Way back during the last NFL offseason, as the Packers sifted through their future and Aaron Rodgers did the same, there was a notion that the QB might retire or that Green Bay might trade him.
Some feelings were hurt, some cryptic words were exchanged. But in the end, the two sides came to a sort of mutual agreement under a reasonable premise: Rodgers was coming off back-to-back MVP awards and the Packers were coming off three consecutive 13-win seasons, including two NFC title game appearances. Shouldn't they keep the band together and try to get to the Super Bowl?
A deal was struck in March giving Rodgers a new three-year contract at $150 million, with $100 million fully guaranteed.
The Packers started strong, Rodgers hurt his thumb, things unraveled to a low point of 4-8 and rumblings about Rodgers future began anew. Then Green Bay won four in a row and needed just a win Sunday over the Lions to make the playoffs with a ton of momentum.
Their 20-16 primetime loss, which Patrick Reusse and I talked about at length on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast, didn't just knock the Packers from the playoff race. It rekindled all the questions that were being asked several months ago and several weeks ago.
Namely: Is Rodgers ready to say goodbye to football altogether (or the Packers specifically)? Is Green Bay ready to move on and see what they have in Jordan Love, the former first-round pick who like Rodgers early in his career sat for three years behind a future Hall of Famer?
This year turned out to be the worst of all worlds for Green Bay. They were mediocre, but they hung around the playoff race long enough to barely get a glimpse of Love. But they ultimately missed the playoffs, so they don't even get to try for one more big postseason run (and their first-round pick, No. 15, is nothing special).
After throwing an interception in what could be his final pass at Lambeau Field (or the entire NFL), Rodgers fueled speculation by declining to trade jerseys with the Lions' Jameson Williams after the game (possibly, one imagines, because he wants it as his own keepsake).
Rodgers said he wouldn't hold the Packers "hostage," describing the process for making a decision about his future thusly: "I want to take the emotion out of it and have conversations and see where the organization's at. See how I feel after some time has passed."
Retiring would mean Rodgers was walking away from a nearly $60 million guaranteed salary next season. Retirement or a Rodgers trade would mean about $40 million in dead cap hits for the Packers, per Over The Cap, which could be spread over 2023 and 2024 depending on procedures and timing.
It's much easier to see the two sides parting ways from a practical standpoint after an 8-9 season in which Rodgers tumbled to No. 26 in Total QBR than it was after a 13-4 year when Rodgers was MVP.
But with Rodgers and the Packers, we know better than to make too many assumptions.