Aaron Rodgers is still stuck on one Super Bowl appearance and victory after 14 seasons as the Packers’ starting quarterback. That was confirmed by No. 1 seed Green Bay’s shocking 13-10 upset loss to No. 6 seed San Francisco in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game.
Now the big question that lingered through this past NFL offseason will be asked again — has Rodgers played his last game with the Packers?
Rodgers (20-of-29 passing, 225 yards) didn’t have one of his best games against the 49ers’ defense. The single-digit temperatures, snow flurries and a pass rush that sacked him five times all contributed him to going cold. So did an offense that went back to being limited to three reliable playmakers — running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon and wide receiver Davante Adams.
Rodgers has gone 13-3 as the Packers’ QB for three consecutive regular seasons. The first two times, he led them to the NFC championship game. They lost to the 49ers in 2020 and the Buccaneeers in 2021. This January looked different with a more impactful defense, until the special teams melted down. With the offense disappearing, the Packers went one and done as a 1-seed.
Since the Packers won Super Bowl 45 with Rodgers as a No. 6 seed 11 years ago, they have gone 7-7 in the playoffs. They have gone 0-4 in NFC championship games and have dropped to 5-3 in the divisional round. Falling to the 49ers mirrored losing to the Giants as a 15-1 No. 1 seed at Lambeau Field in the 2012 playoffs.
Despite falling short of the Super Bowl again, Rodgers is the strong favorite to win his second consecutive regular-season MVP, his fourth overall. At 38, he can still play at a high level for several more seasons. The bottom line is figuring out whether the Packers did enough on and off the field to make Green Bay his happiest NFL place for the rest of 2022.
On one hand, Rodgers may have used his dramatic posturing in 2021 to adjust his contract, motivate his teammates and alert the front office it needs to take care of his key supporting cast members, led by pending free-agent go-to wide receiver Davante Adams. On the other hand, it may have been a true ultimatum, that he wanted to take his talent elsewhere if his pursuit of a second ring would hit a wall in Green Bay, which it might have just done.
Just getting to the Super Bowl might have locked Rodgers into the Packers. But now the clock ticks on whether he will request a trade that the Packers must oblige.
According to the terms of his current contract , there are reasonable parameters for facilitating a deal. Trading him before a June 1 designation would cost the Packers $26.8 million in dead money but also give them $19.6 million in salary cap relief in 2022. With a June 1 designation, the dead money would be spread out over two years and bump up the cap relief to $27.2 million.
There’s no question the Packers would want him back given how he connects with coach Matt LaFleur. Playoff disappointments aside, the Packers should know they have no shot at a fourth straight 13-win season if they turn to green backup Jordan Love, their first-round pick in 2020.
But this now comes down to Rodgers’ choice. Tom Brady got to pick his second team, the Buccaneers, as a free agent. Matthew Stafford got a late-career shot at the playoffs in being traded from the Lions to the Rams. This upcoming offseason, the speculation about Rodgers will be matched by that surrounding Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, who’s also looking for his second ring after winning one early in his career.
Rodgers, like Wilson, will have his pick of appealing teams. The Broncos and Raiders, who still haven’t settled on head coaches for 2022, go back into play with talented rosters. The Steelers, with Ben Roethlisberger set to retire, should also be interested in creating more viral smiling between Rodgers and coach Mike Tomlin . Washington, Carolina and New Orleans are other QB-needy teams with upside. With no surefire-looking QB prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft (yet), Rodgers won’t be lacking for suitors who will be looking for him to pull a Brady and deliver an immediate Super Bowl ring.
While the waiting game for Rodgers to make his decision begins, the Packers don’t have a lot of time this time, with the league open for trading and other business in less than two months.
Franchise-tagging Adams is a must to appease Rodgers. But can the Packers do enough otherwise to convince him to stay if there’s already too much of a fracture in the relationship? Unlike his guest-hosting stint on “Jeopardy!”, there are again more questions than answers.