Why the Green Bay Packers will regret staying married to Aaron Rodgers
Nostalgia is a powerful drug.
Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutenkunst is living proof of that.
It seems all Gutekunst has to do is close his eyes and he flashes back to Feb. 6, 2011 – the last time Aaron Rodgers was truly a playoff special. That night in Dallas, Rodgers threw three touchdowns against the NFL’s best defense and led the Packers to a 31-25 win over Pittsburgh in 45and Super Bowl.
Despite more than a decade of playoff failures since that game, Gutekunst and the Packers have opted to stay married to Rodgers this offseason. And if the last 11 years have shown us anything, it’s that Green Bay will come to regret that choice.
Rodgers has won four most valuable player awards since 2011. In the playoffs, however, he consistently turns into the league’s most disappointing player.
Rodgers and the Packers are just 7-9 in the playoffs since winning Super Bowl XLV. They have lost four times at home. And they’re 0-4 in the playoffs against San Francisco, the team that passed Rodgers as the No. 1 pick in 2005.
Rodgers was asked that night how disappointed he was that the 49ers chose to sign quarterback Alex Smith instead.
“Not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn’t draft me,” he said.
Green Bay, which has won 13 regular season games in each of the last three seasons, was in salary cap hell after blowing up again in the 2021 playoffs.
The Packers could have kept their impressive roster by trading Rodgers and earning about $20 million in salary cap relief. As Seattle proved last week by picking up two first-round picks, two seconds and three players for quarterback Russell Wilson, the loot for an elite quarterback is enormous.
Instead, Green Bay opted to bring the band back – even though that band will now be missing a guitarist and bassist.
On Monday, the Packers released outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith and versatile offensive lineman Billy Turner — a pair of moves that saved them about $19 million in salary cap. Green Bay also restructured outside linebacker Preston Smith’s contract in a deal that is expected to release between $8 million and $9 million cap.
Even with those moves — and the contract restructuring of David Bakhtiari, Aaron Jones and Kenny Clark last month — Green Bay remains about $18.3 million above the cap. That means more moves are on the way, as the Packers have until Wednesday to drop below the NFL’s 2022 salary cap of $208.2 million.
After Green Bay suffered a terrible 13-10 loss to San Francisco in the NFC Divisional Playoffs in January, it seemed like the perfect time for Gutekunst to rip off the Rodgers-era bandage and start over.
The 2021 Packers had arguably the best collection of talent around Rodgers since their 2010 Super Bowl championship team. What if Rodgers couldn’t do it by playing with an elite defense, two formidable running backs and the one of the top three receivers in the NFL, would he ever send Green Bay over the hump?
Gutekunst, who drafted Jordan Love in the first round in 2020 to be his quarterback of the future, however, lost his temper. And instead of giving Love a chance — or taking a bridge quarterback in a Rodgers trade — Gutekunst’s fear of the unknown was too great for him to move on.
Now Gutekunst will hitch his wagon to a quarterback who turns 39 next season and hasn’t made it in January in over a decade. For those who quickly forget, let’s recap:
2011 — Rodgers won his first MVP award, led the Packers to a 15-1 regular season, and set the NFL single-season record for quarterback rating (122.5). In Green Bay’s first playoff game, however, Rodgers had a 78.5 passer rating, was completely outplayed by Eli Manning, and the Packers suffered a devastating 37-20 home loss to the New York Giants.
2012-13 — Rodgers was dominated both years by San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, and the Packers were eliminated in consecutive seasons by the 49ers.
2014 – Rodgers threw two interceptions, a touchdown and a 55.8 passer rating in a 28-22 overtime loss to Seattle in the NFC title game. While Mike McCarthy’s coaching, special teams and a fading defense all played a part in the loss, Rodgers looked nothing like the MVP he won that season.
“It’s a missed opportunity that I will probably think about for the rest of my career,” Rodgers said afterwards.
2015 – Rodgers had a 77.9 passer rating and Green Bay lost to Arizona, 26-20, in overtime in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
2016 — Atlanta led, 24-0, at halftime in the NFC Championship Game as Rodgers had no touchdown passes, one interception and a 65.6 passer rating. The Falcons extended their lead to 31-0 in the third quarter before Rodgers upped his numbers in a 44-21 loss.
“Unfortunately, a game like this comes down to small details,” Rodgers said. “If you’re not sure and you make little mistakes like that, it’s going to be hard to win.”
2019 — Rodgers threw two interceptions and fumbled three times (one lost) in a 37-20 loss to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game.
Much like Atlanta in 2016, Rodgers struggled in the first half when he had two turnovers, a 52.4 passer rating and threw for just 65 yards. Unsurprisingly, the Packers dug themselves a 27-0 hole they never came close to escaping.
2020 — Tom Brady completely dominated Rodgers as soon as Tampa Bay took a 28-10 lead in the NFC Championship Game. Rodgers rallied Green Bay in the 31-23, then with the game on the line completely lost his temper.
On a third-and-a-go from the 8-yard line with just over 2 minutes left, Rodgers had a chance to run for a touchdown that would have taken the Packers to a two-point conversion. He declined, however, and instead threw incomplete in a double cover.
Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur threw a field goal on the next play and the Packers never got the ball back.
“I’m just pretty gutted,” Rodgers said afterwards.
2021 — For only the second time in 21 playoff games, Rodgers didn’t throw a touchdown pass. The Packers also managed just three runs in their last nine drives and were stunned by a San Francisco side led by Jimmy Garoppolo 13-10 in the divisional playoffs.
“I didn’t have a good night tonight,” Rodgers admitted afterwards.
Honestly, Rodgers hasn’t had many good postseason nights since that 45and Super Bowl when he threw three touchdowns. Subsequently, many predicted that Green Bay would be the next NFL dynasty. Instead, it’s been one heartbreak after another.
Still, it seems Gutekunst can’t get Super Bowl XLV out of his head, even though he’s seen his quarterback and his football team fail time and time again for more than a decade.
Turning the page takes courage, a quality currently lacking in Green Bay.
So in the next 24 hours, the Packers will make more cuts and pump more money down the road, which will lead to salary cap nightmares for years to come.
Then they’ll rewind the same tired movie they’ve shown their fans since 2011 – though now everyone knows the ending.