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Packers' draft puts Rodgers on the clock

Of all the unexpected storylines to emerge from the NFL draft, the looming end of the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay is worthy of a cover story.

With the window closing on Rodgers’ pursuit of a second Super Bowl title, the Packers hit their 36-year-old quarterback from his blind side by using a first-round pick on his replacement. The clock is ticking on Rodgers, and if he did not know it last week, he does now.

The Packers traded up in the first round to select Utah State’s Jordan Love, who will be developed as the team’s quarterback of the future, sooner or later.

William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich was baffled by the move, saying: “If you are drafting Love, you should have a conversation with Rodgers and say, ‘How much do you have left? Is it two years or five years? What’s your plan?’ If he plans on playing five more years, get him some help you can win with this year.”

Rodgers might play five more years, but there are reasons to bet that only two or three of those years will be in Green Bay.

The Packers won 13 games last year, tied with the 49ers and Saints for most in the NFC. The William Hill futures board now shows five teams — San Francisco (+ 325), New Orleans (11/2), Dallas (6/1), Tampa Bay (6/1) and Seattle (17/2) — with better odds to win the conference than Green Bay (9/1).

Rodgers wanted wide receiver help. Thirty-six wideouts were selected, tied for the most in draft history through seven rounds, but Green Bay drafted none. In the second round, the Packers took Boston College running back AJ Dillon. That did not fill an immediate need, considering Aaron Jones is returning after rushing for 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns last year.

The NFL is a win-now league, especially for a team that went to the conference championship game with an elite quarterback, but Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst used his first two picks on players who will back up the team’s most productive offensive players. In other words, Gutekunst showed no urgency to improve for 2020 and instead focused on planning for the distant future.

Circa sportsbook manager Chris Bennett was so unimpressed with the Packers’ draft class that he raised their Super Bowl odds from from 17/1 to 20/1.

“The first two picks don’t really improve the Packers for this year, in my opinion,” Bennett said. “I went through all of our NFL futures and tweaked a bunch of things. The biggest Super Bowl odds move was the Packers.”

Draft results seldom shake up the Super Bowl odds board. The top contenders add talent as anticipated and typically stay put. Rarely does a team such as Green Bay move the wrong way.

The Packers’ season win total of 9 was priced Over -120 at William Hill last week and is shaded Under -120 at Circa this week. It’s more than a subtle hint that oddsmakers are expecting Green Bay to regress from 13-3 last year to 9-7 or 8-8 in 2020, assuming a 16-game season happens.

The league’s bottom feeders pick higher in the draft and have more room to improve. Along those lines, William Hill made minor boosts in the win total prices for Carolina (5½, -110) and Miami (6, Over -120).

The Dolphins picked Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fifth overall and filled all sorts of needs in their 11-player class. The Panthers, rebuilding with new coach Matt Rhule, used all seven picks on defensive players.

“I do think both of those teams will be on the rise,” Bogdanovich said. “But there’s a big difference between getting over 5½ wins to winning a Super Bowl. It’s incremental steps.”

A team that appears to be stepping up in the NFC West is Arizona, which selected Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons in the first round and traded its second-round pick to Houston for star wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Circa shortened the Cardinals’ Super Bowl odds from 70/1 to 60/1 and division odds from 11/1 to 8/1.

Michael Lombardi, VSiN analyst and former NFL general manager, said he’s no fan of armchair analysts and couch critics who assign grades to draft classes. He did approve of the drafts for the Broncos, Seahawks and Vikings. Lombardi recommended plays on Denver (7½) and Seattle (9½) Over their win totals.

“The Patriots are not going to get an ‘A’ for their draft because everybody is obsessed that they did not draft a quarterback,” Lombardi said.

Bill Belichick is rebuilding, plain and simple, and his draft class sent that message. The Pats made no flashy picks. Belichick likes to prove he’s the smartest guy in the room and plans to forge ahead with quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.

William Hill still lists New England as the even-money favorite in the AFC East, though the Buffalo Bills (+ 140) are closing the division gap along with the Jets and Dolphins (each 7/1).

We are trained to fear betting against Belichick, but put me on record for a bet Under the Patriots’ win total of 9½. This is probably New England’s least talented roster of the last 20 years, the quarterbacks are shaky and the schedule has few soft spots.

Lombardi said he liked Green Bay’s decision to plan for the future by drafting Love. Many others hated the pick, but those debates are part of what make the draft a magnetizing event. I see the thinking behind grooming Love but see no smart football sense in what the Packers did with the rest of their draft.

Is Gutekunst admitting that Green Bay, which was blown out twice by the 49ers last season, is not truly a Super Bowl contender? The Packers went 5-0 in games decided by five points or fewer, and their run defense was among the league’s worst, so their 13-3 record had a phony feel. Still, that’s no reason to pack it in for 2020 and strain the relationship with Rodgers, whose attitude already revealed a tempestuous streak.

Fifteen years ago, Rodgers’ first-round free fall was a big story. He slipped all the way to No. 24, where the Packers showed up with a parachute and picked him to be Brett Favre’s eventual replacement. Rodgers rarely played in his first three years before becoming the full-time starter in 2008. Favre moved on to play one season for the Jets and two in Minnesota.

What goes around comes around. The clock is ticking on Rodgers, just as it once did on Favre.

“If you read all of the so-called experts and their draft grades, the Packers grade as one of the worst,” Bogdanovich said. “This probably sparks Rodgers on to another big year. He’s still damn good.”

Rodgers totaled 51 touchdown passes with six interceptions the last two seasons. Several other analytics and your eyes show he has slipped a little, but he still has a lot left.

Green Bay would take $14.4 million salary-cap hits in 2021 and ’22 if Rodgers is traded after June 1. Follow the money: Rodgers probably will be with the Packers for two more years before both sides reach what could be a breaking point.

Coach Matt LaFleur said the clock is not ticking on Rodgers and everything will be fine. What else would he say?

The draft exposes what coaches and general managers truly think of their teams. Ignore the empty quotes. As always, actions speak louder than words.

If Rodgers takes a page from Tom Brady’s playbook and is ready to move on, New England might need a quarterback in the near future. How about San Francisco? Let the speculation begin.

In the meantime, Super Bowl futures wagers on the Packers will be selling like kegs of spoiled milk.

 

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