As one chapter ends, another one begins.
Such is the moment the Green Bay Packers are facing after this week’s historic news that Aaron Rodgers is being sent to the New York Jets for a package of draft picks. Packers fans are feeling a range of emotions, ranging anywhere from sadness to outright glee and likely all degrees in between.
Regardless, the Aaron Rodgers Era is over in Green Bay; now dawns the age of Jordan Love. Whether Love’s time is a brief blip in the storied history of the franchise or a third consecutive golden age of quarterbacking remains to be seen.
While fans are asking “how good is Jordan Love?”, they really should be asking “how good does Jordan Love have to be?”
If the Packers are expecting or hoping Love to be a miracle worker and will rely on him to consistently bail them out of tough spots, they are making a foolish mistake. It’s also the same trap they fell into with both Brett Favre and Rodgers. It’s why there are “only” two Super Bowl titles to show for three decades of Hall of Fame quarterback play.
Now is the time for general manager Brian Gutekunst to lay the groundwork to best put Love in position to succeed. Head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense is predicated on making life as simple as possible for the quarterback. With Rodgers’ departure, so too goes the hybrid offense Green Bay has run the last four years since LaFleur was hired. They can now run a pure version of his scheme.
Gone will be the complicated signals for receivers and (hopefully) burning the play clock down the final milliseconds in hopes of catching the defense off guard. In will be more motion by receivers and a stronger emphasis on running the ball.
If the Packers can execute on those two things, Love just has to be solid. Just look at San Francisco the past two seasons; the Packers run a similar offense and it’s feasible to believe Love is every bit as good as Jimmy Garoppolo and Brock Purdy. With LaFleur no longer shackled to Rodgers’ old habits, he’s free to fully unleash his playbook. The coach’s canvas just got a lot bigger.
Of course, the offensive scheme is just one way to help Love. Personnel has a lot to do with too, and on both sides of the ball. This is where Love could get into trouble. The first steps towards building around a young and especially raw quarterback are protecting them well and then finding them reliable targets.
The protection part should come first. Green Bay is in line to draft at least one tackle early this week during the draft. David Bakhtiari could return to form as a top left tackle in the lead but his much longer than expected recovery from multiple knee surgeries has understandably shaken confidence. Furthermore, he’s no lock to stay in Green Bay beyond 2023, given his contract.
The other tackle spot is currently held by Yosh Nijman, but he’s been inconsistent and his long term future with the team is in doubt. Zach Tom sits behind him but the second year player could potentially be a replacement at center for the inconsistent Josh Myers.
The Packers could do Love a lot of favors getting his protection settled through the draft, but the same goes for his pass catchers. Love and Christian Watson gave a tantalizing tease of what the future could hold against the Philadelphia Eagles last year when they connected for a 60+ yard touchdown pass.
The rest of the group remains a massive question mark. Allen Lazard is with Rodgers in New York and Randall Cobb is as good as gone too. That leaves Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure as the next men up on the depth chart. Doubs stole the show during training camp but had a typical inconsistent rookie season for a fourth round pick. He also missed a few games with injury. Toure, meanwhile only saw action on offense in a handful of games and is a true wild card, even if he did flash potential in spots.
And don’t even start about the lack of tight ends. This is the biggest area the Packers can improve on. Going into a season with a new quarterback and your top three receivers all in only their second year (or rookie year, if they draft someone) is not ideal.
On a positive note, Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon can be a dynamic enough duo to help Love immensely. The offense should run through their legs at least in the early going. Let Love complement the run game instead of the opposite, as was true under Rodgers.
That should be the offensive blueprint for early in the 2023 season, if not the entire way. Although teams will force Love to beat them at some point, the running game is his best security blanket for the time being.
A strong defense also goes a long way towards helping a young quarterback and this is another danger area for Love. The Packers controversially hung on to Joe Barry after last season and while the defense looked better as the year went on, it’s nowhere near good enough to carry a team while Love gets his footing.
Gutekunst has thrown considerable capital at the defense via the draft the past few years and little outside of Rashan Gary and Jaire Alexander have panned out.
The bottom line is the defense is just a big of a question mark, but elevating their game would be the best thing for Love. It’s just that there is little reason to believe Barry is the one who can do that.
So back to the question: how good does Jordan Love have to be?
Asking Love to deliver Rodgers-like numbers would be unreasonable at best. All Love has to be is competent and not force too many throws like he did in his final year at Utah State. If he can work within the structure of the offense, he can utilize his natural talents to boost his game even more.
Tempered expectations will be the name of the game for Love this year. LaFleur has said as much. The Packers are sailing into the great unknown for the first time in 15 years. Perhaps the best piece of advice for Love as he confronts following not one but two legendary quarterbacks?
Don’t be Aaron Rodgers. Just be Jordan Love.