The Green Bay Packers will soon be at a crossroads.
While the team recently staved off having to make an abrupt transition from incumbent quarterback Aaron Rodgers to 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love, a decision must soon come on which signal-caller will start for the club for the foreseeable future.
Rodgers has made it clear he doesn't want to be a "lame-duck quarterback" holding a starting gig while the Packers groom Love to take his job. Love claims he is content holding a clipboard this season, but the 22-year-old already prepared to be a starter after Rodgers shockingly revealed he didn't wish to return to Green Bay for the 2021 campaign.
The Packers have been in a similar situation before, having drafted Rodgers in the first round back in 2005 while Hall of Famer Brett Favre was still under center, keeping Green Bay contending on a regular basis.
Rodgers was forced to wait for three seasons behind Favre before finally getting his opportunity following the incumbent's trade to the New York Jets.
Favre had wrestled with retirement often when a young Rodgers was waiting in the wings, something the now 37-year-old quarterback admitted he seriously contemplated leading up to the start of training camp. Favre went on to play three more seasons after he left Green Bay, finally calling it quits in 2011 at age 41. It's unknown how much longer Rodgers will keep going for, but he did say he'd "love to play to 40" back in 2018.
If the Packers still believe Rodgers can continue his career for at least three more seasons, they must find a way to get a commitment for that stretch.
Keeping the veteran under contract for three more runs gives the organization—which has made NFC Championship Game appearances in back-to-back seasons—the best chance to win another title during that stretch.
Love's play this offseason should have Green Bay brass itching to keep Rodgers on the roster anyways. The young signal-caller has done a poor job convincing onlookers that he's the next surefire star quarterback to ply his trade at Lambeau Field.
The second-year QB has had a string of up-and-down performances during the preseason, failing to truly impress in his first real opportunity after spending his entire rookie year in street clothes as Green Bay's No. 3 QB.
Following a canceled preseason in 2020, all eyes were on Love when he finally saw some meaningful snaps during Green Bay's exhibition slate. What viewers witnessed was a shaky decision-maker who only showed some flashes of the talent that convinced the Packers to trade up to get him in last year's draft. He largely struggled to make things happen when facing the rush and on broken-down plays, a concerning development for the Utah State product.
In the preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills, Love completed 12-of-18 passes for 149 yards, failing to lead a touchdown drive and was picked off after tossing up a sloppy pass under pressure. It was one of multiple ill-advised, off-balance heaves that Love put up for grabs in the contest, a troubling development for a player who was close to becoming Green Bay's starter this year.
It seems unlikely that the Packers would have been a realistic contender with Love as their QB1. He hasn't shown enough for team brass to feel truly comfortable moving on from Rodgers next year either, which is why Green Bay should already be mulling alternative succession plans and moving all-in to retain the incumbent starter.
One hurdle the Packers will have to overcome is Rodgers' recently restructured contract. To convince the reigning MVP to return this year, the team voided the 2023 season from the QB's current deal and agreed to not tag him, allowing him to become a free agent following the 2022 campaign. The club also promised to review Rodgers' situation following the upcoming season, essentially admitting it would oblige a trade request if the quarterback isn't satisfied with the team's direction.
Rodgers also already turned down Green Bay's offer to make him the league's highest-paid player, rejecting a two-year contract extension that would have kept him at Lambeau Field through his age 42 season.
The Packers have been on the record saying they are committed to Rodgers for "2021 and beyond," but they may have to pull out all the stops to achieve the "beyond" part of their pledge. They absolutely cannot afford to let Rodgers go if they wish to remain in the NFL's upper echelon, a status they would retain if Rodgers—who hasn't shown any signs of a sharp decline—continues playing at a high level.
The betting odds reflect just how much value Rodgers has to this organization.
Green Bay's title chances dipped to +1700, and its NFC Championship odds moved to +850 after the veteran announced he didn't plan to return in 2021. The Packers saw their Super Bowl and NFC Championship lines immediately bounce back to +1200 and +550, respectively, after he rejoined the fold.
The Packers still have some options to explore, including restocking the cupboard and acquiring draft capital by dealing Love. There is likely no shortage of competing franchises that would be willing to gamble on his potential, kicking the Packers some picks they could use to unearth an heir closer to Rodgers' retirement.
Green Bay could also consider a front office restructure, although it was something team president Mark Murphy said he was unwilling to do earlier in the offseason.
The most obvious way to keep Rodgers around is to have a strong 2021 season that results in the quarterback lifting another Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Winning tends to take care of most problems and could very well solve Green Bay's quarterback conundrum. The alternative of shipping Rodgers off following an unsuccessful campaign and having Love take over for 2022 simply isn't a viable path to more championships in Titletown.