Green Bay Packers

Midweek Musings: Benching Rodgers gains traction

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It’s a rare thing, deciding whether to bench a Hall of Fame quarterback — yet that scenario inches closer with each Green Bay Packers loss.

Who could’ve predicted such a situation? Aaron Rodgers is the NFL’s back-to-back Most Valuable Player, often offering unimpeachable quarterback play for the NFC’s best team.

That version of Rodgers has been largely absent in 2022. Through 11 games, he’s without a 300-yard performance and owns the lowest QBR (41.8) of his illustrious career.

His dip in play is a major reason the Packers sit at 4-7, barely in the conversation for one of the NFC’s three wild-card positions.

Come December, Rodgers will be 39 years old. While contemporaries continue to push the limits on how long quarterbacks can play, it’d be foolish to suggest Rodgers remains part of the Packers’ long-term plans.

And with each loss, his status as starting quarterback becomes harder to justify.

In fairness to Rodgers, at least a small portion of his struggles can be attributed to circumstance. A rotating cast of offensive linemen and wide receivers offer enough issues to subdue any quarterback.

It also appears increasingly likely that Rodgers’ thumb injury — suffered Week 5 in London against the Giants — has been a greater detriment than reported.

(Editors note: Rodgers confirmed during his Wednesday news conference that he has a broken right thumb.)

While the Packers will almost certainly fall short of their Super Bowl goal, value can still be gained from this disappointing season.

Jordan Love was drafted in 2020 to be Rodgers’ successor. Rodgers’ return to form — and the pace of Love’s development — have limited the former first-round pick to one start and 71 career pass attempts through two-and-a-half years.

That’s a sparse sample size, especially considering Love’s fifth-year-option decision looms in the spring.

Even with his busted thumb, starting Rodgers remains the Packers’ best path to victory. That becomes moot, however, once the Packers are eliminated from playoff contention.

What if the Packers approach Rodgers about starting Love? How would his competitive ego handle it?

It’d be a tricky needle for the Packers to thread, and one that comes with little recent precedent.

During the miserable 2005 season, the Packers had no intention of benching Brett Favre — and ending his iron man streak in the process — for the sake of reps for rookie Rodgers.

Poor performance led Peyton Manning to the bench in his final season. But Manning was also battling a significant foot injury and was later re-named starter for the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl run.

Dan Marino, when healthy, played. Drew Brees, when healthy, played. Ben Roethlisberger, as bad as he was his final season, when healthy, played.

Eli Manning’s last year provides the best comparable. The two-time Super Bowl MVP, Manning was supplanted by rookie Daniel Jones only three weeks into the 2019 season and spent most of his final campaign as a mentor to a first-round pick.

Manning, low key and non-controversial, said following his demotion he was “obviously disappointed” but that mentoring Jones was “part of the deal.” As he contemplated retirement after the season, Manning added that “backing up is not real fun” and that he wouldn’t return in a similar role (Manning ultimately elected to retire).

Would Rodgers accept such a situation with similar grace, content running the scout team for several weeks? He’s handled his mentorship to Love as well as can be expected, but that might be a bridge too far.

Surely Rodgers is also keenly aware of his standing on some all-time leaderboards. Only 40 career touchdown passes behind Favre, would he willingly pass on the opportunity to narrow the statistical gap between him and other legends?

It’s very possible Rodgers plays again in 2023. It’s also very possible that, in his heart of hearts, he remains unsure about his future beyond this season and doesn’t want to spend his remaining games in the back seat to Love.

It’ll soon fall upon GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur to decide: Is there more value maintaining the incumbent quarterback’s happiness, or gaining more information about a potential future starter?

The situation symbolic of Gutekunst’s tenure, a constant tug-of-war between the Packers’ present and the Packers’ future.

For two years, the Packers have acquiesced to all of Rodgers’ wants and needs. There’s zero indication that’ll change now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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