When Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst traded up four spots to select QB Jordan Love with the 26th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, it showed that he wanted to build a bridge to the future — a future without Aaron Rodgers.
That future may be closer than anyone previously thought. Last week Adam Schefter reported that Rodgers had become so disgruntled with the team that he did not want to return to the Packers in 2021. It is unclear whether the relationship is salvageable.
Breakups are never easy, particularly when the marriage has been a long and successful one. But by drafting Jordan Love, Gutekunst set his plans in motion, and retreat now would only cause more damage. It’s time to seize the future. It’s time to trade Aaron Rodgers.
After the 2019 season, Gutekunst thought he saw the signs of Rodgers’ inevitable decline. It wasn’t an entirely foolish notion; Rodgers’ completion rate had been falling steadily for the previous four seasons (from 65.7% in 2016 to 62% in 2019), and his QBR was heading in the same direction (72.4 in 2016; 52.5 in 2019). When former Packers quarterback Brett Favre was 35, the team drafted Aaron Rodgers as his replacement. Rodgers would be 36 in 2020. Rodgers’ age, combined with his decline in performance, made it logical to start grooming the quarterback of the future.
But as he’s done so often in his career, Aaron Rodgers defied logic. In 2020, he reminded everyone that he’s one of the greatest to ever do it, posting a 48:5 touchdown to interception ratio and an 84.4 QBR while collecting his third MVP award. If Gutekunst was trying to light a fire under Rodgers’ ass, it worked.
Unfortunately, when you play with fire, you get burned. Regardless of whether Love turns out to be a good pick or not, Gutekunst handled the selection poorly. Rodgers was never informed of Green Bay’s intention to draft Love; instead, he found out at the same time we all did, when Roger Goodell awkwardly announced the pick from his own basement. Rodgers is one of the greatest players in franchise history, the man who’s put the team on his back for the last twelve seasons. He should at least have been kept abreast of team decisions, particularly when those decisions impact his position with the organization.
By picking Jordan Love, Gutekunst also showed that he doesn’t understand Aaron Rodgers on a personal level. Rodgers is “obsessively competitive” in every aspect of his life. He won’t sabotage Jordan Love, to be sure, but Rodgers will never go gently into that good night and let Love take over the starting spot.
The Packers can’t expect Rodgers to walk away. They need to give him a push, and they need to do it this offseason.
Rodgers’ trade value will never be higher than it is right now. No reigning MVP has ever been traded — Rodgers could fetch the most expensive price tag in a trade in NFL history. Before the draft, the 49ers reportedly offered the 3rd overall pick along with other key players to the Packers in exchange for Rodgers. Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports proposed a series of eye-watering hypothetical trade offers from QB-needy teams like the Broncos and Raiders as well. Rodgers’ trade value is stratospheric — why not get value for him now, instead of releasing him for nothing later down the line?
Trading him after June 1 would also work with the Packers’ salary cap concerns, as Evan Western of SBNation explains. If they trade him immediately, his $38.356 million would count as dead money against this year’s cap — putting the Packers wildly over this year’s cap of $182.5 million. However, if they move the star quarterback after June 1 of this year, the rest of his contract would be split across the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
Of course, the cap hit would be even lower if the Packers wait to trade Rodgers until after the 2021 season. But bringing Rodgers back for a single lame duck season presents its own problems. Think back to Tom Brady’s final season with the New England Patriots. He seemed disinterested, distracted, out of sorts. Despite having the top scoring defense in the league, New England’s season ended on a drizzly Wild Card night in Foxboro–with a Tom Brady pick-six, no less. If Rodgers knows 2021 is his final season at Lambeau Field, will he be focused on winning a title with a team he no longer adores–and whose fanbase may no longer adore him? Or will his attention start to drift to the next chapter of his career?
But as always, the question drifts back to Jordan Love. Is he ready? He didn’t dress once for the Packers last year, and he was less than impressive in training camp. Admittedly the COVID-19 pandemic stunted his chances for development, but other rookies faced similar growing pains. At some point, the Packers need to know what they have with the Utah State prospect.
When Gutekunst took Love in the first round of the 2020 draft, he set the Packers down this inevitable course of conflict. Though Gutekunst refused to coronate him at the time, Love became the Packers’ quarterback of the future, making Aaron Rodgers their quarterback of the past.
General managers typically get one shot to get their quarterback. Gutekunst took his shot with Love, even trading up to get him. It’s time to find out if he was worth it. Either Brian Gutekunst made a bold move, moving on from Aaron Rodgers and setting up the Packers for another generation of success, or he forced out the best player in franchise history in a cloud of disillusionment and distrust.
As Winston Churchill said, if you’re going through hell, keep going. Brian Gutekunst started this last year. It would be futile to turn back now. Come June 1, the Packers should trade Aaron Rodgers, and see what the future holds.