Aaron Rodgers adopted a new shadow in Green Bay when the organization traded up in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft to select quarterback Jordan Love. When Rodgers broke his silence to the media, the 8-time Pro Bowl quarterback said he was surprised by the pick and admitted he might not finish his career with the Packers now as he originally intended.
“My sincere desire to start and finish with the same organization may not be a reality at this point ... I still have a strong, a real desire to play into my 40’s. I’m just not sure how that all works together at this point.” – Aaron Rodgers
Non-Jimmy G believers were already talking about Rodgers in red and gold not 10 minutes after the selection of Love was announced. There's a tangible connection between Rodgers and the Bay Area, and it will be prevalent now more than ever. And why not – the offensive potential is fascinating to explore.
Under the offensive mastery of Kyle Shanahan and armed with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, a new first-round WR in Brandon Aiyuk, and all the weapons in between, they’d be cooking with Uncle Rico back there. Not to mention, a nasty, hard-charging defense to give Rodgers plenty of opportunities to touch the football, and this would almost certainly seem like must-see TV and an incendiary offense.
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However, when people discuss Rodgers as an option for the 49ers, I don’t get the sense they’re projecting the most recent on-field version – nor are they capturing the full picture. It seems like they’re talking about San Francisco getting a do-over of the 2005 NFL Draft, which is not the case. This isn’t even mid-career Rodgers. This is the end-of-career, the-wheels-can-suddenly-fall-off-any-day-now version. That’s, unfortunately, what happens with all players at this stage.
It's what the Packers are evidently preparing for.
So, for those who think the grass is always greener when it comes to the quarterback situation, here’s some food for thought. Not a full-fledged argument against Rodgers, because, who knows, Khalil Mack and DeAndre Hopkins were actually traded, Tom Brady is a Buccaneer, anything can happen, right? But here is why I don't like this beyond the surface level of inserting a future Hall of Famer with San Francisco.
Not all 40-year-olds are created equal. Tom Brady is a rare bird – besides the ACL tear in 2008, he hasn’t gotten hurt much and has been lucky to avoid a lot of Sunday punishment Rodgers hasn’t. That equates to quarterback mileage. Rodgers is not likely to do what Brady's doing. And even when the situation in Green Bay was ideal, and he was in his prime, he wasn't winning like that.
He will be closer to the norm of QBs testing the game in their late 30s, early 40s.
Brett Favre’s volatility levels in the latter part of his career, with the Jets and the Vikings, were extremely high (see 2008-2010). The consistency and season-long endurance were shot. Peyton Manning eventually had a sharp descent in Denver. You can even switch positions and recall Jerry Rice's decline after his final 1K year in Oakland (40), before trying to hang on with both the Seahawks and Broncos.
At a certain point, you’re not firing on all cylinders. Any day, a legend can come in and just not have it. The timing of the last 10+ years doesn’t match up with the muscle memory that’s been established because physically, that player is diminishing. When the body doesn’t respond the way it used to, that’s how players know to hang it up.
Age and promise are on Garoppolo’s side, as he is eight years younger and hasn’t played poorly.
Rodgers will be 37 years old in December. Depending on how this goes, with COVID-19 and Love’s learning curve, Rodgers might not get out of Green Bay until he’s 38-39 years old. Then what’s his value? Where will he be physically at that juncture? Which brings me to my next point.
Rodgers has been through the wringer, making him an old 37, in my opinion. Here’s a year-to-year look at his injury history, courtesy of Forbes.
2007 – Rodgers suffered a hamstring injury in practice and was inactive for the final four weeks of the regular season.
2008 – Rodgers suffered a sprained right shoulder in Week 4 against Tampa Bay, but still started all 16 games.
2010 – Rodgers suffered a concussion against Detroit in Week 14 and was knocked out of the game. He also missed the following week when Green Bay played New England.
2013 – Rodgers broke his left collarbone and missed nearly eight full games. The Packers went 2-5-1 in that stretch.
2014 – Rodgers didn’t miss any games, but was limited late in the year by a calf injury.
2017 – Rodgers broke his right collarbone and missed nine games.
2018 – Rodgers suffered a tibial plateau fracture and a sprained MCL in his left knee in a Week 1 win over Chicago, but didn’t miss any time. He did suffer a concussion and was knocked out of a Week 17 game against Detroit.
What stands out besides the frequency of his injuries is: breaking both collarbones, multiple concussions, severe injuries to the bone and ligaments of his lower extremities, affecting his mobility (which is actually quite important to the QB position in Shanahan’s system). It's fair to question his durability, longevity, and ability to produce the same.
Jimmy Garoppolo, one of the NFL’s most polarizing winners, has been both the spark and glue for this San Francisco locker room. His arrival coincided with one of the most acute turnarounds the league has seen as of late, and their wins and losses still ebb and flow with his availability. He is beloved, from Kyle Shanahan to George Kittle and Richard Sherman, to team employees, and – apart from one throw in the Super Bowl – he plays his best in big moments, earning their total buy-in.
Over his career, Rodgers has been historically great – a quarterback living in the Matrix, if there ever was one. As a teammate, he has also developed an unfortunate reputation. Relationships with former offensive weapons, Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings, soured at some point, as both challenged his leadership publicly multiple times, while former DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila went as far as to call the quarterback “arrogant.”
A host of unnamed sources and former teammates also spoke to Bleacher Report’s Tyler Dunne in a 2019 exposé on the divorce between Rodgers and Mike McCarthy. The feature revealed the worst kept secret in Green Bay was that #12 disliked the head coach from the onset due to his role in the 2005 NFL Draft when, as the offensive coordinator for the 49ers, he was part of the decision to select Alex Smith first overall over hometown Rodgers.
This quickly spiraled into Rodgers reportedly not respecting McCarthy due to his “low football IQ.”
This was on display, at least once, in McCarthy's final year. Undermining a head coach in front of the whole world is a questionable leadership decision. It breaks team trust and it gives credence to the comments from former teammates about how his character, however intended, can be received. Who knows what really happened, but there was visible disrespect on the field, and a breakup takes two. This was also a relationship that brought to bear two MVP seasons and a Super Bowl championship for Rodgers.
It's just a totally different personality than Garoppolo, and all of this has to make you wary of the locker room chemistry, which is one of the best things the 49ers have going for them right now.
Moreover, would Kyle Shanahan want to work with him? How might the team react to a player with a different attitude – that kind of attitude in stressful moments – especially if they’re winning the same amount of games. This is already a 13-win conference champion team. How many more W's is Rodgers adding? Mind you, they play a team game in San Francisco, while it’s been the Rodgers show in Green Bay.
This chatter ramped up because of Garoppolo's miss to Emmanuel Sanders in the Super Bowl. Suddenly, every sports fan thinks that's the easiest throw in the world to make, and no QB prior to Garoppolo worth his weight has come up short. Most don't recall, but Brady underthrew a bomb to Randy Moss in the final seconds of the Super Bowl 42 loss. Rodgers had quite the bungle in his first playoff start, a lost fumble on a strip-sack resulting in a walk-off OT loss to Arizona in the 2009 Wild Card.
He shook it off, though, returning to the postseason the following year to win a Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl MVP. Rodgers has been to the postseason 10 times in his career, going 11-8 in 19 games, and bringing home one ring.
He, however, has not been back to the Super Bowl since winning it in the 2010-11 season; yes, 10 years ago. In that time, San Francisco's been through two complete rebuilds and made two Super Bowl appearances with two different coaches and quarterbacks, and Rodgers has gone 0-3 in the playoffs against those teams. He's even seen two first-round exits since he last went to the Super Bowl.
Truth be told, for all his greatness, Rodgers' M.O. is not one of a killer in the playoffs. The Packers have had a good OL play, they've always had weapons until late, as well as impact defenders like Clay Matthews, Mike Daniels, Charles Woodson, and Sam Shields, and so forth. Evidence out of Green Bay shows Rodgers' talent has not always been the counterbalance to whatever the team lacks elsewhere, and it doesn't turn up in the playoffs.
A Short-Term Bet
In the language of the 49ers, "fools gold" is what this is. And what would it all be for? A shot, maybe two at a Super Bowl, a game the 49ers were already in at the very early stages of this team's development with Jimmy Garoppolo – and nearly had in hand had it not been for the entire team unraveling and phenom QB Patrick Mahomes taking the game over as he had all season.
There are financial realities, too: Garoppolo is on a superb deal, and Rodgers would want to get paid more in addition to whatever San Francisco would have to give up in trade (he's getting top-3 QB money right now). So you lose some talent, as well as capital to replace that talent, which is a deep cut. They jeopardize their short- and long-term window; they jeopardize their unique chemistry and endanger team trust from player to player, player to coach, and player to front office; and it's not a guarantee they get that much better.
While I too think it would be cool to see Rodgers in another uniform, the San Francisco 49ers have their quarterback. Patience is a virtue, and it's my belief that Jimmy G simply needs more playoff experience, time removed from the ACL injury he suffered in '18, and time in the system with Shanahan, and that's all.
Media courtesy Paul Kitagaki Jr of the Sac Bee/USA Today Sports Images