GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers differed from his predecessor as the Green Bay Packers‘ quarterback in so many ways — from how he played to how he lived his life in the public eye.
It was by design.
He wasn’t a reckless gunslinger, the persona that defined Brett Favre, whose interceptions were as spectacular as his touchdowns.
Rodgers didn’t often let outsiders get to know him until much later in his career — and then usually only via his weekly appearances on “The Pat McAfee Show” — unlike Favre, who lived as an open book, sharing everything from his early-career addiction to painkillers to grieving his father’s unexpected death to his wife’s recovery from cancer.
Rodgers even conducted his news conferences differently. While Favre preferred the podium in the media auditorium and often shot from the lip, Rodgers liked to talk to reporters at his locker, where he gave well-thought-out answers.
The end, however, looks like it will be the same for both.
Favre left, and it appears Rodgers will leave, too — exiting Green Bay via trade to the New York Jets after either initially retiring (Favre) or publicly discussing retiring (Rodgers).
Rodgers left little doubt Wednesday during a nearly hourlong appearance on McAfee’s show that his days with the Packers are over and he’s ready to be traded to the Jets.
Rodgers said he went into his recent meditative darkness retreat “90 percent retired and 10 percent playing.” He thought at that point, he could come back to Green Bay and play if he wanted. But when he came out of the darkness, he felt something had changed.
While the Packers’ side of the story probably won’t be told until after a deal is done, Rodgers put his cards on the table during that lengthy interview.
“The Packers would like to move on,” Rodgers said. “They’ve let me know that in so many words. They’ve let other people know that in direct words. Because I still have that fire, and I want to play, and I would like to play in New York, it’s just a matter of getting that done at this point.”
For as much acrimony as Favre’s departure created, it should not be forgotten he actually wanted to return to the Packers after his brief retirement — only to be rebuffed and eventually traded. The vocal majority backed Favre and blamed then-general manager Ted Thompson and team president Mark Murphy.
Rodgers was more vague about whether he actually would have preferred to return to the Packers, but he can argue the Packers drove him to this by trading up to pick quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 draft, and he would have a case.
But Murphy made it apparent last week that the Packers were ready to move on regardless of what Rodgers wanted.
While Favre didn’t hide his displeasure with how things ended for him in Green Bay, Rodgers took a softer stance.
“I’ve got nothing but love in my heart for every Packer fan and everybody that works in the organization,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “My life is better because of my time in Green Bay. But we’ve just got to look at the reality. They want to move on. They don’t want me to come back, and that’s fine. They’re ready to move on with Jordan. That’s awesome.”
This end muddied Rodgers’ legacy, at least with the Packers. During Rodgers’ offseason hiatus in 2021, when he threatened to retire before ever playing for the Packers again, Murphy revealed that the late Thompson, who drafted Rodgers in 2005, once called the quarterback “a complicated fella.”
Now that Rodgers will play elsewhere, the same word — complicated — can be used to describe his legacy in Green Bay.
If he’s not the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time, he’s at least in the group photo. The fourth NFL MVP award he collected in 2021 means only Peyton Manning has won more (five).
But the MVP is a regular-season award.
The playoffs, at least since the Packers won Super Bowl XLV to end the 2010 season, tell a different story. Rodgers has a 7-9 record as a starter in the postseason since his lone championship. Those 16 straight postseason starts without reaching the Super Bowl represent the longest streak by any quarterback in NFL history. And that streak includes an 0-4 record in NFC title games since the victory over the Chicago Bears that sent the Packers to their only Super Bowl under Rodgers.
It might have been jarring to hear former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Rex Ryan’s assessment of Rodgers after the Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round as the NFC’s No. 1 seed in 2021.
“The guy’s legacy is the fact that he’s come up short,” Ryan said, adding that Rodgers is the “best thrower of the football I’ve seen.”
At least the Packers made the playoffs that season.
This past season, Rodgers couldn’t even get them there — losing at Lambeau Field to the Detroit Lions in a win-and-get-in game in the regular-season finale. It capped perhaps his worst season as a starter. He threw almost as many interceptions (12) as he did in the previous three seasons combined (13). After back-to-back MVP seasons, Rodgers threw for the fewest yards (3,695) in any season in which he played at least 15 games. He did not have a single 300-yard passing game. He had never before had a season with fewer than three games of 300-plus yards.
He did not miss a single start, although he played most of the season with a broken right thumb. He also dealt with rib and knee injuries. And his supporting cast was weaker after Green Bay traded receiver Davante Adams.
Whatever happens with the Jets, assuming a trade can be completed, Rodgers’ place in the Packers’ record books looks like this: He’s the franchise leader in touchdown passes (475), completion percentage (65.3) and passer rating (103.6) and ranks second behind only Favre in passing yards (59,055) and completions (5,001).
His 475 touchdown passes rank fifth in NFL history, and he has the best touchdown-to-interception ratio (475-105) in league history. He made 10 Pro Bowls and four times was selected as the first-team All-Pro quarterback (2011, 2014, 2020 and 2021 — all of his MVP seasons).
“I would say I’m debatably the best player in franchise history,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “I’m in the conversation for sure.”
Rodgers: ‘I went into the darkness 90% retiring’
Aaron Rodgers tells Pat McAfee he was heavily considering retiring from the NFL prior to going on his darkness retreat.
Only four times in NFL history has a quarterback thrown at least 35 touchdowns with five or fewer interceptions in a season: thrice by Rodgers and once by Tom Brady. Rodgers’ 9.4 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the past two seasons is the best in a two-season span in NFL history with a minimum of 1,000 attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Yet it’s not Rodgers’ fault he played in the same era as Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion who set an impossibly high bar. Drew Brees faced the same situation and won the same number of Super Bowls as did Rodgers, yet not as many seem to think Brees underachieved.
When Rodgers and Brees were set to square off during the 2020 season, ESPN used 2,278 words to try to explain how these two iconic quarterbacks had each won only a single Super Bowl. Three would have sufficed: “It’s really hard.”
“Is that the barometer?” former Packers general manager Ron Wolf said at the time. “Is that the only barometer of success in the National Football League, whether you won a Super Bowl, two Super Bowls or not? Does that make you a great player, whether you won a Super Bowl or not? If you’re a really good player, that should not matter.”
Of course, it was Wolf who more than a decade earlier offered this infamous line after the Packers failed to repeat as Super Bowl champs following the 1997 season: “We’re a one-year wonder, just a fart in the wind.”
Perhaps it’s because in 31 seasons with Rodgers or Brett Favre as the quarterback in Green Bay — a city that calls itself “Titletown” — Packers fans have seen two Super Bowl parades.
There has long been a notion the Packers didn’t do enough to support either quarterback, but there’s also plenty of evidence to suggest said quarterbacks did enough to block themselves from more success — Favre with his penchant for interceptions and Rodgers with performances like the one against the 49ers in 2021.
Even Manning — perhaps the only quarterback with more regular-season accomplishments than Rodgers — won a second Super Bowl, although he had to change teams to do it.
If Rodgers isn’t fully appreciated for his accomplishments now, then perhaps time will change that. It did with Favre, who was twice roundly booed at Lambeau Field when he returned in a Minnesota Vikings uniform following his one season with the Jets. Now, it’s as if Favre never played for another team, let alone a bitter rival.
Rodgers’ departure might not be as upsetting to the masses. There were calls for Love to replace Rodgers this past season when things soured.
It’s time now to find out if those cries were justified.
“Jordan’s going to be a great player,” Rodgers said. “He’s a f—ing great kid. He had a really good year this year, getting better on the look team. He’s got a bright future in front of him. They’ve got a good young team. I’ve got so many great friends on that team that I’m still going to be great friends with. But the fact of the matter is, you’ve got an aging face of the franchise for the last 15 years that it’s time to do right by.”
If Love can’t continue the franchise’s remarkable run of elite quarterback play and the Packers fade back into the obscurity they experienced in the 1970s and 1980s, then perhaps those who were angered by Rodgers’ departure will be even more upset.
If Love does what Rodgers did and proves himself as a worthy replacement to a legend, then perhaps it won’t matter what Rodgers does from now until retirement.