Aaron Rodgers is really good at football. This much is indisputable. Nobody will argue that the two-time MVP isn't already one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, and it appears the 10-year veteran has plenty of gas left in the tank as he attempts to keep loading his resume.
But with the offseason in full swing and with Rodgers smack dab in the middle of his prime coming off an MVP campaign, we have a chance right now to take a deep look at the numbers the former first-round pick has put up over the first decade of his NFL career and make some projections regarding some of the records he's in line to make a run at.
First, based on recent precedents, let's get a feel for just how much time Rodgers might have left.
Projected Career Length
The 31-year-old Rodgers is 10 seasons into his NFL career but has only been an active starter for seven. Spending the first three years of his career holding a clipboard behind Brett Favre might have slightly restricted his ability to maximize cumulative stats over the course of his career, but the lack of wear and tear during that three-year stretch undoubtedly extended his shelf life.
Plus, his rate-based stats surely benefited from the fact he didn't experience NFL growing pains while on the job. Had he started earlier, his current career stats probably wouldn't be as strong as they are. Just ask Peyton Manning, who threw 28 interceptions as a rookie, or Troy Aikman, who posted a 55.7 passer rating in his first season.
Rodgers has still dealt with several injuries during his career, including a pesky calf that severely limited him down the stretch in 2014 and a broken collarbone that cost him nearly half of the 2013 campaign.
He's also the only active quarterback who has been sacked at least 50 times in two separate seasons. His career sack rate of 6.96 ranks below 22 active qualified quarterbacks, which is concerning considering Favre finished his career at 4.91 and Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and even Andrew Luck have sub-6.0 sack rates.
Point being, the guy takes a lot of hits. That's partially because he relies on his legs and isn't a typical pocket quarterback, but he's also one of the smartest players in the game. It's safe to figure he'll be capable of adapting to a more health-friendly style of play if/when that becomes necessary.
There's also little concern he'll pull a Barry Sanders and pack it in early by choice. He has said he'd like to play until he's 40.
In order to get a feel for Rodgers' shelf life, let's compare his career arc to other top-flight quarterbacks from this era.
The following quarterbacks either played until at least the age of 36 or are currently at least 36, retired within the last 20 years or are still active and (have) passed for at least 35,000 yards. (Vinny Testaverde wasn't included because he wasn't a consistent enough starter and would have only skewed the sample.)
|Modern-Day Quarterback Shelf Lives|
|Quarterback||First full season||Total seasons||Start of decline||Final full season|
|Pro Football Reference|
- The average age for a first relatively full season is 24, whereas Rodgers was 25.
- The average quarterback played about 15 full seasons, but that's if Manning, Brady and Brees were to retire today. Those guys each appear to have a couple of years left. If that happens, the number moves closer to 16.
- They also haven't typically reached even semi-obvious points of decline until around Season 14, and that's if we guess that Manning and Brees began to decline even slightly in 2014 (the numbers indicate that may have happened). And we'd be operating under the assumption that Brady will decline this season, but that's a complete TBD seeing that he's coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance.
- Finally, they've typically been able to start until around the age of 38.4. But Manning is now 39, Brady is almost 38 and Brees is 36.
With all of that in mind, it's probably safe to assume that—barring something catastrophic—Rodgers will continue to be on top of his game for another 7-9 seasons.
The Stats to Monitor
Before we get into specific statistics, let's consider the individual award that tops them all. Rodgers won his second MVP in 2014, his age 30 season. That means he needs only one more to join the three-MVP club, which currently contains only four men—Manning, Favre, Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas.
You'd think it'd be tough for him to match Manning's record of five, but accomplishing that feat could become slightly easier once Manning, Brady and Brees have retired. And it's important to note that when Manning was Rodgers' age, he had only two MVPs on his resume. The then-Indianapolis Colts quarterback didn't win his third award until he was 32.
|Most MVPs Before the Age of 32|
|Player||MVPs before 32||Final total|
|1. Jim Brown||3||3|
|1. Brett Favre||3||3|
|3. Aaron Rodgers||2||2*|
|3. Peyton Manning||2||5*|
|3. Johnny Unitas||2||3|
|3. Kurt Warner||2||2|
|NFL.com (* active)|
So you'd have to think that Rodgers is at least on pace to become just the second player ever to win four MVPs, with a decent shot at matching Manning with five. Unless, of course, Manning wins a sixth between now and the end of his career.
Passer Rating: 106.0
Rodgers isn't just the highest-rated qualified passer in NFL history, but no other quarterback is within eight points of his 106.0 rating. The gap that separates Rodgers from second-place Tony Romo is about the same as the gap that separates Romo from Matt Schaub, who ranks 13th all-time with a rating of 89.5.
Now, we can't really only compare Rodgers with his peers here because it's a different game. How else do you explain Romo being the second highest-rated passer in history and Schaub being 13th? It's safe to say that Joe Montana wouldn't have a 92.3 career rating in this era, and Rodgers wouldn't have a 106.0 rating in Montana's era.
Still, take a look at how Rodgers compares to guys who have been active during the same era:
|Highest-Rated Active Passers|
|1. Aaron Rodgers||106.0|
|2. Tony Romo||97.6|
|3. Peyton Manning||97.5|
|4. Tom Brady||95.9|
|5. Philip Rivers||95.7|
|6. Drew Brees||95.4|
|7. Ben Roethlisberger||93.9|
|Pro Football Reference|
Put it this way: If Rodgers were to start for seven more years and put up the exact numbers from his lowest-rated full season (93.8 in 2008) in all seven seasons, he'd still wind up with a career passer rating of 99.7, which right now would still be the highest rating of all time.
Touchdown-to-Interception Ratio: 3.96
But Rodgers' edge on the rest of the world in this category might be even more impressive than the one above.
For every interception Rodgers throws, he throws 3.96 touchdown passes. Next on the all-time list among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 pass attempts is Brady, at 2.74. The gap that separates Rodgers from Brady is about the same as the gap that separates Brady from Cam Newton, who ranks 26th all-time with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 1.52.
|All-Time Touchdown-to-Interception Ratio Leaders|
|1. Aaron Rodgers||226||57||3.96|
|2. Tom Brady||392||143||2.74|
|3. Peyton Manning||530||234||2.27|
|4. Tony Romo||242||110||2.20|
|5. Steve Young||232||107||2.17|
|6. Philip Rivers||252||122||2.07|
|7. Drew Brees||396||194||2.04|
|8. Andrew Luck||86||43||2.00|
|8. Donovan McNabb||234||117||2.00|
|10. Matt Ryan||181||91||1.99|
|Min. 1,500 pass attempts|
Assuming Brady and everyone else stand pat, Rodgers could afford to throw zero touchdown passes and 25 interceptions this season and would still be the all-time leader when it comes touchdown-to-interception ratio.
And if we were once again to take his numbers from his worst season on paper and prorate them for the next seven seasons, Rodgers would still finish his career with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2.85, which right now would still be the highest of all time.
Yards Per Attempt: 8.2
This one's tricky because yards-per-attempt totals were much higher before the modern era, when passing was less frequent and passes traveled farther. Nobody will touch Otto Graham's career mark of 9.0, and Sid Luckman still ranks second at 8.4.
Still, the only quarterback who has been active this century and is above the 8.0-yard mark is Rodgers, who ranks third all-time at 8.2. Here's how it looks in terms of quarterbacks from the modern era:
|Yards-Per-Attempt Leaders, Super Bowl Era|
|1. Aaron Rodgers||8.2|
|2. Steve Young||8.0|
|3. Kurt Warner||7.9|
|4. Tony Romo||7.9|
|5. Ben Roethlisberger||7.9|
|Pro Football Reference|
Passing Yards: 28,578
The above three stats were all rate-based, which bodes well if Rodgers decides not to let his career linger past its prime.
"I like to play a certain way, I like to move around, I like to keep plays alive with my feet, so I don't want to be a guy who is a real diminishing player at the end of my career," Rodgers told Dan Patrick last year (via the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Ryan Wood). "I'd rather walk out still knowing I can play."
If he refuses to become a washed-up shadow of his former self, Rodgers will have a better chance at keeping those rate-base stats high, further increasing his chances of retiring as the NFL's highest-rated passer.
But that, and the late start to his career as a regular NFL quarterback, could mean Rodgers will fall short of breaking any cumulative statistical records.
Right now, he's 43,260 yards back of Favre's career passing yardage record of 71,838. In other words, he's less than 40 percent of the way to that mark, and Rodgers himself has admitted his career is probably at least half complete, while our breakdown above indicates he's likely reaching the midway point.
What's more, Manning is likely to break Favre's mark in 2015. And when that happens, the target will continue to move until the Denver Broncos quarterback retires.
Beyond the age of 30, no quarterback has ever accumulated more than the 40,944 yards Favre picked up between the age of 31 and 41 (the year he retired). Conservatively assuming Manning passes for 3,000 yards in 2015 and doesn't play another snap, Rodgers would need to go for 44,113 yards between now and the end of his career.
During his first seven years as a starter, Rodgers has averaged 4,035 yards a season. He'd have to maintain that pace for about exactly 11 more years in order to break the yardage record, and that is again assuming Manning basically retires after a mild 2015 output.
It's extremely unlikely Rodgers touches Favre or Manning here.
Passing Touchdowns: 226
Same story as above, really. Manning holds the record at 530 and should continue to build on that for at least another season. Rodgers will almost definitely remain less than halfway to this record at the conclusion of this season, which doesn't bode well.
No quarterback has ever thrown more than the 273 touchdown passes Favre did beyond his 31st birthday, and Rodgers' current pace of 32 touchdown passes per season would require him to play another 10 years at his current pace in order to break Manning's record. And likely more than that because Manning is probably going to keep adding to his record in 2015 and beyond.
But that's OK, because cumulative stats are overrated anyway, especially those that are yardage-based.
Fair or Not, He Needs More Super Bowls
Even if Rodgers does stay healthy and maintain a pace within this range, there's a difference between being the greatest statistical quarterback ever and the greatest quarterback ever. And while it's not totally fair to judge individuals based on team accomplishments in a team sport, the reality is quarterbacks are judged based at least partially on how many championships they win.
"The instant thought is that we just came up short," said Rodgers recently when asked for his primary memory of an MVP 2014 season, per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "This business is about winning championships. Yeah, it's nice to look back and think about the efficiency and the season that we had on offense and the balance and the numbers but it'll always be a season we look back on and just know we came up short."
Lately, they've been coming up short a lot, and Rodgers appears to realize that'll hurt his legacy. Favre and Manning have just one championship each, and that has kept them from joining a club that includes multiple winners Brady, Montana and John Elway.
If Rodgers can't capture another championship or two between now and the end of his career, it might not matter how good his numbers look.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.