GREEN BAY, Wis. – It wasn’t a guarantee about six weeks ago, but Aaron Rodgers on Sunday will be the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback for the 14th consecutive season-opening game.
“I think the first start in 2008 [against Chicago] was a little different than this one, and then I think the ’19 opener [against Chicago] was probably a little different, too, with a new system,” Rodgers, looking ahead to a Week 1 showdown against the New Orleans Saints, said on Wednesday. “Those ones felt a little bit different nerves-wise. The 2011 one after winning the Super Bowl was probably the most fun and special, playing the Saints, got off to a really fast start and held on for a win there. Yeah, we’ve done pretty good.”
Indeed, a 10-3 record in season-opening games – often against elite teams like they’ll face in Jacksonville on Sunday – is pretty good. This team, however, has designs on being more than pretty good.
It wants to be the best.
First, there’s the past. Green Bay is coming off back-to-back losses in the NFC Championship Game, including last year’s bitter loss at home to Tampa Bay. It came up empty both times.
Second, there’s the future. In 12 months, will Rodgers be here to start a 15th consecutive opener?
So, Rodgers is focused squarely on the present. As he continues his decade-long hunt for that second Super Bowl championship, time is of the essence to not let another opportunity slip through his one-ring fingers.
From that standpoint, with Rodgers’ uncertain future and the Packers staring at enormous salary-cap challenges for next offseason, there’s a different reality surrounding the start of this season. This could be the end of the line for the corps of this team. That might seem like an enormous amount of pressure, but Rodgers doesn’t see it that way.
“It definitely does” feel different, Rodgers said. “There is a lot of unknowns. So, the right perspective is needed, I think, from all of us. But I think we don’t feel pressure. I’m speaking personally and I can’t speak for everybody. But the feel that I get with the energy in the locker room is not pressure. It’s focus. I think it’s the right perspective and the right type of focus. We know we have a talented team, we know what the expectations are.”
Rodgers isn’t the only superstar grappling with an uncertain future. All-Pro receiver Davante Adams is entering his final season under contract. As the league’s best receiver, he’s in line for a huge payday. It won’t be coming before Sunday, Adams said unequivocally, and it might not happen at all given the Packers are almost $50 million over next year’s cap.
Rodgers and Adams aren’t just two of the best players on the team but they’re also part of the heart and soul of a team that reached conference championship games in 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2020 but lost them all. Adams said there’s “no excuse but to go take care of business” this season. Having scaled the mountain to reach the summit among today’s receivers, a Super Bowl is what Adams craves more than anything.
Adams likes the “vibe” he feels from his teammates.
“This is probably the hungriest team that I’ve ever been around, honestly, just because we have been so close a number of times now,” Adams said. “So, I feel like everybody in the back of their mind, they know how reachable it is and realistic we are to getting to that final step. We just haven’t really had the opportunity to showcase what we can do in the real dance. Just being so close a few times, it opens up everybody’s eyes. It’s like, ‘All right, we’re going to go deep into the playoffs.’ We’ve got a team that we won 13 games back-to-back years, that’s really tough to do. It’s hard to win one game in this league.
“So, just realizing when you get that close so many times, I think it’s kind of a little bit of a wake-up call to people just how good we actually are. It’s a real determined and definitely a different type of focus, and I feel like the young guys understand what’s been going on before they got here.”
There’s a certain amount of irony in the fact Rodgers could leave Green Bay after this season because of his frustration with the way general manager Brian Gutekunst has gone about his business, but the Packers are well over next year’s cap because of Gutekunst’s aggressive approach in keeping a championship-caliber roster together.
Regardless of whether Rodgers is back as the starter in 2022, and regardless of whether the Packers win a championship or fall frustratingly short yet again, massive change seems inevitable.
The reality is this is it. Gutekunst mortgaged the future to keep this group mostly together for one more run. Chances are the likes of Rodgers, Adams and beloved veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis won’t get another shot together.
“We’re going to enjoy this year for all that it has to offer, and each other,” Rodgers said, “and I think that’s the right perspective to have when you get in this situation.”