There have been a lot of words thrown around about Aaron Rodgers the past couple years, but one in particular is at the forefront for both the quarterback and fans:
It’s no secret that Rodgers is firmly in the twilight of his career and that means time is running out for many of his remaining goals. First and foremost is Rodgers winning his second Super Bowl, an accomplishment that continues to elude him and that leads to criticism, especially from the national media. The second is firming up his legacy and how he will be remembered.
After having a front-row seat to Brett Favre damaging his legacy on his way out, Rodgers is ever-cognizant of ending his career the right way. After some brinkmanship on his part, the four-time MVP has now gone on record as saying he plans on retiring as a member of the Packers to avoid the angst that Favre endured at the end of his career.
With his own future seemingly settled, Rodgers can now turn his attention to other parts of his legacy. The numbers, records, and infinitely long highlight reel all speak for themselves but thanks to the hand the Packers were dealt this past offseason, there is one additional piece of legacy Rodgers can leave behind. In fact, there are three pieces and all three will remain on the field long after their quarterback is enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Those pieces are the Packers’ three rookie wide receivers: Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and Samori Toure. When it became clear Davante Adams no longer wanted to remain in Green Bay before he was eventually traded, a youth movement was on at the position and Rodgers knew it when he signed his contract extension. The Packers entered the draft knowing they would need to restock their receiving room and did so in the second, fourth, and seventh rounds respectively. How would the 38-year-old Rodgers react to and handle such a large infusion of youth at the position especially after losing arguably the top receiver in the NFL?
In the immediate aftermath of the draft, he did his best to calm expectations. “I like production over potential,” Rodgers said in June. “We have a lot of potential. So we need to temper expectations and heighten the accountability.” That was during mandatory minicamp and Rodgers, knowing full well he’s going to need these guys to win a second ring, set the tone early.
Training camp opened a month and a half later and the tough love continued. Just over two weeks ago, Rodgers went public again to air some concerns about the young receivers. It was a move that caused divided reactions outside of the locker room but once again was received loud and clear inside the organization.
“You keep dropping the ball, you’re not going to be out there,” Rodgers said, point blank. “It’s going to be the most reliable guys that are out there.” The quarterback singled out the younger receivers for bad route decisions and running the wrong routes. While the national media wrung its collective hands over whether Rodgers was too harsh, the youngsters responded the very next day with arguably their best practice of camp and Rodgers made to give them credit the following day.
With the regular season upon us, we can expect more tough love from Rodgers. The young receivers will make mistakes and how they overcome them will likely define this Packers offense, especially early on. Criticism is going to be levied and Rodgers is well within his right as team leader to dish it out as he sees fit, despite how some on the outside might feel.
That’s because Rodgers sees the big picture. Bringing these receivers along will of course benefit him in the short term but it will benefit the organization in the long run, including after Rodgers has hung up his helmet. There is no greater gift Rodgers could leave Jordan Love (or whomever replaces him) than a well-rounded and fully developed receiver group.
Rodgers himself saw how much having good receivers helped when he took over in 2008 with players like Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones already established and a rookie named Jordy Nelson also on the roster. Those four all played crucial roles in the team winning Super Bowl XLV and while Rodgers obviously wants to win another one before he retires, he also would love to hand his heir a developed group so that the team can keep humming.
That is why Rodgers should be praised for being tough on these younger players. He knows what is at stake, not only for him but the franchise moving forward. He saw first hand how a standard was set in the wide receiver room when he took the reins so it’s only right he helps make sure that same standard is upheld when he hands them off. Veterans like Randall Cobb will undoubtedly back him up.
So let the ring counting and playoff win debate rage. That might make for good internet debate but in the big picture, that is not how Rodgers’ legacy will be defined when he does leave the game.
What will define it is the impact he leaves on the locker room and on the field through his current teammates that will be around after him. No one understands that more than Rodgers.
Tough love is still love, and that may benefit Jordan Love.
Hopefully that leads to an ending in February that everyone loves.