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As Packers Ponder Future, Does Love Need to Play?

Do the Packers need to replace Aaron Rodgers with Jordan Love to see if Love is the quarterback of the future? Or do they know already?
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The candle that is the Green Bay Packers’ season is about to go out. The candle on four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers’ career could be going out soon, too.

With a 3-6 record and five-game losing streak, the Packers might not have anything to play for, especially if they lose on Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys, but there is a lot to sort out over the next handful of months.

First and foremost is determining the future of the most important position in sports.

Does Rodgers want to play in 2023? If the Packers are, say, 4-8 at the bye, that’s a difficult conversation that general manager Brian Gutekunst needs to have with Rodgers. Rodgers, who will turn 39 a couple days before the Week 12 game against Chicago, has needed time to sort out his future the past couple offseasons. Play or retire? Green Bay or elsewhere? He probably won’t be ready to commit to anything at that point.

That’s going to make a sticky situation even more gummy and gooey. If the Packers are officially out of the hunt after the bye, will it be time to bench the future Hall of Famer and let Jordan Love run the show to end the season?

The Packers traded up for Love in the first round of the 2020 draft. This is his third season in the NFL and, importantly, his second season as the No. 2.

He’s essentially played six quarters in his NFL career. For what it’s worth, in his first professional start at the powerhouse Chiefs and playing with a skeleton crew for the second half at the Lions, Love ranked 46th out of 50 quarterbacks in passer rating and was guilty of as many turnovers as Rodgers while playing less than 12 percent of the snaps.

That’s not much playing time. But that’s only part of the puzzle. Along with training camp and preseason, Love has led the scout team against the No. 1 defense week after week after week for a season-and-a-half. Aside from not getting hit, those are live reps that are evaluated by the coaching staff and scouting department.

In conversations the past few days about Rodgers and Love and whether the Packers needed to make a change at some point just to see what they’ve got in Love, three veteran scouts said the team would “definitely” know by now whether or not he can be a legitimate, winning quarterback. Those practice reps, which are hidden from the outside world, hold a lot of value.

“If you can complete passes against the 1s at practice, you’re going to complete passes on Sunday,” a scout said. “If you can’t handle the pass rush at practice, you won’t handle the pass rush on Sunday.”

It’s not just whether Love is completing passes against the likes of Jaire Alexander. It’s about making the right reads and throwing on time and handling pressure and making something out of nothing. Gutekunst is at most of those practices. He can evaluate Love’s arm talent and pocket presence. Coach Matt LaFleur, obviously, is at all the practices. He can evaluate Love’s mastery of the offense, work ethic and leadership ability.

Together, they’ve got a pretty full picture of whether the quarterback drafted to replace Rodgers is capable of actually replacing Rodgers.

“I’d say that, yes, you’d have some sense of whether a guy has ‘it’ by then or not,” another scout said. “Three years is a good length of time to have a body of work to observe/make a judgement on that. Especially at that position, seeing how he operates daily, how he interacts with guys on and off the field, how locked in he is during practice and also how successful he is against the starters while running the scout team.”

Determining Rodgers’ future, and then plotting Love’s future, is hugely important, obviously. If they don’t think Love is the answer, they might have to use their first-round pick on a quarterback again. If they do think Love is the answer, the fifth-year option on his contract must be flipped on May 1, the Monday after the draft. That’s a $19.848 million decision.

Putting on his future-general-manager hat, one of the scouts said, “I would play (Love) once officially out of the playoffs.” That wouldn’t be so much about evaluation as it would be getting Love additional experience to help get him ready for 2023.

That’s assuming the Packers think Love is their future. That Gutekunst gave Rodgers a massive contract extension with crippling salary-cap ramifications this offseason rather than trading him for a king’s ransom and handing the job to his hand-picked successor, perhaps provides a hint about the team’s evaluation.

Either way, a hugely important few months awaits a franchise that has been blessed with quarterbacking greatness for three decades.

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