GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers says he doesn’t know what the future holds. He didn’t call it a “beautiful mystery” this time around, speaking instead in stark terms about a reality in which the Green Bay Packers have to make calls on more than just whether they can go into the 2022 season without the presumptive four-time NFL MVP at quarterback.
And so, in the aftermath of the Packers’ season-ending 13-10 NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on Saturday night, Rodgers found himself contemplating things he didn’t think he’d have to consider quite so soon. He thought maybe he’d start mulling his future during the off week between an NFC Championship Game victory and an appearance in Super Bowl LVI in his offseason hometown of Los Angeles.
“I did not think we’d be talking about this after this game,” Rodgers acknowledged after struggling to get the offense going after the opening drive of the game, and finishing the night having completed 20 of 29 passes for 225 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions (91.9 rating) while absorbing five sacks.
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“I’m going to take some time and have conversations with the folks around here and then take some time away and make a decision — obviously before free agency (opens in March). But it’s fresh right now. It’s a little shocking for sure. Definitely was hoping to have a nice week after the NFC Championship to enjoy the lead up and then start contemplating some things. I haven't even let the moment really sink in yet.”
When it does, Rodgers will have essentially three options:
1) Tell the Packers that he wants to return to Green Bay for an 18th season, including 15th as the starting quarterback, so he, general manager Brian Gutekunst, vice president/salary-cap expert Russ Ball and team president/CEO Mark Murphy can start figuring out how to structure a long-term deal for the 38-year-old Rodgers, since the remaining year on his existing contract carries an untenable $46 million cap charge for 2022.
2) Inform the team that despite waxing nostalgic about all the great times he’s had in pro football’s tiniest outpost, that he’s ready for a new challenge and would like to be traded, even after the team seemingly did all it could to meet the demands and gripes he laid out during his memorable training-camp news conference.
3) Call it a career and retire, despite believing that he’s still at the top of his game and capable of playing into his 40s just like Tom Brady has done.
“I think this thing, it’s definitely going to look different moving forward in Green Bay,” Rodgers said. “There’s a lot of decisions, a lot of guys with opportunities, so it’ll be interesting to see what things look like moving forward. But I’m thankful for this time, this team. Super disappointed, bummed out, frustrated with how I played tonight, frustrated with how it ended, but still deeply grateful for this season and these guys.”
Asked if the way the season ended, with yet another loss short of a return trip to the Super Bowl, will affect his thinking, Rodgers replied, “Of course it does. But there's obviously a lot of decisions to be made. There's a lot of players whose futures are up in the air, so definitely will be interesting to see which way some of those decisions will go. But I'll have the conversations with Brian in the next week or so, and get a little bit more clarity. And (I’ll) think about my own future and how much longer I want to keep doing this.”
Rodgers was then asked whether his decision is a matter of how much longer he wants to play, or whether it’s about deciding to play in Green Bay or elsewhere. He obfuscated the question.
“I don't think it's fair to anybody or myself to really go down those paths at this point,” Rodgers replied. “It's disappointing, sad, and fresh. So I'll have conversations in the next week or so and start to contemplate after that.”
Rodgers isn’t the only one with an uncertain future. With the Packers an estimated $44.8 million over the projected 2022 salary cap, Gutekunst and the front office also must decide what to do with two-time first-team All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent and might incur the franchise tag; figure out who among the host of free agents (including wide receiver Allen Lazard and injured tight end Robert Tonyan) they can afford to retain; and determine which cost-cutting measures they can take, including releasing some high-priced veterans such as outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who wound up playing the first game and the last game of the third year of his four-year contract.
Rodgers called a question about whether it is still possible to win a Super Bowl in Green Bay given all those potential changes a “fair question” and said it is “definitely one I’ve thought about” as he’s considered his own future.
“There are a lot of decisions to be made and key players, a lot of guys who played tonight,” he said. “Obviously Davante is the best receiver in the league, and he’s a free agent, knowing they can obviously tag him. Allen Lazard, Robert Tonyan, so many guys’ contracts are up or on the brink or salary cap stuff, so lot of decisions to be made.
“I don’t want to be part of a rebuild if I’m going to keep playing, so a lot of decisions in the next couple months.”
The Packers, too, must decide whether they are ready to turn the kingdom over to 2020 first-round draft pick Jordan Love, whose selection was the catalyst for Rodgers’ potential exit strategy. Head coach Matt LaFleur, for one, made it clear he doesn’t want Rodgers to go anywhere.
“Certainly we want him back here. I think we’d be crazy not to want him back here,” LaFleur said. “He’s going to be the (back-to-back) MVP. This guy does so much for our football team, not only what you guys see on Sunday’s or every game day, but what he does in that locker room, how he leads. I know what he puts into this thing. And certainly, I’m extremely disappointed in that we couldn't get over the hump for not only him, but for everybody in that locker room.”
For his part, Rodgers said his relationship with Gutekunst has grown “a lot” since Rodgers’ offseason of discontent, and he praised the roster that Gutekunst and his staff put together as being Super Bowl-caliber.
“From the day I got back (to Green Bay in late July), I felt like there was earnest decisions on both sides to meet in the middle, to communicate,” Rodgers said. “I’m very thankful to be part of the conversations I was a part of, to feel like my opinion mattered, to feel an even deeper and more meaningful support from him and Russ and Mark. So that was definitely a special part of the season, to see that relationship grow.
“I think he put together a really nice team, a team that could have won the Super Bowl. And he deserves a lot of credit for some of the moves that he made. (I’m) disappointed we couldn’t put it together for him and the organization tonight, and disappointed it’s ending.”