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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Christian D'Andrea

Jordan Love has 2 years to prove he’s an NFL quarterback

Jordan Love is the new Aaron Rodgers.

Not thanks to anything he’s shown on the football field so far. Love has one NFL start to his name after three seasons, owing to Rodgers’ COVID-19 absence in 2021. He needed 34 passes to throw for 194 yards en route to seven points in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

His 2022 was better in a smaller sample size. Between mop-up duty in blowouts (three games) and one stretch in service of a minor Rodgers injury, Love played four games and needed only 21 passes to throw for 195 yards, though Christian Watson was responsible for 53 of those after the catch on a 63-yard touchdown — Love’s lone scoring play of the season.

This is scant evidence to prove Love can be a capable NFL starting quarterback, let alone worthy successor to a four-time MVP. But the Green Bay Packers know that’s not enough data to make an informed decision. So they’ve extended his runway in hopes of clearing him for liftoff.

Tuesday’s deal comes one day before the deadline to exercise the fifth-year option built in to Love’s — and every other first round pick from the 2020 NFL Draft — rookie contract. Rather than pay him a flat rate of $20.27 million for 2024, Love gets $13.5 million guaranteed and a chance to boost his pay to $22.5 million. Needless to say, if he hits those incentives he’d also put himself in line for a lucrative contract extension that would stretch into nine figures worth of guarantees.

That’s a lot of pressure for a quarterback with limited reps who’d lingered to the back half of the first round. The Packers have hope because they pulled it off before in the transition from Brett Favre to Rodgers 15 years ago. And because, across those small sample sizes, Love has actually shown a little bit more than Rodgers did in his three years on the bench.

The issue, of course, is that neither player was especially good as a backup. Rodgers’ EPA and completion percentage over expected (CPOE) composite ranked him 62nd among 86 quarterbacks to play at least 70 snaps from 2005-2007. Love was 64th among 86 quarterbacks who played the same amount from 2020-2022. Neither guy accomplished much on the field.

Rodgers emerged as a viable starter in 2008 before developing into a monster in year two as QB1. While his first year behind center was a success (4,000-plus passing yards, 28 touchdowns and a top-six passer rating) the Packers were not. They went 6-10 and missed the playoffs after appearing in the NFC title game the year before. One season later, Green Bay was back in the playoffs and Rodgers was in the Pro Bowl.

If that’s the standard to which the Packers were holding Love, they could have declined his fifth year option and allowed him to sink or swim knowing they could hammer out a new deal — or fall back on the franchise tag — next offseason. But Green Bay isn’t, because Green Bay’s management isn’t dumb.

Rodgers an incredibly difficult comparison for any quarterback, but look at the talent he had his first season as a starter. His top two wideouts were Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, two players with 10 1,000-yard seasons between them. Waiting in the wings was a rookie Jordy Nelson and second-year James Jones.

Love, comparatively, has Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, Grant DuBose, Samari Toure and Bo Melton at wideout — a group where you kinda have to add everyone because no one’s quite sure who the WR3 and WR4 will be. His tight ends are Luke Musgrave, Tucker Kraft and Josiah Deguara. Those 10 players combined have 101 NFL receptions between them; Driver nearly hit that number on his own in 2006 alone (92).

Thus, Love gets a bonus year to sort things out before any tough decisions have to be made. His wildly young receiving corps has an extra year to learn the ropes and prove they can be a proper supporting cast. His tailbacks, Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, well, they’re already great. No complaints there.

It’s unsure what areas specifically general manager Brian Gutekunst will be looking for Love to improve upon, but it’s reasonable to expect he’d level up his reads and capitalize on his ability as a downfield passer. Per SIS, more than 61 percent of his throws in the NFL have come within nine yards of the line of scrimmage and only 10.8 percent (nine of 83) have been deep throws that covered 20-plus yards in the air.

Rodgers actually attempted more of those short throws (66 percent of his arsenal the past three seasons) and wasn’t a rocket launcher downfield (13 percent deep throw rate), but 40 percent of his deep throws ended in completions. Love, by comparison, has only connected on two of his nine big throws (22.2 percent).

Love now has the security of knowing he’s got two years to figure this out and at least $13.5 million coming in 2024. He doesn’t have to be Aaron Rodgers yet, even if his mop-up duty compares favorably to the legend who preceded him. He just has to prove he can be more than a backup to make this a prudent deal for both sides.

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