Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers, and the Divorce That Needed to Happen
As the quarterback heads to New York, he starts fresh but also can’t escape the links of the past
This week the trade that we all knew was coming finally happened. The Green Bay Packers traded their franchise quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, to the New York Jets for a small collection of draft picks. The Packers now get to hit the reset button with their first-round pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, Jordan Love. They are now entering a world of the unknown, hoping that Love can fill the shoes of the two legends that preceded him: Rodgers and Brett Favre. As for Rodgers, he gets the divorce he’s been seeking for a while. As Rodgers aims for short-term glory and validation, the Packers are playing the long game. It is hard to look at the end of this marriage as anything other than disappointing, however.
Two Faces, Thirty-One Years
It is often remarked that the lack of coach turnover for the Pittsburgh Steelers is something to be admired. In the Super Bowl era, the Steelers have had three head coaches: Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin. When it comes to quarterback play, the Packers have had a similar string of consistency. Since 1992, the Packers have had two quarterbacks: Favre and Rodgers. Both of these players are widely considered to be in the top 10 of players at the position, of all-time.
In that time, the Packers have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success. Since 1992, the team is second in regular season wins behind only the New England Patriots. In those 31 years, the Packers have only had five losing seasons and won their division 15 times. In terms of regular-season play, they have simply been dominant. And yet, in that time all that regular season success has not translated into Super Bowl wins in the way you would expect.
In those 31 years, the Packers have been to three Super Bowls and won two of them. For reference, other teams that have had three appearances as well are the Seahawks (all during the Russell Wilson era), the Cowboys (all during the Troy Aikman era), and the Chiefs (all during the Patrick Mahomes era). The Packers had three decades of Hall-of-Fame level quarterback play, the sport’s most important position, and do not have a ton to show for it. The New York Giants in that time have only been to the playoffs 11 times (versus the Packers 22) and have the same amount of Super Bowl wins (2).
The Packers are one of the NFL’s legacy franchises and have been a model of consistency. But, for a franchise that expects championships, it is hard to say that the combined tenure of Favre and Rodgers isn’t disappointing on a grand scale. And for how much it has been painted that the two QBs are different from one another, they have oddly traveled similar paths. Both had to sit before getting their chance, both were excellent in Green Bay from an individual accolades perspective and now both have been acquired by the New York Jets. A team that is the antithesis of Green Bay, and a team that Aaron Rodgers is taking as his next challenge.
Twice a Jet
The Packers have had a lot of success, the same cannot be said for the Jets. Using the same time frame as when Favre joined the Packers, the Packers have missed the playoffs nine times. In that same period, the Jets have made the playoffs only seven times. The Jets play in a division where they are decidedly the worst team historically. In that division, the New England Patriots had a twenty-year dynasty, the Miami Dolphins had the league’s only perfect season, and the Buffalo Bills made four consecutive Super Bowls. The Jets, on the other hand, are 126 games below 500 and last made a Super Bowl in 1968 under the guidance of Joe Namath.
And despite this history of futility, it was reported that Rodgers wanted to be a Jet. Just as Favre wanted to be a Jet. But what is the reason? Is it the idea of reclaiming what is perceived to be a lost franchise? There is some credence to that as Tom Brady proved in his Tampa Bay signing. Could it be to prove to the Packers that he was the engine this whole time and that their history truly means nothing? Or could it even be the spotlight that comes with playing for a team in the country’s largest media market as opposed to its smallest?
I think all of these things could be true. Objectively, in a vacuum, the Jets have an appealing roster. They have dynamic young receiving talent in Garrett Wilson and Corey Davis, a good defense with one of the best young cornerbacks in the league in Sauce Gardner, and a younger coach that should be able to relate to him but also give him more free rein on offense. But beyond all of that, in the Jets, Rodgers now has a clean slate to operate in and show people how great of a player he is. Brett Favre attempted the same with the Jets in his tenure and threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns. Rodgers is hoping to avoid that fate.
And yet it seems that as much as he looks to be out of Brett’s shadow, the specter still looms large. Both have become polarizing figures that left Green Bay for the big lights of New York City. Rodgers enters the AFC in a position where it has never been more stacked with quarterback play. He has a hard road ahead of him as a Jet, but this is the opportunity that he has been waiting for. A chance to walk away from the reporting about his prickliness, his political leanings, and his general relationship with the media.
We’re Not in Wisconsin Anymore
So what will happen with the Jets under Rodgers? Based on their performance last year with the likes of Zach Wilson and Mike White under center, you would imagine that the expectations should be elevated. The Jets finished last season 7–10, and out of the playoff race. They have now added a quarterback that despite a losing season seems to still have most of his ability intact. The division is a tough one with Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills with championship aspirations, and the Miami Dolphins coming off of a dynamic season with their offensive weapons. But the Jets feel that Rodgers could be the missing piece.
Elsewhere around the AFC, there are talented quarterbacks everywhere you look. Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, the emerging Trevor Lawerence, Josh Allen, and of course Patrick Mahomes. It will not be easy to accomplish, but if nothing else this now presents an opportunity to dispel a lot of the narratives from his time in Green Bay. Because of how dominant the Packers were in a division where the Lions and Bears were mostly helpless and the Vikings were up and down, playing for the Jets presents a chance to show the world that he is indeed one of the greatest players to ever play the position.
From the perspective of Jets fans, they have to feel like they struck gold. This is a franchise and a fan base that has been devoid of talent at the quarterback position for many years. Rodgers instantly becomes the best player at the position that they have had since Joe Namath. And for that reason, they should be excited. However, retirement and commitment are issues that have come up frequently with Rodgers in Green Bay. If he can deliver the team a Super Bowl then it will all be worth it. But if he does not, then it will be filed in the disappointment pile alongside the Brett Favre experiment. As always, Rodgers and Favre will forever be linked. Only time will tell if it will turn out better for the Jets this time around.