Will this be Rodgers’ ‘Last Dance’ with Packers?

  • NFL

Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2021 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 4, the day before the Hall of Fame Game.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

Aaron Rodgers blinked, reportedly. Though he got a pretty good concession if he wants out after this season. Fans in Denver, Miami and anywhere else begging for a quarterback upgrade had their dreams ruined.

Rodgers “indicated to people close to him” that he plans to play for the Green Bay Packers in 2021, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Monday. Rodgers’ contract was to be changed to “set up his departure after the season,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That presumably ends an offseason of drama — given how long this dragged out, we can’t be 100% sure of anything until it actually happens and Packers management wasn’t celebrating anything right away — and means TV debate shows will have a lot of empty air time now. It also means a new Packers preview (if you want to read the original one with the Rodgers uncertainty included, find it here — some parts of this preview are not significantly changed from the original).

Let’s assume for this preview that Rodgers reports to the Packers as NFL Network said and he plays a full season. Hopefully for the Packers he’s also happy enough to produce at his usual level. Rodgers and Davante Adams (who has a contract squabble with the Packers) posted pictures of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on social media right before the report Rodgers would play for Green Bay. Jordan and Pippen put aside their differences with management for the “Last Dance” Bulls and presumably the Packers’ two stars will do the same. 

If there are no lingering effects of Rodgers’ offseason of discontent — and there surely could be; at very least there will be some awkwardness as the uneasy relationship goes forward at least one more season — then the Packers can win a Super Bowl. They’re that good around the reigning MVP.

Wouldn’t that be a story?

The Packers have perhaps the best receiver in the NFL in Adams. Aaron Jones is back and he and intriguing second-year back A.J. Dillon will run behind a very good offensive line. The defense has top-end talent like pass rusher Za’Darius Smith and cornerback Jaire Alexander. There is still concern about the pass catchers other than Adams, but Rodgers won an MVP with mostly the same group last season. There aren’t any clear weaknesses that would keep Green Bay from a title. They almost got there last season. 

The Packers were 13-3 last season and while the NFC championship game loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stung, they could make it right back and take the final step this season. Especially with Rodgers in fully activated revenge mode.

The Milwaukee Bucks just won an NBA title. The Milwaukee Brewers lead the NL Central. And now Rodgers has reportedly ended his standoff with the team before preseason even starts. There will be more Rodgers drama next offseason — maybe even much more during this season — but for now, it’s good to be a Wisconsin sports fan.

A report said Aaron Rodgers plans to play for the Packers in 2021. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
A report said Aaron Rodgers plans to play for the Packers in 2021. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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If Aaron Rodgers does report soon, that’s the only offseason win that matters. But let’s look at the rest. The Packers became the rare team to lose a first-team All-Pro player when center Corey Linsley signed with the Los Angeles Chargers. That was the big loss, though running back Jamaal Williams also left to Detroit. The Packers signed running back Aaron Jones to a four-year, $48 million deal despite running backs being valued less than ever before and promising 2020 second-round draft pick A.J. Dillon waiting for a chance. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell was the big free-agent addition at $2 million for one year. In the draft, cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round filled a need and center Josh Myers in the second round could help replace Linsley. Green Bay finally drafted a receiver, Clemson’s Amari Rodgers, in the third round. Few experts liked Green Bay’s draft, and it’s not like free agency saved the offseason. But, the Packers seemingly won a game of chicken with Rodgers and that’s worth a full grade bump. 

Grade: C-

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One of the stories that we’d have been talking about this offseason if we weren’t all waiting for Aaron Rodgers to be traded or retire or report to the Packers is that he and the Green Bay offense are going to regress. It’s inevitable. Rodgers threw a touchdown on 9.1% of his passes, the second-highest mark since 1976 (Peyton Manning hit 9.9% in 2004, and his TDs went from 49 that season to 28 the next). Rodgers had a great season and he’s not going to repeat it. If Rodgers had played to his career level of a 6.3 touchdown percentage, that’s about 33 TDs, not 48. That’s a more realistic expectation for 2021. Nothing wrong with that, either. 

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The Packers were back to +1400 odds to win the Super Bowl at BetMGM after the Aaron Rodgers news. That’s tied for fifth-best odds. BetMGM hadn’t reposted the Packers’ win total, but it was 11 before the Rodgers drama started. Presumably it will be 11 or close once the news is official. As much as I like the Packers, once totals get that high I like to look at the under first and will do so here. It’s not a strong opinion, but things can still go wrong and the Packers don’t finish 12-5 to hit the over. 

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From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “It sounds like Devante Adams dodged a bullet with the Aaron Rodgers situation, but there are still reasons not to draft Adams this year. I realize that might sound strange, given that he just had the third-best PPR season (per game) for a receiver in fantasy history, but stay with me.

“Although Adams is renowned for his ability to win in tight spaces and around the goal line, last year’s touchdown rate is probably not repeatable, for him or for Rodgers. We also need to be mindful that Adams is a high attrition player, having missed time in four straight seasons. We like our premium fantasy receivers to play full seasons, but he hasn’t done this since 2016. I don’t view Adams as a likely profit player at his soon-to-rise ADP.” 

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Among all running backs with 200 attempts, Aaron Jones led the NFL with a 5.5-yard average. Jones ranked fourth in Football Outsiders’ DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) and fifth in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average). However you want to quantify Jones’ contributions, he’s one of the NFL’s best backs. It’s questionable to put $12 million a year into the position when you just drafted a back in the second round a year ago, but at least the Packers paid a good one. With Aaron Rodgers likely back, Jones will still have those lanes to run through. 

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Can the Packers and Davante Adams get on the same page?

In the middle of the tense Aaron Rodgers drama, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Packers and Adams cut off contract extension negotiations and the two sides are in a “bad place.” Of course, how many times has something similar been leaked during an NFL player’s contract squabble? DeAndre Hopkins’ contract, which is $5.25 million more per year than any other receiver, is likely a sticking point. Presumably the two sides will find common ground, but maybe not. Adams is in the final year of his contract and we don’t know how the Rodgers situation will play out beyond this season. Maybe Adams will want to see who the quarterback will be before deciding on his next move. Of course, the Packers have the franchise tag if they wish to use it. 

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To continue the theme set forth by Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, we all know how the “Last Dance” Bulls did. There’s a question if this really is their last go-around, since the Packers will still have the franchise tag for Adams next offseason and maybe Rodgers returns, but this Packers team could have a hyper-focus knowing this could be it. The rankings for these previews were set before we knew what would happen with Rodgers. If Rodgers reports soon, the Packers will be higher. Probably No. 4. They could reach No. 1 this season and stay there until the end.

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It’s great to dream that Aaron Rodgers uses all of his dissatisfaction with the Packers as competitive fuel and wins a Super Bowl. It also doesn’t always happen that way. Rodgers was clearly upset with the Packers and that can go either way. The whole uneasy relationship could get messy in a hurry. The same goes for Adams and his concerns over a long-term deal. There’s some regression coming no matter how Rodgers’ angst manifests itself. It’s possible an awkward situation becomes untenable, and the Packers don’t get the storybook season they want. It would also sour, to some extent, Rodgers’ legacy with the franchise if things get ugly this season. 

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Aaron Rodgers had less leverage than anyone wanted to admit during the months of chatter. He wasn’t going to retire and host a game show. He’s too competitive. The Packers might be on a tight-wire act co-existing with their unhappy superstar, but I think it will turn out pretty well. I’m not willing to pick the Packers to win a Super Bowl, but they’ll be on a short list of true contenders. Whether they win or not, they might be the NFL’s most interesting team. Everyone loves a good soap opera, and this one isn’t going away just because Rodgers reportedly decided he’ll play this season. 

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