Super Bowl lessons and Aaron Rodgers forecasting
Super Bowl LVI is in the books, leaving the Packers and the rest of the NFL to fully shift focus to the offseason and the big decisions that lie ahead.
With Super Bowl LVI in the books, The Leap will shift from our in-season publishing schedule. We'll still have multiple posts each week with a heavy focus on the Green Bay Packers' major offseason narratives: the Aaron Rodgers decision and related roster moves, free agency, and the 2022 NFL Draft. Peter and I will also dive into some longer stories that the offseason better allows us to explore. As always, you can expect us to tackle the Packers from all angles, including those ignored by other outlets.
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What lesson should the Packers take from Super Bowl LVI and what lesson shouldn't they take from it?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: Don't overcommit to running the ball just for the sake of balance. The Los Angeles Rams spent a frustrating amount of time trying to force the offense through Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson Jr., and the rest of the backfield rotation. If not for the Cincinnati Bengals' considerable talent deficiency, that approach almost certainly would have cost Los Angeles the victory. The offense averaged less than 2 yards per rush and performed even worse when adjusted for situation.
In terms of bad lessons, the Packers (and the rest of the NFL) shouldn't devalue the No. 1 seed. While both the Rams and Bengals reached the Super Bowl as the No. 4 seeds in their respective conferences, the larger sample size shows that avoiding the wild-card round and getting an extra week of rest and preparation dramatically increases a team's chances of winning a title.
Peter Bukowski: All week, every player and coach I talked to on Radio Row, even skill players, talked about the importance of winning in the trenches. The Bengals pressured Stafford into some bad throws and three-and-outs. L.A’s pressure won them the game because Cincinnati couldn’t block them.
It wasn’t the run game; that’s an anachronism. But being able to pressure the passer and protect your own only amplifies in intensity in the postseason. The Packers have shown a willingness to allocate resources, even to the point of redundancy, because they understand this premise.
In terms of fool’s gold, the stars and scrubs roster-building from the Rams isn’t something worth replicating. They spent major resources on Jalen Ramsey, who got beat for big plays by Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. Odell Beckham Jr. was the flashy name, but the Rams came from behind to win without him on the field, throwing only to a single, incredible receiver (sound familiar?).
The Packers went “all-in” in a different way, a more sustainable way, and though this worked for the Rams, it’s not a model to which other teams ought to aspire.
Time to go on the record: How do you think the Packers should approach Aaron Rodgers this offseason?
JBH: While Rodgers could realistically garner multiple first-round picks and more in a trade and the past two seasons have ended poorly for the Packers, dealing the four-time Most Valuable Player would move the team further away from contention with no guarantee of a quick turnaround. At least so far, Jordan Love has not demonstrated the ability to take over the offense and, by most accounts, the upcoming draft class doesn't feature the typical level of quarterback talent despite what the Senior Bowl hype cycle suggests. All of which would leave Green Bay without a viable path to Super Bowl contention in the near future.
While Rodgers probably won't produce a third consecutive MVP season and the Packers' roster will take some hits to keep him, Davante Adams, and other key pieces, the path to the Super Bowl appears fairly uncluttered as the offseason begins. The NFC North features the still-rebuilding Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings will soon have to begin that process as well. The rest of the conference suddenly seems barren, with Tom Brady retiring, Russell Wilson potentially forcing a trade from the Seattle Seahawks, and Kyler Murray at odds with the Arizona Cardinals. The Rams could lose Aaron Donald if the retirement reports prove accurate. Green Bay could quite conceivably enter 2022 as the front-runner in the NFC.
If Rodgers wants to return, the Packers should let him. An extension with a low 2022 cap figure will go a long way to solving the team's cap situation, allowing the core to return for another season or more.
PB: Bringing back Rodgers makes sense in a vacuum, but there are two costs worth considering: the true cost of Rodgers’ return and the opportunity cost of not trading him this offseason. Those costs are related and if I were in the shoes of Packers decision-makers, I would be trying to get Rodgers to return. My goal, though, would be to make whatever new contract was arranged, to maintain maximum flexibility next offseason as well.
That’s because there’s still meaningful future value in play for Rodgers in a potential trade. If the Broncos want to mortgage the entire future of their team for QB1, then that’s a deal worth exploring. If they want to hand over the title and deed to the stadium for Davante Adams as well, even better.
What assets are the Packers missing out on if they keep Rodgers and what position would they put the team in with Jordan Love (or some other veteran) at quarterback?
In that vein, my goal would be to keep that option open as long as possible. If there’s a two-year deal to come, as Ian Rapaport has suggested, then structure the deal with voids such that the Packers can restructure next offseason, push money even further out after the cap has exploded, and potentially trade Rodgers next offseason if possible.
Two years of Rodgers with a real chance to win the Super Bowl presents more than adequate value to pursue as a reasonable course. But considering what kind of haul he could fetch, keeping that chit in their pocket makes sense for the Packers if they can keep it.
And how do you think the Packers will approach Rodgers this offseason?
JBH: It seems a fait accompli that the Packers will offer Rodgers a multiyear deal with void season tacked on for cap purposes in order to secure him for the foreseeable future. Along with restructuring some other deals and making some select cuts, the team can carve out the necessary space to use the franchise tag on Adams and attempt to retain other soon-to-be free agents such as De'Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas, and others.
Whether Rodgers accepts such a deal remains uncertain, though his MVP acceptance speech and post-award press conference suggest he leans toward returning to Green Bay or retiring over a trade. However, from the Packers' perspective, giving Rodgers a compelling path to finishing his career with the franchise makes the most sense.
PB: This is an easier question: he’s coming back on a short-term deal with voids to make the numbers work. There will be an extra void year just to restructure the deal in a year to push money into 2025 or even 2026. That makes room for guys like Davante Adams and De’Vondre Campbell to re-sign, keeping the core of this team intact.
I’ll also predict the Packers do not trade Jordan Love. If Rodgers is getting his money this way, it’s with the understanding he’s done when the contract is up. There’s theoretically no need to deal the former first-round pick out of spite or want for security. And given Rodgers’ relationship with Love, there does not appear to be bad blood there like there was with Rodgers and his predecessor.
Keeping Rodgers two more years still preserves the opportunity to keep Love on his fifth-year option, or even deal Rodgers in a year if this all goes sideways.
JBH: With a championship ring added to Matthew Stafford's résumé, prepare for an onslaught of Hall of Fame discourse in the coming days and weeks. In some corners, that discussion has already begun, with CBS Sports sending the opening salvo shortly after the conclusion of Super Bowl LVI.
The book on Stafford still has chapters left to write. He turned 34 a week ago and could conceivably play at a high level for another half decade. His volume stats already place him among the most productive passers in NFL history, though, given the pass-happy era in which he delivered them, one's mileage may vary with those numbers.
But if Stafford does make the Hall of Fame without adding some significant individual honors, he will represent an anomaly. For quarterbacks who began their careers after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only one received a gold jacket without making a first- or second-team All-Pro honors or winning a Most Valuable Player award. That exception, Troy Aikman, won three championships with the Dallas Cowboys, a profile that inflated his stature beyond what his individual contributions would normally allow. Perhaps Ben Roethlisberger and/or Eli Manning join Aikman as signal-callers without any of the aforementioned accolades, but each has multiple championships under their belts.
Currently, Stafford has one Pro Bowl nod, some largely empty passing statistics, and Sunday's Super Bowl win to form the crux of any Hall of Fame argument. Another ring or an All-Pro nod would significantly bridge the gap between him and the typical gold-jacket quarterback, and he has a fantastic opportunity to do both with the Los Angeles Rams in the coming seasons. However, at present, he still has considerable ground to cover.
And the voters should hold Stafford or any other signal-caller to that standard. The Hall of Fame shouldn't celebrate "very good" players, it should immortalize the best.
PB: Matt LaFleur has some catchup to do. Kyle Shanahan has been to the Super Bowl twice as the play-caller and once as a head coach. Sean McVay boasts a Super Bowl trophy and another trip in the big dance. Even Zac Taylor, clearly not in the class with the other three in the consensus opinion, won a conference title and got the chance to play for a Lombardi.
LaFleur didn’t win Coach of the Year despite being the pick for both Jason and me, and these playoff failures loom over him as they do with Rodgers. Aside from Shanahan, who will be shepherding in a new era with a young quarterback, perhaps no recently successful coach faces more pressure to win in 2022 than LaFleur precisely because his peers — not just as young head coaches, but from the same coaching tree — have already won in these big spots in ways he hasn’t.
It may take a stretch of winning with a guy like Love to truly get LaFleur the credit he deserves, but he can do himself a massive PR favor by getting over the hump with Rodgers as well.