When it was over Sunday night and the cameras turned to Aaron Rodgers leaving Lambeau Field in the loss to Detroit, it was hard to help but read his body language and where his eyes traveled. It was easy to see that he seemed to walk a little slower, linger a little longer, look a little deeper, like someone meticulously absorbing a moment that was meant to last.
Judging whether this is the end for an elite player like Rodgers is like football weather. You study the front office and coaching atmosphere that surrounds it. You take note of the emotional currents in the locker room. Then you predict what it all means for the end of his career. In reality, only he knows where all this is going. And sometimes, as we saw with Rodgers on Sunday night, not even the player can fully grasp what lies ahead.
That doesn’t mean Rodgers hasn’t given a preview to everyone watching. Although he’s still navigating his way through the disappointing end to a frustrating 2022 season, the Packers quarterback has provided enough information to boil it all down to three questions. on top of each other and culminate in another season, or fall apart completely and spell the end of his career in Green Bay.
1. Is Rodgers keen enough to speed up another season?
It’s usually the first question that opens the door to the end for the best NFL players. Especially those whose bodies are still healthy enough to continue.
It is no longer a question of whether they can play and begins to be a function of the fact that they want to player. Although the 2022 season wasn’t his best performance on record, Rodgers’ arm talent is still near the top of the NFL. But he lost something dynamic with the departure of Davante Adams and the Packers were never able to consistently replicate that over time, even with Christian Watson flourishing in the second half of the season.
Now Rodgers has an idea of how difficult life is without Adams. He also knows that there is no guarantee that will change in 2023. This is the place that has seemed to frustrate him at times this season: trying to wean the younger ones from the attack while watching the team fail. wonderfully at times. play complementary football. Few players want to end up like this, especially quarterbacks watching the sun go down on their careers (see: Tom Brady).
Rodgers summed it up nicely on Sunday when talking about whether the end has come, calling the moment of clarity “a feeling.”
“Do I feel like I have something left to prove to myself?” He asked. “Do I want to go back and prepare for another grind? Or is it time? Is it time to walk away? Is it time for another voice to lead this team? I think I need to step away and contemplate these things. These are real to me.
If the answer to a feedback is yes, it brings up the next question.
2. Will the front office embrace a youth movement that leaves Rodgers on an island?
It should be no secret now that Rodgers prefers to be around his guys – veterans he knows, trusts and enjoys playing with. That’s not unusual for quarterbacks playing in their mid to late thirties. While the locker room around them keeps getting younger, their circle around them tends to shrink. Soon they almost become another level of the coaching staff, expected to teach as much as play. And it can get especially tough when a quarterback sees his friends walking out due to the march of time.
Rodgers showcased one aspect of that ahead of the 2021 season, when he asked the Packers to get his longtime friend, Randall Cobb, from the Houston Texans. It should have been clear to everyone how much he appreciates having important confidants in the fold. It’s a reality that could pose problems next season, given the Packers’ tight salary cap and some of the free agents looming on the horizon.
Consider the Rodgers confidants expected to hit the market: Cobb, who is nowhere near performing near his recent salary range; kicker Mason Crosby and tight end Marcedes Lewis, who will each turn 39 this year; and wide Allen Lazard and tight end Robert Tonyan, who will each draw strong free agent offers in March. Also worth mentioning is left tackle David Bakhtiari, who is contracted until 2024 but has a high salary and a long list of injuries over the past three seasons.
If these players are erased from the 2023 roster, Rodgers loses a significant number of veterans he values. And that seemed important to him on Sunday, when he was asked what the squad roster would look like if he returned.
“That’s part of it,” Rodgers said. “That’s definitely part of it. You know, big dog [Marcedes Lewis], who knows what he will think? Obviously Randall [Cobb]Mason Crosby, a lot of guys I’ve played a lot of football with over the years, [David Bakhtiari]. So that would definitely come into play because that’s a big part of what we do. It’s not just the game. It’s the guys you play with and the chemistry and the love and the friendship that we have for each other because it makes a difference.
If Rodgers wants to come back and the team will be made up of the players he wants to fight with, then it all comes down to the last question.
3. What kind of commitment will the Packers show Jordan Love this offseason?
The continuing question about Love’s future ties into all those Rodgers talks about needing to know the direction of the organization. Drafted in the first round in 2020, a decision is approaching regarding the fully guaranteed fifth-year option on Love’s rookie contract. Green Bay has until the spring deadline (probably early May) to put Love’s fifth year in place. The price will be high and is expected to land north of $19.5 million for this season.
If the Packers commit to this option, they’re essentially signaling Rodgers that 2023 will be his last season in Green Bay. There’s virtually no chance the franchise will pay itself more than $60 million in quarterback salary in 2024, which is the dollar amount Rodgers’ salary and Love’s fifth-year option would be equivalent to. . Especially when Love’s salary would make it a necessity for him to play that season.
As of this point, the Packers believe the team’s front office has already come to the conclusion that Love’s option will go through. Combine that with the possibility of exiting Rodgers’ contract after the 2023 season for a net salary cap savings of nearly $16 million, suddenly the writing is clearly on the wall. In fact, that would start the clock on Rodgers’ final year with the Packers and start the clock on Love’s rise to prominence taking over in 2024.
If the team is already moving towards more youth in 2023 and preparing for Love to take over in 2024, do the Packers really want Rodgers back for one last awkward hurrah next season? Right now, he’s not assuming the team is absolutely committed to another year. When asked Sunday if he was sure Green Bay wanted him back, Rodgers suggested that was still up in the air.
“It’s just a feeling,” he said. “I think to assume it’s a foregone conclusion [the team wants him to return] would be, probably slightly selfish. So I’m going to be realistic here and understand that there are a lot of different parts to this. As I said I was aware of the possibility of them becoming young if we got to a point where we were out of it and I am also aware of that possibility [now].”
When you step back and consider all of these issues, the overall picture is nothing but an ocean of moving parts. Maybe the team wants Rodgers back and he refuses. Maybe Rodgers wants a comeback and the Packers are ready to move on. Maybe they both want another chance together in 2023, but can’t agree on what this roster should look like.
Very little can be answered in a day or two. It could be a timeline of several weeks, with Rodgers viewing the March free agency period as when the Packers need to have finality in place around 2023. Whatever that period is, it starts with whether Rodgers feels to have finished. Until this is answered, nothing else really fits in its place.
As Rodgers said on Sunday, “At some point the carousel stops and it’s time to get off. And I think you kind of know when it is.
As he leaves for the offseason, this decision does not seem certain. But time is running out and the essential questions are clear enough. Soon the answers will fall into place – and the next step (or final step) of Rodgers’ career will follow close behind.