Opinion: Aaron Rodgers’ future with Packers is still unknown, but it sure looks better than it did five months ago

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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Five months can be like a lifetime in the NFL.

Think back to late July, when it seemed like a given this would be Aaron Rodgers’ final season with the Green Bay Packers.

And now, five months later, Rodgers’ return appears to be very much on the table.

How have the odds changed? This is purely guesswork because Rodgers doesn’t really know what he thinks. But if it was 90-10 he’s gone back in July, it sure feels close to 50-50 now.

For most of the season, including in his Wednesday news conference this week, Rodgers’ comments about the Packers’ front office have suggested he’s thawing. From the trade for Randall Cobb to being consulted for his opinion on possible in-season acquisitions, the quarterback has been complimentary of and conciliatory toward general manager Brian Gutekunst. Reporters saw him hugging Gutekunst during practice a few weeks back.

“There’ll be a lot of things that I weigh in the offseason,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “Saying that doesn’t mean — or any comments I’ve made — doesn’t mean I’m thinking about (playing elsewhere). That is what I want to clarify. It was meaningful to me. I have spoken heartfeltly and sincere about Brian and my relationship this year. I also appreciate the many things I’ve seen about the team, which are directly related the conversations we had during the offseason. That was meaningful to me.”

That’s night and day from his airing-of-grievances news conference at the start of training camp five months ago.

But in the middle of all this was one red flag. It could be anything. A couple of weeks ago on his home turf, Pat McAfee’s podcast, Rodgers praised the team’s roster moves, which prompted McAfee to ask he if he’s loving playing in Green Bay this season. Rodgers paused, then said: “I love playing ball.”

Were his carefully chosen words a sign of his true feelings? Is he trying to trick his audience by keeping everyone guessing or was he really expressing his true feelings? He doesn’t know.

At this point, it looks like the decision on Rodgers’ return to the Packers is his. It is hard to imagine Gutekunst and team president Mark Murphy not wanting Rodgers back for many years. Yes, Rodgers is 38, but he’s playing as well as ever and is front-runner to win another MVP. There is no reason to believe he won’t have three more strong seasons, or even more.

And Jordan Love? Maybe Love could be a winning NFL starter down the road. Certainly can’t rule it out just because of his ho-hum performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in early November. It’s impossible to look at the game and think he’s going be good enough. It’s hard to believe that the Packers haven’t done everything possible to get Rodgers back. They have the talent to win Super Bowls for many years to come.

Then it’s whether Rodgers wants to come back. The Packers should trade Rodgers if he refuses to extend his contract for another year. If it comes down to it, they’re better off getting as much draft loot as they can in March than having him depart for next-to-nothing in free agency in 2023.

Rodgers’ play at least would help them get a decent haul. Many teams are looking for a new quarterback and the draft this year is weak for potential candidates. Denver, Carolina and Miami are potential suitors.

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In the last week, several NFL pundits have weighed in with what Rodgers might fetch in a trade. SI.com’s Albert Breer predicted that multiple bidders could push the price up to three first-round picks, and two second-rounders. That strikes me as a little rich for a 38-year-old player, no matter how good he is. You never know.

NBC’s Peter King seemed more on the mark when he guessed Denver, for instance, might offer two first-rounders, a fourth-rounder and receiver Jerry Jeudy. You never know what you might find. The price could rise if there were more serious teams. What matters most, though, is where in the round the 2022 first-round pick is. There’s a huge difference between picking in the top five or even 10, and picking in the middle to later part of the first round.

As for Rodgers’ talk this week of possibly retiring, it’s hard to take that seriously. Never say never, but that doesn’t jibe with the guy who’d previously planned to play until he was at least 40. To me, it sounds more like a leverage statement.

So how will it all play out? It’s hard not to believe that the outcome of the postseason will play a major role. The Super Bowl could be one thing, but a playoff exit could be another.

For that matter, winning the Super Bowl could cut both ways. Perhaps Rodgers sees delivering a title to be the right time to move on. He might want to prove that he is capable of winning it all, just like Tom Brady. He might find it difficult to leave the team that gives him the best chance of winning more Super Bowls, and keeps him at the top of the list of greatest quarterbacks.

We won’t find out until February or March, that much is sure. All things are fluid in the NFL and Rodgers might still want to leave Green Bay next year, no matter what happens over the next six weeks.

The most we can say today is the chances of him playing for the Packers beyond 2021 are much better than they looked five months ago.

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