Will Aaron Rodgers’ return put crimp in Bears’ plans?
New general manager Ryan Poles’ goal to ‘take the [NFC] North and never give it back’ will be a little bit tougher with Rodgers back in Green Bay. But the ramifications of the Packers keeping Rodgers and Davante Adams remains to be seen.
When Ryan Poles was introduced as the Bears’ general manager in January at Halas Hall, one line above all would have brought the house down if they had allowed fans into the news conference:
“We’re going to take the [NFC] North and never give it back,” Poles said.
That job got a little bit tougher Tuesday, when four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers ended a year of drama by agreeing to terms on a four-year, $200 million contract with the Packers, according to NFL Network. The deal reportedly includes $153 million in guaranteed money and actually reduces his massive $46.6 million salary-cap number for 2022. -Rodgers confirmed via Twitter he will play for the Packers this season but disputed the accuracy of the contract details.
The deal marked a 180-degree turn from last summer, when Rodgers’ departure from the Packers appeared a fait accompli after the Hall of Fame-bound quarterback expressed dissatisfaction with general manager Brian Gutekunst and the Packers’ front-office culture in the offseason.
But after Rodgers finally agreed to play for the Packers in 2021 — announcing his return on the eve of training camp — the two sides mended fences, and the Packers went all out to coddle their prized quarterback.
Still, the departures of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett (to the Broncos as head coach) and quarterbacks coach/passing-game coordinator Luke Getsy (to the Bears as offensive coordinator) and a problematic salary-cap situation that only figured to get worse with All-Pro receiver Davante Adams set to become a free agent. “I don’t want to be part of a rebuild,” Rodgers said after the Packers’ playoff loss.
But the team lured 68-year-old Tom Clements — a Rodgers favorite as the Packers’ quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator from 2006 to ’16 — out of retirement as their quarterbacks coach. And loopholes in the salary cap allow the Packers to at least partially defer a reckoning and give them a chance to stay in Super Bowl contention. They put the franchise tag on Adams on Tuesday.
In effect, Gutekunst tacitly acknowledged that the Jordan Love gambit that seemed to ignite Rodgers’ ire has failed. Gutekunst drafted Love in the first round in 2020 (26th overall), hoping to repeat the virtually seamless Brett Favre-to-Rodgers transition.
It appeared flawed from the start. Not only is Love not the prospect Rodgers was (Rodgers could have been the No. 1 overall pick by the 49ers in 2005 before dropping to No. 24), but Rodgers has more gas left in the tank than Favre. Since Love was drafted, Rodgers has won the league’s MVP award the last two seasons and is playing at a career-best level at 38, with no signs of slowing down.
The Rodgers news reverberated throughout the NFL. The Broncos, who had been a likely suitor for Rodgers, quickly responded by trading for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. And the Bears certainly were not unaffected. Poles’ hopes of taking control of the division would be greatly enhanced by the demise of the Packers — a more likely scenario with Rodgers out of the way.
Rodgers has been the Bears’ arch-nemesis throughout his career. He’s 23-5 against them as a starter, with 20 wins in the last 22 games he has started and finished. In his last six starts against the Bears, Rodgers is 4-0 with a 141.5 passer rating (14 touchdown passes, no interceptions). Now, he’ll likely be signed for the length of Justin Fields’ rookie contract.
This isn’t over, though. The salary-cap ramifications of keeping Rodgers and Adams bear watching. The Packers faded with Favre in 2005 and 2006 — when the Bears surged to Super Bowl contention under Lovie Smith. They can fade with Rodgers, too. But Bears fans have been conditioned by years of torment. They’ll believe it when they see it.