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The tables have turned for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who replaced Brett Favre in 2008, but now has Jordan Love looking over his shoulder. Ben Margot/Associated Press

In defeat, Aaron Rodgers was strangely content. After San Francisco blew out Green Bay in the NFC championship game three months ago, the quarterback declined to be ornery and condescending, two of his most infamous traits after losses. He turned reflective. Though disappointed, he expressed appreciation and hope.

“This one will always be special because it became fun again,” Rodgers said of playing with the 2019 Packers and their new coach, Matt LaFleur.

Wonder how much fun he’s having now.

The Packers just drafted the quarterback they hope will replace Rodgers. They moved up to select Jordan Love with the No. 26 pick, and even though the move represented classic Green Bay roster management, it was still stunning to watch the Packers repeat history.

Jordan Love

The Packers traded up to get Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round on Thursday night. Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

In 2005, when Brett Favre was about to turn 36, they drafted Rodgers at No. 24 to create perhaps the greatest quarterback succession plan in NFL history. Fifteen years later, Rodgers is the 36-year-old smirking at his replacement.

Green Bay hasn’t been without a franchise quarterback for 28 years and counting. It makes the Packers an amazing organization and a ruthless one. They had a contentious split with Favre in 2008 – after a 13-3 season and NFC title game appearance – but Rodgers wasn’t just ready to play by then. He was ready to star. The transition, while emotional and full of controversy, looked seamless on the field. And here they go again, planning for the future, ignoring the ego and popularity of another Hall of Fame-bound quarterback, making it clear that they’re still unafraid to say goodbye to a legend.

If Love is worthy of such faith, he will take over in two or three seasons, and the Packers could enjoy four decades of unprecedented quarterback stability. Or they may have bet on the wrong freewheeling, gun-slinging improvisational QB this time.

It will take a while to know whether Green Bay made the right move, but you already know one thing: The fun of 2019 is over. The atmosphere in Green Bay just got awkward again. With a rookie coach, the Packers went 13-3, made the NFC title game, watched Aaron Jones develop into a multifaceted running back, and built a potent pass rush with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. But just when it seemed the Packers were at the start of something really good, the story line shifts to apprehension over how Rodgers’ time ultimately will end.

After that NFC title game, Rodgers vacillated between acknowledging his age and dwindling opportunities to win a second Super Bowl and remaining hopeful. Optimism wound up winning that day.

“The window is open for us, and that’s the exciting thing,” he said.

Their window, maybe.

His? It feels tighter than ever today.

That’s life in pro sports. In the transient NFL, there are few storybook farewells. If Tom Brady couldn’t stay in New England on his terms for as long as he wanted, no one is immune to the impermanence of this business. The Packers made a shrewd move in building for the future during a time in which their roster isn’t desperate for immediate reinforcements.

But it’s still a difficult message to send to your franchise player and to your fans – many of whom are co-owners, the way the organization is set up – when the team seems so close to a championship. A crazy stat that has dominated reaction since Love was drafted Thursday night: He was the first offensive skill player that Green Bay had selected in the first round since taking Rodgers in 2005.

During those 15 years, the Packers took only two offensive players in the first round: tackles Bryan Bulaga (2010) and Derek Sherrod (2011). They’ve drafted three safeties in the first round. They drafted a nose tackle one year. But they never prioritized a top-shelf weapon for Rodgers that early in the draft.

Of course, they weren’t exactly negligent. Receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are a couple of second rounders who turned into really nice players. Rodgers’ current go-to guy, Davante Adams, is another former second rounder who has produced at a star level. But it’s fair to use that first-round fact as one small indicator of how Green Bay often has relied too heavily on Rodgers, and for all the sustained success the Packers have had under him, they’ve left some winning on the table because they left him to be Superman.

Right now, they need more reliable receiving threats. In the past, they’ve had Rodgers play behind an inadequate offensive line and asked him to just make something happen. At times, their defense or special teams hasn’t been good enough.

It has to be a source of frustration for Rodgers. For years, he has given his maximum, only for the franchise to stick with its methodical building approach and never truly go all in. It’s the proper way for an NFL organization to function over the long haul, but before Brian Gutekunst became the general manager in 2018, there was little deviation from that master plan, not even for Rodgers. And now that Rodgers is inching closer to 40 and unable to carry a team quite like he once did, what does Green Bay do? Plan for his departure.

Gutekunst is more aggressive than his predecessor, Ted Thompson, but it’s not the Packers’ style to go out of their way to maximize and extend an aging quarterback’s career. Why draft an offensive weapon for Rodgers when there’s a chance to get a new Rodgers?

Just like with replacing Favre, few will complain about the collateral damage if the Rodgers-to-Love succession also turns out well. We’ll see, though. There’s greater risk of failure with Love. He doesn’t enter the NFL at the same level that Rodgers did. He will require a lot more work. Sometimes, he seems to have some Patrick Mahomes in him. Sometimes, he makes decisions that would cause Jameis Winston to wince. He’s a good project for LaFleur, but how will the coach manage this experiment and keep the trust of Rodgers, who had some struggles in Year 1 of the new system?

It’s hard to know who has the harder job: LaFleur as the manager, or Love as the understudy.

“I couldn’t think of a more miserable mentor than Aaron Rodgers,” ESPN analyst Ryan Clark said in reaction to Love’s selection.

In March, Rodgers went on the “Wilde and Tausch” ESPN Milwaukee radio show and answered a question about the Packers potentially drafting his heir.

“They’re not going to be able to beat me out anytime soon,” Rodgers said.

Three months ago, football in Green Bay was fun again. Today, as a long and awkward goodbye begins, the vibe figures to be different.

The Packers did what they felt necessary, what worked for them previously. As usual, Rodgers is left to make the plan work. This time, however, it eventually might mean closing his own window.


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