really no way for Green Bay to maximize the value of having a rookie contract quarterback even IF Jordan Love is a competent NFL starter.

O: But the Packers did a similar thing with Aaron Rodgers and gave him an extension early into his starting days.

P: This is true. There are some differences between then and now, though. At that point, Brett Favre was a flight risk. He was openly contemplating retirement. Aaron Rodgers has given no indications he plans on retiring any time during his current contract. He has even said that he may want to continue playing beyond his current contract. Now that doesn’t mean it will be or needs to be in Green Bay, but it probably means he won’t be jumping ship next February.

Now what I will say is Aaron has had a concussion problem, so we don’t know how many more of those until he must retire.

Rodgers also signed a five-year contract is 2005, and Green Bay had a pretty easy out from a cap-perspective after 2007 with Favre, which gave Rodgers two years before the Packers really had to make a decision on any extension or option, because this was an old-CBA.

O: But it could give the Packers a discount on the first extension.

P: It’s possible that Love could have a month or two of good starting production and want to lock into generational wealth, but it’s also possible that he’ll ride it out knowing he’ll have quite a bit of leverage on Green Bay at that point. Either thing is possible.

O: And none of these matter if he is a franchise quarterback.

P: It’s not that they doesn’t matter, but they obviously matter far less. This pick will be judged on the results, but I’m just not sure I really understand the process here.

As you probably noticed from my dialogue, I’m rather pessimistic on the pick. It doesn’t line up appropriately with Rodgers’ contract to fully leverage the value of the rookie contract QB. A pick doesn’t NEED to line up perfectly like that, but I’m not sure there’s anything in Love’s production profile to suggest that that Green Bay needed to make those sacrifices, both in terms of cap space and draft resources (a first and fourth rounder) to ensure his selection. This move is truly a head-scratcher for me.

Perhaps Love really was drug down by an abysmal supporting cast and a coaching staff headed by Gary Andersen, but he also may be just another toolsy quarterback with questionable production. With all of the circumstances pushing Green Bay away from needing to do this, I don’t know why they saw Love as the guy to pay all these prices, both monetary and otherwise, for.