Thursday, January 20, 2022

Aaron Rodgers hints at return to Packers in 2022: Ranking the QB’s most likely teams for next season

Aaron Rodgers has found nothing but success since Matt LaFleur kicked off the next stage of the quarterback’s Hall of Fame career in Green Bay. Rodgers’ late-30s, in fact, have given him some of the best years he’s seen at the NFL level. He and the Packers are on the verge of a third straight 13-win season, with eyes on a third straight NFC Championship bid and a second straight league MVP award for Rodgers. Suffice to say, the QB has reason to honor his contract with Green Bay through 2022.

Rodgers himself hinted at the possibility this week, telling reporters he has an improved relationship with Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and will make a “quick decision” after the 2021 campaign regarding his future. This comes, of course, after his months-long offseason feud with the franchise, in which he sought more input on team decisions and refused to deny trade rumors. The Packers reportedly appeased Rodgers prior to 2021 by reworking his contract and agreeing to reevaluate his standing after the season.

Now, with another playoff run and MVP race guaranteed, what is Rodgers’ most likely destination in 2022, when he could conceivably be traded? Here’s how we’d rank the potential suitors:

8. Eagles

Jalen Hurts has shown a lot of athleticism and fortitude in his first year as QB1 for a chippy playoff contender, but GM Howie Roseman has reason to explore the market for a superior passer, especially with multiple high draft picks at his disposal. Rodgers may be a short-term solution for a team preaching patience, but Roseman is notoriously aggressive, and Philly would embrace the idea of pairing such a star QB with new playmakers like DeVonta Smith. The issue is twofold: the Packers wouldn’t prefer Rodgers sticking in the NFC, and who knows if Rodgers would sign up for more of a rebuilding scenario under a young coach.

7. Raiders

Derek Carr is a fine starter, but he’s easily expendable in 2022, when the whole team could be enduring a reset. With plenty of cap space, the Raiders could surely make an offer, promising Rodgers a move closer to his West Coast home, a hand in their head-coach hiring process, and perhaps a big offer for his friend Davante Adams. But they have so many other holes, they feel quite a bit further from real contention than other logical suitors. Would Rodgers really be eager to jump from the Packers to this setup?

6. Washington

Who knows what Rodgers thinks of its generally dysfunctional ownership? This isn’t exactly a dream destination for most. Football-wise, though, the building blocks are there: a respected veteran coach in Ron Rivera, a high-ceiling defense, some young playmakers (Antonio Gibson, Terry McLaurin, etc.) who would theoretically take off with a superior QB, and a very winnable division. Washington has never been shy about taking swings for veteran QBs, and Rivera has both the cash and lack of reliable passers to justify a big offer. The question is whether the Packers would even consider dealing him in the same conference.

5. Browns

No matter what Kevin Stefanski says about Baker Mayfield, the latter seems destined to face competition — or an all-out exile — after an underwhelming 2021. And he should, considering Cleveland is otherwise mostly built to contend with a rock-solid O-line, an elite running back and promising defense. Stefanski isn’t so unlike Matt LaFleur — a young, proven offensive mind — and could appeal to Rodgers, especially if Davante Adams is part of the relocation. The market isn’t necessarily a draw, but perhaps Rodgers would see it as a chance to elevate his own legacy by finally bringing the Browns into contemporary stardom.

4. Broncos

GM George Paton knows all too well what Rodgers can do, coming from a career in Minnesota. The Broncos have been linked heavily to Rodgers before, and they’re even more desperate for a QB now with Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock confirmed as non-answers. John Elway could point to Peyton Manning as evidence of a superstar veteran lifting the entire franchise, and Denver has the cap space to get creative. Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton would offer Rodgers solid WRs to start, and No. 12 would also get a ready-made defense, as well as the chance to handpick a replacement for Vic Fangio.

3. Steelers

If Pittsburgh weren’t historically averse to these kinds of blockbuster swings, it’d easily rank higher. Everything fits: Rodgers and Mike Tomlin have a deep respect for each other, the Steelers are an iconic franchise and proven winner, and Ben Roethlisberger has already indicated he’s headed to retirement. Pittsburgh has the defense to contend now, and if it were to finagle enough money to bring Davante Adams with Rodgers, that combo with Najee Harris (and a restored O-line) would be scary. Tomlin has the track record to push ownership for a quick fix at QB, and at least Green Bay would be shipping Rodgers to the AFC.

2. Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa is doing his job as a second-year starter, and he’s earned more audition time. But when has that stopped aggressive teams from acting? Miami thrived with Ryan Fitzpatrick as Tua relief in 2020, then reportedly kept eyes on Deshaun Watson despite his litany of legal issues. Rodgers would fulfill that desire for established help, and then some. A-Rod, meanwhile, would get the Tom Brady-style move to sunny Florida, where the Dolphins are absolutely flush with cap space (Davante Adams package deal?) and boast a defense ready to win now.

1. Packers

It’s the easy answer right now. But it’s also the right answer. Since Green Bay spent a first-round pick on QB Jordan Love, establishing a Rodgers succession plan, Rodgers has literally turned in back-to-back MVP-caliber seasons, effectively winning the war against his own front office. He made headlines this year by yelling on the field that he owns the Bears, but in the bigger picture, he also owns the Packers. How on Earth could Green Bay justify prioritizing the “future” at QB when Rodgers has proven, twice now, that he’s still the present? He can — and will — dictate financial and personnel matters for at least the next few seasons, and the Packers will almost certainly approve, considering he’s the biggest reason they remain a title contender.

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