The Green Bay Packers are falling apart and the state of the franchise, both financially and on the field, is being held hostage by Aaron Rodgers.
After three straight losses that would have been previously inconceivable against the Giants, Jets, and Commanders, the Packers are stuck in limbo. While general manager Brian Gutekunst is being pressured by fans and media to make a splash trade, the team’s Super Bowl window may have already closed. With a 3-4 record and an upcoming game against the Buffalo Bills, the Packers could be facing a 3-5 record that would put them significantly behind the 5-1 Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North title race.
The problem with this situation is that even if the Packers wanted to be sellers at the deadline and try to reload for the future, the team is not in a situation financially to rebuild with the Aaron Rodgers contract currently on the books.
Despite his pushback to the narrative at the time, Rodgers signed a massive contract extension this offseason that gave him over $150 million in guaranteed money over three years.
While the contract helped keep Rodgers in Green Bay for the 2022 season, it looms large over the team’s cap situation in 2023 and beyond. Rodgers openly contemplated retirement prior to the extension and that same decision could have massive salary cap implications, potentially costing the Packers $40 million in dead cap next season.
That kind of dead cap hit would crush the Packers financially and hinder the chances of an immediate rebuild for the post-Rodgers era. It would also make contract negotiations extremely difficult for upcoming free agents including Allen Lazard, Elgton Jenkins and Adrian Amos.
With Rodgers’ contract looming over the team, the front office has no choice but to try and appease the future Hall of Famer, conceding on requests to keep him around while trying to fight for relevancy with a quarterback who is simply not playing at a high level.
The signs of Rodgers’ regression are there, and they’re alarming. As a quarterback who used to thrive on extending plays with his legs, whether it was escaping the pocket for an off-script throw or running downfield, his rushing numbers have completely fallen off in 2022.
Through seven games, Rodgers has just nine rushing attempts for just nine yards, which puts him on pace for just under 22 rushes for the season. Of those nine attempts, only three of them have not been kneel-downs or aborted snaps.
As the starter outside of seasons where he’s been injured, Rodgers has never had fewer than 33 rushes in one year.
Not only is Rodgers struggling to extend plays, but he’s also struggling to push the ball downfield without superstar receiver Davante Adams opening up the offense. Rodgers is currently tied with Kyler Murray among full-time starters this year with just 3.4 air yards per pass attempt.
Rodgers is still wanting to throw deep, but the timing with his new receivers and his usually perfect ball placement is no longer there. His numbers on throws 20-plus yards down the field aren’t great, completing just 30.3 percent of his passes for a passer rating of just 81.1 with three touchdowns and an interception.
However, the numbers are even worse with context. Lazard’s 25-yard touchdown is the longest scoring play Rodgers has produced this season, and all three of those “explosive” touchdowns came between 20 and 25 yards, meaning that there have been no truly explosive deep-shot touchdowns like in the past. Thanks to help from APC’s Paul Noonan, we can see even more concerning numbers when looking at Rodgers’ pass attempts 25-plus yards down the field.
According to Noonan, Rodgers completed 40.7 percent of his passes 25 yards or farther downfield in 2021. This season, that number has plummeted all the way down to 22.2%.
Some of that is on the new cast of receivers, and the struggles of the offensive line deserve blame as well. However, the film has shown week after week that Rodgers is missing on his deep shots, even when not under duress.
Even the way that the Packers run the ball is being dictated by the 38-year-old quarterback. For as dynamic of a weapon as Aaron Jones has been, the star running back ranks just 21st in the NFL in rushing attempts despite leading the NFL in the percentage of his runs going over the expected yardage (ROE%).
Rodgers’ decision-making on RPOs, or plays with “run solutions” as the Packers like to call them, is limiting the opportunities that Green Bay’s most dynamic playmaker has to make plays with the ball in his hands. According to Next Gen Stats, Jones is only running against a box with eight-plus defenders on 3.85% of his attempts, far and away the lowest rate in the NFL.
That number is a shining example of one of Rodgers’ biggest strengths turning into a major liability for the offense. For as much as the Packers quarterback prides himself on making the “right” read pre-snap, the rate at which he runs or passes is being entirely dictated by the defense and defensive coordinators are catching onto this. Defenses are giving Rodgers these pre-snap looks to dictate whether or not they want him to throw the ball.
Green Bay’s failed fourth-down attempt against the New York Giants was a perfect example of this. Facing an eight-man pressure look on 4th and 2, Rodgers aborted a potential handoff to A.J. Dillon, opting instead of throw to a blanketed Allen Lazard. The pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, ending the game, but a strong block by Josh Myers looked like it would have given Dillon the space to move the sticks and keep Green Bay’s drive alive.
FOURTH-DOWN STOP— Bally Sports (@BallySports) October 9, 2022
Xavier McKinney deflects Aaron Rodgers' pass to keep the Giants ahead at 27-20 over the Packers
(via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/qVJzdxPHIX
Even Jones, who is normally one of the more reserved players on the Packers, expressed his frustration with the decision-making on that play following the game. Unfortunately, with Rodgers being able to change any play call or abort a handoff at almost any time, there is little that Jones can do to stop it.
More could be said about Rodgers and the conversations about him “trusting” certain players over others. There are times on film where Rodgers seemingly ignores open players who have been recently struggling, as this clip from Sunday’s game against Washington shows with an open A.J. Dillon available as a check down.
What is Rodgers hesitating for here? pic.twitter.com/iIjTG2pCR5— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 25, 2022
Unfortunately, this is the way the Packers' offense is being run right now. Their back-to-back MVP is making all of his decisions pre-snap, limiting the touches that the running backs are getting on the ground, and potentially ignoring players in favor of feeding the established veterans he trusts. All while his level of play is declining with age.
As Packers fans who have watched Rodgers bring the team a Super Bowl title, lead some of the most exciting offenses over the last two decades, and win four MVP trophies, the conversations about his decline can be (understandably) emotionally charged.
However, with the situation that’s unfolding in Green Bay, it’s clear that Rodgers is holding the offense and the front office hostage with the way he’s playing and the looming threat of his retirement.