Davante Adams is the cold water

Sneering Bears fans for years now have teased Packers fans with one notion: You’re nothing without Aaron Rodgers. As the star quarterback’s situation has intensified, with tensions boiling over last spring, through the summer, through the season and into this spring, rival fans have pounced on the opportunity to remind Packers fans that singularly talented quarterbacks don’t grow on trees, and removed from the presence of that outlier, the Packers will resume life as an ordinary franchise.

The most fun part of the Aaron Rodgers saga for Packers fans has been the deferred dreams of their rivals, and even the teams pursuing him. While it’s great to have 12 back under center, the true treat is watching the air seep out of Vikings fans’ sails as it dawns on them that their nightmare isn’t over; or the yearning Broncos media longing to repeat the Peyton Manning halcyon days only to wind up with consolation prizes that comprise a quarterback holding pattern millennial Packer fans have simply never known.

But there’s more to football than quarterbacking. Davante Adams reminded Packer fans of this Thursday as the Packers reached an agreement with the Las Vegas Raiders to send away the man who would have become the franchise’s all-time greatest wide receiver, had he stayed. After years of Aaron choosing to stay, in a state where Giannis Antetokounmpo chose to stay and won a championship, where for so long Brett Favre chose to stay, and Reggie White chose to come, Davante chose to leave. For Packers’ management, it’s the first time in a long time they didn’t set the terms in dismissing someone from their franchise. The same front office who ushered off Charles Woodson, Donald Driver, Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, and many others was now forced to accomodate an unfamiliar reality, having to let go of someone they wanted to keep.

For his part, general manager Brian Gutekunst reaped some decent value for Adams, particularly if Adams was willing to endure a holdout showdown to get his way. Even though it still feels like a punch to the gut, it was deftly navigated, at least on initial appearance. Ian Rappaport tweeted that Davante was “simply following a lifelong dream to become a Raider.”

The shock in this notion is enormous. First of all, how could someone not love being a Packer? How could you spend eight years in Green Bay and not identify it as a dream? Adams was steeped in the culture and history of Green Bay, and in return, his fans elevated his name as he ascended the ranks of the NFL’s best receivers. This despite Adams’ development coming at a slower pace than many of his peers. The Packers and their fans both saw the vision he was pursuing of becoming a master technician who distinguished himself, not for his athleticism but for his sheer craftsmanship. How could that not make someone feel at home? Also, does he know the Raiders no longer play in his home state of California? As he spent time becoming a beloved fixture of Green Bay Packer lore, and his “dream” team moved away from home to pursue a glitzy taxpayer-funded-stadium payday in Vegas, he didn’t waver in his desire to leave?

There is a strong chorus, owing to those deeply seeing and understanding Packers fans, encouraging us to be happy for Davante Adams. He deserves to have what he wants and if he gets that from someone else, so be it. He’s a human person and he has his own aspirations to live up to. I would agree with that idea if doing so held any redeemable value for me. I get nothing out of Davante winning life satisfaction in the uniform of another team. Good for him, terrible for me. What I wanted was for Davante to feel the love the state of Wisconsin and Packer fans everywhere had for him and to become compelled by it. I wanted that love to elevate him, and he in turn to elevate the franchise. I believe in the Packers and thus I believe they are the best case scenario for any player, particularly if they’re as good at what they do as Davnate is. But no, you want the truth? I’m not happy for him. I’m sad for us. We lost more than he gained. I know it.

Davante likely won’t be all that successful in Las Vegas. Historically, Packers receivers don’t achieve the same in new places with non-Aaron Rodgers QBs. Adams is a different case given that he’s leaving at his peak, after his best season yet. However, I also just don’t think Derek Carr, his college quarterback, will know how to use him the way Aaron Rodgers did. I can’t imagine Adams doing more with Vegas than he did in Green Bay. He is not the fastest receiver in the league. He doesn’t have the best hands. He isn’t a deep threat. He isn’t among the league’s strongest receivers. His after-catch abilities are good but never sensational. I feel like Davante’s greatness is difficult to understand, and thus probably difficult to tap into, relative to other great receivers in the league. I know Rodgers was able to tap into it. I don’t know that another quarterback will. We’ll see. I doubt it will be a complete failure. But it will cost Adams his title of best wide receiver in the league.

Regardless how Adams fares, however, the Packers have a talent void to fill. Helping to do that will be the compensation Gutekunst was able to acquire for Adams: a first round pick, and a second round pick, both of whom will (ostensibly) turn into players that have bright, bright futures for the team. Talent in this form — raw, underdeveloped, is not the form the Packers most need right now. The Packers most need talent in its full, complete form. Like Adams. In bringing receiving talent to Green Bay, the number one hurdle for years has been the gaining of Aaron Rodgers’ trust. Adams had that. The Packers essentially need to build the position from scratch. They have a few important tools to do so: four top-60 draft picks and $21M in cap space. They can bring in a free agent, draft a top prospect, and trade for someone. Really, they could do all three. And perhaps they should. Replacing Adams will take more than one, likely more than two players. Veteran free agents include Odell Beckham Jr., who would miss most of the season recovering from a torn ACL; Jarvis Landry, an aging receiver who has never had a talented quarterback to play with but hasn’t looked elite in about seven years; JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has played with a declining Ben Roethlisberger, but has also been surpassed by perhaps two young receivers over the past two years in Pittsburgh; Will Fuller, a deep threat who can’t seem to stay on the field; Julio Jones, formerly the best receiver in the league but years and several injuries removed from that distinction; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, a deep threat who has struggled with drops and injuries for Green Bay. Via trade, there’s, perhaps, Brandin Cooks, a high-caliber player who has been unsuccessful as a No. 1 receiver for Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Sean McVay’s Rams and the hapless Houston Texans over the past six seasons; Tyler Lockett, an older receiver who at 5'10" isn’t of the ilk the Packers typically seek; DK Metcalf, who has insane measureables and potential but always seems to be drumming up drama that keeps him from playing his best. There are other options but the main theme is that all these receivers have reason to doubt their ability to come in and be successful. Adams’ production was doubtless. It’s a big, big loss.

When a team loses a major player, it often feels too soon to move on, even when time shows it isn’t. In this case, that feeling is magnified by the fact that Gutekunst wasn’t the one choosing to move on, Adams was. When Gutekunst unceremoniously released Jordy Nelson, there was solace in the fact that it was the Packers’ choice, part of their vision, and if it was a mistake we’d understand who was at fault. Here, that security is removed. As a Packers fan, it feels like Adams has exposed the Packers’ perhaps greatest weakness, the one Rodgers teased at but in the wrong way (he framed it around himself, obviously): Nobody has to play for the Packers. Unless they want to, they can just leave. Wisconsin is cold and winters are tough and Green Bay is tiny and unexciting. Rodgers threatening to leave is one thing, Adams up and doing it is entirely another. His “dream” of playing in Las Vegas lands as nothing other than an insult to the love I feel toward Green Bay and the Packers. Here they are, the Packers, the greatest cultural beacon of my life, and Davante Adams was bored of it.

I don’t think of the Packers as a losing organization, but Davante Adams could be forgiven for doing so. Since he was drafted in 2014, the Packers’ best years have ended in heartbreaking defeat (2021, 2020, 2015, 2014) and their lesser years have ended in embarrassing defeat (2019, 2016) and their worst years have ended as trainwrecks (2017, 2018). Eight years of losing can be disillusioning, and the Packers’ mystique probably wore off for Adams a few years ago. The fact is, we are just a normal franchise that tries to win like anyone else does. The Adams era gives us nothing to suggest otherwise. Perhaps if he and Aaron Rodgers had been able to win or even reach a Super Bowl, Adams would have come to believe in the Packers’ mystique. They didn’t, however, and now Adams’ legacy is finished being written.

Some had begun to anoint Adams as the best receiver in Packers’ history, I’m saving that title for someone who gave the most of themselves to the team. To me, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Sterling Sharpe, and Antonio Freeman hold that space more than Adams right now, as well as older legends like Don Hutson. Adams was set to pass them all. Maybe he did pass them for talent and production, but I firmly believe a player’s impact goes deeper than just on-field statistics.

We don’t know how this turns out in the end. Will two draft picks (plus whatever free agent acquisition this allows us to make — likely the return of Rasul Douglas) outperform Davante Adams over the span of the rest of his career? Who knows. But the definite thing at this moment is the pain of being dumped, the chilling effect of cold water splashing us out of our comfortable, perhaps complacent, positioning. Success in this league is temporary. Great players are temporary. Love needs more than success to sustain it, however. All the best, 17.

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Eliot Sill

Eliot Sill

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