GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers' ailing left knee and the groin injury he suffered in Sunday’s loss at Chicago could be all the reason the Green Bay Packers need to shut down their quarterback for the rest of the season.
But if the Packers determine that Rodgers is healthy enough to play, then they have a decision to make: Should they play him in two meaningless games to close out another non-playoff season, or should they shut him down?
Rodgers said he wants to play and interim coach Joe Philbin made no case for sitting a healthy Rodgers.
Why Rodgers should play
Reps with the rookies: As much as Rodgers essentially lobbied for Randall Cobb to return next season, saying, “When Randall’s healthy, I think our offense has been different because we have a true slot guy who can make plays in the slot consistently,” the reality is that the future is Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Both have had their highlight moments as rookies this season, but when Rodgers said Sunday that one of the problems on offense this year has been “just not being on the same page with the guys we’re throwing to,” it meant he needs more time with them.
“I certainly think there’s value in reps, period,” Philbin said. “As a coach, as I’ve stated here before, even well before these two weeks, as a coach you love every single player to be available for every practice and every rep, yet you understand in the big scheme of things that doesn’t happen. And so as it relates to EQ or it relates to Quez or some of the younger guys that we have, you’d love for those guys to have as many game reps as they can get that fits what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish within the game plan. We’d love for them to play with Aaron. We’ll see how that unfolds. But again, that’s kind of secondary to me. Primary to me is having the Green Bay Packers play as well as they possibly can against the New York Jets.”
Leadership and optics: The NFL is not an egalitarian society, but what kind of message would it send that Rodgers doesn’t have to play but others do? It might not be a good look or go over well in the locker room. As the leader of the team, Rodgers has certain responsibilities. One of them was to address reporters on the day after Mike McCarthy was fired even though it wasn’t Rodgers’ scheduled day to speak. And Rodgers did so. This might be another one of those cases, and perhaps it’s why Rodgers seemed puzzled when asked whether he wanted to play.
“That’s what you want your leader to say, your quarterback to say,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said.
Avoid 0-for-the-road: This is the Packers’ last chance to avoid going winless on the road for the first time since 1958. Rodgers, of course, gives them the best chance to win. Sunday’s loss at Chicago dropped them to 0-7 on the road this season.
“You set different goals, obviously, because the playoffs won’t be happening,” Rodgers said. “I think a good one is probably we can get our first road win of the year.”
Why Rodgers shouldn’t play
Knee, collarbone and every other body part: What would happen if Rodgers suffered a serious injury in one of these last two games? A torn ACL, a blown Achilles tendon, another broken collarbone? All could impact the 2019 season, if not ruin it. This is where general manager Brian Gutekunst and team president Mark Murphy might have to step in. Rodgers said in Chicago that he thought the Packers would once again be in a position to compete with the Bears for the NFC North title but any injury that would affect even next offseason’s preparation -- which will be critical with the new coaching staff -- would hurt those chances.
“Last year was obviously a tough year with the [collarbone] injury,” Rodgers said. “This year with a lot of promise early on -- it’s definitely disappointing. The expectation is to compete for championships. You know, that’s a good football team, but like I told some of the guys, I look forward to the battles over the years. I like our chances in the division moving forward. Obviously, there will be some changes in the offseason. We’ll finish this year out the right way and then we’ll look to the future, which I think is still really bright in Green Bay.”
A look at Kizer: No one knows exactly what the Packers have in quarterback DeShone Kizer. Gutekunst asked the coaching staff to remake Kizer’s fundamentals after he struggled in Cleveland last year as a winless rookie starter. Kizer was inconsistent in the preseason and bombed in his brief debut in the opener against the Bears while Rodgers was getting his knee checked out. Three months later, they could get a chance to see what progress he has made.
“I think my fundamentals have gotten a lot better, my footwork has gotten a lot better, which has allowed me to be a little more accurate than I’ve been in the past,” Kizer said. “I think I’ve been able to show that in some of the scout-team reps that I get and the few reps I got with the first team when Aaron was a little banged up during some of the weeks. With that, I think I’ve been able to develop some confidence and hopefully develop some of the confidence of the guys around me to believe in me if that time ever comes where it’s my job to step in.”
Draft position: Given the state of the Green Bay roster, the Packers are going to need to as many impact players as possible. Picking as high as possible in each round would certainly help. At this point, ESPN projects the Packers to pick at No. 12 in the first round. A couple of more losses might move them into the top 10.