At some point this season, Aaron Rodgers is going to play again. The big question is, will there be anything left to play for? At 5-5 and still just a game out of the division lead, it wouldn't appear the Packers situation is all that dire, but that's largely a result of their early-season success--before Aaron Rodgers landed awkwardly on his left shoulder, before Scott Tolzien tossed five picks in just two games, and before the defense was epitomized by Brad Jones eating an Andre Brown stiff arm for six yards downfield. Now, the Packers simply wait. We all wait.
Whether or not the Packers are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs by the time Rodgers returns, he's sure to get a hero's welcome, and with good reason. We've seen now the true nature of the Packers without their all-world quarterback and it's not a pretty one. And while it's impossible to spin his injury into anything positive, I suppose it's at least good to know just how many glaring deficiencies his brilliance helped mask. Obviously, Rodgers isn't out there making tackles for the defense, but when your offense is putting up 30 points a game, who gives a damn? A win's a win.
That's the effect Aaron Rodgers has on this team. He's The Great Equalizer. Most elite quarterbacks are, but Rodgers' value has never been truly measured since, like his predecessor, we've really never seen the team for an extended time without him. Now that we have, it's clear that even though most of us knew Rodgers was important, few knew he was truly this important.
Like the Colts learned in 2011 without Peyton Manning, the Packers are now learning just how distorted reality can be with a quarterback like Rodgers. That's not necessarily a bad thing - most teams would kill for a quarterback who can overcome shoddy defenses and inept play calling. But it also obscures what, for the Packers must be a rather sobering thought:
That this team is full of C+ talent.
It's particularly apparent on defense. It's easy to see Mike Neal head-slapping fools for an afternoon and convince yourself otherwise, but the fact is, a good deal of the players on this team are largely replaceable. Here are two sets of numbers:
12 GP, 37 combined tackles, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
13 GP, 38 combined tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Pretty close, right? If you're wondering, Player A is Nick Perry - a heralded first round draft pick many thought would be the missing piece to the lacking pass rush opposite Clay Matthews. Player B is Frank goddamn Zombo - an undrafted free agent who's no longer with the team.
Obviously, this isn't Madden and you're not going to have All-Pros at every position, but aside from Rodgers and Clay Matthews (when healthy), the Packers lack anyone who you'd call a true difference maker.
That's where Ted Thompson would come in.
It's hard to argue with what he's done. To date, he's delivered a Super Bowl title, a league MVP, a fearsome pass-rusher and one of the best crops of wide receivers in the league. That should be enough. But enough to what? If it's simply be competitive, then certainly, Thompson has done his part. But with a quarterback as talented as Aaron Rodgers, ‘competitive' isn't exactly the standard.
Like it or not, those are the stakes for Ted Thompson. And while his draft-and-develop philosophy has certainly produced a consistent supply of fungible players capable of making rosters and providing depth, his failure to add additional playmakers (or replace the ones who've departed) has put enough weight on Aaron Rodgers' shoulders to put a crack in the one that isn't fractured.
It's a burden that you get the feeling Rodgers would still happily carry, even without a $100 million contract. His skills and supreme confidence allow him to operate on such a level that even if Thompson gave him a high school team to play with, he'd simply look at it like another challenge to overcome, just like the injuries to his receivers or the injuries to the offensive line or the persistent shortcomings of the defense. That's what having the Great Equalizer buys you.
But no matter how much film he studies or how much rest he gets or how much practice he runs, there's one thing Rodgers' greatness can't buy: time. With Rodgers nearing 30 and facing a potentially-lost season, one has to wonder when (if ever) Thompson will feel the urgency to add more proven talent to the roster. We know Thompson shies away from higher priced free agents, but with 5-6 years left of Rodgers' prime, the margin for error on his draft picks becomes increasingly narrow. Especially when you consider draft picks usually take a few years to fully develop.
That leaves Thompson with only a handful of options. Hit on a free agent or two like he did with Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, or draft more impact players on defense. Problem is, neither of these things can be guaranteed. For every Woodson there are five Albert Haynesworths. For every Clay Matthews there are far more Vernon Gholstons. Either way, the pressure is now squarely on Ted Thompson to deliver better talent. Without it, the Packers likely won't win another Super Bowl. And that's a damn shame.
Because there's only one Aaron Rodgers.
More from Acme Packing Company:
- Packers vs. Giants Performance Grades: Finding a Silver Lining in the Packers' Third Straight Loss
- Pro Bowl Voting: No Packers In Top Two at Any Position
- Packers Injury Report, Week 12: Twelve Players Listed on Wednesday Practice Report
- Packers' Path to the Playoffs is Both Clear and Difficult