As the Packers wait for final word from team doctors as to whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers will receive clearance to play on Sunday against the Panthers, several factors will drive the final decision. Let’s consider them, shall we?
1. Rodgers’ health: When he broke his collarbone on the left side four years ago, Rodgers went eight weeks between games. This time, he will have had a nine-week gap between games, if he returns on Sunday. That’s encouraging in isolation, but hardly dispositive. The real question is whether the bone, with 13 screws and a couple of plates, sufficiently has healed to allow Rodgers to play without significant risk of re-injury.
2. Medical input: Dr. Pat McKenzie will have a major role in deciding whether Rodgers will play. And despite his very good reputation for caring about players, the conflict of interest for doctors paid by teams to treat players is very real, as evidenced by the move to independent neurologists to determine when players can return from concussions. Two years ago, Cowboys doctors cleared Tony Romo to return from a broken collarbone — and he re-broke his collarbone in his second game back. There’s a subtle pressure to get Rodgers back on the field, regardless of whether McKenzie is actually influenced by it. For most teams, the truth remains that, if their doctors won’t give players the green light to play, the teams eventually will find doctors who will.
3. The team’s playoff chances: Rodgers said in early November that he’d return if he’s healthy AND if “it would make sense to come back.” So does it make sense to come back? At 7-6 and currently ninth in the NFC playoff picture, they need help in the form of one or more losses by the Seahawks and the Falcons in the final three weeks.
4. Perceptions of toughness: Four years ago, ESPN reported that Rodgers’ perceived toughness was a factor in when he’d return from a broken collarbone, given comparisons to his never-miss-a-game predecessor in Green Bay. Will those ghosts of Favre drive Rodgers to come back even if he risks re-breaking the bone?
5. Rodgers’ contract: Nearly five years ago, Rodgers reached the top of the quarterback market, with a $22 million-per-year deal. He now trails the likes of Matthew Stafford ($27 million), Derek Carr ($25 million), Andrew Luck ($24.5 million), and Joe Flacco ($22.1 million). Rodgers is clearly and obviously better than each of them, and yet the Packers haven’t done the right thing and given him a new deal. So without the financial protection that a franchise with no owner to line his pockets with profits should have given to its franchise quarterback, why should he put his health at risk unnecessarily? While Rodgers is smart enough not to ever mention this dynamic privately or publicly, he’s plenty smart enough to be aware of it. If the Packers were smart, they’d have signed him to a new deal by now.
Regardless of those factors, the thinking remains that Rodgers will be back this weekend against the Panthers. If he’s not, one of more of these factors will have decisively influenced the delicate play-or-no-play balance.