Vitali: It’s time for the Packers to trust Jordan Love

The Green Bay Packers are undergoing a transformation.

They’re more likely than ever to move on from 19-year-old veteran Aaron Rodgers, as he’s reportedly been granted permission to talk to the New York Jets. That meeting took place Tuesday when the Jets boarded his private jet in California and spoke with Rodgers.

While it’s not imminent that Rodgers will head to the Big Apple (that all seems to be part of the process), it appears that Rodgers’ time in Green Bay may have come to an end.

Now it’s time for Jordan Love.

The Packers acquired Love in the 2020 draft when they traded the No. 30 pick and a fourth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for the No. 26 pick, with which they selected Love. Rodgers responded with back-to-back MVP seasons and forced Love to bench behind him, just as Rodgers had done with his predecessor.

Indeed, taking a quarterback in the first round and sitting him for his first three seasons has shocking precedent for the Packers. According to FOX Sports Research, since the 1967 NFL Draft, there have been 126 QBs drafted in the first round. Of those 126 QBs taken, only three have started one or fewer games in their first three NFL seasons. All three played for the Packers.

Love is one; Rodgers is another. The third quarterback is Rich Campbell. He was the highest of the three, sixth overall in the 1981 NFL Draft. He never ended up starting a game in the league. But if we focus on the parallels between Love and Rodgers, that’s enough.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is reportedly in talks with the Jets

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is reportedly in talks with the Jets

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is expected to meet with the Jets’ franchise leadership in hopes of getting him on the roster. Craig Carton weighs the odds of Rodgers becoming a Jet with Antoine Walker and James Jones.

The Packers must make a decision on whether to pick up Love’s fifth-year option in May. It would have been nice to see Love play some meaningful football before having to commit to him, but that has worked in Green Bay’s favor for once. Rodgers took over the starting job in his fourth year, playing just seven games before that. In his first full season as a starter, he threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. Who’s to say it won’t work again?

The Packers front office seems sold on Love, anyway, even if their options are limited.

“We’re excited about him,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. “I think I’ve expressed to a lot of people that he needs to play. This is the next step in his progression. He needs to play.”

While Rodgers has appeared in seven games to this point, Love has played in 10. His career stat line thus far is 50-of-83 for 606 yards and three touchdowns against three interceptions. But his 2022 play was enough to cheer Gutekunst and the rest of the Packers’ front office.

“I just think that [comfort] of the offense and trusting it, I guess, is the biggest thing,” Gutekunst said of the improvements he’s seen from Love. “I think he was just making quicker decisions and letting him break down a little bit more. And I think I thought less and played more. He certainly didn’t get many opportunities during the season to step out and perform. When he did, we thought he executed very well. But I know just watching him in practice, not just in the offseason last year, in training camp, but in the season how he approached the weeks, there was just a different level of intensity week to week after a week to what had been there before.

“We took him for a reason in 2020,” Gutekunst continued. “He’s progressed really well, and to see him make the jump he did last year was nice. Again, it’s a lot different than going out week in and week out, taking on the challenges when teams are game planning for you.

With it increasingly looking like Love will have a chance to follow up his (albeit small) showing of success from 2022: a 66.7% completion rate, 195 yards on just 14 completions, one touchdown and no picks, the focus is on what Love. he has to work Green Bay has to be satisfied there as well.

What can help ease a young quarterback’s transition? How about a solid running game and a stacked defense?

The Packers have an excellent one-two punch in the backfield with Aaron Jones (fresh off a reworked contract) and AJ Dillon. Love can easily lean on them, and Green Bay can take advantage of a robust playmaking that can help mitigate the pressure Love is under every snap.

On the other side of the ball, with Rashan Gary back, the Packers should still have seven first-round picks among their 11 starters. It took a while to get going last year, but the talent is there. If they live up to their roster, they should be putting the ball back in Love’s hands quite a bit while keeping opponents off the field and thus out of the end zone.

It is also a relatively young team. Love can grow with their skill players, like sophomores Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. If they inject more youth through the draft, this team can lay the foundation for decades to come…again.

Consider that Green Bay’s leading receiver in Rodgers’ first season as a starter was Greg Jennings, who was in just his third year in the league. Jordy Nelson was a rookie. Rodgers had the benefit of a veteran Donald Driver, but Love could still have Allen Lazard, if the team retains him. I’m not comparing Lazard to Driver by any means, but his veteran presence, mind you. This is an important intangible, though.

All indicators point in the direction of the reins being handed to Love, and the Packers are positioned as well as ever to make this transition go as smoothly as possible and stay in the NFC North mix in 2023.

“We were talking earlier about how long it takes for a quarterback to go from playing well to winning in this league, and he’s going to have to go through those things like any other quarterback. He’s made some really good jumps and there’s more to him, but I think that the things that are there for him, he will have to play to do it.”

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, adding the title of Super Bowl champion (and boat parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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