New Packers Xavier McKinney, Josh Jacobs talk Jordan Love’s influence, how they fit


GREEN BAY — So much for the Packers historically being conservative in free agency.

After being financially constricted during Aaron Rodgers’ final seasons in Green Bay, general manager Brian Gutekunst opened the checkbook for the first time in five years. In 2019, he signed outside linebackers Za’Darius and Preston Smith, safety Adrian Amos and offensive lineman Billy Turner. In 2024, he one-upped himself in the star power department, adding the market’s best safety, Xavier McKinney, and arguably the best running back available, Josh Jacobs.

On Friday, the college teammates spoke with reporters in Green Bay for the first time. Here are the notable takeaways from each.

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Feeling the Love

Rodgers once said Green Bay was a free-agent destination primarily because guys wanted to play with him. He likely wasn’t wrong.

Based on what Jacobs and McKinney said Friday, it seems as if in-season ability wasn’t the only thing Rodgers transferred to his heir. Don’t get it twisted: money will always have a significant pull. But what Jordan Love did in his first full season as the starting quarterback appears to have made waves around the league.

“I was telling people when we were scouting, when we were playing them last year, I seen him make some throws a lot of people can’t do,” Jacobs said. “Running backwards on one foot and slinging it on a dime. That kind of got me excited when I just started thinking about, watching film on him, and just to see the way he throws the ball effortlessly and the grit he plays with. I’m very excited to play with him.

“To have a guy so young and playing as well as he has and a guy that’s going to be around for a long time, it’s fun to have something stable and know what you’re going to get out of a guy week in and week out, so that’s very exciting for me.”

McKinney and his former team, the Giants, made Love have one of his worst games last season. In fact, McKinney recovered Love’s crucial fumble in the middle of the second quarter with Green Bay on the edge of the red zone in an eventual 24-22 Giants win. Even so, the 24-year-old safety said Love was a “big factor” in his decision to join the Packers after the Giants didn’t tag him.

“It’s a competitive league and you need an elite quarterback to be able to even have a chance,” McKinney said. “I believe that he is an elite quarterback. Obviously, I played against him and I watched him play and I think he’s really good and the sky’s the limit for him. I know he’s a great leader — I’ve heard great things about him — so it’s going to be real fun being a part of this team and being able to go to work with these guys every day.”

Roll Tide

Jacobs, a 2019 first-round pick, and McKinney, a 2020 second-round pick, played together at Alabama in 2017 and 2018.

“Just me knowing him for so long, even over the years, we still talk all the time,” Jacobs said. “For me to be able to come here with him, we were talking about it last night, sitting down eating, it’s special. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet, being here and everything like that, but I think it’s going to be fun … he’s a real good dude. His mom, his dad, they’re just good people, come from a good home. He’s one of them guys, he’s going to take care of his teammates outside of the building, the things people don’t really notice or look at. For people to be as young as he is, he’s definitely a leader.”

McKinney mirrored Jacobs’ excitement for being teammates again, even if he never thought it would come in Green Bay, Wis.

“I’m glad that we’re back on the same team, though, I can tell you that,” McKinney said. “He’s a special back, somebody that I’m really good friends with. He’s a great teammate. He’s a guy that plays really hard, makes a lot of plays. It’s going to be fun to be back on the field with him and practicing against him.”

How they fit

Jacobs ranks second in the NFL in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns since he entered the NFL in 2019, behind Derrick Henry in each category. He’s a true workhorse back and at age 26, figures to have plenty of tread left on his tires. Jacobs said he has spoken with Tom Brady about taking care of the body and nutrition, and he’ll need to stay fresh given Aaron Jones is no longer in Green Bay. Jacobs, who said he had 10-12 teams interested, said he’s already spoken with head coach Matt LaFleur about his role in the offense.

“I was telling him I feel like I want to catch it a little bit more,” said Jacobs, who has averaged about 40 catches per season in his first five years. “I feel like I didn’t get to show that as much as I would have liked, so that’s definitely something in the conversations we had. I know the schemes out here, they do a lot of outside-zone running. I think it just fits me, man. I can’t wait to get in and feel it out and see where I fit in but also try to leave my mark on it.”

Jacobs had a down year in 2023 after leading the NFL in rushing yards in 2022 en route to first-team All-Pro honors, a drop-off he attributed to his hairy contract situation, the Raiders’ quarterback uncertainty, lack of a team identity, inconsistency as a group and his injury issues toward the end of the season. However, Jacobs led the NFL in missed tackles forced in 2022 with 90, according to Pro Football Focus, which will bode well for the Packers when temperatures drop.

“I look at football kinda like chess, especially because the defender’s gotta react to me because I’m an offensive player and so I just kinda try to play mind games, whether I might run you over one play or make you miss the next,” Jacobs said.

McKinney could give the Packers something they might not have had since Nick Collins almost a decade and a half ago — a true playmaking safety roaming the deep middle of the defense. That seems to be one of the foundational pieces of a Jeff Hafley defense, and the first-year defensive coordinator already got dinner with McKinney on his first night in town Thursday to get to know one of his cornerstones.

“We talked about some things yesterday as far as play-wise, but I’m just looking forward to being part of the defense and seeing where I can help and try to make plays and help us to be successful and win,” McKinney said while adding he’s always wanted to play everywhere in the defensive backfield. Gutekunst said at the combine last month he wants his safeties to be able to play strong safety, free safety and nickel.

“Whatever we need for that game, I want to go do,” McKinney added. “I try not to get too focused on one spot. I never try to box myself in and I think that’s what gives me the ability to be able to play in different spots in the defense and in any scheme and be able to do it at a high level. That’s kinda how I’ve always been and it’s going to continue to improve and I’m going to continue to learn more and be better in different spots and I know the coaches are going to help me get to where I want to be.”

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Notables

• Jacobs is close with Packers special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia from Bisaccia’s time with the Raiders, where he overlapped with Jacobs for three seasons, including in 2021 as the interim head coach.

“Man, Coach Bisaccia, I’m not going to lie, he was one of the main reasons I wanted to come here, too, just knowing he was already here and dealing with him in the past,” Jacobs said. “We’ve always had a tight relationship and that year he was head coach, we had a lot of real conversations. We sat down, we talked about life and everything. To be around him and that energy he has every day, I think it’s going to be fun.”

• Jacobs knows Jones from offseason training in Miami, so he knows what kind of shoes he’s filling in Green Bay.

“Great dude and obviously he’s a legend around here just for what he’s done in his time that he’s been here” Jacobs said. “I don’t really consider myself coming in and replacing what he’s done. I just try to hold that standard.”

• Jacobs on retaining No. 8, currently worn by backup QB Sean Clifford: “If I can get 8, I’ll make it worth it for him, if it’s possible. But if not, I’m good either way.”

• Jacobs on his new head coach: “I honestly didn’t think he was gonna be as cool as he is.”

• McKinney on his impressive 2023 missed tackles numbers: “I’m going to try to improve that number from what it was last year because I think even that six or seven is too much for a safety. We’re going to get that number down for sure.”

(Photo of Xavier McKinney and Josh Jacobs: Cooper Neill / Getty Images and Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today)





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