Saying farewell to a legend and welcoming in a fresh start
The Aaron Rodgers era is over. Not officially, but effectively. Rodgers told “The Pat McAfee Show” on Wednesday that he intends to play during the 2023 season, and he wants to do so with the New York Jets, not the Green Bay Packers.
To be clear, this is the Packers’ decision. The team is ready to move on to Jordan Love. Now, all that’s left is for the Packers and Jets to figure out a trade and make it official.
The emotions of Packers fans in this historic moment are almost certainly split between the sadness of saying farewell to a legend of the franchise/sport and the excited anticipation of welcoming in a fresh start at the game’s most important position.
Rodgers is and always will be one of the greatest players to ever play the game or wear the green and gold. His legacy as an all-timer is cemented. He brought a Super Bowl title to Green Bay, won four MVPs and gave the Packers a chance to win every week while simultaneously providing the foundation of the team being a legit contender every season. At some point in the nearish future, Rodgers will go into the team’s Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame and have his No. 12 forever placed inside Lambeau Field as a retired number.
But it was time. Not because Rodgers doesn’t have greatness left in him. In fact, Rodgers going to New York and playing terrific football in 2023 isn’t just likely but probably expected. One thing is certain: Rodgers, who has so often thrived with a chip on his shoulder, will be rejuvenated by the departure and motivated to prove the doubters (and Packers) wrong.
This was the right time to transition for so many reasons. Rodgers will be 40 in December. He’s coming off a down season in which he suffered two different debilitating injuries. His contract is a ticking time bomb on the team’s already shaky salary cap. The roster is turning over and changing. And Love proved to the team he was ready.
First-round picks play. Love patiently waited for three seasons, battling through an abbreviated, COVID-19-wrecked rookie season and two brilliant MVP seasons orchestrated by Rodgers while slowly but surely developing in the shadows. In Year 3, he took a gigantic step of progress under quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and showed – during brief moments on the field, like in Philadelphia – that he can play. It’s a story Rodgers is keenly familiar with because he once walked the same path behind Brett Favre.
Many of the same fans who cheered for Rodgers for all these years will also be ready to turn the page. Not because they are certain Love will be better than Rodgers in 2023, but because they know the franchise needs to make this difficult decision for the betterment of the organization long-term.
The Packers had a window. Under the first three seasons under Matt LaFleur, the team won 39 regular-season games and had three legitimate shots at winning the NFC and getting back to the Super Bowl. All three came up short. Given an opportunity to transition at quarterback last offseason, the Packers decided to give Rodgers at least one more shot, and it missed, rather spectacularly. Green Bay couldn’t climb out of the hole created by a 4-8 sand missed the playoffs after losing to the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field in a win-and-in game in the season finale.
Like Favre, Rodgers’ final throw in a Packers uniform will be an interception in an elimination game. Like Favre, Rodgers was never able to lift the Lombardi Trophy again for the Packers after doing so early in his starting career.
Winning one title is a grand achievement and should be forever celebrated. But let there be no doubt: All the failed attempts to get a second left behind an incredible trail of agonizing moments and what-if scenarios, creating scar tissue for even the most casual of fans. In an alternate universe, Rodgers is leaving the Packers with three or four rings. His teams in 2011, 2014 and 2020 were good enough to win titles. Instead, the Packers lost four consecutive NFC title games following the Super Bowl XLV win.
In six months’ time, Love will make his first start as the new unquestioned starter of the Green Bay Packers. A new era will begin. Is there any chance it goes as well as the Rodgers era? The betting odds against it would be astronomical. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, does it? No matter the short-term risk, the Packers needed to find out, and now they will.
The book on the Rodgers era is closed. It’s Jordan Love time in Green Bay. Saying farewell to a legend is among the most difficult things to do in sports, but sometimes a fresh start is the best path ahead for everyone involved.