According to the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle, there are five stages on the curve: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance.
Green Bay Packers fans have gone through all five of those stages at various times in the six-plus days since the team selected Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with the 26th overall pick.
Let this discussion serve to help the struggling fan come to terms with a pick that will be sending a shockwave through our beloved franchise for the next several years, with a particular focus on the final two stages: bargaining and acceptance.
First off, let’s address the tremendous backlash against Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst for not only selecting Love but giving up a fourth round pick to move up four spots to do so. The third-year GM has been getting absolutely roasted from fans and media alike. With an aging but still pretty darn good Aaron Rodgers on the roster, what in the name of Vince Lombardi was Brian Gutekunst doing selecting a quarterback instead of finding a weapon for the quarterback to fully utilize his remaining prime years?
That was indeed the thought process a vast majority of people had, including this writer. Rodgers hasn’t been his peak self the last few years but he can still make throws no one else can. He’s also said he wants to play into his forties and wants to spend his entire career in Green Bay.
It’s possible that Gutekunst agreed with that train of thought before March, but that the current COVID-19 pandemic derailed it.
As of right now, the NFL is planning to play its 2020 season on time but that is very much up in the air right now. So let’s assume the worst case scenario: there is no football, college or pro, this year. The season in which Rodgers turns 37 is now done before it started.
Without a college season, would the NFL even hold a draft in 2021? If they did, coaches and front offices would be using two year old tape to make selections. And even if they didn't, Rodgers wouldn't be getting any any younger and if Gutekunst didn’t take Rodgers’ successor this year, one would assume it would come in 2021 (or later). This also shortens the time frame the youngster can sit and learn instead of being rushed into action.
That unknown is one reason why the pick of Love makes sense.
Then there’s another criticism and this one is directed at Love himself. In 2018 he was one of the best quarterbacks in the country, throwing 32 touchdowns (against six interceptions) and accumulating 3,567 yards at 8.6 yards per attempt.
Then came not only a coaching staff change that brought in a new offensive system, but the loss of four starting offensive linemen and Love’s top three receivers. So it’s not completely surprising Love regressed in 2019 but how much he did is indeed alarming. He threw 17 interceptions and only 20 touchdowns and while he still threw for over 3,400 yards his yards per attempt plummeted to 7.2.
The key for any team taking Love is finding out exactly what caused such a drastic decline, and APC’s Peter Bukowski did a great film breakdown trying to solve exactly that. Clearly the Packers feel they found out what happened and were still infatuated with Love anyway.
Obviously Love shares some blame for his issues in 2019, but it’s also worth noting that many of the same people giving Rodgers a pass for his statistical decline due to a lack of weapons are the same ones piling on Love for playing poorly last season despite new receivers as well as a new system.
It’s clear that the biggest challenge head coach Matt LaFleur faces in working with Love is developing him between the ears. There of course will be mechanical tweaks (look at where Rodgers held the ball on his dropback at California versus where he does now) but improving Love’s decision making will be job one.
That’s where the rest of this year’s draft class comes into play. Gutekunst and LaFleur made it crystal clear that they are moving the offense fully in line with the concepts the coach picked up under both Mike and Kyle Shanahan. That means the vision is to be a run-first team, which means a lot of play-action passes by the quarterback. It also means not needing the quarterback to be basically God on the field.
That ultimately might be what a lot of fans don’t yet realize about Love and probably won’t until he’s on the field. People are looking at him through the Rodgers lens and the Packers want to get to the point where they don’t need their quarterback bailing their butts out every season. In short, the Packers don’t need Love to be Rodgers. They just need him to be Matt Ryan or Jimmy Garoppolo. In other words, he should just need to be competent, not otherworldly. (Although if he emerges to be yet another generational quarterback for Green Bay, you won’t hear any complaints.)
Hopefully this helps put some minds at ease even if nobody will know what the Packers have in Love for at least a few years. It’s that fear of the unknown that ultimately could be what’s driving some criticism of the pick.
For these reasons, Gutekunst was justified in rolling the dice like he did, even with the loss of a fourth round pick. Some fans might think the Packers would have taken a receiver in the fourth but judging by how Green Bay approached the draft and how the GM spoke about this year’s wide receiver group, that was far from a guarantee.
In the end, no one really knows how this will all play out. The NFL Draft is the biggest crapshoot in professional sports. That said, if Love pans out, Gutekunst will go from the outhouse to the penthouse very quickly among the team’s passionate fan base.
All those fans need is a little faith, and perhaps some Love.