Time for Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers to Move on from One Another

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 23, 2022

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers reacts after being sacked by San Francisco 49ers' Arik Armstead during the second half of an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Aaron Gash/Associated Press

Telltale signs always materialize before a divorce occurs. 

The Green Bay Packers' 13-10 loss Saturday to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field should be the final nail in the coffin for the organization's already previously deteriorating relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers is great. His play over the last two years has been exceptional as the likely back-to-back NFL MVP. Under the supervision of the head coach Matt LaFleur, the Packers have been ultra-successful, with 13 regular-season wins in each of his three seasons.

But the combination of team and quarterback hasn't been good enough. 

Ultimately, Green Bay has failed in the playoffs and fell short of the Super Bowl. The standard may have been lofty, but the Packers built those expectations with their performance only to disappoint when it mattered the most. 

Rodgers should look at this as the out he wanted this past offseason when he laid forth a litany of complaints—including the front office's handling of veteran free agents, his lack of involvement in roster decisions and the absence of a long-term commitment from the team.

A holdout ensued without any idea if he'd ever return to football, let alone the Packers. Prior to that point, The Athletic's Bob McGinn reported, "the quarterback won't return as long as Brian Gutekunst remains general manager of the team."

Eventually, the icy relationship thawed, and Rodgers returned. The Packers also reworked his current deal and provided him with some upfront money in the form of a new signing bonus.

It simultaneously gave the front office some protection by creating extra salary-cap space this season and ensuring the franchise retains some leverage in case of a trade during the upcoming offseason.

Ultimately, Rodgers buried whatever concerns he had and got back on the field to be one of the league's best quarterbacks once again. 

"I decided when I came back that I was going to be all in with the team and all in to see things move forward to a better place," Rodgers said during an appearance on The Adam Schein Podcast (h/t BOLA VIP's Martin O'Donnell).

"And that's what the conversations were about, you know, during the offseason, was about being a part of those conversations that impact my ability to do my job. And I, you know, from one of the first days, Brian [Gutekunst] and I sat it down and got on the same page, and it's been a really nice fall and winter.

"I appreciate his approach, how it's been, and it's been very meaningful to me. So I'm thankful for that relationship, where it's at this point, and that's made my life that much more enjoyable. So I gotta give Brian a lot of credit for meeting me in the middle."

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 22:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers gestures as he exits the field after losing the NFC Divisional Playoff game to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on January 22, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Despite the earlier issues, Rodgers thrived with a 37-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

As the future Hall of Famer regained a certain comfort level playing for the Packers, the organization dealt with the constant off-field drama that included Rodgers misleading the media about his vaccination status, his "COVID toe" (i.e., a fractured pinkie toe), his weekly rambling appearances on The Pat McAfee Show and, as of late, his public indignation about (ironically) the idea he's been censored

The fact of the matter is Rodgers, just like anyone else, can believe whatever he likes. At the same time, he can still be a headache for his team and the organization.

If his outstanding regular-season play doesn't translate to the field during the postseason—where the Packers lost two consecutive NFC Championship Games before bowing out in the Divisional Round this year—a clean break might be just as good for the Packers as Rodgers. 

Everything has been leading to this point anyhow. The Packers were preparing for life without Rodgers nearly two years ago when they drafted Jordan Love in the first round.

The expectation wasn't for the aging quarterback to reemerge as an MVP candidate, but he did. The front office couldn't rationalize moving on at that point. With everything that's happened within the last 12 months, the story is completely different now compared to then. 

Rodgers sees the writing on the wall. 

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 09: Jordan Love #10 of the Green Bay Packers looks on to pass against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on January 09, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Nic Antaya/Getty Images

"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," he told reporters after the contest. 

The idea of trading away an elite signal-caller may very well be anathema to many. However, Rodgers will turn 39 later this year, basically held the organization hostage prior to the start of the 2021 campaign and could very well become a bigger headache than he already proved himself to be in the last nine months. 

A team needs good quarterback play to amount to anything at the NFL level. But the Packers have featured outstanding quarterback play only to come up short over the last decade. 

Green Bay isn't exactly in the position to load up for another run next season, either. The team is already $38.4 million over the 2022 salary cap, per Spotrac. The Super Bowl window may be closed with or without Rodgers in the lineup. 

Before any financial moves are made, three significant pending free agents—wide receiver Davante Adams, tight end Robert Tonyan Jr. and linebacker De'Vondre Campbell—will be off the books once the new league year begins. As of now, the team doesn't have the flexibility to re-sign any of them.   

"I think this thing is definitely going to look different moving forward in Green Bay," Rodgers acknowledged. "There are a lot of decisions."

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 22:  Safety Talanoa Hufanga #29 of the San Francisco 49ers breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers during the 4th quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field on
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The 10-time Pro Bowl honoree already made his intentions quite clear with what he won't endure next fall. 

"I don't want to be part of a rebuild if I'm going to keep playing," Rodgers said

A rebuild may very well be in the Packers' best interests to reset the books and gain what draft capital they can in a Rodgers trade.

A post-June 1 move would save the organization $27.3 million of the quarterback's upcoming $46.8 million salary-cap charge. While Green Bay would still be forced to eat $19.2 million, a potential return of multiple early-round draft picks should assuage any concerns. 

From last April, the Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders and San Francisco 49ers served as Rodgers' preferred destinations, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio.

The 49ers are likely off the list after investing in Trey Lance with the third overall pick.

Meanwhile, the Broncos and Raiders both make a lot of sense. Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett already interviewed for the available Broncos head coaching gig. The Raiders have yet to court the Green Bay assistant, but that could change. 

Rodgers understands which direction everything is trending. He'll likely want to play elsewhere next fall.

The Packers should get the hint after falling short of expectations yet again. The transition after enjoying quarterback excellence dating back to Brett Favre's early days will be difficult, and Rodgers may find short-term success with another franchise. But their relationship together has run its course, and both need a break. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.