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Gutekunst: Aaron Rodgers 'knows what we're playing for right now'

Packers GM discusses drafting a QB of the future

GM Brian Gutekunst
GM Brian Gutekunst

GREEN BAY – On a radio show prior to the draft, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made two important comments.

He said he "wouldn't have a problem" with the Packers drafting a quarterback early, and he wasn't planning on getting beat out for the starting job anytime soon.

General Manager Brian Gutekunst is taking Rodgers at his word on both counts.

After trading up to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round, with the No. 26 overall pick, Gutekunst said basically the same things as the two-time NFL MVP.

He doesn't think it'll be an issue with Rodgers, and he expects the future Hall of Famer to play for quite a while yet.

"Aaron's been around a long time and knows what we're playing for right now," Gutekunst said late Thursday night on a media conference call. "We have the best quarterback in the National Football League and we plan to have him for a while competing for championships.

"I think he'll be a pro's pro. He's playing for legacy-type things, historic-type stuff. I know he's very, very motivated."

Calling the move to draft Love "a long-term decision," Gutekunst understands the angst of fans who would wonder "why now?", and how they'd rather have seen him address more of an immediate need, such as wide receiver or inside linebacker.

Several top receivers were certainly available, as was LSU linebacker Patrick Queen at the 26th spot after Gutekunst traded up from 30.

But given all that, the clearest way to read Gutekunst here is Love was far and away the highest-rated player on the Packers' board once the first round reached the mid-20s. He didn't think he'd be there.

Gutekunst had offers to trade back as well, but only having to surrender a late fourth-round pick (No. 136) to get Love was too good a value to pass up, even if the plan is for Love to not have to play for at least a few years.

"This was not something we set out to do," Gutekunst said. "He just happened to be a guy we liked who fell to us, and this was the best decision."

Rodgers knows all about how this can happen, of course, having been former GM Ted Thompson's similarly unanticipated future investment 15 years ago, to the day in fact (April 23, 2005). Rodgers was Brett Favre's backup for three years before taking the reins.

Gutekunst wasn't putting any timeline on Rodgers' or Love's future, admitting that Love has "some rawness to him." He believes Love has the right build, arm strength, athleticism and creative ability at the most difficult position in sports to make it, and he also believes Love fits Head Coach Matt LaFleur's scheme and culture.

But it'll take a while before everything looks as natural as his smooth, powerful throwing motion.

"We think a lot of him. Down the road he certainly has all the ability to be a difference-maker," Gutekunst said. "But these things take time, especially at that position. He has a lot of work ahead of him."

Gutekunst saw Love play in person this past fall against eventual national champion LSU, who blew out an overmatched Utah State squad. In that game, Love threw three of his 17 interceptions on the season, a year that didn't go as well as his 2018 campaign, when he threw 32 TD passes against just six picks.

A new coaching staff, new personnel around him, and just a young QB going through developmental pains formed the gist of Love's statistical backslide, according to Gutekunst. He said more than once Love has a lot to learn.

"He had some moments this year he'd like to have back," Gutekunst said, "but getting through the other side was important."

Now that the most significant long-term decision has been made, the importance of the draft shifts to finding more immediate help. While Gutekunst sacrificed one extra pick to get Love, he still has eight selections to go, beginning with two Friday night at Nos. 62 and 94 (barring more trades).

Chances are, with the future at quarterback accounted for, Gutekunst's upcoming picks will fall more in line with what much of the fan base was thinking for his first one.

But the Packers GM wasn't going to approach this draft focused on the recent past. Being one game away from the Super Bowl was not his framework or mindset. He said over the winter he wouldn't operate that way, and he held true to it.

"I never believe you're one player away," he said. "I don't believe in that. You can make mistakes believing you're one player away from anything.

"The balance of immediate and long term is something I have to consider."

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