Packers coach Matt LaFleur envisions Aaron Rodgers being 'a great mentor' to Jordan Love
GREEN BAY - In the days after the Green Bay Packers might have started the expiration clock on the Aaron Rodgers era, their general manager and head coach provided no definitive timeline for how long that might be.
While neither Brian Gutekunst nor Matt LaFleur gave Rodgers a heads up before drafting his potential heir in Thursday’s first round (unlike what Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman did for Carson Wentz before drafting Jalen Hurts one day later), both spoke with the two-time MVP immediately after. Gutekunst and LaFleur carried the same conversations following those messages: Rodgers is their quarterback for the foreseeable future.
How long the foreseeable future might be, neither said.
"In my mind,” LaFleur said, “I think Aaron is by far the best quarterback I've ever been around. I think he's the best ever to play the game. I hope he can play until he decides he doesn't want to play anymore."
LaFleur did not specify where he hopes Rodgers will play, only that he continues with his career as long as he wants. In time, Rodgers’ career very well may take him out of Green Bay.
That’s a possibility that was presented this week when the Packers traded up in the first round to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with the 26th overall pick. No team, including the Packers, makes such a move in hopes of keeping the quarterback sidelined. First-round quarterbacks are drafted to play.
That reality will present a new dynamic inside the Packers' locker room. It will be a challenge for everyone to handle, from Rodgers, to LaFleur, to Love, to teammates. How that dynamic plays out will not only be the true standard for this 2020 draft class that includes six of its nine draftees on the offensive side of the ball, but also the measurement for Gutekunst’s tenure.
No different than it was for predecessor Ted Thompson.
“I’ve been in this business long enough,” Gutekunst said. “It’s funny the reaction, especially to the draft, free agency. I was with Ted for years, people were just all over him about the drafts and free agency. Really what matters to me is the team we put out here each fall, and how they do. That’s what I’m concerned with Packers fans approving, not necessarily how we go about getting there.”
Eventually, something will have to give. Either Love will replace Rodgers, or the Packers will trade Love and continue Rodgers’ career in Green Bay, the way the New England Patriots did with Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo.
In the meantime, Gutekunst said, he does not anticipate Rodgers’ response to Love’s arrival to be a problem. Rodgers reached out to Love after Thursday’s first round, Love told ESPN on Friday. LaFleur said he does not anticipate a difficult balance for him coaching both quarterbacks, with Rodgers knowing his potential successor has arrived.
“Aaron is a pro,” LaFleur said, “and he’s the leader of our football team, and I anticipate that for a really long time. I have so much respect for him not only as a player but the person, and some of the stuff that nobody sees. So I can’t tell you how much I like working with him.”
LaFleur added: “I know he’s going to be a great mentor.”
When the Packers drafted Rodgers in 2005, established Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre famously had no interest in being a mentor. His job, Favre said then, was to win games. Nothing more.
How Rodgers views his new role — if he indeed views any change at all — remains to be seen. Rodgers issued his confidence in a radio appearance with ESPN Wisconsin earlier this spring, saying no matter who the Packers bring in at quarterback, he doesn’t expect to lose his job anytime soon. Will he help Love to eventually supplant him? That's a decision he may need to make.
LaFleur said he, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy met with Love on a Zoom chat leading up to the draft. In the meeting, LaFleur said, the group of coaches went over Love’s positive and negative film. LaFleur was impressed with Love’s humility, which may be an important trait if he wants Rodgers’ mentoring.
“What I love about him,” LaFleur said, “is just he accountability he took for everything, whether it was a good play, bad play. I think that gives you a chance any time you have that kind of mindset. The talent is there. He is a natural thrower. He’s fearless in the pocket, he’s athletic. It’s one of those rare opportunities where we never thought we’d be in a situation like we were.”
The Packers now find themselves in a tricky situation. They, perhaps more than any franchise, know how delicate the transition from a legendary quarterback can be. They surely want to avoid a repeat of their difficult transition from Favre to Rodgers in 2008, a summer that was difficult for everyone involved with the franchise. That summer left wounds that were difficult to heal.
So Gutekunst and LaFleur were careful to insist Rodgers is still the leader of this football team. How long that lasts now is hard to predict.
“I know,” Gutekunst said, “there’s a lot been made about us drafting a quarterback in the first round, and how it affects Aaron, and in my mind it doesn’t really affect him that much. He’s still the quarterback of this team, and he will be for a while, and we’ll hopefully compete for championships. But I think like anything, you do the work, you set the board, you’ve got to trust your work and allow that to kind of speak to you a little bit.”