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In Moving on From Aaron Rodgers, the Packers Shift From Quarterback Stability to Uncertainty

The Packers have successfully executed a quarterback succession plan once before. Can they do it again with Jordan Love?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

When the Packers swapped Brett Favre for Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback following Favre’s (first) retirement in March 2008—almost exactly 15 years ago—Rodgers addressed the obvious. “I’m not Brett Favre,” Rodgers told The Associated Press. “And if they’re wanting me to be the next Brett Favre, I’m not going to be him.”

It turns out that Rodgers was wrong. He was the next Brett Favre, from his one Super Bowl win and multiple MVP awards with the Packers to the way he is leaving the Green Bay Packers for the New York Jets. And he will likely be leaving for the Jets—eventually.

That’s what Rodgers revealed on Wednesday in an hour-long appearance on The Pat McAfee Show. Rodgers said he decided days ago that he doesn’t want to retire, and he’s ready to play for the Jets, and he pushed back against the perception that he was delaying a trade. In fact, Rodgers told McAfee that the delay is because the Packers want a better trade package—they’re “digging their heels in,” Rodgers said—meaning the Packers are the ones holding the Jets (and Rodgers) hostage. Rodgers also pushed back on ESPN’s reporting of this saga, which ESPN’s Adam Schefter, uh, confirmed.

But the trade—whenever it happens—completes one of the tidiest full-circle story arcs you’ll ever see in sports. Favre spent 16 years as Green Bay’s starter versus 15 for Rodgers. Favre won three MVPs, while Rodgers won four. Both won a Super Bowl. And now, both have been traded to the Jets to make room for first-round QBs who spent three years on the bench waiting patiently to replace them. As they say in True Detective, time is a flat circle.

“It is my intention to play for the Jets, but I am still under contract,” Rodgers told McAfee. “The facts are right now [the Packers] want to move on, and now, so do I.”

For an astrology aficionado like Rodgers, there may be peace in the full-circle nature of leaving the Wisconsin sports universe the same way he was allowed to enter it (and he’ll soon come to appreciate how the Jets have been on a 40-year darkness retreat). For the Packers, the move begins their next chapter after an unprecedented run of 30 years of quarterback stability, in which Favre and Rodgers combined to start 519 games since 1992 (while their backups started just 22 in that span). Whether Green Bay can extend that sort of QB fortune another decade depends on Jordan Love, who will finally get his shot to be the Packers’ starter.

The Packers planned this out ahead of time. Green Bay’s succession plan began when general manager Brian Gutekunst drafted Love in 2020—something Rodgers referenced multiple times Wednesday. But the Packers truly locked onto this path last March when they structured Rodgers’s contract extension in a way that would, in essence, force the team to choose between Rodgers and Love this March. Rodgers has a guaranteed salary of $59.46 million this year and counts for more than $31 million against Green Bay’s cap; Love is cheap, for now, but the team faces a May deadline to pick up Love’s fifth-year option. Green Bay’s choice was between a 24-year-old first-rounder drafted by this front office versus a 39-year-old QB who in the past three years has won the MVP twice and discussed retirement approximately a bajillion times. Rodgers astutely told McAfee that Green Bay has historically chosen to move on from players a year too early, rather than a year too late, and indeed, that’s what the Packers appear to be doing.

It is a decision most teams may not have the chutzpah to make, and Gutekunst deserves credit for trying, even if this separation has become messy. But the Packers have survived mess before. Favre wore out the Packers organization and many fans by waffling on retirement for his final few seasons, and Rodgers spent the past three years talking his way out of Green Bay’s good graces. It’s not that Packers fans dislike Rodgers. Many adore him. But plenty of them might be ready to move on from a relationship that has become exhausting.

Plenty of people—including yours truly—shredded Gutekunst for taking Love and running back AJ Dillon in the first two rounds of the draft in 2020, and for a few years, those takes have held up. Both Love and Dillon have been backups—and Love specifically has played only sparingly in his first three seasons in Green Bay. But if Love ends up as the Packers’ next great QB, their quarterback of the next decade, Gutekunst will have been more than vindicated—especially considering the flak he took, both from the media and from Rodgers himself, as Rodgers wanted to have a say in front-office decisions.

Now, the question is if Love is any good. Clearly, the fact that the Packers, specifically Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur, are willing to make this deal suggests they have been encouraged (if not emboldened) by what they’ve seen out of Love in practice the past few years.

“We’re excited about him. I think I’ve expressed to a lot of people that he needs to play. That’s the next step in his progression. He needs to play,” Gutekunst recently told reporters at the NFL scouting combine. “Jordan’s done a great job working hard, so he’s doing everything we’re asking.”

Love’s game action has been limited. He started once in 2021 in place of Rodgers after Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19. Love completed 56 percent of his passes for 190 yards with one touchdown and one interception and hardly looked ready for showtime. But that was his first career start, and it came on the road in Kansas City against a Chiefs defense that pressured him 19 times. Love looked significantly better in his main appearance of 2022, when he replaced Rodgers in a Sunday Night Football loss to the Eagles in Week 12 and hit rookie receiver Christian Watson on a short pass over the middle of the field that Watson took 63 yards for a touchdown.

Danny Kelly’s scouting report for Jordan Love in The Ringer’s 2020 NFL Draft Guide described Love as having “a flick-of-the-wrist throwing style, good touch, and plenty of athleticism―but big questions around his decision-making and ball security.” As for Love’s main selling point, Kelly wrote, “tools, tools, tools.” Love can move, and he’s got a cannon—and now, the question is whether he has learned to truly play quarterback in his three years waiting behind Rodgers.

Rodgers and LaFleur often ran an offense of compromise in Green Bay, settling on a mix of what LaFleur wanted and what Rodgers was comfortable running. Love, meanwhile, is presumably going to run whatever offense LaFleur tells him to, and there’s a chance that Love executing LaFleur’s vision without the offense being pulled in another direction could look better than the product Green Bay showed with Rodgers last season, especially since Green Bay was essentially average in points per game.

“We took him for a reason back in 2020, he’s been progressing nicely, and to see him kind of take the jump he did this past year was nice,” Gutekunst said. “Again, it’s much different than going out there week in, week out, taking on the challenges when teams are game planning for you. We were talking earlier about the length of time it takes a quarterback to go from playing well to winning in this league, and he’ll need to go through those things, just like every other quarterback. He’s taken some really good jumps, and there’s more out there for him, but I think the things that are out there for him, he’s going to need to play to do that.”

Rodgers and Favre famously had a frosty relationship during their three years together on the Packers roster. Rodgers seems to have gone out of his way to have the opposite relationship with Love. On Wednesday, Rodgers called his successor “a fucking great kid” with “a bright future in front of him.” Rodgers would know. His past is Love’s future. But Love has the pressure of following two legends, not one. Love being Rodgers is not a fair expectation. But deep down, that has to be the hope.