Nine years ago, the Packers used a first-round pick on quarterback Aaron Rodgers because Brett Favre already was nearly three years into his will-I-or-won’t-I-retire routine.
For the next three years, Rodgers sat the bench behind Favre, until the Packers pushed Favre early in the 2008 offseason to commit to whether he’d play that year, possibly (probably) knowing that the answer at that time would be no.
It was indeed no, even though he later changed it to yes. By then, the Packers were all in with Rodgers, who was entering his fourth NFL season.
At the time, sitting a first-round rookie quarterback was the rule, not the exception. Starting the same year Rodgers became the starter in Green Bay, the exception became the rule.
Rodgers thinks that, when a rookie quarterback is drafted by a bad team, the rule should revert to being the exception.
“Some of these guys who are going to bad teams are expected to play well right away,” Rodgers tells Dan Pompei of Sports on Earth. “It’s hard to do that. I’ve seen a couple guys able to do it. [Ben] Roethlisberger was able to do it. He had a team kind of around him. [Joe] Flacco had some success early but he had a team kind of in place. You go to a place that has some pieces and you can have some success early. But if you go to a team that doesn’t have the pieces . . . it can really mess with your confidence.”
In a roundabout way, Rodgers essentially labels the teams that selected quarterbacks in the first round as not very good. Including one he plays twice per year.
“When you see other quarterbacks who might have to play quickly like [Teddy] Bridgewater potentially in Minnesota and Johnny [Manziel] in Cleveland, who knows if their teams are ready enough to complement their skills?” Rodgers said, adding that what the Jaguars are doing with Blake Bortles “has a lot of merit,” presumably because the Jaguars otherwise don’t.
There’s a potential benefit to sitting and waiting. Each year at the front of the career that the quarterback doesn’t play could become another year on the back end where he can.
“I do feel younger because of it,” Rodger said. “I think it extended my career.”
That may or may not be accurate. Quarterbacks aren’t like running backs, whose wheels can come off at any given moment. With rules premised on protecting passers, physical skills can last into the 40s. The sooner a quarterback plays, the sooner his brain develops to the point where the quarterback potentially becomes the equivalent of a coach on the field. Once that happens, the quarterback can enjoy an extended stretch of dominance and contention and opportunities to win championships and secure a legacy.
Besides, it’s easy for 30-year-old Rodgers to say he’s glad he sat for three years. But what would young Aaron Rodgers have said in 2005, 2006, and 2007 while languishing behind a graybeard who couldn’t make up his mind about whether to keep playing?