Packers' Matt LaFleur: 'Aaron Rodgers is the leader' of the team

His general manager, Brian Gutekunst, had just made the most momentous move of the 2020 NFL Draft -- trading up to select Utah State's Jordan Love with the 26th overall pick -- and Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur was part of the virtual welcoming committee, placing a call to his new quarterback.

A bit later Thursday night, as Titletown and the rest of the football universe processed the franchise's shocking choice of a potential heir-apparent-in-waiting to a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, LaFleur hopped on the phone with QB1.

The second-year coach came away from that conversation convinced more than ever that Rodgers remains "the consummate pro." Sitting in the downstairs-bar-area-turned-makeshift-draft-room, LaFleur (who, like the rest of his NFL counterparts, was homebound during this surreal, pandemic-stricken time) then began preparing for the rest of the draft -- and for a slew of questions about the eventual succession plan.

"Obviously, Aaron Rodgers is the leader of this football team, and my expectation is that he will be for a long time," LaFleur told me Friday. "I sincerely love the guy, and I love working with him, and it's a hell of a lot of fun. I'm really excited about where we can take this, and that hasn't changed one bit."

What has changed is that LaFleur, coming off a highly successful rookie season as an NFL head coach, will now face constant scrutiny as he navigates an already challenging offseason.

Ten months ago, after I wrote about the potential stylistic clashes between LaFleur's offensive system and Rodgers' long-established comfort zone, 'The Audible Thing' became a source of misguided handwringing that didn't totally die down until January. The Packers, after a 13-3 regular season, won a home playoff clash against the Seattle Seahawks before suffering a lopsided defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

If the Audible Thing was the equivalent of snow flurries, the selection of Love ranks as a blizzard. Rodgers, 36, understands the situation well. Fifteen years ago, after an infamous draft-day freefall, Rodgers was rescued by the Packers, with then-general manager Ted Thompson taking the former Cal star 24th overall. At the time, Green Bay's incumbent quarterback -- living legend and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Brett Favre -- was 35.

After three sometimes uncomfortable seasons as Favre's backup, Rodgers finally became the team's starter in 2008. He won a Super Bowl MVP trophy in his third season as a starter and captured the first of two league MVP awards in his fourth, establishing himself as one of the best players of his generation.

So what does this mean for Rodgers and the Packers in the coming years? That remains to be seen. Like six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, Rodgers has said he wants to play until he's 45. And in an interview last month with ESPN Wisconsin's Wilde & Tausch, Rodgers insisted he wasn't concerned about the possibility of the Packers drafting a quarterback, saying, "No matter who you bring in, they're not going to be able to beat me out anytime soon."

Yet, the next time Rodgers reports to work -- and there's plenty of uncertainty on that front, thanks to the COVID-19 virus -- he'll do so while being backed up by a first-round draft pick with tantalizing talent.

"I'm pumped about getting to coach this young quarterback," LaFleur said of Love. "This kid has a chance to be really good, and what a perfect situation for him: He has a chance to come here and soak it all in and learn from one of the best quarterbacks -- if not the best -- of all time. He's a humble kid who will take accountability and try to get better and better. And he will definitely have a front-row seat to greatness."

Given that the Packers are the rare franchise that has pulled off a transition from one Hall of Fame quarterback to another -- the San Francisco 49ers, with Steve Young succeeding Joe Montana, did it in the previous decade -- it's understandable that Gutekunst would have been enticed by the idea of trading up four spots (swapping first-round selections with the Miami Dolphins and surrendering a fourth-round pick in the process) to nab Love. Yet the GM did so at the expense of adding a player who could have helped the team immediately, in particular, someone who could have added some playmaking punch to the Green Bay offense.

This is part of a recurring theme. Amazingly, in the 15 years since Rodgers was drafted, Love is the first skill-position player the Packers have taken in the first round.

Last March, in his second offseason as the Packers' GM, Gutekunst had a stellar start to free agency, signing four impact players: edge rushers Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, safety Adrian Amos and guard Billy Turner. With two picks heading into Friday (one each in the second and third rounds) and six more on Saturday, Gutekunst has a chance to bolster Green Bay's 2020 roster, and LaFleur remains upbeat about the process.

"Gutey has a great vision for where we want to go," LaFleur said, "and I'm excited about what we might be able to accomplish this season and beyond. I know people are going to analyze and overanalyze, but Aaron is a consummate pro and terrific teammate, and he's our leader, and I love coaching him."

And from now on, he'll be coaching Love as well.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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