At the beginning of the 2016 Green Bay Packers training camp, I was the most confident I’d been in years that the team could compete for the Super Bowl. I told all my love ones, “We’re doing it this year.” Aaron Rodgers entered the camp with a heightened focus, telling Mike Spofford last June, “We’re going to go all-in this year and we’re going to ask a lot of our young guys, so anything we can do to bring them along and get them ready to play, we’re going to do.”
I think NBA fans would agree, when LeBron James enters his heightened state, a championship becomes a realistic possibility. Aaron Rodgers is unquestionably talented enough to have that same impact. The Packers QB1 held up his end of the deal, playing with a desperation you don’t always see on the football field. Sure, you see desperate quarterbacks panic all the time, but rarely can you feel the quarterback use his desperation to dominate the game.
In the second half of the blowout NFC championship game, the Packers were down three scores, the whole team seemed depleted, except Rodgers. He was pushing the team, almost sprinting to get to the next play in motion. He was in a state of calm desperation, just playing out the situation. ‘If there is a way to win this game, I’m going to do my everything to find it.’
He never gave in an ounce, which should earn him a ton of respect from the fanbase. He certainly backed up his talk of being ‘all-in’.
This brings us to the present, sitting five days from the start of training camp, and I’m not putting the Reido brand on the line to my loved ones this year. I still believe they could win the Super Bowl, but I’m not pumping my chest out talking about it. Maybe I’ve grown, maybe the team has aged.
Aaron Rodgers recently admitted to Alex Flanagan of NFL Network, “I think I’m on the back nine of my career. But I think I’m just kind of starting the back nine. This will be my 10th year starting, I got to sit for three years. So I’m not the typical 13-year pro, having the opportunity to sit for three years and not take the wear and tear to learn the game.”
I’m not less confident because of anything related to Aaron Rodgers, nor the talent on the roster. As Rodgers pointed out, the time is ticking. His two most reliable weapons, Jordy Nelson and Randall, grey eyes, Cobb, are both aging in their own rights.
Jordy Nelson successfully returned from his ACL injury last season, leading the NFL with 14 touchdown catches in the regular season. He’s a great talent, and should be beloved by Packer nation forever, but not a lot of receivers push their prime past 35 years old. He’ll turn 33 this season.
Randall Cobb is only 26 years old, turning 27 on Aug 22. Many consider 28 to be the age when a man enters his prime, but Cobb already looks a step slower than his early days in Green Bay. Obviously, he played injured for just about the whole season, dealing with an injured hamstring to begin the season, and a banged up ankle as the team went on their late season winning streak.
It’s hard to gauge where he’s at physically. Mentally Cobb was a key component to the team getting off the ropes to make the playoffs last season. He came up with big plays when the team desperately needed them throughout that stretch, playing his best football of the season.
But, already he seems to struggle to create the same space for himself as a younger Randall Cobb. The will can be counted on, but eventually his body will fail him. Both players have contributed to the Packers in ways that should be cherished, but one of these years, they’re going to show up a step too slow.
That’s my biggest concern with this Packers team. Sure, they’ve done as good of a job as they can filling the roster with young pieces. The Packers should never have an untalented roster over the remaining years of Aaron Rodgers, but there will come a time when the battle is just too much for his favorite weapons.
It could come this year, or five years from now, but if the team isn’t careful, they could be in a 4-12 season due to rolling the dice on their veterans one more season. Football doesn’t allow you to make a big trade to send Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce away for highly valued picks. Basketball barely even allows that.
There’s no real solution to the problem. Personally, I love loyalty, I’ll sit through a 4-12 finale for this current Packer’s era. But it’ll hurt a little more than it should. The Packers have come up short so many times during this era, wasting one of the final nine holes of Rodgers career won’t sit well with anybody.
The New England Patriots are ‘all-in’ to make the most out of the final years of Tom Brady. They loaded up before last season, signing the current Packer, Martellus Bennett. He leaves in the offseason, and the team trades for deep threat, Brandin Cooks.
I love loyalty, but putting players past their primes in the same roles they produced in during their prime puts an even more daunting time constraint on the team. If the young receivers on the roster develop, the team has nothing to worry about. But if they don’t, we may see a 36 year old Aaron Rodgers playing with a young team, needing a year to get things together before they can truly compete.
Ted Thompson is one to bet on his scouting department, but the pressure mounts more and more every year, with key players quickly aging. The challenge is only getting more difficult.