I recently celebrated a milestone: I turned 30 in September. It was what I expected as I took stock of everything I had done in life up to that point.
Then an ever bigger surprise hit me: Aaron Rodgers is about to turn 30! (Rodgers and I are both proud members of the high school class of 2002)
It’s hard to believe Rodgers has now hit the big 3-0, a milestone in and of itself but perhaps it’s even more significant for an NFL quarterback. Rodgers can no longer (and really hasn’t been for the past two years anyway) be considered one of the “young gun” quarterbacks in the league yet he also isn’t part of that “aging veteran” group either.
So where does that leave the Green Bay Packers quarterback? Well, that would mean he is in his prime. Current injury aside, that should make any opposing defense shudder.
With his career arc perhaps at its peak, it’s time to take a look back at Rodgers’ career so far as well as what lies ahead for the 2011 NFL MVP.
This is Rodgers’ ninth year in the NFL but only his sixth season as the Packers’ starting quarterback. Given how much has occurred in his time in the league, it seems like Rodgers has been around forever yet hard to believe that he’s now in his thirties. It seems like it was just yesterday he took over for Brett Favre yet it’s like he’s always been around.
Such is the odyssey of Aaron Charles Rodgers. It all starts with the 2005 draft. Knowing what we know now, he had absolutely no business falling as far as he did in that draft. Then again, if he hadn’t, would that chip on his shoulder that has propelled him to superstardom been as large had he ended up in San Francisco? That’s a debate for another time.
Everyone knows what happened. Rodgers was expected by many to go with the first overall pick in the draft to the San Francisco 49ers where he would learn from an offensive coordinator named Mike McCarthy. Instead, the 49ers drafted Alex Smith and Rodgers plummeted all the way to Green Bay at number 24. Rodgers shook it off and Paul Tagliabue told him “good things come to those who wait.”
Those first two years in Green Bay, Rodgers could not have been too sure. Favre was still entrenched as the starter and that first year was rough for the rookie out of Cal. Favre took little to no interest in tutoring Rodgers, saying it “wasn’t in (his) contract” to prepare Rodgers to play.
Mike Sherman was fired after a 4-12 season in 2005 and was replaced ironically by…McCarthy, the offensive coordinator Rodgers would have learned under in San Francisco.
Good things come to those who wait.
Favre’s first serious flirtation with retirement came after 2005, and after a lengthy delay he decided to give the McCarthy regime a shot. After going 8-8 in 2006 where the Packers won four straight to close out the year, Favre fairly quickly decided to come back.
2007 was a magical year for Favre and the Packers. Favre played MVP-caliber football and Green Bay won the NFC North at 13-3. During a game in Dallas against the Cowboys, however, Favre went down and Rodgers got his first real extended NFL playing time. Rodgers played brilliantly but the Packers still fell to Dallas and Favre started the next game, keeping his iron man streak intact.
No one knew that what Rodgers showed that day was only a glimpse of what lied ahead.
The 2007 season ended in heartbreak and Favre finally retired (for the moment). Rodgers was now the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers and was in the most unenviable spot in football: the guy who followed Favre.
Then the Summer of Favre in 2008 happened. No matter where you stood during that summer, poor Rodgers was caught in a crossfire he had no control over. Favre eventually was traded to the New York Jets and the Packers sent a clear message: this was now Rodgers’ team.
The passionate Packer fan base however was not fully in Rodgers’ corner yet, however. Before the Favre trade, every incompletion or interception in practice was greeted with either boos or sarcastic applause. They didn’t appear to affect Rodgers on the surface, but those boos were some of the seeds that eventually sprouted into one of the best stretches a quarterback has had in NFL history.
Green Bay struggled to a 6-10 record in 2008, but Rodgers played brilliantly for the most part. He displayed poise and incredible accuracy as well as being much smarter with the football than his immediate predecessor. By the time the Packers finished 11-5 in 2009 and made the playoffs (heartbreaking loss notwithstanding), Rodgers had basically won everyone over.
In 2010, the Packers won Super Bowl XLV thanks in large part to a brilliant march through the postseason by Rodgers. His performance in the divisional game against the Atlanta Falcons will go down as one of the best by a quarterback in an NFL playoff game. Three weeks later, he was named Super Bowl XLV MVP in a feat no Packers quarterback since Bart Starr had achieved.
Rodgers followed that up with the best season ever by a Packers quarterback in 2011 and was named the NFL’s MVP. His 45-touchdown, seven interception season was downright dominant and was marred only by a loss in the divisional round against the Giants.
2012 saw more of the same as Rodgers continued to build a Hall of Fame-caliber career and he signed a contract making him the highest paid quarterback in the NFL. 2013 saw its ups and downs before Rodgers, behind a resurgent running game led by rookie Eddie Lacy, had the offense rolling as the Packers started the season 5-2.
Then Rodgers broke his collarbone and, boom, here we are.
Hard to believe all that has happened in nine years isn’t it?
Now that we have looked back at Rodgers’ career up to this point, what lies ahead for the quarterback?
Well, the end of 2013 has yet to be written. If Rodgers is able to play against the Falcons and the Packers somehow are able to get into the playoffs, this will be one of the finest hours in team history. It would be a “phoenix rising from the ashes” tale for Rodgers and would help turn him from icon to legend. Not to put any more pressure on him, mind you.
In fact, that’s what Rodgers will be building as he enters his thirties. There have been few iconic quarterbacks in the NFL and even few of those go on to be considered truly legendary. Starr, Unitas, Montana, Elway, Marino, Peyton Manning, Brady, Favre. Rodgers easily could join that list. He doesn’t even need to win another title per se to do it. He just needs to continue to win.
In order for Rodgers to do that, the Packers’ management staff needs to continue to surround him with talent. Eddie Lacy finally gives Rodgers a star running back in the backfield and the quarterback’s chemistry with Jordy Nelson could very well rival that of Montana/Rice and Manning/Harrison. It might sound crazy, but do you really want to count Rodgers out?
Of course, you also have to look at the current leadership of the Packers and consider it very likely will change. General manager Ted Thompson is 60 years old and could retire within the next five years, much like Ron Wolf did. McCarthy is in his eighth year with the team and given how coaches burn out sometimes when they are with one team (see: Andy Reid and Mike Shanahan), McCarthy may only be in Green Bay five more years as well, maybe even less.
Given how Rodgers has basically only played for McCarthy (he only spent one season under Sherman), that would perhaps be the biggest challenge that Rodgers has remaining to overcome. Tom Brady lucked out with Bill Belichick and it’s not uncommon to see players play for multiple coaches with the same team.
Now for the scariest thought of all: the Packers are only perhaps five to seven years away from drafting Rodgers’ successor (pause for screaming). That means first post-Rodgers quarterback is roughly anywhere from a junior in high school to being in the seventh or eighth grade.
When that time comes, everyone will watch and see what Rodgers does. Will he do what Favre did to him and hopefully have that light a fire under his successor or will he do the opposite and help groom him?
No one knows, but knowing Rodgers’ personality it’s likely it will be the latter. Rodgers has said he wants to go down as one of the best men in the league and grooming his successor will only help secure that legacy.
There is one other scenario that no one really wants to talk about: is it possible Rodgers finishes his career somewhere else than Green Bay? In short, yes it is. No one thought it would happen to Favre and it did. Same for Peyton Manning. Tom Brady is the current exception to the rule, but you never know.
It sounds preposterous right now, but the NFL is a crazy business. You never know what is around the corner. That’s what makes it so fun.
As for Rodgers, the next chapter has begun. It’s up to him to write it. The first part has been an incredible story of perseverance and toughness. He’s shut up the critics (well, except for Skip Bayless) and has won the respect of players, coaches and fans all over the league. He’s well on his way to a spot in Canton.
He can secure it as he begins his thirties. 2013 may very well turn out to be a lost season, but it’s just one small stain on a canvas that is otherwise covered in brilliance.
All the pieces are there for a masterpiece of an NFL career. Now Rodgers just needs to put it together for us all to stand back and marvel at.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke