It's been nearly a week since the Green Bay Packers selected Utah State quarterback Jordon Love with their first round choice in the draft and the speculation bonfires regarding the future of Aaron Rodgers have been roaring.
Was it, as General Manager Brian Gutekunst explained, taking the best player on the board (even though he spent a fourth round pick to move up four spots to get him at number 26)? Was it a not so subtle shot at the two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion? How could they not take a player that can help Rodgers and the Packers take that one more step to the Super Bowl after bowing in the NFC Championship Game in January?
Most pundits have ripped the Packers for the move seeing as Rodgers has four years left on his very lucrative and salary cap strapping contract. The Packers would have to exercise their fifth year contract option on Love at that point before he might ever hit the field.
That 4 year extension worth 134 million dollars he signed in 2018 had 79.2 million guaranteed. In the final four years, Rodgers will earn 21.5 million in 2020, just over 22 million in 2021, 25.5 in 2022 and 25 million more in 2023 when the deal expires. More importantly, his cap hit climbs from 21.6 this coming season to 39.8 million in 2022. If the Packers would incredibly release Rodgers within the next couple of years, the dead cap money would be 51 million this year, 31.5 million in 2021 and 39.8 million in 2022. That would so cash strap the Packers it would take years to recover. He's not going anywhere.
So why draft his potential successor now?
Bob McGinn who covered the Packers for decades and now writes for The Athletic, wrote this week the decision was more about Rodgers than Love. He surmised Head Coach Matt LaFleur took the quarterback because he's "tired of Rodgers' act." That "act" is apparently Rodgers' insistence to run the offense as he sees fit rather than what the coach is trying to install. Those differences festered into the acrimonious divorce with Mike McCarthy as coach but could that have really carried over into LaFleur's first season on the job? A season in which the Packers won 14 out of 18 games played?
Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films was on Rich Eisen's show this week and he went into detail based on his film review of the Packer season. Cosell believes LaFleur wants a "rhythm" passing offense based off a ground game and Rodgers was off script most of the year. He said Rodgers very often had quick rhythm throws available but didn't pull the trigger, instead relying on his still impressive ability to extend plays and create special results but too often, those results didn't come with a sub-standard receiving corps, Davante Adams notwithstanding.
About that receiving corps which was not addressed in the draft. Only two new additions of note were signed in the off-season, former Panther and Colt Devin Funchess and Canadian Football League import Reggie Begelton.
Number crunchers came out with some interesting statistics in the past couple of days. Most notably, the career list of touchdown passes thrown to first round draft choices. Peyton Manning is tops with 293 thanks to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Brett Favre had 127,, most to Sterling Sharpe, Tom Brady has 105 but 49 of those went to Randy Moss and he was Minnesota's first round pick if I'm not mistaken, and then there's Rodgers with exactly 1. That was to Mercedes Lewis last year and he was the first round pick of Jacksonville 14 years ago!
That would suggest Rodgers has been throwing to the Keystone Cops over his 15 year career. So I did a little more digging. Rodgers has thrown 217 touchdown passes to some very astute second and third round draft choices of Ted Thompson in Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Adams. His wide receiver arsenal has been far from barren.
Since 1980, I counted up a total of 137 wide receivers who were drafted by NFL teams in the first round. A vast majority were pedestrian players if not outright busts. Only 6 of them, 4.3% reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Art Monk, Tim Brown, Michael Irvin, Jerry Rice, Moss and Harrison.
And of the last 10 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, only 3 were pitching to first round wide receivers. Rodgers is hardly alone there.
There's no denying Rodgers is a very smart, calculating, private and often distant personality. In many ways he's a treat to watch but difficult to cover, much less get to know. But after allowing the wedge to separate himself from McCarthy, is he really out to undermine his new kid Head Coach?
In watching The Last Dance documentary, Michael Jordan resisted Phil Jackson's way of doing things with his triangle offense until he realized by having the ball in his hands less, the team would almost certainly win more. They did.
Rodgers has the hardware and some of the most impressive numbers ever put up for his position. He has to understand the nature of the business and how rosters must be replenished even at his own position.
The best thing he can do is simply what he's paid very handsomely to do, play quarterback the way his superior, Matt LaFleur, wants him too.