When the 2020 NFL Draft officially came to a close, there were questions surrounding one controversial selection. Before breaking down the selection itself, let’s rewind the clocks to a season ago. New general manager Brian Gutekunst was set to bring relevance back to the frozen tundra. The Green Bay Packers fired Mike McCarthy while releasing their final crop of old-age talent for a new start.
A newly implemented head coach, Matt LaFleur, was tasked with bringing innovation to the organization. Another disciple of the Sean McVay tree, the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator could have been a match made in heaven with veteran Aaron Rodgers.
When you throw in the additions of Adrian Amos, Za’Darius Smith, and Preston Smith, while also adding Billy Turner to the offensive line, there was reason for optimism heading into last season.
The team went 13-3 to begin the new era, pounding their way through the division and earning a trip to the NFC Championship. And perhaps with another weapon or two in Rodgers’ back pocket, Green Bay would be talking about how they found ways to compete down in South Beach.
A Lombardi Trophy could have been on their mantle. Instead, they’re back at square one. However, the addition of Jordan Love could be a move that keeps Gutekunst’s roster relevant long after the two-time MVP has called it a career.
The problem isn’t Love or even where he was selected; in fact, he was the only logical draft pick Gutekunst made over three days. However, if you are trying to prep for the future, a team’s best chance to win is by giving their top player another weapon. The Packers’ draft choices were massive swings in the dark and missed opportunities for Green Bay in what was considered a “loaded” wide receiver draft class.
Love to hate Jordan?
It’s not just that Green Bay grabbed a quarterback early, but rather they actually traded up for one. The Packers sent Miami a fourth-round selection to move up four slots to select Love.
The question; why? The teams selecting before them all have franchise starters in place. Seattle is set with Russell Wilson, while Baltimore has the reigning MVP calling the shots. Tennessee spent over $100 million on Ryan Tannehill this offseason, taking them out of the signal-caller showdown. Should Green Bay had stayed put, they would have grabbed “their guy” and kept an extra selection.
According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, selecting Love was always the plan. Gutekunst was adamant on adding the Utah State gunslinger to their roster. So much so that interdivisional trade talks became a growing movement from the front office.
How much did the Packers want Jordan Love? As they made their calls about a first-round trade up, they reached out to divisional rival Minnesota, which had the 22nd and 25th picks. Sounds like they wouldn't be denied in getting the QB.
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) April 27, 2020
Love didn’t have the kind of season that some of the first-round QB talents did. Then again, having to start fresh will put a damper on any player’s success. The Aggies lost head coach Chris Wells to Texas Tech, and offensive coordinator David Yost soon followed.
New offense, new system, 18 interceptions for the future of Green Bay. And when nine passes are either dropped or bouncing off the receiver’s hand, what more could you ask for?
Love should fit well in LaFleur’s offense but he could have been available later than his 26th selection. In a season where Rodgers threw for over 4000 yards and 26 touchdowns without a second effective receiver, what message does this send? Multiple times, Rodgers has spoken of “loyalty” and “closing his career with the team that stopped his own draft day skid.” Did the Packers really show the same loyalty to the Hall of Fame QB?
Back to square one for Rodgers.
No love for either gunslinger
Drafting for your future will always be a necessity — so will putting your team into a position to win. Since 2005, only two offensive skill players have heard their names called by Green Bay on Thursday evening. Rodgers is one, his eventual replacement is the other.
The Packers draft should have seen them add another weapon to pair with Davante Adams for the foreseeable future. The three-time Pro Bowler finished with a team-high 997 yards off 83 catches. The second and third options? Allen Lazard tallied 477 yards with 35 receptions while running back Aaron Jones was three yards behind with 49 receptions. And even with two weapons tallying a team-high five touchdowns, the only addition was Devin Funchess, who’s coming off a season-ending injury with the Colts.
Green Bay had three chances to add a quality weapon for their franchise QB well past the Love acquisition. In the second round, Texas’ Devin Duvernay or Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden Jr. would have brought a speed factor to the offense. Instead, the team added running back AJ Dillon. The third round still featured Liberty’s Antonio Gandy-Golden or UCF’s Gabriel Davis for the taking. Cincinnati TE Josiah Deguara, selected by Green Bay, best live up to the expectations.
Even late rounders like Texas A&M’s Quartney Davis or Florida’s Tyrie Cleveland could have added a new target to an offense that is in need of a boost. When Mr. Irrelevant made his way to the Giants, 34 wide receivers were taken.
Green Bay selected none.
Is Rodgers ready to go?
Sixteen years ago, Brett Favre got the call that a young quarterback would be coming to the Bay. The all-time great played three more seasons before calling it “quits” and then playing three impromptu seasons with the Jets and Vikings. History comes full-circle with Love taking over for Rodgers down the line.
For now, it’s speculation. Gutekunst still believes that the eight-time Pro Bowler will be their man. And one look at all Jordan Love can and can’t do reveals that he will need time to develop before taking a snap in the league as the permanent solution in Green Bay.
“I’m very hopeful Aaron continues to play at a high level for years to come,” Gutekunst said, according to NBC’s Peter King. “I know a lot of people are saying this puts a clock on Aaron, but I don’t see that at all. We prioritize the quarterback position and have for a long time with this franchise. I remember one year in camp they had Brett Favre, Ty Detmer, Kurt Warner and maybe Mark Brunell. It’s one of the most important positions in sports, and if you don’t have one, you can’t win.”
Green Bay is set for 2020. Rodgers has worked without the likes of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb for the past two seasons. What’s another year without a bonified second receiver option?
What are Rodgers’ current options?
The 2019 selection of Jace Sternberger will need to pay dividends in 2020. The former Aggie tallied over 700 receiving yards in his only season with the maroon and white, leading the team with targets and touchdowns. A lower leg injury cost him a majority of his rookie campaign but they did have him ready to score a touchdown against San Francisco last January.
If free-agent acquisition Funchess can thrive, he could prove to be a cheap signing to help expand the offense. That’s easier said than done as the 25-year-old has missed 18 games since joining the league. Even so, Funchess’ best season came in 2017, when he managed to score eight touchdowns off 840 yards.
Green Bay’s defense finished 18th in total yards last season. That was with the addition of two pass rushers and a top safety on the market. Throw in the acquisitions of Jaire Alexander and Kevin King from the draft, and there are still are problems left on both sides entering the new decade.
The 18th ranked offense will need to improve with the pieces in place. The Vikings fixed multiple needs with additions like LSU’s Justin Jefferson, TCU’s Jeff Gladney, and Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland. The Bears will look to bounce back in “prove-it” year for Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky with a sub-average draft overhaul. The Lions will be looking to have a New England-like resurgence after their free agency addition of grabbing post-Patriots players.
And with $11 million in cap space, there’s little room for error in the impending season.
The harsh reality is while Love could end up being a big part of Green Bay’s future, that’s not enough to justify the selection in the Packers’ draft — specifically with Rodgers still under contract until 2024. Gutekunst could have improved his quarterback’s weapons but instead chose to draft his replacement.
And that was the highlight of the entire draft class.
The Packers should contend in 2020 thanks to a weaker division. But beyond 2020? That is up in the air. And with players like Adams looking for a new deal before 2021, there might not be enough money to go around in the future.
Green Bay’s Super Bowl window is starting to close. Here’s hoping Rodgers does enough to get back this season; it could be his last chance for another ring in a Packers’ uniform.