- Covered Packers for Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1997-2013
- Two-time Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The grass isn’t always greener in the NFL. Sometimes, however, it is softer.
Chances are no one has that on their list of things quarterback Aaron Rodgers might consider when he decides whether to return to the Green Bay Packers for an 18th season or try to win another Super Bowl in a different uniform — assuming he doesn’t retire.
Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Matt Hasselbeck discovered exactly that when the Seattle Seahawks decided they were done with him following the 2010 season.
“I never would’ve left Seattle,” Hasselbeck said recently. “I was 35 years old and pretty close to the end, but they decide not to bring me back. So I go down to Tennessee. It’s hot and humid, and my muscles never felt so good. My body never felt so good.
“We’re on grass every day — this perfectly soft grass — and we were never practicing in the indoor facility on that hard turf. It was the best I ever felt. Started all 16 games and statistically had probably the best year of my career. At 35, it was like: This is nice. I feel great.”
Rodgers’ decision-making process began in earnest this week — earlier than he expected.
“I did not think we’d be talking about this after this game,” Rodgers said after Saturday’s 13-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional round. “But I’m gonna take some time and have conversations with the folks around here, and then take some time away and make a decision obviously before free agency or anything kind of gets going on that front.”
The Packers insist this is Rodgers’ decision alone — that from team president Mark Murphy to general manager Brian Gutekunst to coach Matt LaFleur, they’re unified in their desire for Rodgers to return.
Rodgers, 38, isn’t the first quarterback to go through this, and if the likes of Brett Favre and Peyton Manning can finish their career elsewhere, then anyone can.
Five former NFL quarterbacks agreed to share their thoughts on what Rodgers might decide and the benefits of finishing his career in Green Bay or elsewhere.
Hasselbeck: ‘There is life after’
Hasselbeck played for four NFL teams during his 18-year career. A sixth-round pick of the Packers in 1998, he was traded to the Seahawks in 2001 and led them to Super Bowl XL. In 2011, he signed with the Tennessee Titans, with whom he started for two seasons. He finished his career as a backup with the Indianapolis Colts from 2013-15.
“I’d be surprised if Aaron is back in Green Bay. One reason would be to look at recent history. The guys that he looks up to — there’s probably not a lot of guys that he looks up to, but Peyton Manning and Tom Brady would be two of those guys — you could never have ever imagined Peyton Manning leaving Indianapolis or Tom Brady leaving New England. But it worked out awesome for both guys. There is life after.
“Tom Brady — never would’ve thought he’d leave New England — goes and wins a Super Bowl with (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). He’s happy as can be. He’s playing on grass in warm weather. His Instagram pictures are from a $2 million boat. Sunsets every night. It’s a breath of fresh air. You also get a level of respect that you’re not getting where you currently are. That definitely was Tom Brady’s situation.
“People are probably thinking about legacy and go win one somewhere else. I don’t think it’s that. Ultimately, people forget players are human. Aaron is getting older. He’s talking about starting a family. There’s things like that that come into it.”
Eli Manning: ‘It’s probably going to be worse’ somewhere else
Manning played his entire with the New York Giants — who traded for him on draft day in 2004 after the Chargers picked him No. 1 overall — and won two Super Bowls, beating Brady and the Patriots both times. However, in his final season, 2019, he was replaced by rookie Daniel Jones after two games. Rather than trying to play for another team — like his brother Peyton did with the Denver Broncos — he retired.
“It was important for me to finish my career with the Giants, and I would think it would be important for him as well, just because of the legacy that he has, the history of Green Bay, being there as long as he has been, winning a championship and winning MVPs. It’s not always greener on the other side. That’s what I had learned from talking to other people. You can go somewhere, and it’s not necessarily going to be better; it’s probably going to be worse.
“Peyton never wanted to leave [the Colts]. He was kind of forced out. He had the [neck] injury, they were going to draft Andrew Luck and he had to move. He wanted to keep playing, and it was a little different scenario.
“Usually what happens is the egos get involved. It’s either his ego or the GM’s, and for some reason that’s when there’s usually separation. When a quarterback’s been there a long time and leaves, it’s because the egos can’t get along with everybody.
“If Aaron leaves, it’s probably going to be his own call. It’s going to be his decision, saying ‘I want out of here.’ That’s what he basically said last year is he wanted to get out. I think it’s strange to want to leave someplace where you’ve been your whole life and to leave for the last two years or whatever it may be of your playing career. Obviously, Tom did it and he had success, but you want to make sure it’s the right spot. You can go somewhere and not be any good. I think with Tom, he had the chance to look around. And Peyton, they had free reign as free agents to decide, ‘This is the spot to go, this is a good team with a good defense and good receivers.’
“If it’s a trade, it’s a little bit different. A trade, you would not think would end real good for him. They’re not sending him to an NFC team, so that eliminates half the league.”
Dan Orlovsky: ‘Does he feel like it’s just run its course?’
A fifth-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2005, Orlovsky spent 12 years in the NFL, mostly as a backup. He now serves as an analyst for ESPN.
“It seems like he’s got the ultimate power. And right now, he’s the best quarterback in football. So I think you stay there, one, because you understand how good the coach is and how good the scheme is. Now, I want to 100% give Aaron his credit and his congratulations for his individual performance, but the scheme is fantastic as well. That’s part of the reason he’s playing at such a high level at his age. Two, the talent on the football team is pretty good, you’re not going to go to a bunch more teams that are significantly more talented. Three, in the NFC, how well do you feel like you stack up for a Super Bowl?
“But the interesting thing is, hearing him talk, it’s very interesting because he talks about the obsession with greatness and the expectation of greatness. But he doesn’t talk about the obsession with winning? I’m interested if there’s a difference to him. Is it win all at all costs or is it greatness at all costs? That’s why you stay.
“Why would you leave? Well, it’s three years in a row of kind of the same thing, not getting [to the Super Bowl]. Does he feel like it’s just run its course and there’s nothing left for him to accomplish there? Does he feel that with some of the guys financially they might not be able to bring back, are they going to be a lesser team? So I think you can stand on either side of the fence.
“Then it becomes, OK, where do you go? It’s such a small pool because if we’re looking at somewhat of a correlation to Brady, Tom walked into a place with a phenomenal defense and some really good talent and a very good offensive line.
“I just don’t know how many teams there are that we can sit here and say yes to. It would be ignorant [to trade him within the NFC]. It would be silly by Gutekunst, unless the offer is so significantly different. The pool of teams is going to be interesting because how many teams can he go to that you think it’s at least a lateral move. Brady upgraded in talent from New England. Where can he go that’s going to be at least a lateral move? I think you go maybe Cleveland and Denver. I can’t see Pittsburgh, I just can’t. Their offensive line and the talent is just so substandard in Pittsburgh right now.”
Rich Gannon: ‘Why would you want to leave?’
Gannon played 17 seasons with four different teams. He won the NFL MVP award at age 37 with his fourth team, the Oakland Raiders, in 2002. He became close to the Packers while he served as a color analyst on their preseason games, and he hosts a show on SiriusXM NFL radio.
“I’ll simply say this: The grass isn’t always greener. So you hope he’s getting good advice. I would say to myself, ‘Why would you want to leave?’ With that head coach and playcaller [LaFleur] and coordinator [Nathaniel Hackett], the numbers just keep going up. He threw 48 touchdowns and five picks last year and completed over 70% of his passes and was the MVP. Similar thing this year.
“So you say, ‘OK what’s the problem?’ Oh, you didn’t get some receiver or something else you wanted? It’s not all going to be perfect. You’re with the great organization, you’ve dominated the division, you’re competing for NFC championships. For his legacy to be cemented, it’s going to require another Super Bowl. I think he knows that, he’s well aware of that.
“I always say this: When you’re looking at organizations, what you’re looking for is great leadership and great continuity and consistency at every level of the organization: owner, GM, head coach, quarterback. I get the fact that the Packers don’t have an owner [there are stockholders and a committee, led by Murphy], but my point is this: Is there structure and is there discipline and accountability? Do we have a good offensive line, good backs, talented receivers? Are we getting better defensively? You have to say, ‘Where’s my best chance of winning?’ And then you say, ‘Why would you leave that place?’ You’ve got this young head coach who’s dynamic and has won more games in his first few seasons than anyone. Then you say, ‘OK go to Houston and let’s see how it works?’ I’m not suggesting he isn’t going to be a really good player if he goes somewhere, but why ruin a good thing?
“And here’s another thing, I’ve done this [when you go to a new team], there was so much turnover, so many new coaches, so many new players that I spent my time coaching the coaches. At some point, you’re like, ‘This is crazy.’ And then it doesn’t become fun anymore.
“It’s different if you’re a free agent like Tom Brady was. If something’s going to happen, Aaron Rodgers will pick up the phone and call Tom; I’m certain of that. Tom talked to people prior to entertaining conversations with [Bucs coach] Bruce Arians; he did a lot of research on what [Bucs offensive coordinator] Byron Leftwich and Arians are like. Bruce convinced him that we’re going to have a great defense with [defensive coordinator] Todd Bowles. Then they bring his buddy [Rob Gronkowski] along, and the fact that they had some really good receivers there and they were going to fix the offensive line, and he looks at the other side of the ball and sees they’ve got some really good players.
“I don’t think it hurt that it was in Tampa and the warm weather. I’ll bet if you sat him down and talked to him, he’d say there were probably 10 things that went into that decision. Even at that point, you go back to the first 12 games last year, you didn’t know how it was going to turn out. Then they got hot and the defense played lights out in December and January and the rest is history.”
Kurt Warner: ‘Let me show everybody’
One of the rare quarterbacks to reach Super Bowls with multiple teams, Warner did so with the Rams and Cardinals to help to cement his Hall of Fame status. The Rams released him in 2003 at age 32. After one season with the Giants, he spent five seasons with the Cardinals. He now serves as an NFL Network analyst.
“Certain guys — like the Peyton Mannings and the Tom Bradys — they’ve shown they’re great at one place and then go someplace else and have been great. There’s just something to that, having known a little of that myself, to be able to show that you can have great success and you can win in two places and you can help shape two organizations. I think it says something really special. There’s very few guys that can do that, that can transform two different organizations in that way.
“But by the same token, I would’ve rather been in one place for 20 years and left my mark and been able to say I was with one organization the whole time. I look at it like this: If he does go somewhere, here’s some things that maybe at the end of the day, he can say to himself, ‘This is what I’m looking forward to doing, and this is the opportunity that I have here to put myself in a category with some of these other guys that are known as the greatest to ever play the game.’ That’s how I would look at it big picture-wise if he were to go somewhere else.
“I didn’t get to write my own ticket. It wasn’t like 10 people were vying for my services. So I went to a place that had lost for 50 years. Everybody expects you to step in and go, ‘Oh it’s like ’99, go win a Super Bowl in your first year.’ So if Aaron was going to go somewhere, and the first year or two he wouldn’t have the same success, how would people see that?
“But if you do it and you have success like Tom Brady — not that Tom hadn’t sealed his legacy — but this just cements it. As a competitor, you go, ‘Man what an unbelievable challenge to go somewhere’ — and because you’re confident in yourself — you go, ‘Let me show everybody. I’m going to show them that Green Bay made a mistake or whatever they did, but more importantly I’m going to show them I can transcend anything around me.’ And that to me goes a long way in setting your legacy and how great you are because it is such a rare thing to do, and it’s such a rare thing to be one of those guys.”
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