Aaron Rodgers’ flirtation with Jets may end up a boon to Bears

Tuesday, though, produced perhaps the most tangible sign that Rodgers could leave the NFC North and transfer his claim to the Bears franchise back to its rightful owner.

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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers drops back to pass in January.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers drops back to pass in January.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Bears fans should know better than to celebrate too soon.

Ever the classic monster-movie villain, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers simply won’t go away, even when you think you’ve seen the last of him. That’s true whether Rodgers is on the brink of retirement, as many thought he was two years ago, or down 20-0 in a game, as he was before he went on to beat the rival Bears 24-23 in 2018.

However, Tuesday brought perhaps the most tangible sign that Rodgers could leave the NFC North and transfer his claim to the Bears back to their rightful owners. As reported by ESPN, the Jets sent a cadre of their most important people — owner Woody Johnson, general manager Joe Douglas, coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator (and Rodgers’ friend and co-worker) Nathaniel Hackett — to California to meet with Rodgers.

According to NFL rules, that meeting could only take place with the Packers’ blessing. And the Jets are unlikely to huddle with Rodgers unless they already understand what the Packers would accept in a trade for him.

Now it’s up to Rodgers to decide what he wants: to return to the Packers on a contract he signed last March, to force his way out of Green Bay in a trade or to retire. The Packers want an answer before free agency starts next week.

Rodgers has publicly entertained retirement. When he left Soldier Field victorious in December after the Packers rallied from a nine-point deficit, personally improving to 25-5 against the team he once claimed (correctly) that he owned, he gave Bears fans a military-style salute.

His departure from the NFC North — or the NFL altogether — would be a boon to the Bears’ rebuild. For the first time since 1991, the year before Brett Favre’s first Packers start, the Bears wouldn’t have to overcome a future Hall of Famer playing under center for their greatest rival.

That the Packers are waiting for Rodgers to determine his loyalty less than a year after giving him a three-year, $150.8 million contract shows just how bizarre the experience has become for everyone involved but Rodgers himself.

Tuesday’s development could mark the beginning of the end — or just another false start in a strange three years full of them. An abridged timeline of the Rodgers drama includes the Packers drafting Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in 2020, Rodgers calling his future a “beautiful mystery” at the end of that season and, on draft night in 2021, word leaking that Rodgers wanted to be traded. Rodgers skipped mandatory minicamp that June but arrived to training camp on time. After winning the NFL MVP Award for the second year in a row, he decided to re-up with the Packers last March, signing his monster contract.

In the last two years alone, Rodgers has auditioned to host “Jeopardy!,” claimed he was “immunized” against COVID-19 as a way of sidestepping questions about his vaccination status and extolled the virtues of the psychedelic drug ayahuasca. Late last month, he went on a four-night “darkness retreat” to ponder his future in a pitch-black room in southern Oregon.

The whole thing has been so exhausting.

The Packers are wondering whether it has been worth it, particularly after Rodgers finished 15th in the NFL in passer rating and 11th in passing yards in a season that ended with a win-and-you’re-in loss to the once-pitiful Lions.

With a deadline to pick up Love’s 2024 option looming May 1, the Packers seem ready to see what Love could do. General manager Brian Gutekunst said as much at the NFL Combine last week: “I’ve expressed to a lot of people that [Love] needs to play.”

Drama notwithstanding, Rodgers has been the biggest outside impediment to the Bears’ success for a generation. If he ends up in a different shade of green — or retiring — Bears fans should throw a parade. The city already has the right-colored dye for the river.

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