The 2023 NFL season has been an enigma.
In some ways, it’s a blast from the past; the average point total of 43.5 points is down from 43.9 last year and 49.5 during the 2020 pandemic season. However, this is happening through modern means, with six-man box and split safety rates at their highest ever. Gone are the days of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers, and other elite-tier quarterbacks who have retired over the past few years. In are some guys who have produced mixed results at best, many of whom have been drafted – and drafted highly – over the past few years.
One player who seemed destined for a similar fate as recently as a month ago, Jordan Love, has turned the corner for the Packers, throwing for multiple touchdowns and over 267 yards – at more than seven yards per pass attempt – in each of the last four games, all Packers wins. He’s taken only six sacks that entire time, despite being pressured 58 times (10.3%, which would be third in the NFL behind Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes). All of this has been done with a patchwork offensive line missing David Bakhtiari and his $21.3 million cap hit for all but the first game and an overall roster that is dealing with over $40 million in dead cap due to the trade of his predecessor, Aaron Rodgers.
If trends continue, the Packers will have no choice but to open contract extension talks with Love, whose current contract – a continuation of his rookie deal plus a split of what would have been the fifth-year option with some added void years – is below. The question of the day is what such a contract looks like.
Upon first blush, something like Geno Smith’s three-year, $75-million deal with the Seahawks feels right. However, Smith is 33 years old, and has more warts than Love does. Additionally, Daniel Jones, a quarterback with roughly the same accomplishments as Love, recently signed a four-year, $160-million deal with the Giants. This came after leading the Giants to a surprise 9-7-1 season and a road playoff victory, all team accomplishments that are within the range of outcomes for the 2023 Packers.
The fact that the Packers have team control for 2024 makes distinct Love’s situation from Smith and Jones, but if one adds some cap inflation to that deal, Love and his agent could realistically ask for a contract on the order of $42.5 to $45 million per year.
The sticker shock of such a number, especially given where the franchise and the quarterback were a month or two ago, is going to turn off some. After all, we don’t have a ton of precedent here in the modern CBA environment (Aaron Rodgers’ initial deal was for five years and $7 million, and he signed a modest extension in the middle of the fourth year). One example was Denver with Brock Osweiler. The former Arizona State quarterback was Denver’s second-round pick in 2012, the same year they acquired Peyton Manning in free agency. After three years on the bench, Osweiler relieved an injured and ineffective Manning and started seven games, playing well enough at times to entice the franchise, even after winning the Lombardi trophy with Manning back at the helm, to offer him a substantial contract to return to the team as their starter. The problem was that the Houston Texans offered more, a four-year deal worth $72 million dollars, including $37 million guaranteed.
The results were disastrous for the Texans, who had to move Osweiler and a draft pick to Cleveland the following offseason, after drafting Deshaun Watson. Osweiler didn’t even make it out of training camp with the Browns and headed back to Denver after his release.
However, things didn’t exactly work out the best for the Broncos, who spent four years developing Osweiler, either. Trevor Siemian beat out Mark Sanchez and rookie Paxton Lynch in 2016 and was their starter until 2017, after which Joe Flacco, Case Keenum, Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater, and Russell Wilson all took turns failing to get Denver into the postseason after Osweiler left, with the open counterfactual of how they would have done had he stayed with the franchise that developed him.
So that’s the conundrum for Love and the Packers, and likely the reason teams don’t do what the Packers did – which is draft a quarterback high while they still had a quarterback. Even the best outcome, which is the one we’re seeing right now in Titletown, leaves a lot more questions than answers. Their cap situation is not necessarily great (only $11.5m projected cap space in 2024), with big commitments to Bakhtiari, Kenny Clark, Rashan Gary, Jaire Alexander, Preston Smith, De’Vondre Campbell, and Aaron Jones. They can certainly make moves to clear the space for Love, who has shown the ability to play winning football without some of those players on the field (i.e., Bakhtiari, Alexander, and Jones) for much of the season, but as the Giants (and countless other teams that have tried to make it work with quarterbacks on a big contract) have shown, the margins are thin.
At the end of the day, this is a classic example of a good problem to have in football. The Packers, during the middle of a trough in Aaron Rodgers’ efficiency, planned for the future with Jordan Love. Rodgers’ subsequent elite play pushed that future back and made the present more expensive for years. Despite this, Green Bay got back on the course, giving Love an opportunity to be next in line for their storied franchise. He’s delivered, and the only question that remains is whether we’re going to see another game of cat and mouse – which will likely end poorly for both parties – or a deal that works for both team and player.
Given the last year, I wouldn’t doubt Brian Gutekunst and Jordan Love get such a deal done.