Aaron's Answers: How long will Rodgers excel?

Aaron Nagler
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Throughout the offseason, I’ll be answering reader questions in a weekly mailbag here at PackersNews.com. If you’d like to submit a question in the future, just email me atanagler@gannett.com.

Another Friday, another chance to dive into the mailbag and see what’s on the minds of Packers fans. As always, lots of questions about free agency, the draft and Ted Thompson’s plan for both. We’re still stumbling around in the dark a bit as we wait to see what his plans are for his own free agents, but things should start to clarify themselves once the scouting combine starts at the end of the month.

On to your questions!

From Stacy Molloy:

Will Aaron Rodgers have to change the way he plays (and will Mike McCarthy change his offensive strategy) as he gets older and his legs aren't as "nimble"? I believe he will play for a long time, with this caveat. I hope he can morph into an effective pure pocket quarterback as he ages.

Aaron’s answer:

There’s no doubt in my mind that Rodgers will be able to adjust to diminishing athleticism as he gets older and some of his mobility starts to wane. We’ve actually already seen a bit of this the last few years with his calf and hamstring injuries forcing McCarthy to adjust the offensive gameplan to limit what was asked of Rodgers athletically.

One need look no further than the wild-card playoff game against the New York Giants to catch a glimpse of the future. After trying to escape the pocket several times early on in the game, and running into sacks, Rodgers was told by tackle David Bakhtiari to trust the line and stay in the pocket. We all know what happened after that.

Rodgers always has had an incredible “feel” in the pocket, an innate ability to sense pressure and maneuver around the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. As long as that remains intact, and there’s no reason to think it shouldn’t, Rodgers should be able to play at a high level for the rest of his career.

From Brent Schoonover

You’ve mentioned a few times that you think that with Julius Peppers contract being up, it’s time for the Packers to make themselves reinvest in that position though the draft. Do you see certain positions where you think it’s better for them focus more on upgrading through the draft and maybe others where it might be nice to get a stop-gap player like Peppers via free agency?  

I don’t follow the draft terribly close so I don’t know what positions are looking good for this year’s draft class and it’s a little early to know what positions may be a good place to try and go get a veteran.

Aaron’s answer:

Your last point is the most important one, Brent, at least as we sit here in late February waiting to see who gets cut, who gets a franchise tag and who end up re-signing with their teams.

The good news for the Packers is that this draft is particularly deep at the Packers' biggest positions of need (edge rusher, cornerback, running back and tight end). Of course, filling needs entirely through the draft is tricky business, especially when a team keeps taking tweener projects like the Packers seem to do with some regularity.

One would think Thompson indeed would have to dip his toes into the free-agency waters a little bit this offseason, though we’ve said this before and he has been content to sit in his deck chair while everyone else goes in for a swim.

While it’s still early and guys could still end up re-signing with their teams prior to free agency, a couple of corners the Packers might look at are Trumaine Johnson of the Los Angeles Rams or Dre Kirkpatrick of the Cincinnati Bengals. One really intriguing name to watch will be Aqib Talib, who could be cut by the Denver Broncos. Signing Talib wouldn’t cost Thompson a compensatory pick next year, and we know how much he values those. Also, and more importantly, Talib is the kind of physical cover corner the Packers' defense desperately needs.

Obviously, this is all guesswork at this point until we get a better sense of whom teams actually allow to hit the market and whom the Packers end up bringing back among their own free agents.

From Greg Mueller:

Can any of you guys provide evidence of Ted Thompson's role in our success?  The NFL is a league of haves and have-nots, namely in the QB position, and we are a have.  We have the best QB in the game.  Hence, we always have a shot to win each and every game.  Beyond the obvious credit he deserves for drafting Rodgers, can you provide any evidence that TT's construction of the team has contributed to our success?  Where has he been better than other GMs?  Maybe compare how his draft picks and FAs have turned out to other GMs?   To simply point to the Packers' overall success as proof that TT is a good GM discounts the value of an elite QB.

Not to be too flippant here, but you’re kidding, right?

Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the game, no doubt. He also is allowed to operate behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Guess who is responsible for putting that line together?

You know all those guys who have caught the passes Rodgers throws? Guys like Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams? Guess who drafted them?

Who brought in Charles Woodson? Who made the bold trade up to select Clay Matthews, a cornerstone of a championship defense? Who drafted Mike Daniels? Who signed Julius Peppers?

I could go on, but you get the idea.

I get that Packers fans are frustrated at not winning the Super Bowl every year, and I get that Thompson’s extreme aversion to bringing in free agents only adds to that frustration. But to completely dismiss everything Thompson has done to ensure the Packers are competitors each and every year as simply Rodgers falling into his lap (which you didn’t do, Greg, to your credit) is incredibly naive.

Yes, he has his faults, as does every GM in the league. And yes, he needs to start getting more out of his recent draft classes, especially if he’s going to depend on them so heavily. But let’s not pretend like he just drafted Aaron Rodgers and has been along for the ride ever since.

From William Whitlock:

Has anyone ever questioned that the secondary problems are coaching and not talent? It seems the longer a corner is in Green Bay, the worse they get.

Casey Hayward had an excellent rookie year.  Digressed each year after that.  Leaves Green Bay and flourishes. Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins were picked No. 1 and No. 2 and had good rookie years.  Year 2 opened with great optimism and with an extra year of coaching, they really regressed.

How many years have we heard how great Morgan Burnett was going to be? Same about Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. They have certainly not developed into the elite players they teased to be.

That's a great question William. I've had a few people ask me this since the season ended, so I'm glad to put this answer in one spot.

Tramon Williams and Sam Shields both were undrafted players who developed in Green Bay under the tutelage of Joe Whitt Jr.

Another undrafted player, LaDarius Gunter, entered training camp this summer expecting to be the fourth cornerback and ended the season checking Odell Beckham Jr, Dez Bryant and Julio Jones. While the results weren't always pretty, Gunter battled and played better than almost anyone thought he would, given the  circumstances. Some of that is due to coaching.

Hayward did indeed have an excellent year in San Diego. You know why? He finally stayed healthy. He didn't suddenly become a different corner. He utilized techniques he learned throughout his football career, including in Green Bay.

As for Randall and Rollins, there’s no question they did not look to have taken the expected step in their development one would have expected, even prior to the injury issues popping up. But both guys still are relatively new to the cornerback position within the span of their football lives. Don't forget that Randall was widely considered a safety prospect coming out of college. And Rollins was playing basketball as recently as three years ago. These guys were drafted for their athleticism, but both were incredibly raw cornerback prospects.

It’s also interesting that you leave out Micah Hyde here, if only because he’s pretty clearly the poster child for guys who have developed under this staff.

As for the safeties, Clinton-Dix in particular was limited by how much he was asked to make up for the issues at corner this year. It really robbed him of playmaking opportunities, but he played solid football. Yes, he had some glaring missteps as well that led to big plays, but his positive play far outweighed a few mistakes.

I’m also not sure what you’re expecting from Burnett who certainly started slow this past season, most likely due to the back injury that caused him to miss the entire preseason, but he finished the last month strong.

“Elite” players are rare and coveted for a reason. To my eyes, the Packers' personnel group hasn’t provided the secondary coaches with many over the years. Instead, they’ve been given lots of projects, some more raw than others.

What success the Packers have had in the secondary is mostly because of the coaching, not in spite of it.

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