Should Packers start figuring out life after Aaron Rodgers?

DETROIT — Aaron Rodgers looks lost. The Green Bay Packers look lost. But beyond that, Rodgers looks like he almost gave up.

Yes, injuries did come in the Packers’ fifth straight loss, this time with a 15-9 lead in Detroit. In fact, there were many injuries. Wide receiver Romeo Doubs went down after the first play. Then right guard Jon Runyan. And cornerback Eric Stokes. And wide receiver Christian Watson. Aaron Jones running back. Linebacker Krys Barnes. So did left tackle David Bakhtiari and outside linebacker Rashan Gary.

Couple that with the news that the Packers were allegedly trying to give Rodgers more help on offense and you couldn’t even blame him. He looks like he’s finally had enough.

Packers offense frustrated in Detroit

Packers offense frustrated in Detroit

The Lions beat Aaron Rodgers three times, including twice in the red zone. The Packers made the game close but failed to score in their final series, falling 15-9 to the Lions.

There were many questionable decisions on his part throughout the game against the Lions, who came on last in overall defense. Detroit averaged 154.9 rushing yards per game (third highest in the league) and 266.4 passing yards per game (sixth most in the league).

And yet Green Bay could not muster any offensive momentum.

“Had some s—-y throws for sure,” Rodgers said in his first words after the game.

The Packers tried early and made it fourth in their first offensive series of the game. They didn’t convert and continued their season-long fourth-place woes — they have the worst conversion rate in the NFL at 18.18%.

Even after that, Green Bay and Rodgers themselves tried to have some fun to make their season “Marie Kondo” and “ignite some joy” with a playcall that saw Bakhtiari clear into a route and open in the end zone. Rodgers lulled it up, perhaps too cautiously, and instead of Bakhtiari being the big catalyst for a team turnaround, the ball was intercepted by none other than rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.

“There were two options for the game but I probably should have given him a chance,” Bakhtiari’s Rodgers said. “I will definitely have to live with this litter for the rest of my life, with our friendship.”

It didn’t get any better from there and Rodger’s body language showed it. He seemed almost uninterested in doing a play – as if he had no confidence in other options and would not be inspired to make it happen if it weren’t readily available. It culminated in the final move of the game, which eventually became a kind of microcosm of the entire day.

It was fourth down and ten, and the Packers were six points behind, with 42 seconds remaining in the game. They had the ball at the 17 and Rodgers heaved the ball into the end zone – only there was no one to catch it. The leather landed lonely and with a thud in the blue end zone of Ford Field turf without a receiver.

In a do-or-die situation, his receivers weren’t where he expected them to be. Rodgers and his receivers just weren’t on the same page again.

In the post-game press conference, Rodgers was solemn, quiet, and dressed head-to-toe in black, topped with a black beanie on his head. Between questions he looked down. Shrugged when asked for answers. And when asked how he could still believe in Green Bay’s season with a 3-6 record and a full four games back in the division, Rodgers took a deep breath and paused for a long time.

“I’ve been counted out many times in my life, as have many of my team-mates,” he finally said. “I hope we just dig deep and find a way. We’re going to be really underdogs for a lot of games in the future. Hopefully we can accept that. We have two home games, we have to win those two games in a week and then this thing looks a little bit different.”

He said the right words. But whether he believes them for the second straight week he’s uttered them is the question. Whether the Packers believe in him to lead them to that comeback is an even bigger question.

If they don’t (and maybe even if they do), Green Bay will have to contemplate life after Rodgers, which could come sooner rather than later.

Rodgers’ release is not realistic. His salary next season is fully guaranteed and according to Over the Cap, the Packers would take in more than $99 million in dead money. You could split that between 2023 and 2024, but that doesn’t really dampen the sting.

However, you could trade him. Rodgers doesn’t have a no-trade clause and the Packers don’t have to exercise his option until just before next season. Again, according to Over the Cap, his cap fee would depend on when he was moved. If traded before June 1st, Green Bay would calculate a cap hit of $40,313,750 in 2023. However, if it traded after June 1, it would drop to $15,833,570 in 2023 and include a $24,480,000 fee in 2024, assuming the Packers don’t exercise the option before then.

If they exercised the option, the trade number would go down to around $100 million.

But it’s a bit of a catch-22, and Rodgers comes with a lot of cash. If Rodgers’ contract option is not exercised, a trade would cost his new team his current salary of $59,515,000. If they exercised the option, his cap hit would be $15.79 million.

Then there is the R word. Retirement. Rodgers wasn’t shy about the fact that he considered the move last offseason but ultimately decided to keep playing. If he were to retire after this season, he would lose his rights to his $59.465 million guaranteed salary for the next year, and the Packers would likely wait until after the June 1 deadline to settle putting him on the retirement list with a restructured contract to reduce his cap.

The way things are going, retiring could look increasingly attractive for the 39-year-old MVP quarterback, though he denied being unhappy after losing “a game like that to this team” in Detroit on Sunday.

“Frustration and ‘misery’ are two different emotions,” Rodgers said. “When I decided to come back, I was all in. I don’t make decisions and in hindsight, 20-20, I regret such big decisions. So I was all in, and that’s a lot of life lessons for sure this year.

“But fortunately it’s not over yet. There are still many games left. We’ll probably be tallied by many. We’ll see how we react to that.”

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen previously had stints with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl champion (and Boat Parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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