Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers offers plenty of possibilities about his future
GREEN BAY – He hasn’t forgotten the feeling of walking off Lambeau Field for what might have been his final time, the shock, the bitter disappointment, the pain of another promising season stopped short of the Super Bowl.
It was a hard loss for Aaron Rodgers to digest, that NFC divisional-round defeat to the San Francisco 49ers. The emotions were still raw 12 days later. After walking off the "NFL Honors" stage Thursday night, where Rodgers received a historic fourth MVP award, most of his comments focused on what comes next.
Rodgers said he must first remove himself from what just happened.
“I really think,” Rodgers said, “there was definitely something to how I felt walking off the field. That definitely comes into play initially, I think. Then just an overall body assessment of how I feel, body and head.”
The Green Bay Packers made their intentions clear days after their season ended two victories short of their first championship since 2010. Coach Matt LaFleur said he and everyone else within the Packers’ decision-making matrix wants the newly recrowned MVP to return in 2022.
Rodgers is still waiting to make his decision.
The quarterback said he had “great conversations” with Packers leadership before leaving town to start his offseason. He reiterated there will be no standoff this spring, his relationship with general manager Brian Gutekunst vastly improved from a year ago.
“I was obviously frustrated about some things in the offseason,” Rodgers said. “We had a ton of conversations, and I just felt like there was so much growth, and I’m so thankful for that. I’m thankful for the relationships really with Brian as much as anybody, because there were obviously some things that were voiced in the offseason privately between him and myself, and I’m just thankful for the response.
“There were a lot of things that were done to make me feel really special and important to the present, the past and the future of the franchise, and I’ve got to say that (director of football operations) Russ (Ball) and Brian especially had a big hand in that. And it didn’t go unnoticed.”
The improved relationship between MVP quarterback and general manager might be the most important hurdle cleared for a potential return. Rodgers had other reasons for another season with the Packers.
He mentioned coach Matt LaFleur’s offense, which he credited for preserving his body with fewer hits from pass rushers over the past three seasons. “Which as an older quarterback,” Rodgers said, “is a dream.” Rodgers referenced his “deep and meaningful” friendships with teammates, naming Randall Cobb and David Bakhtiari, Davante Adams, Marcedes Lewis, Preston Smith, Mason Crosby.
There are also drawbacks that could pull Rodgers away from the Packers.
Rodgers said he was pleased to see offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett hired as the Denver Broncos' head coach, as well as quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy’s new gig calling plays as the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator, and tight ends coach Justin Outten's relocation to be Hackett’s offensive coordinator in Denver. For the past three seasons, the Packers took a three-pronged approach to coaching quarterbacks, with LaFleur, Hackett and Getsy all taking a role with the position.
If he returns, Rodgers knows his coaching will feel very different.
“This business is about people,” Rodgers said, “and just thinking about who’s going to be in that room, who would be in that room if I were to come back, there’s some sadness definitely around that.”
Rodgers again broached the possibility of retirement, something he said was considered last offseason. It would be historically rare for Rodgers to retire after winning MVP, but not unprecedented.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin retired after winning MVP in 1960. Five years later, Jim Brown retired after winning MVP in 1965. Rodgers didn’t eliminate the possibility of becoming the first NFL MVP to retire in 57 years.
“I talked at length various times about being comfortable walking away and just not playing,” Rodgers said. “I don’t want to create more questions than I probably already have, but I don’t fear retirement. I don’t fear moving on. I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished, proud that I’ve accomplished it in Green Bay the last 17 years, and excited about the future, whatever that ends up being or looking like.
“Also highly competitive and still a bitter taste from that divisional game. So definitely a lot to weigh.”
Rodgers made clear he feels his body can still perform at a high level next season. It’s about whether he wants to commit to the rigors playing another year demand.
Then it’s about where the best situation to continue his career would be, if that’s what he chooses.
It’s a decision Rodgers said he expects to make quickly. He won’t string the Packers along this offseason, won’t tie up the many personnel decisions connected to whether he stays or leaves. If he retires or wears a different uniform in 2022, the Packers will enter a rebuild for the first time since 2008, Rodgers’ first season. If not, they’ll be all in for a championship.
The stakes hanging on Rodgers’ decision couldn’t be higher. With another MVP award secured, Rodgers knows there is much more anticipation for what he does next.
“I think you have to take some of the emotion out of it,” Rodgers said, “and then kind of lean into understanding what it takes to revamp and feeling like what’s the best place — the best decision — for me moving forward. Not really place, more just what does it take to commit to a season, if that’s what I want to do.”