Whether Aaron Rodgers cares about his NFL legacy or not isn't for me to say. At minimum, he seems to enjoy the spotlight football has created for him and, likewise, seems to relish the power he's currently wielding over the only NFL team he's played for, the Green Bay Packers.
At some point, however, the tornado will stop spinning. The whistle will blow on Week 1 of the NFL season and, whether Rodgers is playing or not, fans will focus their attention toward the action on the field, not the drama off it.
That's just the way sports work. We love athletes when they're performing tricks. When they stop, our attention wanes and, eventually, turns fully toward the next big thing. What's left for the discarded athlete is their legacy, and Rodgers is currently playing chicken with his.
Right now, where do you rank Rodgers in the pantheon of great quarterbacks? Top 15? Top 20? He's not Top 10, that's for sure. Based on stats and accolades, he's more Brett Favre than Tom Brady; a player with immense skills who will be appreciated by the generation that saw him create magic in real-time, but a player who will be overlooked and forgotten by future fans.
Hell, Rodgers is a borderline Top 3 quarterback measured against his own generation. You have to put Brady and Peyton Manning ahead of him and, at his current pace, Patrick Mahomes will pass him before this decade is up. Drew Brees is in that conversation too.
Do you think Rodgers is content with that? Do you think a person as competitive and talented as him would be happy being the fourth- or fifth-best of this generation? Certainly not. The issue is he'll have to play for the Packers if he wants to add to his legacy. There's no way around it.
Over the last few days, reports from Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero and other respected football insiders have all signaled the Packers are unwilling to bend to the reigning MVP's trade demand and intend to keep him on their roster for 2021 and possibly beyond. With Rodgers under contract until 2023, they have every right to do so. That decision gives Rodgers only two courses of action: Play for the Packers or don't play football ever again. It's Calvin Johnson all over again, only in cheesehead form.
Right now Rodgers is a train speeding toward an immovable object with his legacy in the middle. Only he has the power to pull the emergency brake and extend his time on track. The Packers aren't budging. They'll let Rodgers walk away from football the same way the Lions let Megatron walk away. Like Detroit, they'll probably also ask for part of his signing bonus back. It's the ugly side of football, the side that led to Johnson renouncing the Lions until they recently paid back the bonus, but it's part of the game nevertheless.
Only one side is going to blink here. As Rapoport said, if the Packers were going to trade Rodgers, they would have already done so. That they haven't suggests they won't hit the brakes before Rodgers. They're prepared to crash because they know they'll survive. The Packers have no shelf life.
That leaves the power in Rodgers' hands. He can return to the Packers for another season, play his best, try to win an FU Super Bowl for the Packers and then either retire a Top-10 quarterback or go to another team and try and win a third title. But it's all up to him.
If Rodgers plays for the Packers in 2021, you'll know he cares about his legacy. If he doesn't, you'll know he doesn't. There is no in-between. There is no other path. Rodgers is at the stick. Whether he pulls that EB and extends his legacy is the only question remaining.