GREEN BAY, Wis. – On Nov. 1, 2022, Aaron Rodgers’ hopes of winning a second Super Bowl ring could have ended forever.
Maybe Rodgers will return to Green Bay for another season. Perhaps he will be traded to continue his championship run elsewhere. Or, maybe, that’s it. If so, if Rodgers is in the middle of the final year of his storied career, his pursuit of that coveted second NFL title could have ended in a whimper on a Tuesday.
The Green Bay Packers didn’t budge at the trade deadline. They didn’t make trades when they had powers, and they didn’t make trades this year even with a roster asking for help.
I understand General Manager Brian Gutekunst’s point of view. He thought he had built another championship-worthy powerhouse, this one with an elite defense good enough to make up for his Davante Adams trade. At some point, with Matt LaFleur helming the ship, Rodgers at the wheel, and three receivers added through the draft, the offense would take off.
None of this happened. The defense has been a huge disappointment and the offense may not be any better than it was when beaten in Week 1. Why throw money after bad? Could Chase Claypool have been the defibrillator needed to trigger the attack? Or was the green-and-gold patient too far away and the price of a second-round pick (and something else) too valuable for the inevitable rebuild to come?
Honestly, probably the latter.
That being said, it’s Aaron Frickin’ Rodgers. No, he has not played at his level this year. No, at 38 he may not be good enough to strap the team to his right arm and take it to one of those legendary tracks. But Allen Lazard, Claypool and, say, Romeo Doubs would have been a damn good starting point for the passing game. A competent passing offense and a really good running offense can be a winning formula in the playoffs.
Guys like Rodgers are once-in-a-generation players. That the Packers went from Brett Favre to Rodgers is incredibly unlikely. Would that second-round pick that would have gone to Pittsburgh in the Claypool trade be helpful in navigating the post-Rodgers path? Sure. But if you don’t have a quarterback, who cares?
If the Packers thought Jordan Love was the next big thing, they wouldn’t have left no stone unturned to bring Rodgers back in the first place. Had Gutekunst wanted to trade Rodgers this past offseason, he could have received at least a few first-round picks in trade and brought his hand-picked quarterback into the roster.
Instead, it was Rodgers or Bust.
But for only eight games.
When Rodgers talks to his locker after practice Wednesday, he’ll probably say all the right things. He will declare his belief in receivers, in the defense’s ability to turn the tables, in its ability to unleash hell on opponents.
He will also probably know, deep in his heart, that it will be very difficult to get this team into the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. He will give everything he has. It probably won’t be enough.
Imagine being Rodgers on Tuesday and following the news. At the trade deadline the past three years, the Packers were 7-1 in 2019, 5-2 in 2020 and 7-1 in 2021. This year, they’ve lost four in a row. Gutekunst stayed away each time. Meanwhile, Tuesday:
–The Minnesota Vikings, after consecutive losing seasons in which they finished a combined 12 games behind the Packers in NFC North, traded to the Detroit Lions for tight end TJ Hockenson.
–The Chicago Bears, who are in the early stages of their rebuild and haven’t finished ahead of the Packers in the division since Chester Arthur was president, gave up the second-round pick to get Claypool.
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– The Buffalo Bills, already Super Bowl favorites, have acquired all-around running back Nyheim Hines from the Indianapolis Colts.
–The Miami Dolphins, who are 5-3 after missing the playoffs the past five seasons, closed the blockbuster deal of the day by acquiring Denver Broncos passing pitcher Bradley Chubb.
–The day before the deadline, the Baltimore Ravens acquired star linebacker Roquan Smith from the Bears.
All these jobs. All these teams trying to improve. All these teams go there.
And the Packers? Nothing. As per usual. They haven’t been buyers since 2010, when they sent a conditional draft pick to Jacksonville for the safety of Anthony Smith days before the deadline. He played four games.
Ultimately, there will be plenty of reasons why Rodgers’ remarkable run in Green Bay could end in a Super Bowl championship. The special teams debacle last year against the 49ers. David Bakhtiari’s ACL and an empty Lambeau Field in 2020 against the Bucs. Horrible defensive performances, like against the 49ers in 2019. All-time slumps, like against the Seahawks in 2014. Some walkout plays from the quarterback, too. It’s all part of the stew.
The same goes for the lack of bold moves. For too long the Packers have tried to live with one foot planted in the current season and another foot in the future. Trade to draft a first-round quarterback, even with Rodgers leading the team to the NFC title game? Sure. Give up a future draft pick to get that missing piece by the deadline in 2019, 2020, or 2021? No. Give up a future choice to give life to the current team? No thanks.
Then-Packers general manager Ron Wolf signed Andre Rison and won the Super Bowl in 1996. The Rams signed Odell Beckham and won the Super Bowl in 2021. Sometimes you gotta go. Who cares about next year when a Super Bowl ring lasts forever?
Gutekunst did not go there on Tuesday. In the end, in this case, it was probably the right decision. But it was a decision emblematic of the franchise’s way of doing business. They’ve been really good to be really good. They were terrible at being tall. And now, if this will really be the last nine games in Green Bay for Rodgers, who knows when they’ll get another chance to grow.
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