The moment the Packers’ season ends, the questions and media scrutiny about Aaron Rodgers’ immediate future begin.
That moment could come Saturday night at about 10:30 p.m. Central Time, which is when the playoff game between the 49ers and Packers should end, and when the former Cal star will start fielding questions about his plans for 2022 season if Green Bay loses.
Green Bay is favored by 5.5 points, partly because the Packers look like the best team in the NFC and partly because the conditions at Lambeau Field, where temperatures might be near zero, favor the home team.
However, the 49ers had the Packers all but beaten in their regular-season matchup on Sept. 26, losing 30-28 when Rodgers directed a last-minute drive that resulted in Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal on the final play. The 49ers are playing better now than they were in September, and their key injured players – quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, linebacker Fred Warner and defensive end Nick Bosa -- are all likely to play Saturday.
Furthermore, Rodgers is 0-3 in his career in playoff game against the 49ers, the team he admired while growing up in Northern California and the team he expected to draft him in 2005, only to be passed over for Alex Smith, dropping Rodgers to the 24th pick and leading to this warning:
So the Packers’ season could end Saturday night, which will start the clock ticking on Rodgers’ decision on whether he wants to stay with the Packers for at least one more season, leave Green Bay and join another team or retire from pro football.
Rodgers said recently that he will make his choice known fairly quickly after the season ends, that it won't be a drawn-out process. That suggests he might have his mind made up already.
So let’s take a look at his three options.
"I wouldn't rule that out," Rodgers said on Dec. 29, according to NFL.com. "I think that I'm just enjoying this season for this season. I think that playing next year will definitely be in the thought process. One of the things, wanting to not be a bum on the way out and still be able to play, I think, is important to me."
Rodgers has certainly not been a bum this season. He turned 38 years old on Dec. 2, and he is favored to win a second straight MVP award and his fourth overall. Even his declining popularity, which resulted from his offseason trade requests and his in-season comments about not being vaccinated, might not derail his MVP chances.
Retirement is the least likely option.
2. LEAVE THE PACKERS FOR ANOTHER TEAM
Rodgers expressed his dissatisfaction with some of the people in positions of authority with the Packers and requested a trade during this past offseason. So it stands to reason he might want to be elsewhere in 2022 since he now seems to have the power to make that happen.
The way that could take place based on his restructured contract is complicated, but these two bottom-line sentences suffice:
From The Sporting News on Dec. 30m 2021:
He recently restructured his four-year, $134 million deal, giving himself an out in his contract after this season.
And from The Sporting News on Sept. 26, 2021:
Rodgers' contract is structured in a way that makes 2022 the critical year for him and the Packers. That's part of why Rodgers has been treating this year as a "Last Dance" of sorts.
The Dolphins, Steelers, Broncos, Browns, Washington, Raiders and Eagles seem to be the teams most likely interested in acquiring Rodgers after this season, probably in that order.
And if Rodgers’ dissatisfaction with Packers front office personnel has not changed from his offseason sentiment, he will try to go that route.
But this avenue seems to be getting less and less likely. Which brings us to . . . .
3. STAY WITH THE PACKERS
People who make a living following such things seem to think Rodgers is likely to stay with the Packers. The No. 1 hint is that Rodgers recently expressed satisfaction with the way Packers’ officials have heeded his requests.
That report from The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman came just three weeks ago, suggesting Rodgers feels more comfortable about his relationship with Gutekunst, team president Mark Murphy and Packers director of football operations Russ Ball than he did a few months ago.
The signing of Randall Cobb, after Rodgers had encouraged the Packers to sign him, was an example of the Packers’ brass listening to Rodgers, something he had claimed was lacking.
Furthermore, the Packers earned the No. 1 seed this season and seem equipped to be a Super Bowl contender next season as well. So Rodgers’ best chance of earning another Super Bowl ring in future years might come with the Packers rather than with the Dolphins, Steelers, Broncos or any of the other potential suitors.
Therefore, Rodgers’ most likely choice is simply to stay with the Packers. The Packers would have some say on that, but regardless of cap consequences, it seems unimaginable that they would get rid of Rodgers after what he has done the past two years and what he could provide in the next few years. Suffice to say, Green Bay fans would not be pleased if Rodgers heads elsewhere, which might alienate Gutekunst and company from the Packer faithful for years. That would not enhance their job stability.
Of course, this process won’t begin to unfold on Saturday if the Packers beat the 49ers. And it won’t begin next weekend if the Packers then win the NFC championship game. It might not begin until the Feb. 13 Super Bowl is finished and Rodgers addresses the media afterward whether the Packers win or lose that game.
His future plans will undoubtedly will come up. It might be the first question. Rodgers may address it before a question is asked.
Cover photo of Aaron Rodgers by Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports
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