“Didn’t think it was going to end like this.”: Aaron Rodgers “Last Dance” leaves his future in doubt and his legacy stained

The 2021 NFL season may as well been Aaron Rodgers own reality show the way he hijacked the headlines each week.

It began in the offseason where Rodgers was not committed to the Packers and sat out of training camp. He was the talk of the sports world months before the NFL news cycle truly began.

His MVP level of play throughout the season was the talk of every major sports network.

But Rodgers really had a hold on the nation for not his play but his views on the vaccine, Joe Biden, and his medical advisor Joe Rogan. But I digress.

Nonetheless, this was built as Rodgers “Last Dance” with the Packers, a narrative he himself started. Prior to the 13-10 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Rodgers and his favorite WR Devante Adams posted on their stories an image of Jordan and Pippen signaling the last dance theme.

If that is indeed the last time Aaron Rodgers wears a Packers uniform, he couldn’t have finished his storied 17-year career with the only NFL team he has ever known in a more stunningly disappointing fashion.

Light the league on fire in the regular season … underwhelm when it matters most in the playoffs. That has become the norm for Rodgers, who was named Super Bowl MVP almost 11 years ago but hasn’t done much worth celebrating in the postseason since.

He’s arguably the most talented thrower of a football the NFL has ever seen and a first-ballot lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but this is yet another stain on his resume that has had plenty of them around this time of year since he last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

Rodgers likely will win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award for the second consecutive season (and fourth time overall) in a couple weeks, but he resembled nothing close to it on Saturday night in a divisional-round exit. After a clinical 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive to open the game, he and one of the league’s best offenses vanished.

What remained as Robbie Gould’s game-winning 45-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired were the ruins of a once-promising season, the most realistic championship aspirations in a decade dashed and Rodgers’ future once again uncertain.

What made this one sting even more, perhaps, is how realistic a chance he felt this year’s team had to go all the way.

The Packers had edge rusher Za’Darius Smith back. Cornerback Jaire Alexander back. They had Mercilus back. Even without left tackle David Bakhtiari against the 49ers, it felt the stars were aligning for a run that would end in the Lombardi Trophy coming home. Instead, the Packers’ title hopes crashed and burned on Saturday night, a scene far to familiar for the Packers in recent memory.

“In other years, it feels like sometimes you need things to go your way, but that didn’t feel like this season,” Rodgers said. “You just felt like this was a team that could really win it and didn’t need a bunch of things to go their way. We just needed to make the plays in all three phases and then one of the phases (defense) played excellent, we (offense) didn’t have a great night and obviously special teams didn’t, either.

“Didn’t think it was going to end like this.”

The Packers and Rodgers are facing an offseason filled with dilemmas. Their well over the cap, with Rodgers possibly exiting and Devante Adams, top 3 receiver in the league, a pending free agent. The Packers are facing a possibility of losing their two premier offensive talents in a blink of an eye without any plan to replace either of them.

It is nearly impossible to have them both return considering how many contracts they would have to rework and money they’d have to differ down the line. And of course they will try, you’d move heaven and earth to keep these guys. But then the Packers face the reality that what is one without the other?

Without Rodgers in Green Bay what incentive does Adams have to return? Sure money is the great equalizer but does he really want Jordan Love throwing him the ball for the rest of his prime? Doubtful.

Rodgers doesn’t want to be apart of a rebuild. Losing his number one playmaker essentially means this team is taking a massive step back.

Adams, who Rodgers has dubbed the best player he has ever played with, has an expiring contract. First-team All-Pro selection De’Vondre Campbell, the game-changing linebacker Green Bay has long sought, will be an unrestricted free agent. So too will standout cornerback Rasul Douglas, tight end Robert Tonyan, wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, right guard Lucas Patrick, edge rusher Whitney Mercilus and others who helped the Packers rise to the top of the NFL this season.

This could be end of the Packers as we know them if a rebuild is indeed coming.

Any objective accounting would conclude Rodgers has it better in Green Bay than he would likely have it elsewhere, at least among teams seeking quarterbacks. Objective accountings might be irrelevant if Rodgers remained upset with the organization. In that case, he might make a decision based on emotion. Though it’s possible Rodgers might want to play for another coach in another city, there is no obviously irresistible draw someplace else.

The Broncos frequently surface in reports as a potential destination, but would Rodgers really have a better shot elevating his legacy in a division featuring Mahomes and Justin Herbert? Would he really have a better shot at reaching the Super Bowl in a conference featuring those two quarterbacks, plus Allen in Buffalo, Burrow in Cincinnati and Lamar Jackson in Baltimore? Rodgers’ clearest path to enhancing his legacy runs through an NFC North featuring the Detroit Lions and two other organizations starting fresh with new head coaches and GMs.

New Orleans could be an intriguing spot for a quarterback to land if Sean Payton remains in place there.

“There are problems wherever you go,” a former head coach said. “At least you know what the problems are there in Green Bay.”

And then there is the never ending conversation that Rodgers is just over the sport and the roles that come with it off the field.

Rodgers seems unable to resist using his various platforms to pontificate on matters that interest him.

Speaking to ESPN this past week regarding COVID-19 vaccines and presidential policy opened him to sharp criticism from some.

“Rodgers wants to talk about vaccine mandates and cancel culture, while Brady talks about all ball,” a veteran coach said. “Rodgers loves the standing invite on the A.J. Hawk show (Pat McAfee Show) and he wants to talk about cancel culture, woke mob and every other thing that doesn’t do anything but splinter and unfocus the group. To me, Rodgers doesn’t show the focus that it really takes to win the multiple championships.”

Rodgers hadn’t taken much criticism that harsh before this season, but with the NFL all but abandoning meaningful COVID-19 testing, the most inflammatory topic on Rodgers’ mind could become less relevant in the future.

Rodgers is about to win his second consecutive MVP award. Rodgers led the league in Total QBR. And Covid conversations aside, Rodgers seemed to really enjoy this season.

Since when do quarterbacks at the peak of their powers walk away from competitive rosters while able to command $40-50 million a year? The answer is never, so don’t think Rodgers Last Dance themed season was actually the curtain closing for the final time.

Rodgers will speak in the next week with Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst, with whom Rodgers’ relationship has grown significantly since last offseason. He’ll then take time away from football before making a decision about his future prior to free agency, which officially begins March 16. Rodgers has vowed not to drag this process out like he did last year, when he waited until he arrived at training camp in late July to speak extensively on his standoff with the front office.

Whether it is in Green Bay, or elsewhere Rodgers will be playing football next season and stirring up enough controversy to ensure media coverage surrounds him around the clock.


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