Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
The offseason has a new big story. Aaron Rodgers walked off Lambeau Field on Sunday and sounded like a broken man. The Packers had just suffered another crushing loss in a season that showed so much promise, this time to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. The slow, cautious team building the Packers had employed for years were dropped by a team constructed through bold moves, risk taking, and free agency.
The scariest part for Green Bay fans wasn’t the loss, but the doubt Rodgers spoke with after the game in regards to his future with the organization.
“There’s a lot of unknowns going into this offseason now.”Aaron Rodgers postgame: pic.twitter.com/VBGvBsYSCg— ESPN (@espn) January 25, 2021
Immediate speculation followed. Was this Rodgers saying he was going to retire, or suggest he wanted a trade to another team? It’s difficult to imagine a staple of the franchise like Rodgers leaving, but there are some scenarios that make sense here.
Would Aaron Rodgers retire?
It seems ridiculous that Rodgers would quit now. While he’s 37-years-old, there’s plenty of precedent for quarterbacks performing at a high level. Heck, look at Tom Brady. Rodgers is still playing some of his best football, but it’s possible he’s reached the ceiling of what he can do with the Packers.
It’s not like the situation is dire. The Packers were really, really close to winning on Sunday had a couple of moments gone their way. Green Bay would likely return to the playoffs in 2021, and the team is good enough to win the NFC North — but the window is shrinking for sure. Several high-profile players for the Packers are set to become free agents, including starting center Corey Linsley. While he’s not on the right side of 30, he is a starter who would need to be replaced.
Can Rodgers stomach returning in a situation where there’s less protection for him and the team needs to rebuild at a few positions? Would he put the organization first and acknowledge it’s time to move on, turning the team over to Jordan Love the same way Brett Favre left the organization to Rodgers?
Rodgers going to another team isn’t impossible, but it is difficult.
This is a very different situation than looking at DeShaun Watson potentially looking at a trade, or Matthew Stafford finding a new team. Watson is stuck in a dumpster fire that has no signs of burning out any time soon. Essentially any team would be better for Watson, making it relatively easy to project him in a trade scenarion.
With Stafford it’s a little different, but a relatively similar refrain. Detroit is a bad team looking to turn things around with a youth movement, and any QB-needy team within reason would be a potential landing spot. Stafford is still good, but the desire to go to a top-tier team is far less.
With Rodgers you’re looking at finding a place for him where it makes more sense for him to keep playing than retiring, and that’s difficult. In addition you want to find a place that makes more sense than just staying in Green Bay, should he want to stay and play another season for the Packers.
The most immediate landing spot seems to be San Francisco. The 49ers are looking at their window closing too, and are just a year removed from being one of the best teams in the NFL. Adding Rodgers would surely put them back in the discussion and potentially push San Francisco to the Super Bowl. That’s an appealing position to be sure.
Other locations are a little more iffy. Miami, for instance, would require a leap of faith from Rodgers than they’re ready to take the next step. The same goes for quarterback needy teams like Carolina or New England — who are in various stages of rebuilding, or needing a rebuild themselves.
But imagine this scenario …
Let’s assume for a second that the Buccaneers are able to win the Super Bowl, and Tom Brady asserts his greatness once again. Would Brady want to return in 2021, or retire after 20 seasons, going out on top, hoisting the Lombardi once more?
Now you have a scenario where a proven, ready-built team that only needs a passer could be extremely enticing to Rodgers. Tampa Bay has the receivers, the offensive line, and the defense to get to the Super Bowl already. The team is living on borrowed time with its star-focused approach, but there’s a chance here to turn the Buccaneers from one-year wonders with Brady at the helm, and extending that success for another 2-3 years — with the Buccaneers being the favorites until Rodgers decides to hang it up.
It would probably make a lot of football fans throw up in their mouth, but damn … that’s compelling as hell.