Tom Brady's retirement makes Aaron Rodgers' decision key to Bears' offseason

With Brady gone, Rodgers' decision key to Bears' offseason plan originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

On Wednesday, Tom Brady, the 45-year-old, seven-time Super Bowl champion, announced his retirement in a video shot on a beach alone in front of some Florida condos.

It perfectly encapsulates what happens to most legends who fight to get every ounce of water from the rock. The ones who think they can outrun mortality almost always end up alone in some form or another. They exist in solitude, sacrificing parts of themselves for the chance to breathe rarefied air. Tidy, perfect endings are hard to come by for those who have emptied the tank to etch themselves into history.

With Brady off to walk into the sunset, or at least walk toward it wondering if he might turn around to get one final glimpse of the life he's always led, the NFL's attention now turns to another all-time great weighing his future: Aaron Rodgers.

The Green Bay Packers signal-caller is still determining whether or not he'll return for the 2023 season. But after Brady's news Wednesday, chances are good that Rodgers will return for at least one more go around.

Another thing that separates the great ones is their unwillingness to share the spotlight. For Rodgers, retiring now would mean sharing a Hall of Fame class with Brady. Being enshrined in Canton on a weekend that will be all about Brady wouldn't fit Rodgers' character. He'll want the day he gets his gold jacket to be all about him, not a side plot to Brady-palooza.

So, the expectation should be that Rodgers will return to play in 2023. But where the 39-year-old suits up will now be the point on which several offseasons hinge, including the start of the Bears' rebuild.

Owners of the No. 1 pick, the Bears will wait until the quarterback carousel stops before fielding realistic trade offers. General manager Ryan Poles will want the pool filled with applicants before starting the bidding war.

With Brady, Rodgers is now the marquee member of a thin offseason carousel. He could return to the Packers, but reports suggest Green Bay might be ready to move on from the aging gunslinger and start the Jordan Love era.

The New York Jets are the presumed favorite to land Rodgers should he land on the trade market. However, Brady's decision to retire has left several teams -- the Las Vegas Raiders chief among them -- scrambling for a Plan B.

Raiders star wide receiver Davante Adams fueled the speculation Wednesday with a tweet suggesting he's open to reuniting with his former quarterback.

Rodgers now holds the carousel in his hand. If teams believe they have a realistic shot of trading for him, they will wait. That might leave Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo in limbo or see them head to less desirable destinations, not in the Rodgers sweepstakes. It also means that those teams that wait on Rodgers will be left in a difficult spot should they not introduce him to their new fan base this offseason.

Those are the desperate teams Poles will be waiting to take advantage of in a potential trade for the No. 1 pick.

RELATED: Brady's retirement could be blessing for Bears in more ways than one

Whether Rodgers returns and where he plays will significantly impact Carr, Garoppolo, quarterback-needy teams, and the Bears' offseason plan.

Should the Raiders miss out on Rodgers after trading or releasing Carr, they could look to the draft to fill their quarterback need. A desperate team with money sunk into Adams, Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow, and Maxx Crosby might be willing to do whatever it takes to secure the signal-caller it desires.

The same scenario applies to the Jets should they not land Rodgers and decide to take another swing at a quarterback in the draft after missing on Zach Wilson. A move down to No. 13 would be a big move for the Bears, so a franchise-altering draft haul would have to come with it.

The possibilities are endless at the moment.

While Brady could have kept playing at age 45, he decided to hang up his shoulder pads, the same ones he has worn since college, in search of balance. He still finished third in the NFL in passing yards this season while dealing with personal turmoil and a devolving situation in Tampa. But there was nothing left for Brady to prove. He scaled every mountain. Passed every test. He stands alone in the NFL pantheon and likely always will.

Now Rodgers owns the stage. The last of a generation of quarterbacks that has ruled the NFL for two decades. I doubt he'll be ready or willing to cede the spotlight. Not when everything this offseason can now revolve around him.

So teams will wait. Wait for his decision and new destination should he and the Packers decide the time to split has come.

Rodgers will be the first and most important domino to fall this offseason. Where he lands will set off a chain reaction that will determine some of the players in the most important act of the Bears' offseason.

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