I just took a look at almost every major player on the Green Bay Packers’ roster to see if they were getting better, staying about the same, or getting worse during their time in Green Bay. I had Aaron Rodgers ranked in a small group who were performing consistently well. In most cases I resorted to statistical comparisons with their peers or to Pro Football Focus grades. I didn’t bother to do that analysis for Rodgers – who we all know so well, right?
But maybe I was too hasty, too willing to accept that Rodgers is always great, and that he’s still at the top of his game after 13 seasons with the team. Let’s take a look.
In 2017, Aaron played in only slightly more than six games, but he was healthy in those games and 238 throws is enough to afford some basis for comparison. Aaron’s passer rating was 97.2, putting him in eighth place among qualifying QBs.
From 2010 to the present, his rating (and ranking among his peers) has been: 101.2 (3rd), 122.5 (1st), 108.0 (1st), 104.9 (5th), 113.2 (2nd), 92.7 (20th), 104.2 (4th), and 97.2 (8th) in his shortened 2017 season. The pattern seen in his teammates holds true with Aaron too: there is evident and substantial slippage in Rodgers’ passing performance. After peaking in 2011, the decline is noticeable over the past six years. I’m not bothered by his failure to live up to his own previously-set standards – that bar was set impossibly high. However, I do find his decline when compared to other top quarterbacks pretty telling.
One’s first thought is that anyone’s performance declines as one ages. That’s true, but for very good quarterbacks, that decline isn’t usually seen until about age 36 or later. Forget all that talk about the window starting to close. Rodgers is 34 – he should be in his prime.
You think 36 years is inaccurate? The top four quarterback ratings of 2017 were turned in by Tom Brady (40), Drew Brees (39), Matt Ryan (32) and Ben Roethlisberger (35). Seventh ranked Alex Smith is 33, and right behind him was Philip Rivers, 36. Brett Favre arguably had his best year in 2009, as he turned 40. Peyton Manning was still a Pro Bowler when he was 36, 37, and 38 years old. MVP Tom Brady might not have peaked yet at age 40. Aaron, by the way hasn’t been first- or second-team All-Pro since 2014.
The decline shown by Rodgers’ stats is not due to his age. Nor is it due to injuries – unlike an ACL tear, a broken collar bone should result in complete recovery.
Let’s use 2016 as a good benchmark year, when Aaron had the fourth best passer rating and ninth best completion percentage. His yards per attempt, though, was only 14th best, and that fell to 15th last season – he once was reliably in the top five in this category. Most of his other stats show little change over the years.
What does Pro Football Focus, which grades each player on every play, have to say? It had Aaron ranked 11th in both passing and overall play in his abbreviated 2017 season. In addition to the usual suspects, his overall rating was below guys like Carson Wentz (5th), Russell Wilson and Case Keenum (tied for 8th), and Matthew Stafford (10th). Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers) and Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) did not have enough throws to qualify, but these rising newcomers also had better passer ratings than Aaron.
In the last few years, Rodgers has been passed up by Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger. Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, and Matthew Stafford are right on his heels. In another year the young guys – Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Jimmy Garoppolo, Dak Prescott, and maybe Mitchell Trubisky – will be seeking to rise to the top tier. And Nick Foles is not yet 30.
Like most of his teammates, Aaron Rodgers’ career is in a steady, though not precipitous, decline – a decline that cannot be blamed on aging or injuries. Given that Aaron is mentally and emotionally stable, and that he obsesses over nutrition, exercise, and preparation, I’d say his decline is due to external forces.
It can of course be argued that Aaron’s receiving corps is a big factor for his sliding stats and the team’s overall offensive skid. I’ve been grappling with that issue for a year, and will revisit it soon.
Regardless of the causes, however, and given the team-wide pattern, it’s bound to dawn on Aaron that his full potential is no longer being realized in Green Bay. He’s got to be thinking: one way or another, change must happen. As I’ve said before, I don’t see why Aaron would be in a hurry to extend his contract, which runs until 2020 – and which would bind him to a tenuous situation for the remainder of his career.
Over the past three years, when I look at Aaron out on the field – between plays or on the sideline – I see puzzlement, frustration, annoyance, and anger. I no longer see the happy, relaxed, and confident guy who was the best quarterback in the league a few years back.