Twenty-three months ago, the Green Bay Packers traded a fourth-round pick to move up four spots in the 2020 NFL draft and took quarterback Jordan Love out of Utah State.
Just like that, in a move that stunned the NFL, the Packers had picked Aaron Rodgers’ presumptive replacement.
Packers brass argued that Love just happened to be the highest-rated talent available, but few believed the justification. You don’t just trade up to take a first-round QB when you have a team coming off an NFC championship game defeat, with plenty of potential to still win a Super Bowl.
Green Bay was well aware that Rodgers throws passive aggressively as well as he does tight spirals. As such, it should have expected fireworks when it surprised their then-36-year-old, but still great, QB with the selection of Love rather than one more wide receiver or one more linebacker who might put the team over the top and into the Super Bowl.
And the pyrotechnics came. All of it. Drama. Pouting. Curt sound bites. Cryptic social media posts. Weekly “Pat McAfee Show” appearances. Threatened retirements. Skipped minicamps. Game show hosting guest spots. Anything and everything.
It all culminated (for now) on Tuesday, when following consecutive MVP seasons as Love stood around on the sideline, Rodgers agreed to return to the Packers. He could have retired or forced a trade. Instead, he’s likely back for four years and a ton of money — maybe $200 million — although a final deal hasn’t been completed.
Even for fans who were turned off by, or just grew tired of, the Rodgers-led soap opera of the past two years, this much is undeniable: Rodgers saw his bosses bring in a hotshot replacement and then swatted it aside. He got bitter, but he also got better. Now the kid will continue to wait or get traded. Rodgers still has his job, with even more power and more (presumably) money.
He won the battles. Then he won the war.
“I’m very excited to be back,” he said on social media, saving more extensive comments for a news cycle in the future, of course.
Rodgers isn’t the first veteran to hold off a franchise’s succession plan. Tom Brady, most notably, outlasted the expected ascension of Jimmy Garoppolo in New England. The Patriots waited until the last possible moment before dealing Garoppolo to San Francisco for a second-round draft pick in the middle of the 2017 season.
The then-40-year-old Brady was still going strong — he’d last two more full seasons in New England and deliver another Super Bowl before jumping to Tampa and winning another.
That was awkward, and it may have permanently frayed Brady’s relationship with Bill Belichick. It still wasn’t as awkward as this. Jimmy G was selected late in the second round of the 2014 draft, 62nd overall. While Brady undoubtedly would have preferred not to see a young QB selected, it wasn’t the first round. Franchises are always drafting developmental quarterbacks. Garoppolo wasn’t seen at the time as a slight on Brady.
Love was for Rodgers.
Now, who knows?
Green Bay can trade Jordan Love. Given the quarterback desperate franchises out there and the dearth of prospects in the 2022 draft, they might get some decent return on him. After all, none of this was Love’s fault. Aside from a start in Kansas City, Love has never had the chance to prove how good he can be. Garoppolo was able to use a four-game suspension of Brady to showcase himself. After two years of learning behind Rodgers and an excellent Green Bay coaching staff, maybe he’s ready to roll.
Or the Packers could keep him. Someone has to be the backup quarterback. And while Rodgers is still playing as well as ever and Brady made the mid-40s seem normal, Rodgers is still 38 years old.
Love comes on a cheap rookie contract with a $3.3 million salary-cap hit, per Spotrac. Eventually, he may still be the successor in Green Bay.
That, barring injury, will happen on Rodgers’ timeline.
Rodgers managed all of this through plenty of sullen theatrics and not just with management that he aligned against. It included putting Love in the brutal spot of being a blamable figure, even if he did nothing wrong but get drafted.
Rodgers’ response wasn’t all emotional. He backed up every grievance with exceptional play. He threw 85 touchdowns and just nine interceptions the past two seasons. He rushed for six more scores. He completed 69.4 percent of his passes. He graded out at 92.1 on ProFootballFocus, the best two-year stretch of his career. Green Bay won 26 games when he started. And that’s just the regular season.
There was no Lombardi Trophy at the end, of course. The Packers lost home playoff games each season, and Rodgers, of course, tried to place undue blame on coaching decisions for the 2020 season defeat to Brady’s Buccaneers. The pressure to change that will be enormous going forward.
Other than that, Rodgers did everything he could. He turned what he perceived as a slap in the face into a show of force. It was loud. It was at times tiresome and repetitive. In the end, Aaron Rodgers won.
The young replacement was thwarted. The old man is still in charge, more now than ever.