“The Packers wasted Aaron Rodgers’ prime!” “They didn’t help him in any way!” “They wasted a pick on his replacement while the window is still open!” Comments like these, as well as Brandon Marshall’s recent comments on Aaron Rodgers’ wasted prime, are not uncommon. Rodgers has been the target of many in the media for some time. It makes sense. The Dalai Lama met with him. Aaron is uniquely private but also the smartest person in most rooms. He appears smug and this invites accusations of elitism.
Simultaneously, an argument arises that the Packers did not do enough to support Aaron Rodgers and also that maybe Rodgers is a locker room cancer or the true downfall of the Green Bay Packers. He demands perfection from his teammates as if Michael Jordan and Tom Brady have not done the same. There are four general talking points on either side of the Rodgers debate: his wasted prime and lack of support, his incredible arm talent and ball placement, his being a locker room cancer, or his declining ability to guide the Packers to victory. In the most recent news cycle, it was the first of these which garnered the most attention.
Let’s learn a little bit about the Packers history in the playoffs. Rodgers has a 10-8 record in the playoffs. Of his eight losses, the Packers allowed 28 or more points in six of them. This statistic, however, is known and has been circulating both among mainstream media and Packers fandom. Of his 10 wins, the Packers allowed less than 24 points on eight separate occasions. Five of those wins had less than 20 points were allowed. The defense has not always been up to par, sometimes not even coming close. Yet the defense has done a job at times.
You can say Rodgers should heroically take the team down in overtime and win the game for them. But in every overtime the Packers have played in the playoffs, Aaron has not touched the ball. Aaron has thrown to Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams among others. It is not as if the Packers have not put money down to help. Charles Woodson’s extension came on the back of Rodgers’ rookie deal. Martellus Bennett, the best free agent tight end at the time, was brought in. Jimmy Graham, albeit at the end of his career, was brought in. Not to mention the countless high draft picks and free agents brought in to try to solve the anemic defense that ranked top 10 only once in Rodgers’ career. Sure, none of it worked after 2010, but it was not for a lack of trying. He was not ignored and the Packers most certainly tried to solve the real issues they dealt with.
Wide Receiver Help? Or Defensive Help?
Moreover, the argument for bringing in a wide receiver holds no water in terms of what brings in Super Bowl wins. The last 10 Super Bowl winners featured five Pro Bowl wide receivers. Of those five, three went to the pro bowl as returners not wide receivers and one was Greg Jennings. The other was Tyreek Hill on the most recent Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. While receivers can make a quarterback’s job easy, he still has to do a job. A great throw can make up for a poor route but no matter how great a route, it cannot make up for a bad throw. In his 18 playoff games, Aaron Rodgers has scored under 21 points only four times and never less than 20.
If Aaron Rodgers’ defense can hold the opposing teams under three touchdowns, Rodgers would have a 78% winning percentage in the playoffs, not speculating on the follow-up games the Packers would play. In comparison, in 41 playoff games, Tom Brady is 30-11, a winning percentage of 73%. However, for him, the defense has already held the opponent to under 21 points in 22 of those games. Perhaps, instead of investing in a wide receiver as so many asked (despite having talented receivers on the squad already), the Packers investing in the defense was the right move.
Championships As A Measuring Stick:
I think the argument for a prime being wasted starts and ends with Championships. So, let’s take a look at the quarterbacks who have won a single championship. Ken Stabler, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath. Even more recently, Kurt Warner and Brett Favre. Russell Wilson has one Lombardi Trophy and is turning 32 this season. If in the next four years, the Seahawks do not win another Super Bowl, will there be such ubiquitous discussion of the Seattle Seahawks did wrong by Russell Wilson and did not get him enough? Drew Brees has just the one trophy. His retirement discussion has already started with many speculating it could have been this offseason.
The Drew Brees Debate
I do not see anyone going on national sports talk shows saying Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints wasted Drew Brees’ prime. In fact, I hear more about Sean Payton being an offensive genius than him wasting Drew Brees’ prime. There is, however, a perfectly good reason for that. It’s because he is an offensive genius. Nor have the Packers wasted Aaron Rodgers’ prime. They won a Super Bowl.
A Super Bowl, in what is the most obvious statement of this article, is no easy thing to win. The NFL is not the MLB or the NBA. There are 16 regular season games and a single-elimination playoff structure. The ball is not round, and it does not always bounce your way. Any given team can beat any other on any given day of the week (primarily Saturdays and Sundays). You can look at the Packers Super Bowl run in 2010, the Giants Super Bowl run the year after that, or even the Tennessee Titans playoff run these past playoffs beating the heavily favored New England Patriots and the prohibitive Super Bowl favorites Baltimore Ravens. 33 quarterbacks have won the Super Bowl. Every other quarterback in the history of the NFL has not. The reality of winning the Super Bowl in this era is that you need a quarterback on a cheap deal overperforming his contract so money can be spent elsewhere. Look at Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Wilson, Mahomes, and even Brady. Regardless, wins are not a quarterback statistic. That counts for Super Bowl wins too. In an era when teams were led by their running backs, no one said Walter Payton’s prime was wasted for having won only one Super Bowl. The same goes for Tony Dorsett or Jim Brown.
In reality, this argument comes from a place of genuine appreciation for Aaron Rodgers’ talent. He has generational arm talent. The combination of mobility, accuracy, and fearlessness Rodgers displays is the stuff you tell your grandchildren about. “Aaron Rodgers came back from 21 down against the Chicago Bears. He hit Jennings in the corner and seal Super Bowl XLV and I was there. I witnessed the Miracle in Motown.” People wish could see him in the Super Bowl more and they blame the Packers for keeping him from that. But in reality, playoff games and even Super Bowls can come down to pure luck. Brandon Bostick fumbling an onside kick, Scott Norwood missing wide right, David Tyree pressing the football against his helmet. So, we should not look at Aaron Rodgers’ career and think of what could have been. We should instead focus on what has been: the greatest talent the quarterback position has ever seen playing at a Hall of Fame level for over a decade.