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The inevitable divorce -- and what comes next
Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love and the Packers' bid at history
Our long national nightmare is over. Mercifully, Aaron Rodgers has made a decision.
After 15 seasons as the Green Bay Packers starter, the quarterback will be traded to the New York Jets. He confirmed as much during a meandering conversation with Pat McAfee Show a fortnight ago.
The two sides are still thrashing out the framework of a deal. But by the time mid-April rolls around, Rodgers will be a Jet. Woody Johnson is starting to get impatient, folks.
It was typical of Rodgers to make everyone wait, to have everyone hanging on his word. When the league’s delightfully oxymoronic ‘legal tampering’ period kicked off, Rodgers had still yet to publicly confirmed whether or not he wanted to play; the latest round of will-he-won’t-he, we-know-he-definitely-will was more interminable than sitting through Babylon.
Speaking on McAfee, Rodgers unloaded on the Packers. They showed a lack of respect, he said. There was double-talk. They didn’t afford him — or his ex-teammates — dignity in their exits. He placed the blame for the impending divorce on the team’s new management structure. “I like direct communication,” he told McAfee. All this is from the man who entered into four days of darkness with no cell service a fortnight prior to the start of free agency, and who sat down with Aubrey Marcus for 96 minutes to discuss his bathroom habits before he managed to pick up the phone to Packers GM Brian Gutekunst.
When Packers’ brass tried to reach out to Rodgers, they claim, he was unavailable.
Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who cares?
This is Rodgers in his happy place. Grumpy. Indignant. Vindictive.
It sounds dopey, but the best-of-the-best find — or create — any sort of slight to use as fuel. At the peak of his powers, Michael Jordan would call local pizza parlors just so that he could hear a local voice in his head while laying waste to opponents on the road. For the better part of ten years, Rodgers used the fact that he went to a junior college and slipped in the 2005 draft to flatten a league that had doubted him.
Overlooked. Doubted. Dismissed. That’s been the narrative – real or imagined – that has powered Rodgers’ career. Rodgers, though, has spent the last couple of years chasing inner peace — and talking about it publicly…
“When I went into the darkness I was 90% sure I was retiring,” Rodgers told The Pat McAfee Show. “I sat one day in darkness contemplating that I was retired and one day that I was not.” When Rodgers’ exited his wellness retreat, he heard stories that the Packers were shopping him around the league, his story goes. The Packers’ rebuke — real or imagined — re-ignited his passion to play, so he claims (not that the timeline truly matches up). From leaning 90-10 towards retiring, he was all-in on playing – and playing for the Jets. When you need darkness in your life, best to head to the Meadowlands, I guess.
In truth, Rodgers has never forgiven the Packers for the original sin: Drafting his replacement in 2020. “They drafted a guy to replace me,” Rodgers told The Aubrey Marcus Podcast, referring to Green Bay selecting Jordan Love in the first round of the draft. No matter that Rodgers has lived through this before. Back in the Brett Favre days, he was sat in Love’s shoes: The organization itching to move to the young guy as the old hand continued to hang around, forcing the team into an annual soap opera.
Anger turned to resentment — on both sides. Even with a newly-minted contract, a breakup was inevitable. The Packers have made it clear over the past month that this is not Rodgers’ choice. They’re the ones ready to move on. They’re done with the headaches and the melodrama. They want to give Love a chance. He’s the future, and they’re ready for it to start now.
Divorces do not typically have a single inciting incident. People tend to get tired of each other, the little things add up – the way they brush their teeth; the dishes stacked up in the sink. For years, the Packers have grown weary of Rodgers' antics. There’s always something: the ayahuasca, the shrooms, the darkness, asking teammates whether they thought 9-11 was an inside job, being immunized vs. vaccinated, holding on to over-the-hill players because they’re buddies with the quarterback, hiring his friends to serve as Yes Men rather than coaches. Even as the reigning back-to-back MVP, the Packers entertained trade offers, before making Rodgers the richest quarterback in the league.
But Rodgers was fed up, too. Fed up with looking over his shoulder at the player the organization truly wanted to build around. Fed up with battling back-and-forth over the reigns of the offense. Fed up with arguing over the details. Fed up with the team trying to straddle two worlds: preparing for his departure while trying to put together a competitive roster for one final shot at a championship. “This conversation would have happened a lot season if I didn’t win back-to-back MVPs,” Rodgers told McAfee in his only public comments since he announced he wanted out.
In truth, it’s a split that’s best for both sides. Moving on from a face-of-the-franchise-type star too early hurts, but not nearly as badly as waiting too long. Ask the Saints. Or the Steelers. Or the Giants. Or any team who holds on for an extra couple of years because they cannot admit to themselves that it’s over. In moving on from Rodgers, the Packers have ripped the band-aid off early.
Rodgers will head to New York – for now. Who knows for how long he will play? A year? Two? Six weeks? Six hours? With Rodgers, anything is possible. We’ve never had a quarterback enter the Tyson Zone. There is no pop-up notification that could ding on your phone right now that you would not believe. Rodgers announces candidacy for senate! Rodgers to host a six-part series: Aaron’s Conspiracy Hour! Rodgers to join LIV golf! Rodgers to experiment with ‘live burial’ therapy! Rodgers’ to host Newsmax coverage of the 2024 primaries!
The Jets will live through the inevitable storms for a shot at winning it all. Rodgers immediately becomes the best quarterback in team history. His powers may be dwindling, but even as he nears 40, Rodgers remains a quarterback capable of pushing a talented Jets roster into championship contention.
But it’s fair to wonder how much this version of Rodgers tips their championship odds. Rodgers is trading in the lackluster NFC for a loaded AFC. He goes from being the best quarterback in his conference to the second-best in his division. How many quarterbacks in the AFC would you take ahead of Rodgers right now? Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, and Josh Allen are sure things. What about Justin Herbert? Lamar Jackson (depending on where he’s playing)?
Peak Rodgers sits on the top shelf alongside the Big Three. The Rodgers of 2022 probably sits somewhere in the six-to-nine range.
That should be enough for the Jets. If they had even average quarterback play last year, they’d have given the Bills a race in the AFC East. They have one of the most talent-laden defenses in the NFL. On offense, they’re filled with young stars desperate for competent quarterback play. Instead, the team is close to acquiring a four-time MVP with a point to prove and an Ice Wall-sized chip on his shoulder.
The move will reunite Rodgers with Nathaniel Hackett — the Rodgers whisperer. Hacket was the offensive coordinator who helped bridge the gap between Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and Rodgers. With Hackett playing the role of middle-man, he pushed Rodgers into buying LaFleur’s system, turning the off-script artist into someone willing to embrace structure. Rodgers won back-to-back MVPs hitting all the open throws in the offense and creating two-to-three moments of magic per game – rather than trying to put the team on his back on every given play.
Last season, with Hackett flailing in Denver, Rodgers reverted to his worst instincts. The Packers' offense flat-lined.
Rodgers was one problem among many, but he was a problem. He oscillated wildly between someone who wants to play within the system and someone willing to indulge his worst hero-ball tendencies. When the Packers' offense devolved into Rodgers-vs-the-world, it sputtered. What were once features of his game became flaws. By the end of the season, he ranked 25th among eligible quarterbacks in adjusted accuracy on throws of 20 yards or more, typically an area where he outpaces the field.
Rodgers held a monopoly on a top-five spot in both accuracy and effectiveness for ten years on deep shots. No matter how underbaked the surrounding talent, no matter how sloppy or misguided the scheme, he could always be relied on to move and create on throws down the field by himself. Last season, that vanished. His touch was off. He missed wide-ass open receivers, routinely:
At times, he refused to pull the trigger – a growing norm in his game, and a fundamental flaw in recent postseason losses:
Concepts that used to beat teams over the head with for two seasons started to evade him. He was once the best slot-fade thrower in football, using the sideline as his allie. Last season, that all-but vanished, even as it continued to absorb an outsized chunk of the Packers’ offense.
LaFleur and company were left chasing their tales: they called the concepts they knew Rodgers liked, the concepts that Rodgers had crushed for two years. He hit them in fits and starts, but he missed them more than ever. What do you do? Risk irritating or alienating the league’s moaner-in-chief by shifting away from his projects? Or do you bank on the idea that he will eventually come good?
The Packers spent large portions of the season trapped in a halfway house between those two extremes.
Defenders will point to a thumb injury. Detractors will point to the natural aging cycle of quarterbacks. Rodgers will soon be 40. When quarterbacks age, they age fast. Their arm strength vanishes from one season to the next. Matt Ryan was an above-average starter in 2021; by 2022 he was efforting to push the ball ten yards down the field. A drop in deep accuracy is typically the first sign that The End Times are near – unless you’re Tom Brady… or you work with a doctor who isn’t a doctor.
The history of quarterbacks as they near 40 makes grim reading. Tom Brady warped the perception of how quarterbacks – and athletes in general – age. Rarely do you see the kind of late-career resurgence that Brady mustered in Tampa. Usually, when there’s a late 30s dip, it’s the beginning of the end.
But Rodgers isn’t just any other quarterback. There were signs of the kind of player Rodgers could become in his 40s buried under the surface last year. When the ball came out quickly, when he operated the offense rather than freelancing, the Packers' offense still operated at a high level. Trust between himself and the young receiving corps ebbed and flowed. By the end of the year, he struck up a decent two-man rapport with Christian Watson. If he can hit the ground running with a batch of his guys – Allan Lazard, Marcedes Lewis, Randall Cobb – plus the always-open, someone-please-get-me-the-ball, soon-to-be-superstar Garrett Wilson, Rodgers can cook.
The question is whether he’s willing to adapt his game to prolong his career. Rodgers hasn’t been a rhythm-based, 40-dropback, Tom Brady-like thrower for the bulk of his career. At his best, he’s been an off-script savant, someone who conjures offense when it seems like there shouldn’t be any. He can do the tippy-tappy work as well as anyone; but he’s at his best when he’s diagnosing-and-ripping, his touch and precision pushing him to a different stratosphere rather than the rhythm of his feet.
Pairing that with four or five out-of-nothing plays a game has been his magic. But as his legs start to fade and his arm deteriorates, he will need to adjust.
Rodgers has overhauled his mechanics before. He’s been throw two from-the-ground-up rebuilds. He radically altered his delivery from college to the pros to bring more timing to his game in Mike McCarthy’s nascent west-coast-based system. As he evolved as a player, he charted a different course. He pioneered the foot-pop, a style that allowed him to remain his torque and accuracy regardless of his base. And in doing so, he unlocked something extra special: A brand of second-phase offense that reached the kind of heights few have ever scaled.
(Rodgers is not given enough credit as both a mechanical and schematic innovator. The further we get removed from his career, the more those who study his game and what he introduced to the professional ranks the closer he will be nudged towards the Peyton Manning category rather than the so-talented-it-appeared-natural camp that he’s saddled in now)
Overhauling your body and throwing mechanics to master a new style is hard, long work. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. It’s not the kind of thing someone who spends half the day on the Reddit conspiracy page can do. It’s something that only someone with true mastery over the craft, and a willingness to work and work and work some more can do.
Will Rodgers be willing to go back into the lab, to work and work and work some more to develop a fresh sound for the third time?
One of Matt LaFleur’s strengths as a coach was pushing and prodding Rodgers to embrace his inner conductor more consistently. Whether due to spite or understanding, Rodgers accepted the assignment, mowing throw the regular season and clinching back-to-back MVPs. In the playoffs, when he pivoted back to the vintage Rodgers style, things fell apart. He laid some stinky eggs in the posteason, even with a quality supporting cast around him.
The Jets are all set to win – bigly. They have the defense. They have the weapons on offense. They have a savvy coaching staff. They have the assets to add even more pieces between now and the start of the season. If Rodgers is willing to play within the offense and is willing to accept the player he is today rather than who he was two years ago, then they should be a contender in the AFC.
Adding Rodgers is a bold move. On Wednesday night, the Sacramento Kings clinched an NBA playoff berth, meaning the Jets now have the longest playoff drought of any franchise in the four major sports. They’re banking on Rodgers to end the dry spell.
The Jets have a young, talent-laden roster. In adding a soon-to-be 40-year-old, they’ve shifted their championship window from five years to – perhaps– 24 months. They’re also welcoming the tumult that follows Rodgers everywhere. Will he get stroppy in six weeks? Six months? Six years? Will the venom directed at the Packers push him to overhaul his game for a final time, giving him the kind of third act that Brady found in Tampa Bay? Oh, you think I can’t do it anymore? Watch this.
What if things get off to a slow start? What if the Bills and Dolphins are as strong as suggested and burst out from the gates? What if the Patriots acquire Lamar Jackson, and they’re just as effective on both sides of the ball? How long before the crappy body language, the pouting and finger-pointing and blame-shifting, and threats of retirement envelope the building?
And what of the Packers?
Buried beneath the rubble of all of the Aaron Rodgers melodrama is an important question: Is Jordan Love any good?
Trading Rodgers to New York deal is riskier for the Packers than the Jets — however the other side would like to portray it. There was always a push and pull between the LaFleur offense and the Rodgers way of doing things. When Nathaniel Hackett was a round, serving as the middleman that pulled the two strands together, the trio hit on a well-calibrated ecosystem that dunked all over defenses in the regular season. Last year’s flat-lining was a concern; the offense and its quarterback rarely felt like they were on the same page. Still: I’m not betting against a pissed-off Rodgers to rediscover something approaching his MVP form in a similar setup for one more year.
The Jets are betting that MVP Rodgers is still in there, waiting to be unleashed. As bets go, that doesn’t seem like putting it all on Credit Default Swaps.
The Packers will be happy to see the back of Rodgers and the antics that surrounded his final couple of years with the franchise, but moving on to Love represents a leap into the unknown.
Being emotional in sports is easy. Hanging on to Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger or, yes, Aaron Rodgers for an extra year-or-two is easy. Nobody cancels a season ticket or burns a jersey because the icon is hanging around for another year.
Being cold and calculated is hard. Kicking a Hall of Famer out of the building while they still have a couple of years left at the top level is cold, calculated, and necessary work. It’s how the Packers have been able to sustain a championship level of success across three decades.
In moving on to Love, Green Bay will try to do the impossible: to contend for Super Bowls, year in and year out, in four successive decades with three different quarterbacks.
It’s an almost arrogant position. Scratch that. It is arrogant. What team in its right mind believes it can sustain high-level, Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback play for thirty years?
The Rodgers-to-Love transition is strikingly similar to when the team dumped Brett Favre for Rodgers. The organization drafted the legends replacement early. They grew antsy to push the legend out of the door to kickstart a new age. The young pup waiting in the wings showed intermittent promise in practice. The legend held on, holding the franchise hostage with escalating demands. The two grew tired of one another. The divorce ended with the legend heading to the Jets. Within three years, Rodgers and the Packers were once again holding the Lombardi.
Two years ago, Rodgers and Davante Adams decided to run it back for one last year together under the ‘Last Dance’ moniker, aping the Michael Jordan propaganda series.
The central tension at the heart of the Jordan doc was the idea that drives all great sports breakups: Who is responsible for winning championships? Organizations or players? Jordan-Kraus, Belichick-Brady, LeBron-Riley, Keane-Ferguson. Across sports, dynastic runs have become unstuck as champions fight to divvy up who should claim the credit for winning.
“Players and coaches alone don't win championships,” Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause infamously said. “Organizations win championships."
Krause was portrayed as the villain of the Last Dance series. To the Packers, he was a soothsayer. They are the preeminent flag wavers for the idea of the organization above all. No other US sports franchise gets as high on its own supply as that based in Wisconsin. And who can blame them? With back-to-back Hall of Famers at quarterbacks, they have remained in title continental for all but a couple of seasons since 1992.
It is a team and a fan base that has spent the better part of 25 years watching two of the greatest to ever do it. Hall of Fame play isn’t an outlier, it’s the expectation.
Only the Colts have come close to the kind of back-to-back quarterback talent that the Packers have run out on the field since ‘92. They followed the Peyton Manning era with Andrew Luck. And once Luck retired prematurely, the Colts found themselves leaping from one ill-conceived, quick-fix plan to another. They went from model citizens of the league to a laughing stock in the blink of Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, and Jeff Saturday.
But the Packers aren’t the Colts. The Packers have been happy to go against the NFL grain. They’ve planned for the exit of another legend. Love will walk into the huddle with championship expectations from the get-go.
Stepping off the Rodgers’ ledge is a bold but necessary move. The clock is already ticking on Love’s rookie deal. They need to find out if he can play – really play – right now.
It won’t be easy.
Rodgers covered up for issues under-the-hood throughout his time in Green Bay. He routinely dragged sloppy or awful defensive (or special teams) units into the playoffs, only for those groups to capsize any title hopes come January. He elevated the stock of everyone in the building. “A lot of people have been rewarded, quite frankly, because of his [Rodgers’] ability to go out there and play, and play at such a high level,” LaFleur said this week. “I'm just going to leave it at that.”
Plus, the Packers will continue to pay for the cap sins of the latter stages of the Rodgers era through 2024. It won’t be until 2025 that they have some maneuverability to truly build around Love. By delaying things an extra year, the Packers have lost the initial window when they could take advantage of Love’s rookie contract. Soon, they’ll be forced into a decision about whether to extend Love or not – and at what price.
There could be some wiggle room to add immediate reinforcements once the team figures out the specifics of the Rodgers-to-New York deal. But the chances of adding pieces that can have an immediate impact next season are minimal. Instead, they’ll look once more to the draft.
But the Packers have been building to this moment in the background for a couple of seasons – a source of some of the tension with Rodgers. Since drafting Love in the first round, they’ve tried to straddle two worlds: Preparing for Love and the future while trying to keep the roster competitive with Rodgers. They tried to reset their timeline last offseason, trading away Davante Adams and adding a trio of rookie receivers. They brought back the bulk of Rodgers’ buddies for one final ride last season, but they resisted some of the shock-and-awe tactics that would have torpedoed their core in the post-Rodgers world.
Now, with Rodgers’ trusted lieutenants following him out of the building, presumably to New York, the Packers have reduced the age of the skill position spots surrounding their young quarterback:
QB: Love, 24-years-old
WR: Christian Watson, 23-years-old
WR: Romeo Doubs, 22-years-old
WR: Samori Toure, 25-years-old
TE: Josiah Degura, 26-years-old
RB: Aaron Jones, 28-years-old
The average age of their new-look skill position group: 24.
There is upside in a young group growing together – in adjusting their games as they evolve as a unit. When the Packers drafted a pair of rookie receivers last offseason, Rodgers blew off offseason workouts. Love worked relentlessly with the new receiving corps, mastering the LaFleur offense. “He’s trying to learn the offense as well as Coach LaFleur knows it,” Love’s private quarterback coach told Go Long. “That's his whole deal: ‘I want to know the offense as well as Coach LaFleur.’ Almost be that second coach on the field. If Coach starts to talk about a play or how they can scheme up, Jordan wants to finish the sentence.”
Even the most zen of offensive masterminds eventually want to see their offense on the field – egos and all. Rodgers was given full autonomy to adjust or change what LaFleur called, boosting his coach’s reputation, and fattening his wallet. “A lot of people have been rewarded, quite frankly, because of his [Rodgers’] ability to go out there and play, and play at such a high level. I'm just going to leave it at that,” LaFleur said this week. The Love-LaFleur partnership will see the coach out on his own with a quarterback executing his ideas, not freelancing or correcting structural flaws – at least not yet.
LaFleur compromised core parts of his scheme to keep the grumpy Rodgers onside – a compromise a coach is happy to make when working with an MVP. With Love, it will be the uncut LaFleur Experience.
Rodgers and LaFleur battled over the use of motion in the offense. LaFleur likes things whirring throughout the pre-snap process. Rodgers likes things to be static. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just a difference in philosophies.
Rodgers likes to see the whole picture, to snap a free-frame pre-snap so that he can go to work knowing where all the pieces are at the snap. LaFleur wants to use movement, motion and shifts to attack specific target points, to out-leverage a defense to one spot, or to force doubt and hesitation at the second-level, so often the leading cause of explosive plays.
Over the course of the Rodgers-LaFleur relationship, the two evolved their pre-snap formula: The total volume of pre-snap movement fell; the volume of at the snap motion increased. When the goal was to specifically overwhelm a spot on the field (a fast motion to change the formation or create a void; a wing splicing across the formation to hit the point-of-attack in the run game), motion was in:
Moving to gather intel (trying to uncover rotations or disguises) declined.
The Packers finished 15th in motion rate last season, per Sports Info Solutions. They used a jet motion at the 13th-highest rate in the league. The year before that, they had the 8th fattest motion mark in the league, and ranked 3rd in jet motion usage. Back in 2020, they finished 5th in total motion percentage and 3rd again in jet motion usage.
With Love, the volume of pre-snap movement will likely revert to the LaFleur norm. And with the quarterback’s mobility, LaFleur will introduce fresh wrinkles to the offense.
The Packers are itching to find out if Love, surrounded by a young supporting cast, is the real deal. “It's just time for him to play," GM Brian Gutenkunst said this week. "It's going to be a progression,” head coach Matt LaFleur said on Tuesday. Muted in public, the Packers have been positively giddy about Love in private.
The early signs on the field have been up and down. In his first start in Kansas City in spot duty for Rodgers in 2021, Love was in over his head. He looked frazzled by the complexity and speed of the NFL – and this after sitting for a season. Chiefs’ DC Steve Spagnuolo put the young quarterback in a blender, pushing him to perfect the kind of pre-snap rituals that are old hat for veteran quarterbacks. He did a fine job moving and cajoling the offense into the correct plays – checking runs or audibling out of one look – but he botched his protections.
Spagnuolo blitzed the holy hell out of Love, typically a no-no versus good professional QBs. Love crumbled. The Chiefs blitzed Love on 53.8 percent of his dropbacks, an almost unheard-of number at the pro level. Love struggled with the basics of the pre-snap procedure. Post-snap, he looked off open players and threaded no-chance-in-hell passes to covered ones. You could almost hear Aaron Rodgers chuckling from the comfy confines of his COVID bed. This is the guy you want to replace me with. Are you kidding me?
That flipped last year. Late in the season in Philly, Love entered the lineup in the midst of a blowout. He brought an electric jolt to the Packers’ staccato offense. Pressed into action after a rib injury to Rodgers, Love looked poised and confident. The skittishness from his first outing evaporated. He led the Packers on two scoring drives in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles’ defense didn’t challenge the young quarterback with the same kind of intensity or creativity as Spagnuolo did the year before. When they did, Love appeared to have mastered some of the subtleties of the position that had eluded him in Kansas City.
Mastering the pre-snap proceedings was as important to Love in the 12 months between Kansas City and Philly as the technical developments.
After the issues versus Spagnuolo, Love spent time refocusing on the mechanics of the pre-snap process. Multiple sources who spoke to The Read Optional described Love as being ‘angry’ about the breakdowns in pass protection vs. pressure looks. "All-out (blitz) looks, you know those are going to come in the future after defenses see that,” Love said after the Eagles game, reflecting back on his first outing. “I feel like I have an answer ready for that and make defenses pay. That's kind of where my mindset has been, improving that and improving the understanding of protections and where I need to go with the ball, and different looks."
With less to negotiate pre-snap, Love was free to drop back and sling it, and he carved the top team in the NFC up. He bobbed and weaved away from pressure. He launched strikes downfield. Paired with the crop of rookie receivers, the Packers’ offense looked like it was playing on 1.5x compared to the cumbersome group headlined by Rodgers, Randall Cobb, and Marcedes Lewis. Love finished 6-of-9 for 113 yards with a touchdown, averaging 12 yards per pass attempt. It may have come late in a blowout, but it was a signal that Love was ready to start – if not in Green Bay, somewhere.
Love’s development has been silently simmering away in the background. In some ways, it mirrors Rodgers’ entry to the league. But whereas Rodgers was pushed into remaking his natural mechanics to marry up with the traditions of the league, now, the league has tilted towards embracing Love’s natural style. Love has spent the better part of three years working to try to find consistency with his base, and to better marry his feet to his eyes — and to tie those both to the concepts featured in the Packers’ offense.
He’s no longer skipping steps or blowing past reads. He has worked with longtime mentor and personal quarterbacks coach Steve Calhoun to trim the fat from his game. The outing in Philly was evidence of their work. “It would've put the rest of the NFL on notice,” Calhoun told Go Long. “Like, ‘OK, you got somebody to deal with here over the next 10 years.’”
Love has cleaned up his fundamentals. Against the Eagles, he played with great bounce and rhythm. Everything was in sync. He made plays in structure. He made plays out of structure. There was a zing to his delivery. You could feel the whoosh of his slinky release through the screen:
He showed good feel and anticipation:
It was the smallest of smallest sample sizes, but in there were some tasty treats. Against a rolling cover-8 look, he ripped a back-shoulder fastball away from a descending safety slap-bang in the turkey hole.
I repeat: A FASTBALL SLICING BETWEEN A ROTATING SAFETY AND A CORNER VS COVER 8, PEOPLE! It’s audacious — if only Aaron Jones had held on.
That’s not small stuff, either. That’s someone playing with anticipation and confidence, bordering on downright bravado. The foot pop. The anticipation. The timing. The velocity. The accuracy. I mean, who does this guy think he is? Aaron Rodgers?
In limited reps, Love put on public display all that he and Calhoun had been working on in the background: throwing from different arm angles; speeding up and slowing down based on the pre-snap shell, the crowd at the line of scrimmage and the concept; moving and manipulating defenders with eyes; throwing to landmarks rather than to bodies; throwing to leverage.
Some of that is innate to the Love experience dating back to Utah State. He’s a natural slingshot thrower. But there was little replicable on a down-to-down basis, and little of it was tied to the offense. He played see-it-throw-it fooball. And with his arm and instincts, he saw it and threw it really, really well.
That night in Philadelphia was different. The end results were encouraging, the process behind them even more so. From a scattergun approach to his lower half, Love looked compact and efficient. There’s a fine line when you remake a quarterback’s footwork. Sometimes a quarterback coach winds up turning a natural thrower into a robot. Everything looks correct and replicable but there’s a hiccup in the release. It doesn’t look comfortable; you can see the cogs and gears churning. Okay, it’s three and a hitch. Let me count those out. There’s a lack of fluidity.
Love looked slick in his movements. There was an ease to his base, and different variations depending on the assignment. It didn’t look like a computer that had been re-programmed but a quarterback ready to show off his new work. It looked natural.
It will take some time before Love is a PhD-level passer — particularly in LaFleur’s richly-layered system. As Gutenkunst said, he needs to play. But cleaning up the issues with his feet and working to improve pre-snap point to someone who values the fundamentals and the drudgery of sharpening habits.
Again: that can feel like a small thing. But it’s kind of, sort of the whole enchilada. Love didn’t spend his two years in the wilderness going through the motions waiting for his shot or agitating for a move away. He spent two years working. Ask Rodgers: Rebuilding the elements of your throwing motion that feel natural is hard work. You’re talking hundreds and thousands or reps.
Love absorbed the challenge. He went to work. He corrected his issues and inflated his strengths. “He’s a warrior,” one source who works with Love but is not employed by the Packers told The Read Optional. “He wants to be great. He thinks he can be great. And he’s willing to work to be great.”
The Packers know what they might have on their hands, too. “When we watched the [Eagles] tape back, we all just kind of looked around the room like ‘holy shit’”, a member of the Packers’ offensive staff told The Read Optional. “We’d seen it in practice but to see it against live ammo was something else”.
The mechanical improvements should encourage even the strongest naysayers. Hand up, you’re reading one. Love’s development – and the how of his development – has me more bullish on his future now than at any point in the past, even as the rest of the Packers’ supporting cast leaves something to be desired.
He has both the creativity and vision to be a playmaker. He can sling fire from every conceivable release point. If the consistency with his lower half persists and he’s able to develop as a timing-based thrower, then the Packers will really be cooking with something.
By pushing to move on to Love today, the Packers have decided to bet on themselves, again. To bet on the idea of the organization above all.
Choosing Love over Rodgers means self-imposing a sanction, of sorts – at least in the short-term. The Packers of today have dropped from the top of the NFC to the middle of the pack.
Building from the middle is messy, but it’s preferable to building from the bottom. Ask the Texans or Browns how it feels to stomach successive seasons on the bottom rung of the NFL’s ladder. Typically, it ends with resentments and dismissals all around.
At a minimum, Love will serve as mouthwash for the bad taste of the final days of Rodgers. But in Titletown, that’s not enough. Winning it all is the goal. Stockpiling singles and doubles will help put Love in a position to succeed. But for the Packers to achieve the impossible, the front office needs Love to be a home run selection.
There isn’t much on the line, just the legacy of the league’s most storied franchise, and, in Rodgers, one of the game’s most storied players. Oh, and the reputations of team president Mark Murphy, general manager Brian Gutenkunst and head coach Matt LaFleur, one of the brightest and most successful young coaches in the league.
Over to you, Jordan. No pressure.