Here stands Aaron Rodgers, once again, behind Tom Brady. Where he has always been, where he is destined to stay in football lore.
No, Rodgers hasn’t decided to follow Brady into retirement, not this year anyway, meaning he won’t be part of the same Hall of Fame-eligible class in five years. But Rodgers is trying to walk the same late-career move that Brady did with such perfection, emerging from his hibernation cave to tell Pat McAfee he’s ready for some football.
Just not in Green Bay. Not anymore.
No, Rodgers said, he intends to play this upcoming season for the New York Jets, and is merely an innocent bystander until the Packers and Jets can work out a trade. But as is so often the case with Rodgers, it’s not going to be easy, not as he continues to throw shade at Green Bay management on the way out, not as he barely acknowledges what he likes about the Jets on the way in, not as he continues to show just how much he enjoys starring in his own self-absorbed drama.
This is not to say Brady’s break from New England was clean. Countless words already have been written about how dour those final days were, even as the Patriots made the playoffs in Brady’s final season, even as he left behind a record six Super Bowl trophies in Foxborough.
Through Bill Belichick’s inability to say anything nice about Brady and Brady’s inability to hide his dissatisfaction with Belichick’s roster, the end was painful. But at least it had a level of sincerity, where lamenting the end was matched with some appreciation for how long it lasted and how great it was.
When Brady reemerged in Tampa Bay and led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in his first season down South, it was a compelling tale of an athlete taking charge of his own fate and delivering on his great promise.
Rodgers is not in that position, and to be honest, the Packers are the ones with leverage here. They don’t have to pay his outsized roster bonus until the start of the regular season, and he does not have a no-trade clause he could wield as his own weapon. And it’s not as if Rodgers will come around the Packers facility; he already said his goodbyes to the city and fans Wednesday. So until the Packers get what they want in the way of draft picks or players, they can afford to wait.
And they’d already waited on Rodgers, waited through his self-imposed exile, through the start of the allowable free agent tampering period, through an internal debate he’d once promised would not be used to hold them hostage. But here he was Wednesday, saying things about the Packers like, “There’s a way of doing it that allows a man to keep his dignity,” that “There isn’t a bad guy in the situation as long as everything gets resolved the right way,” and a simple, “They want to move on, and now I want to play.”
To hear Rodgers tell it, he didn’t want out of Green Bay so much as Green Bay didn’t want him in anymore, ready as the Packers are to transition to heir apparent Jordan Love. As usual, the more Rodgers talks, the more confused we get. And no matter how he tries to spin it, he continues to drive this drama, and this move to New York.
Listen, it’s possible Rodgers really can’t wait to be a Jet, to take his four-time-MVP talents from the NFC to the AFC and prove he can rise to the top of a quarterback-laden conference. Maybe he’s energized by the prospect of taking a long-suffering franchise to its first Super Bowl since 1969, and is even intrigued by the notion of winning over the notoriously critical New York media.
But we wouldn’t know that from his comments Wednesday, which were far more focused on being annoyed by the Packers than they were with being impressed by the Jets. For all Rodgers likes to believe his deep-thinking ways keep him above the dramatic fray, he can be just as driven by the type of I’ll-prove-you-wrong vengeance that helped make Michael Jordan the greatest revenge-getter of all time.
Maybe he’s just so done with the Packers that he can’t wait to do just that. But it’s just as possible he becomes the second coming of Brett Favre — whose post-Packers year with the Jets went from 8-3 start to injured disaster — as it is he follows the city-changing Super-Bowl-winning path of Brady.
From the 90 percent certainty Rodgers said was pushing him toward retirement when he went into his cave to the 10 percent left that eventually convinced him to keep on playing, Rodgers took another turn in Brady’s shadow, not quite as clear as the retirement/unretirement saga Brady gave us a season ago, but similar nonetheless.
As Brady did with Rob Gronkowski, Rodgers is eager to recruit familiar targets to New York, but even that reasonable wish list was something he couldn’t help turning into yet another grievance when he incorrectly cast ESPN’s Diana Russini’s report of it as a list of demands.
That the Jets want Rodgers makes sense; they are a franchise perpetually in search of a franchise quarterback. That Rodgers will work out the way Brady did in Tampa? Who knows? Least of all him.