It’s hard to believe that Aaron Rodgers is entering his 13th NFL season. After a mesmerizing 2016 campaign in which he threw 40 touchdowns versus only seven interceptions, the Green Bay Packers quarterback is still at the top of his game.
Rodgers, who turns 34 in December, knows he’s far removed from being a spring chicken in the league. Yet, despite his possible advancement to a new stage in his career, Rodgers holds one clear advantage over several other quarterbacks creeping up in age.
“I think I’m on the back nine of my career,” Rodgers said Tuesday in an interview with NFL Network’s Alex Flanagan at the Gatorade Player of the Year awards. “But I think I’m just kind of starting the back nine. This will be my 10th year starting, I got to sit for three years. So I’m not the typical 13-year pro, having the opportunity to sit for three years and not take the wear and tear to learn the game.”
Once a quarterback hits his mid-30s, it’s hard not to think about looming retirement and contingency plans at the position. Rodgers was squarely in the middle of such a situation early in his career, which involved his predecessor Brett Favre. The Packers’ current gunslinger believes his ability to play at a high level for a decade has been a product of one key factor: Remaining in Green Bay.
“I think we all have numbers,” Rodgers said. “When I was a young player, I remember thinking as I looked at some of the older guys, if I got to five that’d be cool, or eight, or anything after 10 would be amazing. For me, I think the longevity is tied to being a Green Bay Packer. I’d like to finish my career in Green Bay.”
As long as Rodgers is at his peak behind center, the Packers should always be considered contenders for the Lombardi Trophy. After holding off the Steelers to win the 2011 Super Bowl, however, it’s been a disappointing stretch filled with crushing playoff losses.
Despite entering last postseason with “hottest team in the league” status in the wake of ripping off six straight wins to end the season, Rodgers and co. failed to reach the Super Bowl for the sixth straight year. Over that span, the Packers have only had a first-round bye twice and home-field advantage throughout once.
The Packers have cost themselves better playoff seeding with stagnant stretches in the middle of each of the past two seasons. Rodgers hopes the team doesn’t fall into the same trap again.
“Well, we got to start faster,” Rodgers said. “We didn’t start fast last year, we lost four in a row in the middle there. We’re a tough team to beat late in the season, as we’ve shown the last couple years. But we’re really tough to beat at home, especially the last three, four, five years.
“We got to get those home playoff games again. We all feel like if we get that No. 1, No. 2 seed and it’s coming through Green Bay in the playoffs, it makes it really tough on other teams.”
Before his eighth-place finish at the American Century Championship last week – the best of his life at Lake Tahoe, where he’s been going for over a decade – Aaron Rodgers was using golf as a metaphor for his NFL timeline.
“I think I’m on the back nine of my career,” the Green Bay Packers quarterback said in an interview with NFL Network’s Alex Flanagan. “But I think I’m just kind of starting the back nine. This will be my 10th year starting; I got to sit for three years. So I’m not the typical 13-year pro, having (had) the opportunity to sit for three years and not take the wear and tear (and be able) to learn the game.”
Rodgers, 33, isn’t necessarily saying he’ll only play nine more years, either. Having altered his diet and offseason regimen, he’s said several times over the past year that he believes he can play into his 40s. That’s now his intent, and while he hasn’t put a specific number on it – ex-Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, now an analyst for CBS Sports, said he thinks Rodgers can play to age 45 – it could be that he’s simply at the turn of his NFL round.
“When I was a young player, I remember thinking as I looked at some of the older guys, ‘If I got to five (years), that’d be cool. Or eight. Or anything after 10 would be amazing,’” Rodgers told Flanagan. “For me, I think the longevity is tied to being a Green Bay Packer. I’d like to finish my career in Green Bay.”
Rodgers’ predecessor, Brett Favre, was at the same age when he started talking about retirement – then went on to play eight more seasons (five with the Packers, one with the New York Jets, two with the Minnesota Vikings). Rodgers isn’t talking retirement, but in an offseason interview on ESPN Wisconsin’s “Wilde & Tausch,” Rodgers hinted at another lesson he’d learned watching Favre’s end game.
“I think as you get older and you see a lot of your friends move on, retire, get cut, get injured and stop playing, you have that point where you think about your own career and how long you can go,” Rodgers explained. “And for me, I got even more motivated to be an irreplaceable part of our team.”