Aaron Rodgers was drafted in 2005, after the Packers had gone 10-6 and won the NFC North. Brett Favre was 35 years old. Rodgers, who turned 35 last week, may well have multiple great seasons left in him, as Favre would have in 2007 and 2009, but even he is speaking out loud about his “football mortality” and the Packers would be best served in the long run by planning a potential off ramp a little too early versus a little too late.
This really isn’t about parsing the blame for this season, which will be lost for the Packers unless they win out, the Vikings go 1-2, and the Panthers, Eagles, and Skins all lose at least once. It would be unfair to say that Rodgers has played terribly; nevertheless, he’s missed some throws or reads that he would’ve executed in his Matrix Mode of times past. Whether and how frequently he’ll get back to this level of play is anyone’s guess — I happen to think he will for at least a season or two — but the Packers need to be prepared for the worst case scenario.
The Packers have two first round picks, after trading down with the Saints this past year. Now, that Saints pick isn’t going to wind up being a scratch-off lottery ticket jackpot, but it gives the Packers a tremendous opportunity to select a player ready to help them win right away with their own pick, and then use New Orleans’ late first rounder on whichever QB they have ranked the highest.
Presumably, Justin Herbert will be off the board by this time. Dwayne Haskins could very well be gone as well (though, if the Packers love him and he’s around for their first pick, they should go for it). Perhaps Daniel Jones from Duke will be available when the Saints’ pick comes up? Or, if the Packers have a high grade on Drew Lock (Mizzou) or Will Grier (WVU), picking one of them now and developing him for three years behind Rodgers would be the right move. The risk of “overpaying” and selecting a quarterback too early in the Draft is worth the potential reward of finding a starter.
No one’s saying that the Packers need to move on from Rodgers now. That would be absurd even if he weren’t locked up with guaranteed money for the next three seasons (and under control for four, before the franchise tag). But, selecting his potential successor now would a) light a fire under Rodgers, who would definitely infer the move as competition, b) set them up for the transition like the one from Favre to Rodgers that would ideally steward another decade-plus of strong quarterback play, and c) maybe just maybe have a backup who doesn’t vomit on himself on the field if Rodgers gets hurt again.
If the Packers pick a good quarterback, the worst case scenario is what happened with the Patriots and Jimmy Garoppolo, where Rodgers could follow in Tom Brady’s footsteps and shatter all actuarial expectations until the young QB’s rookie deal expired and Green Bay had to make a move. And even if the Packers messed up the pick, they’d have a multi-year opportunity to evaluate the mistake in their own building and ultimately go in a different direction.