Are Broncos opening the door for Aaron Rodgers?

The Broncos’ hiring of Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as their coach has led to speculation that Rodgers will follow — a departure that would give Bears GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus a huge boost in their quest to catch the Packers in the NFC North.

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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is expected to win his fourth NFL Most Valuable Player Award after leading the league with a 111.9 passer rating (37 touchdowns, four interceptions).

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The Bears are now focused on introducing new general manager Ryan Poles and new head coach Matt Eberflus, finally scheduling a news conference for Monday morning at Halas Hall after Poles was hired Tuesday and Eberflus on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a thousand miles away in Denver on Friday, the Broncos held a news conference of their own that may or may not impact Poles and Eberflus, with Broncos general manager George Paton introducing former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as the team’s new coach.

The significance is obvious: Hackett’s hiring potentially opens the door for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to bolt the Packers — a departure that would almost certainly alter the landscape of the NFC North. If Rodgers leaves, the starting quarterbacks in the division are the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, the Lions’ Jared Goff, the Bears’ Justin Fields and the Packers’ Jordan Love. Anybody has a chance in that scenario.

Asked about a Hackett-Rodgers “package deal,” Paton firmly said, “Absolutely not” — and the subject never came up again.

But that’s hardly the end of it. The Rodgers scenario will be there until it isn’t as Rodgers mulls his future in the offseason. A year ago, miffed at Packers management, he seemed determined to maneuver his way out of Green Bay. When the Packers called his bluff, he relented at the last minute, announcing on the eve of training camp that he would play for them in 2021.

A magnificent season that’s expected to earn Rodgers his fourth NFL MVP award seemed to heal the rift between him and general manager Brian Gutekunst — the source of his irritation about the franchise’s “culture.” Rodgers complimented Gutekunst in postseason comments this week. And coach Matt LaFleur said the Packers would “be crazy to not want [Rodgers] back here” in the aftermath of their stunning 13-10 playoff loss to the 49ers at Lambeau Field. LaFleur noted that Gutekunst, team president Mark Murphy and director of football operations Russ Ball shared that sentiment.

As it turns out, the Packers’ dire salary-cap situation might be the biggest hurdle to Rodgers’ staying in Green Bay. They’re $40 million over the salary cap, which might preclude them from applying the franchise tag on free-agent receiver Davante Adams and certainly will force them to make other tough roster decisions. Rodgers said this week he doesn’t want to be part of a rebuild.

So take it for what it’s worth that Rodgers has been a big Hackett fan since Hackett became the Packers’ offensive coordinator in 2019.

“There’s nobody in the building that brings me more joy or is more fun to be around than Nathaniel Hackett,” Rodgers told Packers beat reporters in 2020. “I just knew Hack and I were going to bond. He’s become a close confidant and friend besides a fantastic coach. . . . I love him. I hope he doesn’t go anywhere — unless I do.”

Other departures could impact Rodgers’ decision. Quarterbacks coach/passing-game coordinator Luke Getsy is a leading candidate for the Bears’ offensive coordinator job under Eberflus. (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Getsy has been offered the job.) Getsy is in line to replace Hackett but would not have play-calling responsibilities with La-Fleur in charge, which makes it more likely he’ll also leave.

So the Packers could be challenged to maintain their dominance in the NFC North. But through cap issues and coaching changes, it still comes down to Rodgers — will he stay or will he go?

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