Here’s a maxim for you: NFL teams that don’t look to the future end up always looking to the future.
You know the franchises I’m talking about, I don’t have to list them. They’re the franchises that perennially underperform and then are forced into selecting their ‘quarterback of the future’ while all the weight of the world falls on their shoulders. Their roster isn’t strong and the quarterback struggles as a rookie. They find themselves in the same boat regime after regime.
It happens year after year.
Teams that don’t panic into selecting ‘their guy’ when they absolutely need them usually end up getting the guy they ‘want.’ Every year the best franchises draft wants, not needs.
The Green Bay Packers selected quarterback Jordan Love, from Utah State, with the 26th overall pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Not only did they select the potential successor for Aaron Rodgers — they traded up to get him.
Packers management now feels that they won’t have to look toward the future later, but rather they can sustain their success at quarterback and as a team. They refuse to let the Packers become one of those franchises.
Now here’s our obligatory disclaimer: drafting Jordan Love isn’t the same situation as drafting Rodgers.
Rodgers was a much more polished prospect and possible No. 1 overall pick in 2005. Love was never held that highly of a prospect. Rodgers fell to the Packers, Green Bay traded up to pick Love. Current starting quarterback Brett Favre had been talking about retirement for years and was coming off a couple relatively subpar seasons. Whereas Rodgers has talked about wanting to play at least another five years and is still a legitimate MVP candidate after leading his team to a 13-3 record.
But still, despite those differences, history is repeating itself.
The more things change in Green Bay, the more they stay the same (yes, I’m writing in pure cliches today). And that should be a comforting thought for Packers fans. Dating back to the 1930s, no franchise in NFL history has ever put the premium, and had the talent, at quarterback position.
The lineage of quarterbacks for the Packers is unmatched.
Perhaps only the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, San Fransisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys are the only other franchises even in the same galaxy as the Packers when it comes to all-time quarterback play. But still, none of them have had three quarterbacks at the level of Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
All three have won at least one AP MVP and at least one Super Bowl (combining for six MVPs and seven World Championships). All three were bonafide First Team All-Pro talents and are in the conversation for the best of all-time, each for various reasons.
Then throw in fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Arnie Herber. All he did in the NFL in the 1930s was win four World Championships (two with legitimate championship games), be named First Team All-Pro and led the NFL in completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns three separate times.
He was the first superstar quarterback in NFL history.
Packers fans probably thought Herber was as good as it got at the quarterback position. But he was replaced with the younger Cecil Isbell without hesitation by Head Coach and General Manager Curly Lambeau. All Isbell did in the first two years after Herber was gone was lead the NFL in completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns in both seasons. He had an incredibly strong arm, like his predecessor.
It is almost unfathomable.
When people think of Jordan Love potentially replacing Rodgers at some point they may think, “This is like the first time an impressive athlete with a big arm replaced a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Green Bay, when Rodgers replaced Favre.”
But no, the first time it was Isbell replacing Herber.
Then, 68 years later, it was Rodgers taking over from Favre. Now 12 years later, we may be two, three, four or five seasons from Love taking over from Rodgers. The way history continually repeats for this franchise is a good sign. It means the Packers’ management is staying true to what has always made this franchise so special — the quarterback position.
Our hope is that Love is so damn good that he does challenge Rodgers for the starting job, eventually. Ideally we’d like it to be in four years, but history suggests it may come sooner than we are hoping for if it comes at all.
Following Isbell, the Packers turned to Irv Comp and he brought similar consistency. In 1944 Comp led the NFL in passing yards and helped the Packers win another World Championship. This constant foresight at the game’s penultimate position defined the pre-Super Bowl Era Packers.
The transition of quality quarterbacks is what made Green Bay “Titletown USA.”
It’s true that it took the Packers three years, three subpar years, to find Tobin Rote to pick up the baton. Sure, the 1950s was not a good decade for the Packers. The team lost far more games than they won, but Rote was one of the brightest spots. Specifically in 1956, when he put together one of the best seasons in NFL quarterback history. Not only did he lead the NFL in completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns (a nod to the Packers’ quarterbacking past), he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, too.
Rote was a true dual-threat and he doesn’t get the credit he’s due as a great Packer passer.
Following the 1955 season the Packers made a great draft pick when they selected a Bart Starr in the 17th round (200th overall). Sure, they might not have thought he was the answer, but they knew enough to take a shot on him when no one else did.
We all know what unprecedented greatness Starr led the Packers in the 1960s. However the Packers did not do a good job of finding a successor for Bart Starr and it led to disaster for the franchise. This inability or lack of foresight at quarterback (for one of the first times in franchise history) helped fuel the Packers’ “Lean Years.”
Green Bay didn’t win another Super Bowl until 29 years later when Favre, finally, restored the glory to the position. Favre, that year, happened to be smack-dab in the middle of a three year AP MVP streak as well.
But before Favre there were seven legitimate starting quarterbacks in Green Bay. Lynn Dickey was the Packers’ best of the bunch, reaching the peak of his career with an exciting 1983 season. Still, the strong-armed Dickey couldn’t quite get the Packers over the hump.
In the late 1980s many Packers fans thought the team had its quarterback in Don Majkowski. His Pro Bowl 1989 season was fantastic, but by 1991 the Packers’ new management–led by General Manager Ron Wolf–was finally looking forward at quarterback.
Even though the Packers finally had ‘their guy’ at quarterback, with that position seemingly not a need, management continued to look toward the future. Majkowski was only 28 years old when Green Bay traded for Brett Favre.
Ah, a return to normalcy in Green Bay at the quarterback position.
In 1992, Wolf traded a valuable first round pick for eventual quarterback of the future Brett Favre. We mentioned a few of Favre’s accomplishments earlier. In 16 seasons with the Packers he won more game than any quarterback of his era and broke the NFL’s all-time touchdown pass record. He was a legend.
Still, management–led by General manager Ted Thompson–kept his eyes on the future at the quarterback position. Everyone remembers the drama of the Packers moving on from an uncommitted Favre and plunging ahead into the future with Aaron Rodgers (drafting him in 2005 and naming him starter in 2008). Many fans were beside themselves.
It’s safe to say that transition at quarterback worked out.
It’s been an incredible 12 years since Rodgers took over the starting quarterback position in Green Bay. He, currently, owns the NFL record for career quarterback rating. Side note, Bart Starr owns that record for postseason play. And he’s probably the best overall combination of brains and arm the game has ever seen. But management–now led by General Manager Brian Gutekunst–followed in the footsteps of the legends that came before him.
Like them, ‘Gute’ saw the value of looking forward when it comes to the quarterback position. Just like the blueprint Curly Lambeau laid way back in 1940. Just as practical, cold and focused on sustaining success.
For what it’s worth, Rodgers and Love were both drafted on April 23rd.
The Green Bay Packers are incredibly unique in the fact that they’ve continually employed the best quarterbacks in the world, but have also not allowed those quarterbacks to be valued over the future of the team. However the incredible part is that they’ve done this without sacrificing attempts at World Championships and Super Bowls. I mean, they’ve won 13 titles, more than any other franchise in NFL history.
Five times they’ve, arguably, had the best quarterback in the world. But literally no one is bigger than the team. That’s discipline to a generation’s-old cause.
Now, Gute is banking on Jordan Love to carry on this legacy. His reputation as a GM is probably forever tied to Love the same way that Wolf put his faith in Favre and Thompson put his conviction in Rodgers.
Will this draft pick piss off Rodgers? Yes. And it should.
Will it propel Rodgers to MVP-caliber season and a shot at another Super Bowl? Maybe. It could. Rodgers is incredibly strong-willed and still a supreme talent.
Do we wish the Packers would have drafted a wide receiver, offensive lineman or defensive linemen with their first round pick in the 2020 Draft? Yes. Of course.
But do we see the historical merit in the Packers looking ahead at the quarterback position? Oh hell yes.
History has shown us that in the NFL, and especially in Green Bay, picking the quarterback you ‘want’ instead of the quarterback you ‘need’ tends to work out. Picking the quarterback of the future when you still have a Hall of Fame talent on the roster tends to work out.
If Love works out, the Packers will add to what’s already the most incredible quarterback transition in NFL history (beating themselves with the Herber/Isbell transition and also the 49ers’ historic transition from Joe Montana to Steve Young).
From Favre to Rodgers to Love would be the most amazing 40 year period of a single position of play the NFL has ever seen. Can you imagine if it works out? Gute will be exalted and vindicated just like his predecessors.
Will it work out? The odds say no.
For Love to be seen as a successful draft pick worthy of this franchise’s quarterback legacy all he has to do is win an MVP award and a Super Bowl.
Will he? The odds say hell no.
However history gives us a little hope that this move, although controversial, was actually the right move for this franchise. It may make things potentially awkward between Rodgers, Gute and head coach Matt LaFleur. But the Packers aren’t here for comfortability, they’re here for championships.
A mandate set in stone 90 years ago.
The obvious best case scenario is Rodgers wins another championship in the next couple years and then Love takes over and then leads the Packers to yet another decade of success. That’s what Gute and Co. are banking on.
An unfortunate, but somewhat likely scenario is this move fractures Rodgers’ relationship with the Packers and he ends up playing with another team (hey we’ve seen that before with Favre and it took almost a decade to heal the relationship). Meanwhile Love has to live up to the legacy of two-straight Hall of Fame passers. Hopefully he’s mentally tough.
The worse case scenario is that Rodgers leaves and then Love isn’t up to the task and the Packers fall into a years-long rebuild when they could have been gunning for the Lombardi Trophy every year until the mid-2020s.
The absolute worst case scenario is that Rodgers somehow finds himself on the New England Patriots (or a division rival) and wins a title in the near future while Love struggles, never pans out, Gute gets fired and we all sulk about what a disaster the 2020 Draft was. Any one of the four circumstances could come true.
But lets focus on right now. Welcome to Titletown USA, Jordan!
You didn’t ask for it, but you’re next in line of the greatest lineage at a position in professional football history. The throne you may eventually inherit dates back to 1930 with Arnier Herber. You will be expected to be the fifth Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback to play for the Green Bay Packers. Like we said, winning the ultimate individual and team prizes are both required of your service.
It’s not fair, but it’s what comes with the territory.
Much of Aaron Rodgers’ lore comes from the way he handled the situation of being drafted to replace the legendary Favre with grace, humility and the utmost confidence. He has a chance to bring his legacy full-circle if he can handle Jordan Love joining this team with equal grace, humility and that same confidence.
We actually believe Rodgers will respond to this draft pick with more nuance, realism and kindness than most people are expecting. He isn’t going to specifically mentor Love, but we think Love can and will learn a hell of a lot from Rodgers in the next two to three years.
Rodgers is quite smart. He knows how he’ll be judged in the coming days and years regarding Love.
To quote Brett Favre on the matter on TMZ Sports a few days ago, “No one’s replacing Aaron Rodgers.” We will see. I’m sure he thought the same thing and Herber before him. The team has always been bigger than man in Green Bay.
History says Gute and the Packers may have made the right move, even if nearly every Packer fan, us included, is hesitant to celebrate this pick when the team could have drafted an immediate starter when a Super Bowl championship seems so close.
In Green Bay, this theme of looking ahead at quarterback keeps recurring. In Green Bay, they’ve had more success at quarterback than any franchise in NFL history.
We do not think it’s a coincidence.