Forget all the happy talk from GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur; the just-completed NFL draft has put an expiration date on quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ time in Green Bay. Whether it’s following next season or more likely the one after, it’s coming. And everybody knows it.
In fact, this became pretty clear a year ago. Remember how much interest Gutekunst had in quarterback Drew Lock? Multiple reports from respected NFL insiders strongly suggested the former Missouri star would’ve been the Packers’ pick at No. 44 in the second round had the Broncos not taken him at 42. So moving on from Rodgers has been in the works for quite some time.
The only realistic way for Rodgers to remain with the Packers beyond 2021 would for him to lead the team to the Super Bowl either this season or next, and Gutekunst made pretty sure that isn’t going to happen by his actions over the weekend. And I don’t mean choosing fullback Josiah Deguara in the third round. The truth is, most people wouldn’t know the former Cincinnati star if he walked into their kitchen. No, what should make Packers fans furious is the strategy employed by Gutekunst – a strategy that all but eliminates any chance the Packers may have had at winning another Lombardi Trophy with No. 12 under center.
I’m not suggesting the Packers were likely to play in either of the next two Super Bowls, but with a couple of strong offseasons, they would’ve at least had a chance. Acquire a legitimate No. 2 wide receiver, a starting-caliber right tackle, a run-stuffing defensive end, and an inside linebacker with three-down skills, and this team would’ve been formidable. Maybe not formidable enough to take down the mighty 49ers, but with a little luck, they could’ve missed the 49ers in January. With those additions, I’d like the Packers’ chances against any other team in the NFC. But Gutekunst decided to go in another direction, and for that, he deserves all the shit he’s been taking on social media and television. And trust me, he’s taking a lot of shit.
After free agency and the draft, the Packers don’t appear to be any better than they were at the end of last season. They’re worse at right tackle with Rick Wagner replacing Bryan Bulaga. They’re pretty much the same with Christian Kirksey replacing Blake Martinez at inside linebacker. They’re a little better at wide receiver with the addition of Devin Funchess. And they should be a little better at running back with second-round pick AJ Dillon taking carries away from Jamaal Williams. But nothing has really changed. The team that was humiliated twice by the 49ers will return pretty much intact. Meanwhile, the 49ers drafted stud pass rusher Javon Kinlaw and explosive receiver Brandon Aiyuk and traded for All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams. If the two teams played tomorrow, the 49ers might win by 40 points and rush for 400 yards.
To be honest, it almost feels as if Gutekunst and LaFleur are willing to accept a couple of seasons of either missing the playoffs or getting knocked out early in order to ensure Rodgers’ exit out of town. It seems pretty obvious they both want to start the Jordan Love era as soon as possible, and due to Rodgers’ contract and the salary cap, that figures to be in 2022. And let’s face it, moving on from arguably the greatest quarterback in franchise history will be a lot easier if things don’t go too well between now and then.
I can’t blame the two, especially LaFleur, for wanting to move on from Rodgers. Every new coach wants a young quarterback he can groom, and more importantly, who’ll listen to him. Mike Holmgren had Brett Favre. Mike McCarthy had Rodgers. Bill Walsh had Joe Montana. Bill Belichick had Tom Brady. Sean Payton has Drew Brees. Kyle Shanahan has Jimmy Garoppolo. The list goes on and on. Until Rodgers is wearing another uniform, LaFleur won’t really be able to implement his system. That’s why the offense looked a lot like McCarthy’s in 2019, and despite all the talk about moving to a more run-oriented attack, it’ll still going to look very similar in 2020. The coach can call all the running plays he wants, but the quarterback still has the final say. And let’s be honest, this quarterback ain’t handing the ball off 40 times a game.
Gutekunst and LaFleur will obviously try to win, but they simply don’t have the players to win big. That’s something I’m sure they know, and deep down inside, are OK with. Last weekend’s draft was about getting ready for the ’22 season when Love will be handing the ball to Dillon, and Deguara will be clearing the way for him.
And I’m not 100% convinced we’re going to have to wait until 2022 for this to happen. It’s safe to assume Rodgers is upset over Gutekunst drafting Love and not adding any weapons in what was considered to be one of the best wide receiver drafts of all-time. If the offense struggles early next season, and the Packers are floundering around .500, you might see enough friction between the star player and the organization to start a fire. Things may get so uncomfortable that the Packers need to move on from Rodgers and are willing to deal with the salary cap ramifications. I’m not saying this will happen, or that it’s even likely, but it’s possible.
Favre left on very ugly terms, and it was mostly his doing. He mulled retirement every spring, and when he finally did retire, and the Packers moved on to Rodgers, he threw a fit. Rodgers may leave on similarly ugly terms, and that would be too bad. He’s been a great player and a great Packer in every way. He deserves a chance to win one more ring while in Green Bay. That looked like a very real possibility just a few days ago, but now it seems about as likely as one of Gutekunst’s day 2 draft picks from 2018 ever making an impact. This past draft was the beginning of the end for Rodgers, and that’s what fans should be most upset about.Follow Packers Notes