When a Hall of Fame NFL quarterback unexpectedly invokes the future of his career, it’s a statement. And more often than not, it falls into one of two categories.
Either the player is contemplating a significant personal decision or he’s questioning the organization’s dedication to him.
Boiled down, that’s what leads elite quarterbacks to curl a question mark around the throat of their offseason. And Aaron Rodgers did exactly that on Sunday night, speaking in gray tones about what comes next for him and the Green Bay Packers.
Lest anyone say Sunday’s disappointment left Rodgers with a clouded view on his future, it’s worth noting that it was the second time in less than a week that he painted an opaque picture about what it might be. On Wednesday, he talked about things being “out of his control” and how his future was a “beautiful mystery” as he tried to live in the moment. Upon first reference, it sounded mostly harmless — like Rodgers had adopted a Zen philosophy about “the now,” following an offseason that seemed to showcase a franchise planning for a future without him.
After Sunday night, it sounded more like Rodgers was wading into the deep end of pragmatic realism. Like the future is coming for us all, no matter how good the now has been.
“A lot of guys’ futures, they’re uncertain — myself included,” Rodgers said after Sunday’s 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “That’s what’s sad about it, most. Getting this far, obviously there’s going to be an end to it at some point, whether we make it past this one or not. But just the uncertainty is tough and the finality of it all.”
Rodgers delivered a deep and deflated sigh in the middle of that answer, one that sounded very much like an emotional expression. Then he was asked how he moves forward from this moment and season.
“That’s a good question,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know. I really don’t. There’s a lot of unknowns going into this offseason now. And I’m just going to have to take some time away for sure and clear my head and just kind of see what’s going on with everything. But it’s pretty tough right now. Especially thinking about the guys that may or may not be here next year. There’s always change. That’s the only constant in this business.”
It’s hard to frame two lengthy answers as a pregnant pause in someone’s future, but that sure sounds like the moment we’re at with Rodgers. There are few statements as loaded as when an elite (and often frustrated) talent opens a week talking about things being “out of my control” and then breathlessly ends it by saying he’s going to have to “take some time away” and “clear his head” while “see[ing] what’s going on with everything.” Most especially when the latter remarks come after having seen his season of perfection end with Tom Brady walking off Lambeau Field with an NFC championship, despite clearly being the inferior quarterback in Sunday’s game.
Such a reality has to hit home for Rodgers — that he can ultimately be beaten by great opposing quarterbacks who can manage to make it to Super Bowls despite suffering through games where they are less than perfect. How could it not? Despite facing far less pressure than Rodgers, Brady threw three interceptions Sunday and looked very much capable of costing the Buccaneers the game at multiple junctures.
Now he’s going to bask in two weeks of glorification for his 10th Super Bowl berth, while some segment of Packers fans spend that same time questioning whether Rodgers should have tried to run for a late red zone touchdown rather than throwing it into tight coverage. The same Rodgers who had a hell of a game despite constant pass rush pressure, managing to complete nearly 69 percent of his passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns against only one turnover.
It was a great performance. Unfortunately it took place in a game that required Rodgers to be close to perfect. And so he lost. That sounds familiar if we’re looking at the expanse of his career in Green Bay.
You have to wonder how much Rodgers thinks about that, and what kind of mental toll that takes. Particularly when he plays an entire season at an MVP level — better than any other quarterback in the NFL — and still loses in the NFC title game for the fourth time in his career. And you also have to wonder how much he considers what Brady just accomplished late in his career, with a franchise that basically cooked up a Super Bowl season from thin air by getting a top-level quarterback and then making a series of moves to set the table around him.
It can’t be lost on Rodgers that Brady did this so late in his career. Nor can it be lost on Rodgers that Brady did it after leaving a New England Patriots organization that rarely listened to him when it came to the personnel around him, preferring instead to treat Brady like a cherished player on the field rather than a respected partner in the planning off it. That likely sounds familiar to Rodgers when it comes to his occasionally awkward relationship with the Packers’ personnel and coaching decisions.
The Buccaneers referred to this ideology as “going all-in” for Brady — which probably seems like an envious setup when you’re 37 years old and about to win your third league MVP, but can’t get past the “all-in” guy for another Super Bowl berth. And lest anyone forget it, Brady did this on a Buccaneers roster that has zero plans beyond him right now. There is no first-round draft pick waiting in the wings. There is no coveted backup waiting for his turn. It’s all Tom, all the time.
That’s a sweet gig if you can swing it, which is why you have to wonder if this is what Rodgers is talking about when he says he wants to take a breath and see what happens this offseason. Or when he speaks about not knowing what’s coming next. Maybe he’s looking at Brady and wondering what his future might look like if he went somewhere else. Or maybe he’s looking at the Packers and Jordan Love and lamenting that the team probably isn’t really “all-in” on the Rodgers window, when it’s spending valuable assets to prepare for his ultimate departure.
Whatever Rodgers is thinking, one thing is now for sure: Nothing is certain in Green Bay as the Packers head into a pivotal offseason. Well, almost nothing. At the very least, we can count on another offseason that raises the question about what can be done to get over the NFC title game hump, and whether Rodgers’ perfection continues to be the only apparent answer to that question.
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