The Green Bay Packers went 13-3 last season, won the NFC North and reached the NFC Championship Game for a second straight year. The Packers lost to Tampa Bay, though, 31-26, in the conference title game and the offseason has been packed with drama.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers insisted throughout the offseason he wanted out of Green Bay. Rodgers was back for the Packers’ first practice of the season last week, though, and insists he’s all-in moving forward.
We’re counting down the ‘30 Most Important Packers’ heading into the 2021 campaign. At No. 1 is Rodgers himself.
Dating back to my years at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Packer Plus and BobMcGinnFootball.com, this marks the 14th straight year Rodgers is No. 1 in this countdown.
The other players that have been revealed in the top-30 are listed at the bottom of the story.
QB Aaron Rodgers
Last season: Rodgers had one of his finest seasons as a Packer, on his way to winning his third straight MVP award.
Rodgers set single-season franchise records for passing TDs (48) and completion percentage (70.7%) in a season. He finished with a passer rating of 121.5, which was the second-best in league history behind his mark of 122.5 in 2011.
Rodgers led the NFL in TD/INT ratio (48/5) for the fifth time in his career, the most among passing qualifiers since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. His 9.60 TD/INT ratio was also the top mark in NFL history among QBs with 30-plus passing TDs in a season.
Rodgers had an NFL record 10 games with at least three touchdowns and no interceptions. He then joined Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre as the only players to win at least three MVP awards.
For the fourth time since 2014, though, Rodgers had a subpar performance in the NFC Championship Game and the Packers fell one game short of the Super Bowl.
Rodgers was outplayed by Tampa Bay’s Brady the first 2 ½ quarters as the Buccaneers raced to a 28-10 lead. When Brady melted down and threw three second half interceptions, Rodgers turned those into just one touchdown and two three-and-outs.
With the Packers trailing, 31-23, in the final minutes, Rodgers only had to outrun 34-year-old nose tackle Ndakukong Suh from the 8-yard line to pull his team within two points. Instead, Rodgers threw incomplete into double coverage for Davante Adams, the Packers settled for a field goal and eventually fell short of greatness once again.
Career to date: Rodgers will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever he hangs it up. He’s won three MVP awards, led the Packers to the 2010 Super Bowl championship, is third all-time in career passer rating (103.9) and is second all-time in touchdown-to-interception ratio (4.63-to-1).
But Rodgers, who turns 38 later this year, hasn’t played in a Super Bowl in more than a decade. The No. 1 reason for that is he’s been lousy in all five of his trips to the NFC Championship Game and has a 1-4 career record in those contests.
Rodgers had a passer rating of 55.4 when the Packers defeated Chicago in the 2010 NFC title game. He had a 55.8 passer rating in a loss to Seattle in the 2014 NFC Championship Game.
Then in 2016 vs. Atlanta and 2019 against San Francisco, Rodgers and the Packers’ were outscored collectively, 51-0, in the first half. In each of those games, Rodgers was dreadful early and piled up meaningless stats late.
In the Packers’ loss to Tampa Bay in January, many point to Matt LaFleur’s decision to kick a late field goal as what buried Green Bay. Instead, it was Rodgers’ decision to not outrun Suh to the endzone just one play earlier.
Many love to point at the defense or coaching as the reasons Rodgers has just one Super Bowl ring. But the quarterback himself bears the brunt of the blame.
Outlook: This will almost certainly be Rodgers’ final season in Green Bay.
After he threatened a holdout and retirement this offseason, Rodgers reported to camp last week. About the only concession management gave him was acquiring wideout/close friend Randall Cobb.
Rodgers reworked his contract Saturday, agreeing to turn $13.6 million of his $14.7 million salary into a signing bonus. That helped the Packers gain about $10 million of salary cap room in 2021.
Rodgers now carries a salary cap number of $46.1 million in 2022, a number the cap-strapped Packers can’t afford. That, along with general manager Brian Gutekunst’s desire to see 2020 first round draft pick Jordan Love on the field, means Rodgers will likely be traded after the 2021 campaign ends.
In 1998, Michael Jordan and the Bulls knew it was their final season together and won a third straight NBA title and sixth in eight years. Can Rodgers exit on a similar high?
“Yeah, I really don’t know. I think things in that direction haven’t really changed at all. I think I’m just going to focus on this year. There’s a lot of moving pieces besides myself, expiring contracts from a number of guys, so there’s going to be a lot of tough decisions at the end of the year. I’m just going to enjoy this year and then revisit that conversation at the end of the season.” — Rodgers on his future
“I think we’re just really focused on ’21 and trying to win a championship in ’21. The development of your young players getting better, that’s part of our process. That’s a very important part of our process. You have to be able to grow. Those guys have to grow for us to get better. That’s on those players to get better, and after this season, we’ll sit there and see where we’re at and make those decisions.” — Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst when asked about Rodgers’ future
“I have no doubts. I can say that he is the most competitive person I’ve ever been around. So there’s no doubt about it that he’s going to go out there and play to the highest of his ability.” — Packers coach Matt LaFleur on Rodgers being “all-in”