The Green Bay Packers have an important decision to make by Tuesday afternoon of this week and it’s a move that will have a big impact on the future of the team. GM Brian Gutekunst faces a deadline to pick up the fifth-year option of quarterback Jordan Love.
Love’s rookie contract will expire at the end of the 2023 season. Because he was a first-round draft choice, the Packers have a fifth-year option on the former Utah State star. If they opt to exercise the option, they will sign Love to a one-year deal worth roughly $20.3 million. That is still inexpensive for an NFL starting quarterback. Starting QBs on non-rookie contracts can count more than $50 million per season against the cap.
Gutekunst was non-committal at the draft as to whether the Packers would pick up Love’s fifth-year option.
“It’s a lot of money for a guy who hasn’t played,” Gutekunst said when asked about the tag. “But at the same time, obviously, we’re moving forward with [Love]. So, we’ll figure that out by Tuesday.”
The team is clearly committed to Love as Gutekunst indicated in his quote. They traded away a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Aaron Rodgers to give Love his chance as the starter so obviously he’s going to get every opportunity to show he can get the job done.
First-year starters typically have growing pains as they step into the job. Love has started only one game in three NFL seasons. In 2008, Rodgers showed he had the potential to be the team’s long-term starter in his first season, but he struggled with decision making in the red zone and the team finished 6-10 one year after going 13-3 and going to the NFC Championship Game under Brett Favre the previous season. The Packers lost seven of their 10 games by four points or less.
The Packers won’t have even that big a sample size when trying to decide whether to pick up Love’s option. Love made one last-minute start in 2021 against Kansas City when Rodgers contracted Covid and then had two drives of meaningful football against the Eagles in 2022. In that game, he led the team to 10 points while trying to get the team back into the game on national TV in Philadelphia.
There are risks associated with either approach for the Packers. If the Packers sign Love to the fifth-year option and he is terrible, they are stuck with a $20.3 million player on their roster who may not be starting. The fifth-year option is just a one-year deal so they would be off the hook after the 2024 season.
If they decide not to sign Love to the fifth-year option, there is also a risk. If he plays very well in 2023, Love will have all the leverage in contract negotiations going forward and the Packers would likely have to pay significantly more than $20.3 million to keep him in 2024 and beyond.
If they are forced to use the franchise tag on Love in a year, the cost would be at least $32 million (that actual number for next season has yet to be set) and again, the deal could only be for one season. Love could gain even more leverage if he continued to play well and the cost to retain him would go up rapidly.
If he plays poorly, of course, the Packers could either walk away and let him go via free agency if they feel he won’t be good enough to be the long-term starter, or they can sign him for less money or to a shorter- term deal.
Head coach Matt LaFleur is confident Love will be his starter for the long run. “Got a lot of confidence in [Love],” LaFleur explained. “I think he showed it just in the limited action he did last year and just the ability to step in there and, you know, the moment was not too big for him. You could see that he was super poised. And that quite frankly gave us the confidence that we needed to see from him.”
The Packers are likely to sign Love to the fifth-year option. The potential loss is smaller if Love fails and they are left with a one-year, $20.3 million cap hit than if Love plays well and they need to pay him a lot more money to keep him beyond this season.
Gutekunst has until Tuesday afternoon to announce his decision and it will have a significant effect on the future of the Green Bay Packers.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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