the Chip on Aaron Rodgers’ Shoulder will Make or Break his 2020 Season

Aaron Rodgers may be under the biggest microscope of his NFL career this season after the Green Bay Packers drafted his heir apparent Jordan Love in the first round of the NFL Draft. Now it’s Rodgers’ turn to respond on the field, if and when the NFL season commences after the coronavirus pandemic (hopefully) dissipates.

Rodgers led the Packers to a 13-3 record last season, a rebound of sorts as Green Bay made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The two-time MVP could not overcome a much stronger 49ers team in the NFC Championship as San Francisco smoked the Packers 37-20 to secure a birth in the Super Bowl. That dropped Rodgers to 1-3 in his career in NFC Championship games. Now it seems like his own franchise may be looking to the future with the Love pick, placing Rodgers in the center of the media’s eye this season.

He has two ways to respond this season. The chip that’s always been on Rodgers’ shoulder, that most likely just got a lot bigger since the draft, could fuel him to a career renaissance and lead him to return to his MVP peak he enjoyed between 2011-2014. The other scenario is that the media and fan scrutiny becomes too much and the 36-year-old Rodgers folds under the pressure and continues to decline, paving the way for Love to supplant him as the started after two more years.

After slipping to the Packers at 24 in the 2005 draft, Rodgers has played his whole career with a fuck you attitude fuelling his out of this world talent. This new perceived slight could be just what Rodgers needs to rejuvenate his career. Looking at the numbers, 2019 wasn’t Rodgers’ best season by far, but it’s not all that far off from elite production. Rogers is still the best quarterback in the league at protecting the football having only thrown six interceptions over the last two seasons. With second-year Head Coach Matt LaFleur scheming new ways to get his receivers open, Rodgers could unlock a new level of the current Packers offense. Last season his favorite target Davante Adams went down and missed four games while still almost reaching 1,000 yards. Running backs caught 8 of Rodgers’ 26 touchdown passes in 2019. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams both return in contract years. Both backs could have an increased roll catching passes out of the backfield in 2020.

The argument for Rodgers’ demise will revolve around his temperament, and perceived lack of offensive talent this season. At times in his career Rodgers has been know to be a bit prickly and had a very bad falling out with former coach Mike McCarthy. If anything similar manifests with LaFleur, things could go downhill quickly in Green Bay. The supporting cast around Rodgers is also quite thin. Adams is his only reliable receiver, with no real option at tight end after the release of Jimmy Graham. The hesitation to surround Rodgers with high-end talent could be the organization and quarterbacks eventual downfalls.

Rodgers is 36-years-old and will turn 37 during the season. Whatever happens to one of the best quarterbacks of his generation this season, every move he makes in 2020 will undoubtedly be picked apart in every way possible.

What do the Packers do Now?

Just a few months ago the Green Bay Packers seemed to be on an upwards trajectory. New head coach Matt LaFleur breaths life into a team that had missed the playoffs the previous two seasons. Aaron Rodgers starts to show glimpses of his former fire-breathing dragon ways,  and leads the Packers to a 13-3 regular season, a first-round bye, followed by a win over the Seahawks in the Divisional Round to set up an NFC Championship showdown against the San Francisco 49ers. Fast-forward four months and ask the question: why is the fan-base so pissed off? Well a few things happened between the Seahawks victory and now, a week after the NFL draft, to turn even the most hopeful fans into a bunch of jackals.

First the Packers got smoked by the 49ers in the NFC Championship 37-20. The Packers allowed 285 rushing yards and hardly touched Raheem Mostert all game long. This lackluster big game performance all but exposed the Packers as frauds and accentuated the team’s holes. Then the coup de gras happens during the draft. The Packers seemingly have glaring need at wide receiver, and fans are in luck, this happens to be one of the best and deepest receiver drafts in the history of football. What can go wrong? Well General Manager Brian Gutekunst trades up in the first round and instead of giving Aaron Rodgers an offensive weapon to help the team get over the hump, he bypasses the hopes and dreams of fans everywhere and takes Rodger’s backup and hopeful eventual replacement in quarterback Jordan Love. Fans have been outraged ever since and many NFL pundits are still confused by the move. Now that the draft is over and the ramifications of the Packers organizational shift are still being sifted out, what do the Packers do now heading into the 2020 season?

The first thing they need to do is tighten up their organization. The Packers can’t afford any more leaked conversations about how Aaron Rodgers seems extremely pissed off about the Love pick. Basically Packers brass needs to tell Brett Favre to shut the hell up until they get to figure things out and make sure they and Rodgers are on the same page. Then the Packers need to take this offseason and establish an identity. Green Bay needs to develop some kind of sense of who they are in year two under LeFleur. Year one was can be chalked up as a learning experience where players and coaches were feeling everything out and getting used to a new system. Year two is when the Packers must show signs of what style they have chosen to play. If the draft is any indication, it looks like the Packers are planing to get stronger, tougher, and lean on a power run game. Drafting running back A.J. Dillon in the second round and tight end/h-back hybrid Josiah Deguara in the third seem to inform that LeFleur is maybe trying to replicate the power running scheme he employed while working as the Offensive Coordinator for the Tennessee Titans in 2018. If that is indeed the case, LeFleur will still need to scheme ways for breakout star running back Aaron Jones to get involved. A power running game could take some pressure off of Aaron Rodgers who enters his age 36 season in 2020, and hasn’t risen to his former elite level since 2016.

The defense will need to show vast improvement from the NFC Championship without veterans Blake Martinez and Tramon Williams who were lost to free agency. It will be up to a cast of mostly youngsters to turn the defensive ship around, starting in the secondary with budding star Jaire Alexander. Alexander at times over his first two seasons has show flashes of becoming a shutdown cover corner. At other times he has lagged off of his receiver and still allows a number of big plays. He and fellow young corner Kevin King will need to blossom into reliable starters and possible star caliber players if the Packers want to improve on last season.

While pessimism and organizational chaos have been the themes of the offseason for the Packers, fans can still be optimistic about the upcoming season. Rodgers is still a top ten quarterback in the league capable of taking a talent rich team to the Super Bowl in the same vain as John Elway during his late career resurgence. The talk of the offseason was the packers lack of depth at the receiver position, but the Packers still have plenty of offensive talent. Aaron Jones if coming off of a career year in which he scored 19 touchdowns. Davante Adams is still only 27 years old and one of the premiere receivers in the league. Throw in secondary options Jamaal Williams, Devin Funchess, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and the Packers have enough fire power to be a competent offense. They might not blow your doors off, but enough of those guys can get the job done. The defense still has the Smith brothers coming off the edge generating sacks, and second year safety Darnell Savage could blossom into a Pro-Bowl level talent. The defense is still quite young and has the chance to grow into a top 15 defense in the league.

While the Packers likely didn’t make themselves much better this offseason, the players they kept around could be the right ones to still make a run at the playoffs. Unless Rodgers implodes or retires anytime soon, Green Bay should still be in the mix in the NFC this season.