The NFL preseason has been a topic for debate the past few years for fans, players, and even owners. Fans turn into the preseason to fill the void in their hearts that have been empty since February, but it doesn’t compare to the views of a regular season game. Preseason for the solidified starters of the teams have become less mandatory and more optional. Star players do not want to risk injury which is understandable since any play can result in a serious injury when fully grown men are running into each other. Cowboys offensive lineman Zack Martin, Patriots offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, and Eagles (now Jaguars) quarterback Nick Foles, were all affected by injuries during preseason, worst being Isaiah Wynn who lost his whole season to a torn Achilles. Owners in the NFL has been discussing changing preseason from four to two games and extending the regular season to 18 games. The reason they would want to do this is the same reason they charge $150 dollars for a jersey, $8 for a beer, and $5 for a hot dog, MONEY. The owners want to have more regular season games since they bring in better ratings than preseason.
Aaron Rodgers has been a player who has vocalized his unhappiness with the preseason. Rodgers dislike for the preseason is understandable. He saw his star receiver, Jordy Nelson, suffer an ACL tear during a preseason game in the 2015-2016 season. Rodgers did not hide his frustration in an interview and said, “I think everybody feels like four or five [preseason games] is probably more than we need to get ready. But until they make a change there, that’s the way it’s going to be, and we’re going to be smart about it.” Rodgers has a point for players of his caliber. Does Aaron Rodgers need those preseason reps against defenses that are running simple defensive schemes or playing second string players? Obviously not. Could Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills use any reps he can get help his develop? Good golly Miss Molly yes! Players who are not at Rodgers level need those repetitions against actual defenses to help prepare themselves for the regular season, but elite players have earned their rest.
Rodgers has played for the same offensive system for the last thirteen seasons, so skipping the preseason was not a problem. Rodgers has rapidly declined his reps during preseason. From 2006-2013, Rodgers played at least three preseason games, but 2014 until now, he has mostly played two preseason games except for 2016 and 2018 where he only played one. The amount of games isn’t the only thing that has decreased, his attempts went from 359 attempts from 2006-2013 (average of 44.3 attempts per preseason) to 83 attempts from 2014-2018 (16.6 per preseason). He has slowly been removing himself from the preseason, but for an elite player who has an injury history that might not be the worst idea. Rodgers knew the offense like the back of his hand, and as we have found out, usually changed the plays when he felt necessary. He didn’t need the extra practice.
Times have changed in Green Bay, they have a new, innovative head coach, who has implemented a new offense for the first time in 13 seasons. Rodgers will OTA’s and training camp to learn the new offense, but besides a training camp scrimmage against the Houston Texans, he doesn’t have an opportunity to practice against different teams defense. This gives the Packers more options than they had in the past, so if they play Rodgers more during this scrimmage, look for him to sit more during the preseason. However, the system is going to be brand new to the entire team, and each player, including Rodgers, needs as many at bats as possible to feel comfortable in the system.
The Packers are not only learning a new offensive system, but they also are going into the preseason without knowing their number two receiver. The Packers used to have one of the most dangerous and reliable receiving corps in the NFL, but this season Rodgers is still trying to find his number two guy. The preseason will allow him find his timing and connection with young receivers who he hasn’t built a connection with yet. He can work with them during practice, but a Veteran like him knows that practice does not compare to in game reps. The timing in practice is going to be different when an opponent’s defense is on the field. Rodgers could use this opportunity to build his confidence in a young receiving corp who under performed last season.
Rodgers also had this to say about the preseason after Nelson went down in 2015, “When you have a major injury to a star player like we had last year in the preseason, I think it’s only natural that there’s a little bit of a more cautious approach to the rest of that preseason and then to the next season.” He has been very cautious since 2015, but Rodgers is coming into what could be the most important preseason of his career. At the end of the day Rodgers is going to do what Rodgers wants to do, but with his leadership and possible decline being questioned this offseason, playing in the preseason could show critics and teammates how committed he is. It is time for Rodgers to throw caution to the wind and play more this upcoming preseason.