The NFC North has seen what will be regarded as one of the weirdest offseasons for a quarterback in years. Aaron Rodgers returned to the Green Bay Packers this week, just days before training camp began, and just a few weeks away from the preseason.
Rodgers, 37, had spent much of the offseason offering hints at his possible departure from Green Bay, with trade rumors and speculation constant until this week. However, last year’s NFL MVP decided to return to Lambeau Field for at least one more season.
Rodgers brokered a change to the deal he signed in 2018, a four-year extension with the Packers worth $134 million, which featured a $57.5 million signing bonus. Rodgers’ deal currently keeps him in Green Bay for this upcoming season and gives him options after that.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news of the restructured contract. “The agreement in principle would include an approximation of the following conditions that the two sides now are finalizing to alleviate and address some of Rodgers’ issues before the opening of Tuesday’s training camp: The 2023 year in Rodgers’ contract — the last one in his current deal — would be voided, with no tags allowed in the future. The Packers would agree to review Rodgers’ situation at the end of this season. Rodgers’ contract would be adjusted with no loss of income to give the Packers more cap room now. Mechanisms will be put in place to address Rodgers’ issues with the team.”
The question lingering is, what does Rodgers returning mean for the powers that be in the NFC North and the conference at large?
For starters, it changes things quite a bit when projecting who will win the NFC North. However, Minnesota Vikings fans can be assured that there is still a great chance the Vikings take the division, even with Rodgers returning. There is no reason to doubt the three-time league MVP, but there is reason to be skeptical about this Packers team making it to the NFC title game for the third year in a row.
The Packers have undoubtedly been marred by the media scrutiny and speculation all offseason, so much so that Davante Adams broke off talks with the team on a contract extension at one point. Of course, the talent on the Green Bay roster speaks for itself, especially with the trade for Randall Cobb, a long-time Rodgers favorite.
However, the NFC North, and the conference as a whole, shouldn’t overlook Minnesota. Coming off a 7-9 record and a third-place finish in the NFC North a year ago, the Vikings have retooled and reloaded. By adding Dede Westbrook as a reliable WR3, drafting offensive lineman to add depth up front, and signing Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland, this Vikings team looks to have pinpointed their weaknesses from a year ago.
They overhauled the 29th-ranked defense from last season and supplemented an offense that seemed a few pieces away from being one of the best in the league. This Minnesota team has no reason to be scared of the guys over in Titletown. Let’s not forget the benefits Vikings will have for not having gone through such a visible offseason as the Packers did. Minnesota won’t have to answer the questions that will inevitably be asked of Green Bay should the team start slow. If the Packers struggle early or drop some winnable games, all eyes will turn to Rodgers and if he should have returned and whether his return was a good thing for the team.
Luckily, the pressure that hangs over the Packers is not oppressing the Vikings. Sure, a deep playoff run is among the expectations for this Minnesota team. Should they fail to meet those expectations, rest assured changes will be made to the “win-now” team we see standing in front of us. However, should the Packers not see a deep playoff run that culminates in a minimum an NFC title appearance, and really a Super Bowl appearance, we will likely see Aaron Rodgers looking for a new home in 2022 — signaling the end of Green Bay’s run of dominance in the division.
While the pressure in the NFC North seems relentless, Rodgers has really put the screws on the Packers, and only time will tell if they fold under that pressure. Either way, the Vikings are a formidable rival that shouldn’t be taken lightly and one that doesn’t look too afraid of the return of the three-time MVP.