The prospect of former Cal standout Aaron Rodgers leaving the Packers for another team leads to two questions regarding the 2021 season:
---What will happen to the Packers without Rodgers?
---Would Rodgers turn his new team into a Super Bowl contender?
Let’s take the second question first.
Rodgers made Green Bay a title contender this past season despite what has been described as limited weapons on offense and a suspect defense. However, he did have one of the NFL’s best receivers (Davante Adams) at his disposal, and there were several standouts on that defense. And Rodgers had to produce the best season of his career to get the Packers within a game of the Super Bowl.
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume – and this admittedly is a tenuous assumption – that Rodgers will be nearly as effective in 2021 as he was in 2020, when he won his third NFL MVP award.
How much difference can he make for the team to which he is traded?
There are two noteworthy precedents: the Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Tom Brady.
In 2017, with Alex Smith as their quarterback, the Chiefs finished 10-6 in the regular season, first in the AFC Central. But they lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the Tennessee Titans.
Mahomes became the starter the next season, and the Chiefs immediately became a Super Bowl threat. They went 12-4 in the 2018 regular season, won one playoff game before losing to the Patriots and Brady in overtime. They won the Super Bowl the next year and got to the Super Bowl again last season, falling short when Mahomes was limited by a foot injury.
Mahomes turned a decent team into a powerhouse.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers had their third straight losing season in 2019, going 7-9 with Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, as their quarterback.
A year later, with Brady at the helm, the Bucs won the Super Bowl. It’s true the Bucs made a number of upgrades at several positions, but the addition of Brady was the key factor.
If we put Rodgers in the same category as Mahomes and Brady – and we should – it stands to reason he can turn a mediocre team into a playoff team, perhaps even a Super Bowl contender.
If Rodgers goes to, say, the Broncos, who went 5-11 with poor quarterback play in 2020, he could make Denver a playoff team. He might make a Super Bowl team out of the Bears (8-8 despite shaky quarterback play), although Green Bay is unlikely to move Rodgers to a team within their conference. Even teams like the Patriots (7-9 with Cam Newton), Minnesota Vikings (7-9 with overrated Kirk Cousins), Giants (6-10 under rookie Daniel Jones) and the 49ers (6-10 with Jimmy Garoppolo and his understudies after he got hurt) could become Super Bowl teams with Rodgers in charge.
He could keep the Saints among the title contenders despite the loss of Drew Brees.
So, yes, the 37-year-old Rodgers can make almost any NFL team a playoff team and perhaps a title contender in 2021, although he could probably do it for only two or three more years.
Let’s turn to the second question: What will happen to the Packers in 2021 if Rodgers is not around.
The first thing to know is that Jordan Love, the Packers’ first-round draft pick in 2020, is not the answer for 2021.
He was the Packers’ third-string quarterback last year, behind some guy named Tim Boyle. Boyle has played in 11 NFL games, started none, and attempted four passes in his NFL career, none in 2020. The Packers thought so much of Boyle that they let him go in March and he signed a one-year deal with the Lions.
Love was on the inactive list for every game of the 2020 season.
Granted, the restriction caused by the pandemic made it difficult for Love to progress as a rookie, but Justin Herbert seemed to do OK with the Chargers.
Love is currently the only other quarterback on the Packers’ roster besides Rodgers, and unless Love makes huge improvement in preseason workouts, he won’t be ready to be an NFL quarterback in 2021.
Charles Robinson, an NFL columnist for Yahoo, made this point:
“If Rodgers stays away for the next few months, Love will become the focal point of this franchise on the field. And what he does with that opportunity may end up resolving the whole mess either by showing the Packers they have a second-year quarterback who is worth betting on right now, or by showing that Rodgers’ stance has been right all along — and that he should have always been cemented as the team’s starting quarterback well beyond 2021.”
The Packers know they may need to make alternative plans. General manager Brian Gutekuntz told ESPN that Green Bay is likely to add a third quarterback to the roster and possibly a fourth, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday the Packers are exploring options to add a veteran quarterback.
But who could the Packers get? The teams with the top quarterbacks won’t let them go in a trade. The one quarterback who could keep the Packers’ train rolling along is Houston’s DeShaun Watson, who has demanded a trade. But he carries some off-the-field baggage at the moment, so the Packers would have to swallow hard even if they could finagle a trade for Watson.
Otherwise, the Packers may try to obtain a proficient quarterback who has been an NFL starter but has since slipped to a backup role, players like Joe Flacco, Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert or Jacoby Brissett.
If not them, the Packers are left with a number of unappetizing veteran free agents, some of whom are listed here (with their recent performances in parentheses):
Robert Griffin III (0-1 as a starter for the Ravens in 2020)
Nick Mullens (2-6 as a 49ers starter in 2020)
Blake Bortles (0 starts in 2020, 3-9 as Jaguars starter in 2019)
Matt Moore (0 starts in 2020, 1-1 as a starter for Kansas City in 2019)
Matt Barkley (0 starts since 2018, 2-5 career record as a starter)
Brian Hoyer (0-1 as a starter for the Patriots in 2020)
Brett Hundley (no game appearances since 2019, 3-6 as a Packers starter in 2017)
The bottom line is that if the Packers lose Rodgers they seem destined for a losing season in 2021, a major slide for a team that would be thinking Super Bowl with Rodgers aboard.
Cover photo of Aaron Rodgers by Benny Sieu, USA TODAY Sports
Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53
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