05/12/2022

Should Packers start figuring out life after Aaron Rodgers?

DETROIT — Aaron Rodgers looks lost. The Green Bay Packers look lost. But more than that, Rodgers looks like he has nearly given up.

Yes, injuries happened in the Packers’ fifth straight loss, this one by a 15-9 margin in Detroit. A lot of injuries happened, in fact. Wide receiver Romeo Doubs went down after the first play of the game. Then right guard Jon Runyan. And cornerback Eric Stokes. And wide receiver Christian Watson. Running back Aaron Jones. Linebacker Krys Barnes. Left tackle David Bakhtiari and outside linebacker Rashan Gary, too.

Couple that with the news that the Packers reportedly tried and failed to add more help on offense for Rodgers and you might not even blame him. He looks like he finally has had enough.

Packers offense frustrated in Detroit

The Lions picked off Aaron Rodgers three times, including twice in the red zone. The Packers made the game close but could not score on their final series and fell to the Lions 15-9.

There were a lot of questionable decisions on his part throughout the game against the Lions, who ranked dead-last in total defense coming into the game. Detroit was giving up an average of 154.9 rushing yards per game (third-most in the league) and 266.4 passing yards per game (sixth-most in the league). 

And yet, Green Bay couldn’t muster any offensive momentum.

“Had some s—-y throws for sure,” said Rodgers in his first words after the game.

The Packers tried early, going for it on fourth down on their first offensive series of the game. They didn’t convert, continuing their season-long fourth-down woes — they have the worst conversion rate in the NFL at 18.18%.

Even after that, Green Bay and Rodgers himself still tried to have some fun in an effort to “Marie Kondo” their season and “spark some joy” with a playcall in which Bakhtiari released into a route and was open in the end zone. Rodgers lobbed it up, perhaps too gingerly, and instead of Bakhtiari being the big-man catalyst for a team turnaround, the ball was intercepted by none other than rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.

“There were two options on the play, but I probably should’ve given him a chance,” said Rodgers of Bakhtiari. “I’ll definitely have to live with that throw for the rest of my life, with our friendship.”

It didn’t get better from there and Rodgers’ body language showed it. He seemed almost disinterested in making a play — like if it wasn’t readily available, he had no faith in any other options and was uninspired to make it happen. It culminated in the last play of the game, which ended up being a sort of microcosm of the day as a whole.

It was fourth down and 10, and the Packers were down six points with 42 seconds remaining in the game. They had the ball at the 17-yard line and Rodgers heaved the ball to the end zone — only no one was there to catch it. The leather landed lonely and with a thud in the blue end zone of the Ford Field turf without a receiver around. 

In a do-or-die situation, his receivers were not in the spot he thought they would be. Rodgers and his receivers were simply not on the same page yet again.

In the postgame press conference Rodgers was solemn, soft-spoken and dressed head-to-toe in black, topped off with a black beanie on his head. He looked down between questions. Shrugged when asked for answers. And when he was asked how he could still believe in Green Bay’s season with a 3-6 record and a full four games back in the division, Rodgers drew in a breath and paused for a long while.

“I’ve been counted out many times in my life, as have many of my teammates,” he finally said. “I hope we just dig deep and find a way. We will truly be underdogs for many games moving forward. Hopefully, we can embrace that. We have two games at home, we’ve got to go win those two games in a week, and then this thing looks a little different.”

He said the right words. But whether he believes them for the second straight week he has uttered them is the question. Whether the Packers believe in him to lead them to that comeback is an even bigger one.

If they don’t (and maybe even if they do), Green Bay needs to look at life after Rodgers, which could come sooner rather than later.

Releasing Rodgers isn’t realistic. His salary next season is fully guaranteed and according to Over the Cap, the Packers would incur more than $99 million in dead money. They could split that up over 2023 and 2024, but that doesn’t really dull the sting.

They could, however, trade him. Rodgers doesn’t have a no-trade clause and the Packers don’t have to exercise his option until right before next season. Again, according to Over the Cap, his cap charge would depend on when he was moved. If he were traded prior to June 1, Green Bay would be charged a $40,313,750 cap hit in 2023. But if he were traded post-June 1, it would decrease to $15,833,570 in 2023 and include a $24,480,000 charge in 2024, provided the Packers don’t exercise the option before then.

If they did exercise the option, the trade number goes all the way back up to about $100 million.

But it’s a bit of a catch-22 and Rodgers comes with a lot of monetary baggage. If the option on Rodgers’ contract is not exercised, in the event of a trade, he would cost his new team his current salary of $59,515,000. If they did exercise the option, his cap hit would be $15.79 million.

Then there’s the R-word. Retirement. Rodgers hasn’t been shy about the fact he pondered the move last offseason but ultimately decided to keep playing. If he retired after this season, he would forfeit his rights to his $59.465 million in guaranteed salary for next year, and the Packers would likely wait until after the June 1 deadline to place him on the retired list with a restructured contract to lessen his cap hit.

The way things are going, retirement might look more and more attractive to the 39-year-old MVP quarterback, even if he denied being miserable following losing “a game like that against that team” in Detroit on Sunday.

“Frustration and ‘miserability’ are two different emotions,” Rodgers said. “When I decided to come back, it was all-in. I don’t make decisions and then in hindsight, 20-20, have regrets about big decisions like that. So, I was all-in, and this is a lot of life lessons for sure this year. 

“But luckily, it’s not over. There are still a lot of games left. We’ll be counted out probably by many. We’ll see how we respond.”

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.


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