Even though Aaron Rodgers could retire next offseason, he probably won't
Despite Aaron Rodgers musing that his contract allows for him to retire as soon as next offseason, he will probably keep playing for the Packers longer.
Several months have passed since Aaron Rodgers signed the extension that ties the Green Bay Packers to him well into his 40s. Still, his future in the NFL has resurfaced as a discussion after the quarterback's comments on the matter last week. We tackle that topic and more in today's edition of The Leap.
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With all the usual caveats applied, how long do you expect Aaron Rodgers to continue his playing career?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: The question arises out of comments Rodgers made during the locker-room media availability last week.
"I understand how the deal is portrayed. To me, it feels like a one year, plus a two, plus a one," the quarterback said. "So there will be decisions after this year for sure."
The structure of the extension does reflect Rodgers' description. While the Packers guaranteed roughly two-thirds of the deal at signing, most of that money doesn't hit his bank account until future seasons. If he opted to retire after the 2022 season, he would forgo a significant portion of his contract.
Rodgers, of course, doesn't need the money. According to Over the Cap, he currently ranks No. 1 in NFL history in earnings from one's playing career in raw dollars (approximately $305.5 million, a figure which includes numbers from his latest deal). That doesn't mean the money won't influence his thinking as Rodgers has already taken steps toward his post-playing career, purchasing a minority share of the Milwaukee Bucks. Adding another $50-100 million in 2023 and '24 could materially matter if the reigning MVP wishes to expand his ownership portfolio down the line.
But the football considerations also favor more than one more season in Green Bay. The Packers have set themselves up for a run over the next two-plus years considering the skill and youth of their defense as well as expected development along the offensive line and receiving corps. If Rodgers maintains a high level of play into 2023, he would have a realistic shot at multiple Super Bowls.
The mental grind might force him to seriously consider retirement next offseason, but the draw of adding another ring (or two) would probably prove too enticing to turn down.
Peter Bukowski: The most likely outcome to me is two more seasons including 2022. When Rodgers expressed surprise during an interview with Pat McAfee that Davante Adams chose to leave even knowing Rodgers’ intentions, that signaled more than just the year-to-year we’re being sold right now.
Rodgers doesn’t want to commit because it keeps the front office’s feet to he proverbial fire with personnel movement, but he didn’t sign a new deal to come back and play one more year. I think it’s “two years and then we’ll see.”
What, if anything, did we learn from mandatory minicamp about the Packers' plans for the upcoming season?
JBH: In last Monday's edition of The Leap, I discussed the significance of Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt receiving work with the starters versus only spending time with the backups. Fast forward a week, and Walker ran next to De'Vondre Campbell as the top off-ball linebackers in the Packers' base defense.
While some might have simply assumed the coaching staff would throw the team's top draft pick with the starters, that hasn't always proven true. Campbell, who joined the Packers last offseason and had little competition for a starting job, still worked primarily with the backups until closer to training camp. Walker, meanwhile, managed to reach that milestone after a short period of time, a sign that he has already impressed the coaches.
Does that mean Walker will have a monstrous rookie campaign? Of course not. But if he can provide competent play, his speed and skill set should have a multiplying effect on the defense. Getting run with the starters now raises the chances of that scenario coming to fruition.
PB: The rookies are going to be called upon early. Quay Walker went from playing behind Krys Barnes in OTAs to starting next to De’Vondre Campbell in the nickel as Jason notes, which will be the Packers’ most used defense this season. Christian Watson got run with the No. 1 offense with Allen Lazard not at camp and Romeo Doubs has reportedly shown some flashes as well.
Devonte Wyatt joins a suddenly-deep defensive line room, but he’ll surely see plenty of opportunities to play and one of these offensive linemen may well be starting at right guard by the time the season opens. For as deep and talented as this roster was coming into the draft, they somehow left it with a slew of players who look to have a real chance to impact this team as rookies.
The Packers' defensive roster has been lauded this offseason as one of the most complete in the league. What are reasonable expectations for that side of the ball this season?
JBH: On paper, the Packers have no obvious weakness on defense and depth in most (though not all) of the premier positions. The secondary has one of the league's top safety tandems around a trio of talented and proven cornerbacks. The defensive front has added both proven veterans and high-ceiling rookies around Kenny Clark, and Rashan Gary and Preston Smith remain a potent one-two punch rushing off the edge. Those considerations, along with the unit entering Year 2 under defensive coordinator Joe Barry, have justifiably raised expectations in Green Bay.
But defensive performance fluctuates more year over year than its offensive counterpart, a fact made clear over the past decade in Green Bay. Even if key offseason signings like Campbell and Rasul Douglas maintain a high level of play, the unit might still regress in areas like takeaways. Just having the talent doesn't automatically equate to a dominant group.
Ultimately, the opposing offenses will affect how the Packers defense performs almost as much as the aforementioned talent. Though offseason schedule speculation presents any number of challenges, Green Bay doesn't face too many apparent offensive powerhouses during the regular season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should still pose a threat and the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams will almost certainly light up the scoreboard. However, the rest of the slate features talented but inconsistent offenses (the Dallas Cowboys in particular) and a bunch of units that, at least at this stage, look more average. That bodes well for the Packers.
While the Packers possess the raw material for the league's best defense, I don't think that represents a reasonable expectation, especially given the drop-off at edge rusher after Gary and Smith. However, Green Bay should finish inside the top 10 as measured by DVOA and quite possibly inside the top five, a threshold the team hasn't reached in over a decade.
PB: The Packers finished 22nd in DVOA last year, but that number belies their talent. Jaire Alexander tilts the field in meaningful ways for their cover group which now boasts the best three-man lineup in the league. They added depth at linebacker and defensive line, easily their thinnest positions on that side of the ball, and though the team lost Za’Darius Smith, they didn’t have him for most of last season either.
Take a look at a team like the Buffalo Bills who went from 12th in DVOA to 1st with a bullet simply by adding some rookie pass rushers (who were solid, but not earth-shattering), played extremely disciplined, and had very few holes. That’s very much the kind of model the Packers can follow. If they can go from 22nd to 11th, it would be their highest rankings since 2015.
This group has as much talent as any in the NFL, which means the actual No. 1 defense should realistically be possible. Defense is so volatile, we can’t expect that, but they have the talent for it. Given the talent level and investment on that side of the ball, we have to expect this to be a top-10ish group this season and they have a reasonable chance to be top-5.
JBH: I genuinely do not care who Aaron Rodgers is dating and I hope this latest wave of "coverage" disappears as quickly as it arrived. On this type of topic, I find that caring is creepy.
PB: Expect the return of the Pony Package in 2022. We got some glimpses of it at OTAs where the Packers offense spent a lot of time with two running backs on the field. It was a package they went to against the L.A. Rams in their playoff matchup two years ago, but mostly abandoned in 2022, playing 21 personnel just 2% of the time according to Sharp Football Stats.
Compare that to 14% in 2020 and 34% for a team like the 49ers. Even stranger, the Packers had the 4th-best success rate in the NFL last season playing two running backs, creating a successful play 59% of the time, well above league average (50%).
If Matt LaFleur wants his best five playmakers on the field the same way he wants his best five offensive linemen, then it’s hard to argue any of these receivers belong on the field over Aaron Jones or A.J. Dillon. That means well … cue Genuwine.