NFL fans who were hoping a blowout win for the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night would produce the debut of first-round rookie quarterback Jordan Love may have been disappointed when Aaron Rodgers finally called it a night.
With a 34-10 lead and about five minutes left to play, the Packers turned to their backup quarterback to finish the job against an injury-battered San Francisco team, but it wasn’t the No. 26 pick of the 2020 NFL draft. Instead, they put the hands in Tim Boyle and allowed him to lead the final two drives of the game — though, he attempted no passes over four plays.
Love actually couldn’t have come into the game even if the Packers had wanted to go that direction late against the Niners — and not because of Friday’s news that he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
While it may have flown under the radar for fans who don’t closely follow pregame inactive lists, the former Utah State quarterback has been a healthy scratch in all eight games this season for the Packers. Even once he returns from the COVID-19 list, his situation doesn’t seem likely to be changing in the back half of the year.
Here’s a look at some of the key reasons why the Packers’ top draft pick has not played a snap yet in 2020 along with what it might take for Love to become active:
Blueprint for Love Remains About the Same
The Packers’ decision to trade up in the first round of April’s draft and select Love while still having Rodgers under contract for several more seasons caught a lot of speculative attention during the past offseason, but little has changed regarding the blueprint for his rookie season in Green Bay.
The plan has always been for Love to remain in the background during his rookie season, not unlike Rodgers was during Brett Favre’s final years in Green Bay. While Rodgers got to serve as the actual backup and see some preseason action, the Packers have taken a decidedly more developmental approach with Love — mostly due to circumstances.
Keep in mind: The Packers drafted Love a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, after the league had already decided to eliminate in-person work for the 2020 offseason and with serious (and valid) doubts about there being any preseason games. The foresight of the front office would have known there was a high potential for Love to enter his rookie season with less than two dozen real practices under his belt.
Even with Rodgers, that’s a big question mark to have just one unfortunate play away from becoming the every-Sunday reality.
The good thing was the Packers were also heading into the final year of a dirt-cheap three-year deal with Boyle, who had established himself as Rodgers’ backup in 2019 and was already versed in Matt LaFleur’s offensive system. During a diminished offseason, with limited time and no need to hurry their rookie up to NFL speed, the decision to carry his cap hit ($752,000) for the 2020 season becomes a no-brainer.
Looking at where the dominos are set to fall, the Packers would still seem to have a natural progression they could take with Love over the next few seasons if they were determined to push him to the forefront.
They could allow Boyle to walk as a restricted free agent next year (or simply retain and demote him), setting up Love to become Rodgers’ seasonlong backup for 2021 and get some first-look opportunities in the preseason. If they believe enough in what they see, they could then financially afford to move on from Rodgers during the 2022 offseason. At the same time, plenty can happen in the time between the windows of opportunity — especially with Rodgers playing out of his mind through the first half of 2020.
How Love Could See the Field in 2020
While it is more likely than not Love spends the rest of the season as a healthy scratch for the Packers, there are a few scenarios in which his status as the third-string quarterback could change before the end of 2020.
The most obvious would be some form of injury to either of the quarterbacks ahead of him. While Rodgers is the one making plays and taking hits every week, Boyle is still practicing and isn’t immune to a possible issue occurring. Love wouldn’t be expected to start unless both of them were somehow injured, but either of them being unable to play in a game would naturally see him elevated to second-string on the depth chart.
Then, there is the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak forcing the Packers into a situation where Love either becomes the backup or starter. Last week provided all the evidence they should need how quickly a position can become depleted, as running backs AJ Dillon and Jamaal Williams were both placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. If the same thing had happened to Rodgers and Boyle, it would have been Love leading the offense in San Francisco last week (assuming he wasn’t also a high-risk close contact).
Depending on how the remainder of the season goes, there is also an improbable chance the Packers secure a top playoff seed before the regular season concludes and decide to give their younger quarterbacks some opportunities while resting Rodgers. The current hierarchy would then put Boyle in line to make his first NFL start, but a regular-season game without consequences doesn’t come around and could be too valuable for Love’s development to pass up.
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