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Aaron Rodgers’ status key to NFC North rivals’ 2021 hopes

The Bears, Vikings and Lions all got help in the NFL Draft, but the disgruntled Rodgers’ departure from the Packers would be the biggest upgrade for each of them.

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers (12) won his third NFL Most Valuable Player Award last season. But it might have been his last in Green Bay.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Bears drafted a potential franchise quarterback but haven’t proved they know what to do with one — and don’t even know when he’ll play.

The Vikings fortified their offensive line but waited until the third round to address a defense that plummeted from fifth to 29th in points allowed last season.

The Lions drafted a potential generational offensive tackle, but they’re still the Lions — hoping a regressing Jared Goff will be better than Matthew Stafford, who threw for more yards and touchdowns and had a higher passer rating than Goff last season.

Still, the Packers are the biggest X-factor in the NFC North after the NFL Draft, with disgruntled quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ future in jeopardy. The Hall of Fame-bound Rodgers, who has been miffed since the Packers drafted Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round last year in a receiver-deep draft, has told the Packers he will not play for them again, according to ESPN.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst acknowledged Rodgers’ unhappiness but said he has no intention of trading Rodgers and still expects him to play for the Packers this season.

It remains to be seen if the Packers can repair the rift, but they didn’t get off to a great start. It figured the Packers might draft the best wide receiver they could find in the first round — to appease Rodgers or prepare for life without him. Instead, they selected Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes with the 29th overall pick in the first round.

Stokes is a fabulous playmaking prospect who ran two sub-4.3 40-yard dashes at his pro day (4.25, 4.29). But his selection also put a spotlight on the Packers’ aversion to getting help for one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history in the first round of the draft.

Over the last 10 years, the Packers have used their first draft pick on an offensive player only once — and that was for Love, Rodgers’ eventual replacement. Other than Love, the Packers’ 12 highest picks in that 10-year span have been defensive players. They haven’t drafted a wide receiver in the first round since Javon Walker in 2002. The earliest they’ve taken a wide receiver since then was 53rd overall — Davante Adams in the second round in 2014.

After taking Stokes, the Packers drafted Ohio State center Josh Myers in the second round (62nd overall) — a likely replacement for All-Pro Corey Linsley, who signed with the Chargers.

The Packers finally got help for Rodgers — or Love — by taking Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers in the third round (85th overall). Amari Rodgers (no relation) is the kind of versatile receiver Aaron Rodgers can maximize, but it’s unlikely that alone is going to change his mind.

As for the rest of the NFC North, the Vikings, like the Bears, filled a big hole on their offensive line, trading down nine spots in the first round to take Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw, who figures to be plugged in at left tackle.

The Vikings didn’t have another pick until the third round and selected Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond (No. 66), a presumed successor to Kirk Cousins. They addressed their defensive issues in the third round with North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt (No. 78) and Pitt defensive end Patrick Jones II (No. 90), after taking Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis (No. 86).

The Lions, who lost wide receiver Kenny Golladay in free agency, took Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, the highest-rated lineman in the draft. The Lions took defensive players with their next three picks — Washington tackle Levi Onwuzurike (No. 41), North Carolina State tackle Alim McNeill (No. 72) and Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu (No. 101) — before drafting USC wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown in the fourth round (No. 112).

But until further notice, the biggest upgrade for the Bears, Vikings and Lions would be Aaron Rodgers’ exit from the NFC North.