GREEN BAY, Wis. — As a four-time MVP and Super Bowl champion, Aaron Rodgers’ place in NFL history is indelibly etched in stone.
But when it comes to his future, and whether he’ll return to the Packers for a 19th season or play elsewhere, the writing isn’t as clear.
We’ve reached the point of the season where the football games have ended and the Rodgers and Packers speculation battle has begun. Will he come back? Do the Packers want him back?
This is the third consecutive year that the parties have entered the off-season under a cloud of uncertainty. The previous two times came after playoff losses at home, with the Packers just one win away from reaching the Super Bowl, and this year it comes after a 20-16 play-in loss to the Lions on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
As Rodgers walked off the field, an arm wrapped around veteran receiver and close friend Randall Cobb, it seemed inevitable that the end might be upon us. But trying to interpret Rodgers’ body language comes with a warning label: PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Rodgers’ love of the game extends beyond the football field and into the media room. He can be cheeky and cheeky with reporters, and apparently relishes the opportunity to keep them guessing. But know this: Rodgers is as precise with his words as he is with the football. He thinks before he speaks, fully understanding how the weight of his words will land.
Does he already know what he wants to do? Maybe, but he said his emotions were too raw Sunday night to think about it. His ability to still make every throw is indisputable — that deep pass to Romeo Doubs down the right sideline was so beautiful it defied description, even though Doubs couldn’t catch it — but Rodgers knows there are factors beyond physicality that must be taken up. .
Like: Does he feel like he has something else to prove to himself? Does he want to go through the rigors of preparing for a new season? Is it time for another voice to lead the team? Does the franchise feel it’s time for former first-round pick Jordan Love to take over?
“I have to get away and think about those things,” he said in the postgame press conference. “They’re real to me. I have a lot of pride in what I’ve achieved in this league, but I’m also a realist and I understand where we are as a team. We’re a young team and there might be some change with some of the older guys. It might be time to walk away. But I could take some time and say, ‘Hell, no. I’ve got to go back out and go for another run.'”
The real question Rodgers and the Packers have to ask themselves is whether they are as close to being legitimate contenders as they say. The two have made a habit of piling up wins under coach Matt LeFleur, with 47 in their four seasons, but they haven’t been able to win the games that matter most.
Twice the Packers have lost in the conference finals after 13-win seasons despite playing at home. And last season, after another 13-win season, they lost at home in their playoff opener.
On Sunday, they faced a Detroit franchise that had lost 27 of its last 30 games at Lambeau Field, but the Packers were unable to use their home field to their advantage. They lost a fumble, threw an interception, failed to reach the end zone in a goal-to-go situation, and were just one of two in the red zone.
Rodgers finished 17 of 27 for 205 yards. It marked the first time in his starting career that he finished a season without posting a single 300-yard game. Think about that for a moment. The man who has thrown for nearly 60,000 yards, who has one of the sweetest deliveries you can imagine, and fails to reach a threshold that almost seems beneath him.
Maybe he missed Davante Adams. And maybe he didn’t trust his young receivers. Perhaps he struggled psychologically with the reality that, for all his greatness, he could not be the rising tide that lifted the game of those around him. It can be humiliating for someone his size.
He says they are a “couple of players” away from being credible contenders. I’m not sure. The numbers after the season don’t lie. And if they’re not as close as they think, maybe it’s time to move on?
“To assume that it’s a foregone conclusion (that the Packers want him back) would probably be a little selfish, so I’m going to be realistic here and understand that there are a lot of different parts to this,” Rodgers said. “I was aware of the possibility of them going young if we had gotten to a point (this season) where we were out of it. I’m aware of that possibility as well (going forward).”
Rodgers is guaranteed $60 million for the 2023 season. He has influence in all discussions that take place. He knows it, the Packers know it. What neither of them knows is whether their 18-year marriage will continue beyond this year.
Rodgers said his decision will not be influenced by the money he is owed if he plays. “Money is energy. I’ve made a ton of it and I’m very grateful to this organization, the generational wealth they’ve offered me,” he said. “Hopefully they feel like I’ve earned a lot from it. But yeah, I can definitely walk away from it.”
When asked about playing for another team, he neither opened the door nor closed it. “I don’t like to say never,” he said, apparently implying that it wasn’t very likely.
If Sunday turns out to be his last game, history will show that his last pass was an interception by Lions rookie safety Kerby Joseph, who became the first player to have three picks against Rodgers in a single season, after intercepting him twice in their previous season. Meeting. But will it be his last pass?
One game ends, another begins.