GREEN BAY, Wis. – AJ Dillon noticed it the first time he saw Jordan Love at the start of the Green Bay Packers’ offseason program.
“He’s got his swagger back,” Dillon said.
The question now is will the NFL world notice it on the field?
Two years into his career, and with no sign that he’ll be the starter in Green Bay anytime soon after Aaron Rodgers signed a three-year, $150 million extension, Love has reached a fork-in-the-career moment: Either he shows that he’s capable of being a starter — whether it’s with the Packers or another team — or he fades into the ether of unsuccessful first-round quarterbacks.
Here’s why it’s a critical juncture for both Love and the team that took him in the first round of the 2020 draft: If the Packers believe Rodgers will play beyond 2022, then they probably will try to trade Love next offseason. If they keep him, they’ll have to decide by next May whether to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
Either way, they’ll need to see significant improvements.
That Love’s swagger has returned, according to Dillon, would imply that he lost it at some point. Perhaps it was after his lone start against the Kansas City Chiefs, when he led only one scoring drive in a 13-7 loss while Rodgers was out because of COVID-19. Or maybe it was after the regular-season finale at the Detroit Lions, when he threw two interceptions in second-half relief of Rodgers.
Packers OTA with Jordan Love as QB1. pic.twitter.com/hwpq1DiyaV
—Rob Demovskiy (@RobDemovsky) May 31, 2022
“I don’t know about losing it; I just think it was more [that it was] his first-ever game,” said Dillon, the Packers running back who was in the same draft class with Love. “I was s—ting bricks when I got there for the first time. I was s—ting bricks the whole season my rookie year. It’s just part of the game. That’s why I’m happy for him. Get those bad throws out now and go build the confidence. Figure out how to bounce back.”
If the Packers are Rodgers’ team for the six months of the season, then they’re Love’s the other half of the year. Like last offseason, Rodgers has stayed away from the offseason program (although he is expected at the June 7-9 minicamp).
It wasn’t until this point in Year 3 when Rodgers began to show his potential. While Brett Favre skipped the offseason, Rodgers got his work in, and then late in the 2007 season, he got another shot to play in real time. He nearly led the Packers to a comeback win at Dallas, and in the process he convinced the front office and the coaches that he was ready. And when Favre waffled about retirement at the start of 2008, the Packers didn’t hesitate to commit to Rodgers.
“I think the confidence is there,” Packers receiver Randall Cobb said of Love. “Just watching him process things a little bit quicker than he had before. I always thought he threw a great ball, but it’s all about doing it with a defense in front of you and putting it in tight windows.
“We need OTAs for those looks so he gets more comfortable going up against defenses and not just as the scout-team quarterback, but having an O-line in front of him and running backs and receivers with him.”
Fellow Packers receiver Malik Taylor also sees a difference in Love.
“You can just tell in his body language,” Taylor said. “He just looks really relaxed. I noticed it from Day 1 of this offseason program and just speaking to him, it seems like he has a different mindset going into this season.”
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has never called Love the heir apparent to Rodgers, but it was widely assumed. That was until this offseason, when Gutekunst threw doubt upon whether Love would ever get that chance.
“I think his future is bright,” Gutekunst said. “As far as what his future is with us, we’ll kind of see how that goes. Obviously with what we’ve done with Aaron and how long Aaron wants to play, that’ll factor in down the road, but we’re not making any of those decisions right now.”
Even Love is at the point where he doesn’t know what Rodgers’ contract extension means for him.
“I was super happy for Aaron,” Love said. “Obviously the dude deserves it; obviously 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,’ you know?”