Surprise! When the Packers traded up in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, everyone tuned into the event assumed they were going up to target a critical weapon for their offense.
While that is exactly what happened, no one could have predicted Green Bay would be drafting the presumptive replacement for Aaron Rodgers, a first-ballot Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback in the twilight of his career. Instead, most presumed the Packers were moving up for a wide receiver or perhaps an offensive tackle? Green Bay needed help with its skill players entering the draft and boosting the cast around Rodgers seemed like a sensible blueprint.
When the card was turned in and Jordan Love was the pick, analysts and fans everywhere were stunned; many panned the Packers for the decision at No. 26. But here's the thing: The Packers are a good football team. They have a top-end passer who, despite being 36 years old, can put the team on his back on any given Sunday and create magic with his right arm. For Green Bay, the chance to secure talent like Love was simply too good to pass up, and rightfully so. If the next three years of the Packers’ trajectory go according to plan, they won’t find themselves in a position to draft a quarterback with the tools we see from Love in any other year. If the Packers were to wait longer before targeting a potential successor, they will lose the most appealing amenity they could afford whoever else would have been pegged to take over for Rodgers: time.
The Packers are the NFL's kings of quarterback succession. From 1992 to present, Green Bay has had two franchise quarterbacks: Brett Favre and Rodgers. There was no gap in that transition; only in Rodgers' injury abbreviated 2017 season has Green Bay had someone not named Favre or Rodgers lead the team. The lack of a gap between signal-callers came, in large part, because Green Bay was advantageous in landing Rodgers, who tumbled to the bottom of the first round in the 2005 draft; Favre was himself in his mid-30s. A different regime headed up that transition, but this is the same play call from the same playbook. Rodgers knows the deal; he was on the other side of the coin 15 years ago.
Rodgers is under contract through the end of the 2023 season, and he'll be 40 years old by then. We're already starting to see some signs of Father Time coming for Rodgers, and it will inevitably come harder and faster as the next few years pass by. But Rodgers has the same luxury that Love has right now: time.
Or at least so we think. The Athletic's Bob McGinn reported Tuesday the Packers' decision to draft Rodgers was a power play by a management group that has "had enough" of Rodgers' schtick. How much of that is fact versus fiction will be told over time, but it certainly sets the table for Rodgers' departure in the coming years. Given Love's needed development, however, it is hard to imagine Green Bay accelerating this divorce any time soon. Rodgers has got plenty left in the tank; the Packers know it, Rodgers knows it and if Love doesn't know it, he'll find out soon enough.
Many successful quarterback transitions come courtesy of a proper supporting cast, team culture and incubation to learn. Love will be able to adjust and absorb the NFL game. The Packers can afford to give arguably the most talented raw passer of the 2020 draft all of those things — arguably more so than any other team in the league. Because of that, as much as anything else, taking advantage of Love's slide into the mid-20s was the right play to make. It sets Love up for success, and it's the right quarterback to sit behind Rodgers to avoid undue strain — one with all the physical tools in the world but one who will need ample time and patience to fulfill his potential. If all goes well, the Packers will continue to contend for championships throughout the twilight of Rodgers' career and make a dignified and much-anticipated swap several years down the line to continue more of the same — but with Love at the helm instead.
Could the case be made that Green Bay could've helped its championship aspirations with a different selection with the No. 26 overall pick? Absolutely. But the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
While Aaron Rodgers is a grizzled veteran, Matt LaFleur is a baby-faced, spry 40-year-old coach with his entire career in front of him. General manager Brian Gutekunst is just 46. If the Packers stick the landing here, the management duo in Green Bay will be set for arguably another decade and change.
The Packers rightfully have one eye on the here and now, but they also are wise to make sure their championship aspirations don't ride off into the sunset with Rodgers if they send him packing or when he decides to hang up the pads. So, as shocking as it might have been, this was the absolute right play for the Packers in this year's draft.