Preview: Aaron Rodgers gunning for fifth MVP; Jordan Love outlook

rodgers alone

 

Hasn’t this offseason largely devoid of quarterback drama been enjoyable?  The Packers begin training camp exactly one month from today, July 27, and there’s no uncertainty surrounding who will take the first snaps under center with the starters like there was at this time a year ago. That will be Aaron Rodgers, who is gunning for his third consecutive NFL MVP Award. Only Brett Favre (1995-97) has won three straight, and Rodgers winning again in 2022 would also tie him with Peyton Manning for most MVPs in league history with five.

He’ll try to do it without arguably the game’s best wide receiver in Davante Adams (traded to the Raiders) and his primary deep threat from the last several seasons in Marquez Valdes-Scantling (signed with the Chiefs). Rodgers might never say it publicly, but there’s a chance he’ll draw motivation this season from wanting to prove he can still be the league’s best quarterback without his top two wideouts from 2021.

In seven games without Adams since Matt LaFleur became head coach in 2019, the Packers have gone 7-0, with Rodgers averaging 292.7 passing yards and 2.7 touchdown passes per game while throwing only one total interception. That sample size includes four games in 2019, two in 2020 and one last season, Green Bay’s 24-21 win against the then-undefeated Cardinals in Arizona, in which Rodgers threw two touchdowns to Randall Cobb without Adams, Valdes-Scantling or Allen Lazard playing.

“I think the way that we’ve played in his absence in the last seven games or so over the last three years, it has been different,” Rodgers said during mandatory minicamp earlier this month of compensating for Adams. “Obviously Aaron Jones has had more opportunities, I think, in those games. Now that we have an incredibly complementary second back (AJ Dillon), we can get both those guys involved in the passing game. We look for a bounce-back year from (tight end) Bobby (Tonyan) when he’s healthy. Tyler Davis is, I think, set for, him and (Josiah) Deguara, set to really make a push for some reps at tight end as well.

“But yeah, the offense has to change. Last year, when you have a guy who’s that talented, it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that 80 percent of the plays in the passing game were designed specifically for 17, so we’re obviously going to do some things a little different.”

The most pressing question regarding Rodgers behind how he’ll play without his top weapon is how much longer he’ll play. He’ll turn 39 on Dec. 2 and said his contract is essentially a one-year deal with two years tacked on after that, so he’ll re-evaluate his future after this season.

“Of course you think about the next chapter and what’s next in your life all the time,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not fully invested. When I said I’m back, I’m 100 percent invested. And Matt and I keep in touch all the time, and (quarterbacks coach) Tom (Clements) and the young quarterbacks, and when I’m here, I’m all-in, and those guys know that. They know what to expect from me — the type of play, the type of leadership — and that’s what they’re going to get.”

Rodgers isn’t the only Packers quarterback with a future that’s cloudy beyond this season.

Jordan Love, who the Packers traded up four spots in the 2020 first round to draft, is entering his third season as a backup. The only substantial starter’s snaps he has received have come during last offseason when Rodgers didn’t report to OTAs and minicamp, against the Texans and Bills last preseason when he wasn’t injured (he missed joint practices and a game against the Jets), garbage time of a Week 1 blowout loss to the Saints last season, the entirety of a 13-7 loss to the Chiefs when Rodgers had COVID-19 and in the second half of a meaningless Week 18 loss to the Lions with Rodgers resting.

His performance in totality was less than impressive.

You wouldn’t be wrong in saying it’s still too early to draw an accurate conclusion about what Love is as an NFL quarterback or what he’ll become. He simply hasn’t been afforded the opportunity to showcase what he can do in consistently meaningful snaps.

He’ll presumably play the majority of Green Bay’s preseason snaps on offense, but if all goes to plan, he won’t start any regular-season or playoff games. Then the Packers must decide next offseason whether to exercise Love’s fifth-year option, potentially with a miniscule sample size of meaningful snaps to base their decision on. Doing so would guarantee Love’s (skyrocketed) salary for 2024.

That decision might hinge on what Rodgers does after this season, which is also unclear. So if Packers fans thought they were finally getting an offseason without any quarterback questions next year, they had better think again.

“I was super happy for Aaron,” Love said of Rodgers’ extension. “Obviously the dude deserves it, what he’s done the last two years. Personally for me, it just means I’m about to be a backup again for this year. That’s all I can control right now. I was happy for Aaron, but at the same time it’s like, ‘Ahh.’”

Rounding out Green Bay’s quarterback room is Danny Etling, the former LSU signal-caller drafted in the seventh round by the Patriots in 2018. He has been a practice squad member of the Patriots, Falcons, Seahawks and Broncos, in addition to spending time with the Vikings last summer. He’ll enter training camp as the No. 3 quarterback after the Packers released Kurt Benkert earlier this month.

The Packers kept three quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster in 2020 — Rodgers, Tim Boyle and Love — because Love wasn’t ready to be the No. 2 but would’ve been claimed on waivers had the team tried to move him to the practice squad. Last season, they kept only Rodgers and Love with Benkert as the No. 3 on the practice squad. Look for a similar route this season, with Etling or another QB3 signed or claimed during camp stashed on the practice squad in case of injury.

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