Put yourself in Aaron Rodgers’ cleats for a few moments. What must he be thinking these days?
I don’t mean the second life of model girlfriends, celebrity golf tournaments, award show appearances, and the like – no matter how hard I try I can’t fit myself into those shoes. I’m talking about how Aaron must be feeling about his career and legacy over the past seven years and of his prospects going forward.
The pinnacles of Aaron’s success were the 2010 and 2011 seasons. In 2010 he realized the ultimate team goal and he had his most dominant personal performance in the 15-1 campaign in 2011.
Receivers Are on the Wane
Let’s start with receivers. In 2011, Aaron was armed with his J-men: Jordy, Jennings, Jermichael, and James Jones, along with Donald Driver. In 2012, he retained all those weapons and added a promising rookie, Randall Cobb.
But then things started to fray. The first to go was Greg Jennings – perhaps the most talented of Rodgers’ receivers. The shame of it was that Jennings was in his prime – and of course he scuttled his own career by seeking wealth rather than appreciating being a part of a legendary pass attack.
Donald Driver was slipping, but still productive in 2011, but he was an afterthought in 2012, his final season.
Next to go was Jermichael Finley – he injured his spinal column in week 7 of 2013, and the Packers have never found a steady tight end to replace him.
James Jones, that most underrated of Rodgers’ targets, was prematurely let go by the team after what was his best statistical season in 2013, even though he only played in 14 games. After a year in Oakland, the Packers tacitly acknowledged their mistake and brought him back for the 2015 season. It turned out to be the best year of his career: 50 catches, 890 yards, eight TDs, and a fine 17.3 yards per completion.
Had Jones not fortuitously become available, the Packers probably would have had a losing record in 2015. The thanks Jones got was being dumped again.
Since 2010 – going on eight years now – the only meaningful wide receiver reinforcements that Ted Thompson obtained for Aaron have been Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. We all know that Cobb’s early promise hasn’t been realized. He seldom gets either the separation or the yards after catch he once did. It takes a big leap of faith to think he’ll reignite his game after three years of mediocrity.
Davante has started all of his four years in the pros, providing two years of good production after two years of lousy production. I’d say he’s hit his ceiling, at right around being a 1,000-yard receiver. This is fine for a number two receiver, but he doesn’t have the tools to be the WR1 for a Super Bowl contender.
As to the tight end situation, we’re now in our third year of new players, increasingly hefty contracts, and no performances that have lived up to expectations.
The Coup d’état
Now we find out that Jordy Nelson has departed. Though Jordy didn’t want to leave, and though he clearly knew his current market value was below what he was earning, it appears the Packers made no effort to re-negotiate a reasonable deal with him.
Surely the Packers could have retained him at $7 million per year. However, it seems that the Packers needed more than $3 million in salary cap savings. They needed to eliminate all of Jordy’s salary to consummate the Jimmy Graham deal. Andrew has admirably pointed out the callousness of the decision. And Aaron Rodgers was said to feel sad about the event.
Sadness aside, you might recall that both the coaches and the pundits have endlessly recited to us that it takes two or three years for Aaron to come to trust a new receiver. If that’s true, Aaron must be wondering if his seasons of 4,000-plus yards are over.
After just one day of free agency, most of the potential replacements for Jordy were quickly snapped up: Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins, Paul Richardson, Donte Moncrief, Danny Amendola…
That leaves us with the draft. But as I’ve already explained, it’s a very poor year for wide receiver prospects. If the Packers draft a wide receiver next month, he’ll probably have little impact on the next season or two or three.
Maybe it’s time to switch Herb Waters and Ty Montgomery back to being receivers? Seriously, I think Ty switching back to receiver is almost inevitable, given the team’s receiver crisis.
Aaron On an Island
I’ve previously pointed out that Aaron hasn’t shown much joy in his work for a few years now. Nor does he have many people to share the joy with.
I remember when he and Tom Clements were thick as thieves. Clements was the Pack’s QB coach from 2006-11, then the offensive coordinator from 2012-14, and then he was given the phony title of assistant head coach for two more years. Mike McCarthy sealed his fate when he made him offensive playcaller, and then took that job back from him, later on in 2015.
Aaron was said to also be buddy-buddy with Alex Van Pelt, the QBs coach who replaced Clements for three years. Oh, but McCarthy just let him go too.
Jordy was of course a close friend of Aaron. That leaves Randall Cobb, who’s done a lot of offseason socializing with Aaron. We don’t even know at this point if Cobb will be on the roster when the 2018 season gets underway.
Aaron is becoming more isolated each year. He’s on his third bikini-babe pal in about five years. He’s essentially estranged from his parents and many of his relatives. As recently as a few years ago he spent the offseason training and exercising with his younger brother, but they’ve gone from inseparable to severed.
Near the end of Brett Favre’s time in Green Bay, when center Frank Winters left the team after 2002, Brett had no buddies left, and no one even in his age group. He used to rush away after home games and take refuge in his deer blind just to be alone and away from all the pressure. I’m seeing too many similarities between Brett’s and Aaron’s lonely-at-the-top lifestyles.
The conventional wisdom is that Aaron was just waiting for Kirk Cousins’ contract terms to become known, and then he’d have his own contract extended to the probable end of his career. The Cousins contract has happened and the numbers were as expected. Cousins will average $28M over the next three years, $500K more than Jimmy Garoppolo, $1M more than Matthew Stafford, and $3M more than what Drew Brees just got.
I continue to think it would be insane for Aaron to presently commit the rest of his career to this operation. This team is beset with turmoil and uncertainty. No one knows how the player, coaching, and front office changes will sort themselves out.
What’s the hurry? Aaron has until 2020 to watch and see if this is the organization he wants to hitch his star to for the rest of his football days.
And the biggest question of all: who is Aaron going to have to throw to?