GREEN BAY, Wis. — As a four-time league MVP and Super Bowl champion, Aaron Rodgers‘ place in NFL history is etched in stone.
But when it comes to his future, and whether he will return to the Packers for a 19th season or play somewhere else, the writing is not as clear.
We have reached that point in Green Bay where the football games have ended and the speculation game has begun. Does Rodgers want to come back? Do the Packers want him back?
This marks the third consecutive year the parties will enter the offseason beneath a cloud of uncertainty. The previous two times came after home playoff defeats. This time around, it follows 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, there seemed an inevitability that the end could be upon us. But trying to interpret the body language of Rodgers comes with a warning label: PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Rodgers’ love for games extends beyond the football field and into the media room. He can be cagey and coy with reporters, seemingly relishing 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? Perhaps, but he said emotions were too raw Sunday night to think about that. His ability to still make every throw is indisputable — the deep pass to Romeo Doubs along the right sideline was so beautiful it defied description, though Doubs failed to catch it — but Rodgers knows there are factors beyond the physical that have to be addressed.
Like: Does Rodgers feel he has anything else to prove to himself? Does he want to go through the grind of gearing up for another season? Is it time for another voice to lead the team? Does the franchise feel former first-round pick Jordan Love is ready to take over?
“I need to get away and contemplate those things,” he said in his postgame press conference. “Those are real to me. I have a lot of pride in what I’ve accomplished 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 could be some change with some of the older guys. It could be time to step away. But I could take some time and say, ‘Hell, no. I need to get back out there and go on another run.’ “
The real question Rodgers and the Packers have to ask themselves is whether they’re as close to being legitimate contenders as they say. The Pack have made a habit of stacking victories under coach Matt LaFleur, tallying 47 in his four seasons, but they have failed to win the games that matter most. Twice Green Bay has lost in the NFC Championship Game after a 13-win season. And last season, after another 13-win campaign, the Packers 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 use the home field to their advantage. They lost a fumble, threw an interception and failed to reach the end zone in a goal-to-go situation.
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 minute. The man who has thrown for nearly 60,000 yards, who has one of the sweetest deliveries you could imagine, failing to reach a threshold that almost seems beneath him.
Maybe he did miss Davante Adams. And maybe he didn’t trust his young receivers. Maybe he struggled psychologically with the reality that, for all of his greatness, he could not be the rising tide that lifted the play of those around him. That can be humbling for someone of his stature.
He says they are a “couple of players” away from being credible contenders. I’m not so sure. And if they aren’t as close they think, might it be time to move on?
“To assume it’s a foregone conclusion (that the Packers want him back) would be probably slightly egotistical, so I’m going to be a realist here and understand 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 the leverage in whatever discussions that take place. He knows that. The Packers know that. What neither of them know is whether their marriage will continue into a 19th season.
Rodgers said his decision won’t be influenced by the money owed to him if he plays.
“Money is energy. I have made a ton of it, and I’m very thankful of this organization, the generational wealth that they’ve offered me,” he said. “Hopefully they feel like I earned a lot of it. But, yeah, for sure, I could definitely walk away from it.”
Asked about playing for another team, he neither opened the door, nor closed it.
“I don’t like saying never,” he said, seemingly hinting that it was not a high probability.
If Sunday turns out to be his final game, history will show that his final 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, having intercepted him twice in their previous meeting. But will it be his final pass?
One game ends, another begins.