The Aaron Rodgers revenge tour has officially been canceled. After months of lamenting the “woke mob,” vaccine mandates and even taking a recent shot at the “fake White House,” cancel culture finally got the Green Bay Packers quarterback.
His undoing was of the more traditional variety, coming by way of poor special teams play and an offensive deflation that will leave the 2021 season as a bitter memory of unfulfilled potential. A year of promise was whacked in the most familiar of ways.
At the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, yet again. And with Rodgers failing to put his best game onto the field.
There will be a rationale spun for it, of course. While the offense broke down in critical moments in Saturday night's NFC divisional-round game, Rodgers certainly wasn’t playing at his worst. Not considering the frigid Lambeau Field conditions or an offense that was missing key pieces in left tackle David Bakhtiari and wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling. But it hardly lived up to the hyped narrative of forcing San Francisco to buckle in an unforgiving Green Bay winter, let alone disposing of the less-talented 49ers like a No. 1 overall playoff seed should have.
Instead, the Packers looked flat after a week off, not to mention horribly mistake-prone on special teams, which was an area many suspected might be a postseason Achilles. That point came Saturday, ushering a 13-10 loss that drops Rodgers’ postseason record to 0-4 against the 49ers. A missed opportunity that might rank as one of the worst postseason losses in Green Bay history, considering the Packers had the best record in the NFL and were considered the best team in the NFC by a wide margin.
Now they’ll be remembered for tripping against a 49ers team led by a lame duck quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, just before an offseason of potentially sweeping change on the roster. It's the kind of defeat that Rodgers said left him feeling “a little numb.” And rightfully so, after he failed to throw a touchdown pass in a playoff clunker that will cast a shadow over an exquisite regular season that is likely to deliver another regular-season MVP award.
It also sends Green Bay into an offseason of decisions far earlier than anyone anticipated — both with the fate of Rodgers and also the roster that surrounds him.
Make no mistake: To keep this team largely intact, it’s going to require Rodgers signing a new contract that can be aggressively structured to create salary-cap space. And even then Green Bay is likely to shed salary or ask multiple veterans to either take pay cuts, rework their deals or face being cut. Rodgers and the franchise have known this was coming since the two sides came back together in July. Decisions need to be made and almost all of them hang on what the quarterback wants to do next.
Asked about that reality Saturday, Rodgers said he would take time to consider his future and then make a decision before free agency — allowing the front office to structure the offseason based on whether he would be around in 2022.
“I didn’t think we’d be talking about this after this game,” Rodgers told reporters. “I’m going to take some time and have conversations with folks around here and then take some time away and make a decision — obviously before free agency or anything gets going on that front. [The loss is] fresh right now. A little shocking for sure. I was hoping to have a nice weekend for the NFC championship, to enjoy the lead-up and then start contemplating some things, so I haven’t even let the moment really sink in yet.”
Given so many offseason decisions are looming overhead and not knowing what the roster might look like if he returns, Rodgers was asked if he still believed a Super Bowl was achievable in Green Bay. His response was uncertain, aside from one point: He’s not going to be sticking around for a total roster overhaul.
“I don’t know. That’s a fair question,” Rodgers said of the possibility of still being able to win a Super Bowl with the Packers. “Definitely one I’ve thought about. But there are a lot of decisions to be made. Key players, a lot of guys who played tonight. … So many guys whose contracts are up or on the brink or salary-cap stuff. So a lot of decisions to be made. I don’t want to be part of a rebuild if I’m going to keep playing. So a lot of decisions in the next couple of months.”
It’s worth noting that’s a two-way street for the Packers. Head coach Matt LaFleur said Saturday that he wants Rodgers back in 2022. It’s something the front office still has to weigh, too. While Rodgers played at the highest of levels this season, he also came with a lot of baggage off the field. Arguably more than any season before this one, from his expansive thoughts on the state of the franchise, to his vaccination and COVID-19 musings, to his most recent comment on President Joe Biden in an ESPN piece this weekend.
There’s little escaping that Rodgers appears to be recasting himself as someone who says and does whatever he wants, then relates that approach as a courageous revelatory awakening. It certainly might be to him but Packers management is still trying to get to a Super Bowl, and the unfortunate reality is that Green Bay has now had three straight stellar seasons canceled in extremely disappointing fashion.
Prior to Saturday, at least the Packers brass could point to back-to-back NFC championship game losses and suggest that the franchise was just a few adjustments from the next step. But Saturday left a different taste, a bitter flavor while taking a step backward.
That means something for Rodgers and everyone around in him the organization. Maybe it will signal the beginning of something different. Or the end of something familiar. Maybe both. But one way or another, Rodgers ends another stellar season in not-so-stellar fashion. There will be ramifications for that cancellation. And this time it won’t take an entire offseason to learn what they are.