The emotions after another numbing playoff loss can lead to rash decisions if they aren’t given proper time to process. That’s why the Green Bay Packers are perfectly fine waiting for Aaron Rodgers to make his decision before free agency begins. For Rodgers, there’s one clear case for him to return to the Green and Gold.
Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen just had a duel for the ages. Next up for the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship is budding superstar Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. After barely missing out on the dance this year, Justin Herbert awaits his turn with the Los Angeles Chargers next season. All four of those quarterbacks are newly in their prime or just coming into their own. They should each be the franchise guy for their team for the next decade-plus. They’re all also in the AFC. The NFC is not nearly as loaded at the premier position; a factor Rodgers should absolutely consider.
In the NFC, Tom Brady may be retiring. Dak Prescott is pretty good but not a generational talent like Mahomes or Allen. The same can be said for Kyler Murray. Veterans like Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson aren’t in the same tier as Mahomes or Allen, and they aren’t the up-and-coming quarterbacks that Burrow and Herbert are. The road to the top is a lot smoother in the NFC. Based off the teams that have been rumored for a Rodgers destination spot since last season, he could be putting himself through quite the gauntlet.
The Denver Broncos have been most frequently suggested as the team willing to go for broke to get Rodgers. That would place him in a division with the Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders, both of whom made the playoffs this year. They’d also have to play the Chargers twice, and they were right on the doorstep with Herbert. It would by far be the toughest division to navigate in 2022.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have also been the subject of trade whispers. But the AFC North, like the AFC West, is brutal.
Lamar Jackson is flying under the radar because of how the season ended for the Baltimore Ravens. But make no mistake about it, he will be back and Baltimore will always be a serious contender with him under center.
Burrow and the Bengals figure to be around for a long time, and the Cleveland Browns may be a quarterback away from Super Bowl legitimacy. Rodgers may want the Steelers to trade for him, but that might not necessarily be what is in his best interest if his primary motivation is to compete for another ring.
Meanwhile, it’s nice and cushy in the NFC North. Returning to Green Bay means being in a division with Justin Fields, Jared Goff, and Kirk Cousins if there are no changes at quarterback in the offseason. If there is turnover, it will be in Detroit or Minnesota. It would likely involve a young, inexperienced quarterback from the draft. The problem for Green Bay hasn’t been winning the North, it’s what comes after that. Still, a division title is assurance of at least one home playoff game, and that’s still the first step on a path to the Super Bowl.
Minnesota and Chicago are experiencing a change in leadership. Both will have new general managers and head coaches take over in 2022. The Vikings have a solid roster in place, while the Bears still have a lot of holes on the depth chart. Regardless of how the offseason shakes out, Green Bay will probably be the favorite in the NFC North if Rodgers returns. The same question would remain: Would they finally be able to get it done?
The heartbreak at the end of this year could overshadow all of that. Green Bay was playing great at the end of the season and returned plenty of missing parts for their playoff game against San Francisco. It really does beg the question, If not now, when?
Rodgers could see greener pastures and a better opportunity elsewhere, even if it doesn’t appear to be that way on the surface. If that’s the case, he could be packing his bags next month. The obvious lure of another division title and an easier path in the NFC might not be enough, but it’s a hell of an argument in favor of him sticking around.
Aaron Rodgers’ best chance to get to the top of the sport remains with the Green Bay Packers, even with some starters from this years team expected to be elsewhere next season because of the salary cap. Rodgers will have to weigh everything over the course of the next month or two. One big factor should be how easy the path will still be in the NFC North — and in the NFC at large — as compared to possible landing spots in the AFC.