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2021 NFL Preview: Oh, if the Packers had just drafted a WR in the first round last year

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Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2021 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 4, the day before the Hall of Fame Game.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

Most bad draft picks are the same. 

You pick the wrong player, maybe even over a future Hall of Famer, you cringe over the opportunity cost and move on quickly from the bust. It hurts. You hear about it for years. The Green Bay Packers have experience with picks like that

But the Jordan Love pick might end up being a unique type of bad pick. It might chase arguably the greatest player in franchise history away. Try to find a comparison to that. 

Aaron Rodgers wasn't happy with the Love pick a year ago, wasn't happy with general manager Brian Gutekunst and the front office for not telling him about the pick beforehand, and eventually just wasn't happy at all. Rodgers wants out of Green Bay and as of publication of this preview, isn't backing down. Neither is the team, which hasn't traded him yet and said it won't. 

Had the Packers just drafted a receiver in the first round a year ago like everyone thought they should, this could have been avoided. We often talk about bad draft picks and say they set a franchise back a decade, but that's rarely true. This time it might be true. It might end one of the greatest stretches of quarterback play a franchise has ever been lucky enough to experience. All over a pick for a risky prospect that was poorly thought out the second it happened. No hindsight needed. 

For the first time in the years doing this preview series, a team should have a question mark for its ranking. How do you project this team? If the Packers dig in and Rodgers reports to the team after realizing that being a game-show host can wait until he's older, Green Bay is a top-five team. The Packers were the No. 1 seed in the NFC last season, lost in the NFC championship game and bring just about everyone back. If Rodgers leaves, Green Bay is in the middle of the NFL at best with the completely unproven Love. 

Love could end up being great — which would save Gutekunst from having to answer questions about the most damaging draft pick in sports history for the rest of his life — but we don't know. If Rodgers is traded and a veteran quarterback comes back to Green Bay, the Packers are somewhere between. This whole preview should be the shrug emoji. It's not like we've ever seen a reigning league MVP demanding a trade and threatening retirement before. 

The hard part for the Packers is they've built a great team around Rodgers. Receiver depth aside from Davante Adams (in his own tiff with management) is thin, but the rest of the team is sound. The defense is good enough to win a championship. The offensive line is solid and running game is in good hands with Aaron Jones and emerging A.J. Dillon. Adams is perhaps the NFL's best receiver. The Packers were 13-3 last season and in an alternate universe, Rodgers is happy (throwing to a first-round receiver entering his second season) and the Packers are on a short list of Super Bowl favorites. 

Yeah, trading up to draft a mediocre Mountain West quarterback in the first round was kind of a bad move. 

So we wait. Anyone saying they know how this situation will end is lying. The Packers have more leverage than anyone will acknowledge. If they refuse to trade Rodgers, do we believe the NFL MVP will retire? It's also worth noting Rodgers has $64.7 million in base salary remaining over the final three years of his contract. It might not be about the money for Rodgers, but that is a lot of money. Not to mention the Packers reportedly were already willing to give him a "We're sorry for the Jordan Love pick" pay raise. And, hey, we don't even know if Rodgers would be the pick to host "Jeopardy!" anyway. 

On the other hand, if Rodgers' holdout goes into the regular season, the Packers could panic. Not trading Rodgers, and getting a valuable package of players and picks back for a 37-year-old quarterback, would be regrettable if Rodgers never plays for them again. 

The NFL hierarchy shifts no matter what happens with this soap opera. Multiple teams are eagerly waiting to see which side backs down. A team like the Denver Broncos or Miami Dolphins would immediately vault ahead of the Packers if they can land Rodgers in a trade. The Minnesota Vikings could have realistic dreams of a division title. Every other top-tier team in the NFC would be happy if the MVP is dealt. The Packers are either a Super Bowl contender or an afterthought depending on what happens next. 

And it all could have been avoided if the Packers would have drafted Tee Higgins or Michael Pittman Jr. 

Where will Aaron Rodgers play in 2021? (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Where will Aaron Rodgers play in 2021? (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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Let's do this section without concerning ourselves with Aaron Rodgers, because who knows. The Packers became the rare team to lose a first-team All-Pro player when center Corey Linsley signed with the Los Angeles Chargers. That was the big loss, though running back Jamaal Williams also left to Detroit. The Packers signed running back Aaron Jones to a four-year, $48 million deal despite running backs being valued less than ever before and promising 2020 second-round draft pick A.J. Dillon waiting for a chance. Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell was the big free-agent addition at $2 million for one year. In the draft, cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round filled a need and center Josh Myers in the second round could help replace Linsley. Green Bay finally drafted a receiver, Clemson's Amari Rodgers, in the third round. Few experts liked Green Bay's draft, and it's not like free agency saved the offseason. 

Grade: D-

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Funny enough, this section would have been all about Aaron Rodgers' inevitable regression in 2021 if not for, well, you know. Rodgers threw a touchdown on 9.1 percent of his passes, the second-highest mark since 1976 (Peyton Manning hit 9.9 percent in 2004, and his TDs went from 49 that season to 28 the next). Rodgers had a great season and it's one he wasn't going to repeat even if he was happy. We'd spend time here breaking down Jordan Love, but he had no 2020 preseason, no regular-season appearances and we've talked enough already about his final college season (20 TDs, 17 INTs at Utah State). It would be an amazing story if Love took over and became the Packers' next great quarterback — that is still possible, of course — but right now he's a mystery. Then again, Rodgers is too. 

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At BetMGM, 31 teams have a win total posted. I'll let you guess the one who doesn't. Right before the news of Aaron Rodgers' discontent was reported, the Packers' win total was 11. Even if Rodgers plays for Green Bay, that total is bound to drop. This seems like a season-long distraction at best. Hopefully you got the under before it was taken down. 

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From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "It feels uncomfortable fading Davante Adams after he just posted the third-best PPR wideout season of all time, but here we are.

"Adams is a master in tight spaces and around the goal line, but touchdown regression has to be the call after he hit the high end of his range last year. Obviously there's the ongoing Aaron Rodgers drama; if Jordan Love has to play, look out below. And Adams has quietly become an attrition player at a position where we like full seasons; he hasn't made it to 16 games since 2016. Adams is not a proactive pick for me entering the teeth of 2021 draft season."

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Among all running backs with 200 attempts, Aaron Jones led the NFL with a 5.5-yard average. Jones ranked fourth in Football Outsiders' DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) and fifth in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average). However you want to quantify Jones' contributions, he's one of the NFL's best backs. It's questionable to put $12 million a year into the position when you just drafted a back in the second round a year ago, but at least the Packers paid a good one. And if Aaron Rodgers doesn't come back to Green Bay, Jones suddenly becomes the offensive focal point. The Packers would squeeze every drop out of their Jones investment if that happens. 

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Can the Packers and Davante Adams get on the same page? 

You can hear Wisconsinites screaming out "Not now, Davante!" In the middle of the tense Aaron Rodgers drama, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the Packers and Adams cut off contract extension negotiations and the two sides are in a "bad place." Of course, how many times has something similar been leaked during an NFL player's contract squabble? DeAndre Hopkins' contract, which is $5.25 million more per year than any other receiver, is likely a sticking point. Presumably the two sides will find common ground, but maybe not. Adams is in the final year of his contract and, as you may have heard, Green Bay has some quarterback issues. Maybe Adams will want to see how that plays out before deciding on his next move. 

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If you buy the narrative that Aaron Rodgers had a revival because he was mad over the Jordan Love pick, maybe there's some more anger to be mined from not being traded. The best-case scenario for the Packers is obviously with a locked-in Rodgers returning (there's an argument to be made that the real best-case scenario is Love taking over and playing well after the Packers trade Rodgers for a haul, but that's a bridge too far at the moment). Green Bay can win a Super Bowl with Rodgers back and either happy or in full revenge mode. This whole story has been crazy, so why not add Rodgers winning a Super Bowl with the Packers to the end of it? 

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The Packers knew about Aaron Rodgers' displeasure long before the draft. Yet, they passed on trading him then, when the draft pick return was at its highest (the Broncos won't be picking ninth again next year if they can get Rodgers, let's say). Once the draft passed, the chances of the Packers trading Rodgers dropped significantly. Or, they'd have to settle for a much smaller return. If the Packers haven't decided yet to trade Rodgers, what's the end game? Pick among the worst outcomes: 

• Rodgers retires and the Packers get nothing in return
• Rodgers returns and he's unhappy, it affects Green Bay all year and we're back to the same trade demands next offseason
• The Packers trade Rodgers before the season for much less than they could have gotten in April
• Rodgers holds out into the season, the Packers struggle and he returns to a 1-4 team
• A 1-4 Packers team trades Rodgers for whatever it can get

No matter how you see this turning out, most of the scenarios are bad. It's a mess, whether you blame the Packers' front office for screwing this up or Rodgers for being a stubborn diva. 

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The most common NFL-related question this offseason has been "What do you think will happen with the Aaron Rodgers situation?" Nobody knows. Here's my best guess: Rodgers holds out into the season. The Packers struggle without him. Rodgers, unwilling to retire and become a Game Show Network staple, accepts the Packers' apology offer to add a fortune to his contract. But an offseason of strife, a lost training camp and an early-season slump is too much for the Packers to overcome and they slide from a fantastic 13-3 record last season. 

But the truth is everyone is just guessing. Nobody knows how this is going to play out, and there's a lot more drama before we're to the finish line. All because of one heedless draft decision. 

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32. Houston Texans
31. Detroit Lions
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
29. New York Jets
28. Cincinnati Bengals
27. Philadelphia Eagles
26. Carolina Panthers
25. Atlanta Falcons
24. Las Vegas Raiders
23. New York Giants
22. Chicago Bears
21. Denver Broncos
20. Dallas Cowboys
19. Washington Football Team
18. Arizona Cardinals
17. Minnesota Vikings
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. New Orleans Saints
14. New England Patriots
13. Miami Dolphins
12. Los Angeles Chargers
11. Cleveland Browns
10. Tennessee Titans
9. Seattle Seahawks

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