Aaron Rodgers announced earlier this week that he will indeed start Sunday’s game against the Jets. The incentives in the organization, with interim coach Joe Philbin ostensibly hoping to get the job permanently, are misaligned. This is about as dumb of a football decision as the Packers could possibly make for three reasons: Injury risk, draft position, and foregoing the opportunity to evaluate DeShone Kizer as a backup.
I’m well aware that Rodgers is a football player and that the possibility of getting hurt is an inherent risk in the violent game. Nevertheless, the Packers have proven themselves breathtakingly unable to compete when Rodgers is injured and his backup is in. This is part of the reason that Rodgers had the leverage to sign a blockbuster extension when he still had two years left on his deal and another two seasons under club control via the franchise tag.
Rodgers has been battling a knee injury since a Week 1 hit from Khalil Mack and Roy Robertson-Harris. This week, a groin injury was added as a disclosure on the Packers’ injury list. In two previous seasons, he has suffered broken collarbones.
Rodgers’ next three seasons are essentially fully guaranteed, at a total of over $100 million. Based on this reason alone, it is a terrible decision for Rodgers to play in a game when the Packers are already eliminated from playoff contention and there is a risk of a big hit or awkward non-contact injury
impacting next season. If he gets drilled a la Alex Smith, the Packers have zero hope until 2020. But there’s more.
Right now, the Packers are 5-8-1. If the season ended today, they’d be picking 11th. But, if they win their two games remaining against the Jets and Lions they risk dropping to the mid-teens. If they lose them — and both of those teams are amongst the log jam of franchises they’re “competing” with for a higher draft pick — it’s conceivable (if mathematically improbable) that they could land in the top 5.
I don’t want to hear about how these two games would give Rodgers a better opportunity to get on the same page with rookies Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling — they’ve had 14 regular season games to do that already. I see almost zero benefit for next year for Rodgers playing.
Evaluate the backup
The only meaningful minutes we saw DeShone Kizer play this season, he was a human excavator construction vehicle, digging a deep hole that Rodgers would ultimately claw the Packers out of against the Bears. He had seven pass attempts and two turnovers.
I’m willing to cut Kizer a slight break because this wasn’t a game he was prepared to enter, and he’s still just 22 years old. Therefore, these two games would be a golden opportunity for the Packers to discern whether Kizer is a viable backup.
So why is Rodgers playing?
Excellent question. Rodgers getting hurt would be catastrophic, the Packers have lots of holes that could benefit from better draft position, and they need to see if their backup QB is fit for the job. In my opinion, Rodgers is playing because he wants the Packers to finish 3-1 without Mike McCarthy, and keep Joe Philbin as permanent coach. Philbin, who presumably would like to keep the job, is happy to go along.
As I wrote earlier this week, before Sunday’s Bears game, ESPN’s Dianna Russini tweeted, “Talk[ed] to a bunch of people on the sidelines today at this Packers Bears game and many people pointing out how happy Aaron Rodgers has been over the last week.” Hmm, why would that be?
What’s unclear is where the front office stands. It would be a very aggressive move on their part to swoop in and overrule their interim head coach, thus killing any authority he has. From the outside, it seems like the odd structure where the new head coach would be hired by and report to team president Mark Murphy as opposed to GM Brian Gutekunst would be an inhibitor towards getting a bona fide blue chipper a la John Harbaugh, Nick Saban, or Lincoln Riley.
We’ll see how this all plays out, but Rodgers playing these next two weeks has the potential to do a lot more harm than good for the Packers in the long run.