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Dougherty: It's time for Packers to find out what they have in Jordan Love

GREEN BAY - Was there anyone who thought after Aaron Rodgers’ rookie season that the Green Bay Packers had an all-time great waiting to take over at quarterback for Brett Favre?

In a word, no. Even two years later, after subtly pushing Favre into retirement, the Packers still were unsure enough to spend a second-round draft pick in 2008 on Brian Brohm as insurance in case Rodgers didn’t pan out.

So while general manager Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur surely learned a few things about Jordan Love last season, in truth they still don’t have much of a clue on what they have in their 2020 first-round pick, especially after a rookie year in which COVID-19 wiped out the NFL’s preseason schedule.

Love was drafted as a project and remains one. About the only thing that seems a given at this point is the Packers can’t have another season with him as their No. 3 quarterback, which he was last year behind Tim Boyle.

That’s strictly a practical matter. Once training camp ends, the No. 3 quarterback doesn’t get many snaps in practice even with the scout team, and that can’t continue for a second season with Love. It’s now all about speeding up the development of the raw first-round quarterback. Love needs all the snaps he can get, including running the scout team full time in the regular season, to help the Packers decide in the next couple years whether he’s a keeper.

“No question about it,” said the quarterbacks coach for another NFL team. “(Love) is two, Boyle is three, and it’s, do we keep three or not?”

It’s up to Love and the Packers to create a regular-season environment where he improves even though he knows he’s not going to play in games, not only in 2021 but likely in 2022 as well.

Rodgers has talked often about how he treated scout-team work as his games while backing up Favre for three years. It’s on Love to do the same now.

“The way you do it is typically,” the quarterbacks coach said, “on a Friday you get all the (scout-team) clips and watch them together, just you and him, so he understands how important it is. You critique him and coach him like it’s practice tape from OTAs against the (starting) defense.

“You talk about decision making, ball security, different things that are general. The plays are (opponents’) plays, they’re not your plays. But your reactions to the defense and reactions to pass rush and pocket feel and escaping and being accurate when you’re able to have a first or second read, boom-boom ball coming out, those kind of things you can talk about.”

This also means the Packers soon have to decide on Boyle, who remains an interesting prospect after three seasons in the league. He’s a big guy (6-4, 232) and good athlete (4.75 40, 35-inch vertical) with a strong NFL arm. He stands tall in the pocket and gets the ball out. He has been a good find by the Packers’ scouting department after going undrafted out of Eastern Kentucky in 2018, and though he has hardly played, three years into his NFL career there’s still reason to think he has the makings of a legit No. 2 quarterback. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

But unless the Packers saw a big red flag with Love last season — there are no indications they did — then developing Love has to be the priority. They spent the first-round pick on him for a reason.

So it’s not even a given Boyle will be back with the salary-cap strapped Packers.

He’s due to be a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Packers have until the start of the league year (March 17) to tender him for the right of first refusal. They can put a second-round tender on him for $3.3 million, or simply maintain the right to match an offer he signs with another team (with no draft compensation if they don’t) for $2.1 million. If they keep him and he plays well in the preseason, they could always try to trade him near the end of training camp.

But with how badly the Packers need cap room in the next week or so, it’s not a given they’ll even tender Boyle. Instead, they might try to sign him for the league minimum ($920,00), though he’d also be free to sign with another team where he’d have a better shot at the No. 2 job.

And though the Packers surely don’t want to just let Boyle walk out the door, his departure would free up not only cap space but more snaps for Love in camp and the preseason. The No. 3 would probably be an undrafted rookie who would get limited work.

“We feel very good about what (Love) was able to do in the small window of development that he had (last season),” Gutekunst said last week. “But I think this preseason and then moving forward are going to be very, very important.”

As for when Love might be the Packers’ starter, the pundits who were sure Rodgers would be gone after 2021 look wrong now.

These things are always fluid, but based on how Rodgers played last season at age 37 the best bet is he’ll be their quarterback for two more years, at least. That’s assuming his relationships with Gutekunst and LaFleur remain on solid ground.

For all we know, Rodgers might play well enough to finish out his contract with the Packers, which runs through 2023. He’ll be 40 then, and Love will be heading into his fifth season in the NFL.

Tom Brady outplayed the New England Patriots’ plans for Jimmy Garoppolo, and there’s a chance Rodgers could do the same for the Packers and Love. So if Rodgers is still going strong in a year or two, Gutekunst just might be looking to deal Love, as the Patriots did three years after drafting Garoppolo.

We could glean more about the Packers’ near-term plans based on Rodgers’ imminent contract restructure as they create some cap maneuverability over the next week.

If his new deal includes guarantees beyond the $23.2 million he’s set to make this year, it will be a sign he and the team are on the same page for 2022 as well.

Regardless, Love’s redshirt season is over. It’s time to start finding out if he can play in the NFL.

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