NFL fans in San Francisco and Los Angeles are pleased the 49ers and Rams will meet in Sunday’s NFC championship game, but the presence of Jimmy Garoppolo and Matthew Stafford does not tickle the fancy of long-time NFL devotees like Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady would have.
Yes, I know, the former Cal star and the seven-time Super Bowl winner faced off in last season’s NFC title game, with Brady coming out on top.
But this would have been different. Rodgers and Brady are expected to finish first and second, respectively, in the MVP voting this season, which would be the fourth such honor for either of them. Only Peyton Manning, with five, has more.
More significant, however, is the fact that Rodgers, 38, and Brady, 44, are considering retirement.
Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow will carry the NFL through the next decade, but we may be saying farewell to the quarterbacks who, along with Manning, defined the quarterback position for the past decade.
It would be a particularly sad ending for Rodgers, who, with his loss to the Buccaneers last year and his mediocre showing in the upset loss to the 49ers this season, is gaining the reputation as an outstanding regular-season quarterback who can’t quite get it done in the postseason.
Rodgers led Green Bay to a Super Bowl title in the 2010 season, but Green Bay is just 7-9 in his 16 postseason games since then.
This season looked like an opportunity to change that narrative, and Rodgers may recognize that he will never have a better chance in the future. After Sunday’s game Rodgers was unsure of his future plans, but he said he definitely does not want to be part of a rebuilding effort.
A tear-down seems possible since the Packers are about $40 million over the salary cap and have a number of players, including wide receiver Davante Adams, whose contracts are expiring.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur said he spoke with Rodgers Monday morning, and he made his plea to keep Rodgers with his comments on Monday.
“There's no plan for a rebuild," LaFleur said, according to ESPN360. "You get this close, obviously win a lot of football games, and we know in order for there not to be that, he's got to be a part of this thing. I don't think that's anybody's intention [to rebuild].”
LaFleur addressed his interest in keeping Rodgers with the Packers five minutes into the video below, and 23 minutes into the video he said there would not be rebuild:
Rodgers’ restructured contract also gives him an avenue to leave the Packers and join another team, so the Packers are fighting two Rodgers options – retirement and departure -- although Rodgers' comments on the Pat McAfee Show Tuesday suggest free agency is not an option.
"Free agency, I don't think that is on the table," Rodgers said in the video below, talking about his future.
Whether that means playing with another team next year is no longer a possibility remains unclear, because there are other ways to get to another team outside of free agency.
Rodgers implied on Sunday that he would make a decision by the time free agency starts on March 16. But Tuesday, he said, "I would think even sooner than that."
Whether Adams re-signs with the Packers will have an impact, according to Rodgers.
However, any presumed animosity with the Packers front office apparently is no longer a factor.. Rodgers said he is "in a good place" with general manager Brian Gutekunst, and said the inevitable discussion with him about his decision "would be a simple conversation. There's not going to be any weird standoff or war of silence or anything. It won't be long, drawn out.
"One thing I will not do -- 100 percent would not do -- is retire and then come back a year later."
Age is the only factor for Brady, whose comments during his Monday podcast made it seem that retirement is a serious consideration.
When interrupted on the podcast by his 9-year-old daughter Vivian, Brady said this:
"That's my little angel. You know, get some time with her. We had waffles together this morning, which was really nice. And, you know what, I think as I've gotten older, I think the best part is, is football is extremely important in my life. And it means a lot to me. And I care a lot about what we're trying to accomplish as a team. And I care a lot about my teammates. And the biggest difference now that I'm older is I have kids now too, you know, and I care about them a lot as well.
"They've been my biggest supporters. My wife is my biggest supporter. It pains her to see me get hit out there. And she deserves what she needs from me as a husband and my kids deserve what they need from me as a dad. And I'm gonna spend some time with them and give them what they need, 'cause they've really been giving me what I need the last six months to do what I love to do. I said this a few years ago, it's what relationships are all about. It's not always what I want. It's what we want as a family. And I'm gonna spend a lot of time with them and figure out in the future what's next."
"You know, every year I just have to make sure that I have the ability to commit to what the team really needs. And that's really important to me. The team doesn’t deserve anything less than my best. And if I feel like I'm not committed to that, or I can't play at a championship level, then you gotta give someone else a chance to play. And, you know, we'll see.
Brady concluded by saying that if Sunday was his last game, he would be OK with it.
“I'll know when the time is right and there's no rush to make a decision,” he said. “So, you know, we'll just see."
Age obviously is an issue for both quarterbacks. Brady became the oldest player to win the MVP when he won it four years ago at 40. And Rodgers would be just two years younger if he wins it this time.
Yet Rodgers and Brady are both at the top of their games, as indicated by the anticipated MVP voting, and what would have made a Rodgers-Brady duel in the NFC title game particularly intriguing is that they are both polarizing figures.
As much as each is respected, both are reviled by certain factions. The admiration of Brady’s Super Bowl success is countered by his perceived ego and his willingness to do nearly anything to succeed. You may recall he was suspended for four games in 2016 for his part in Deflategate, which involved allegations that balls were tampered with before a game against the Colts during the 2014 season.
And as much as Rodgers is lauded for his outspoken honesty and cool demeanor on the field, his popularity took a big hit this year following his offseason request to be traded and his controversial in-season comments about vaccinations. One MVP voter said he would not cast his vote for Rodgers precisely because of those off-field elements.
The odds are that at least one, and possibly both, will be back next season, but wouldn’t it have been fun to see them go head-to-head again, possibly as a farewell performance.
Despite playing a combined 37 seasons of pro football, including a combined 31 postseason appearances, Rodgers and Brady have faced each other only three times as starting quarterbacks. Rodgers won the first time, in 2014, and Brady won the next two, the first in 2018 and the second last season in their only head-to-head duel in a playoff game.
Obviously they would love to do it again, and old-school NFL fans would love to see the old highly gifted war horses go at it, perhaps for the last time.
Instead the two Northern California natives – Brady grew up in San Mateo, Rodgers is from Chico -- will have to watch on Sunday as the team they grew up adoring, the 49ers, goes after a berth in the Super Bowl.
Cover photo of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady by Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports
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