GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The signs were everywhere that Sunday night was it for Aaron Rodgers: He walked off Lambeau Field with his arm around best buddy Randall Cobb, he didn't want to give away his game-worn jersey and he fought back his emotions in the final moments of his postgame session with reporters.
Before anyone drafts retirement papers or a trade agreement, consider the other indicators that came after the Green Bay Packers' season-ending 20-16 loss to the Detroit Lions: He did and said some of the same things after the Packers' exit from the playoffs last season. And the season before that.
This time, however, there will be no playoffs. All the Packers needed to do was beat the Lions on Sunday night and they were in. Instead, they finished 8-9 and missed the postseason for the first time in coach Matt LaFleur's four seasons.
"At some point, the carousel comes to a stop and it's time to get off, and I think you kind of know when that is," Rodgers said Sunday. "And that's what needs to be contemplated. Is it time? Also, what's the organization doing? That's part of it, as well. But the competitive fire is always going to be there. I don't think that ever goes away. Sometimes it gets transferred, I think, to other things that might not ever fill that large void. But like I said, I feel good about what I've accomplished in this league and wouldn't have any regrets walking away. But I got to see what it feels like once I get away from this."
Last offseason, Rodgers announced his decision to return on March 8. He signed a three-year, $150 million contract extension shortly thereafter. That deal contains a $58.3 million bonus plus more than $1 million in other guarantees if he plays in 2023. Rodgers insisted on Sunday that he could walk away from that money.
When asked what the determining factor will be, Rodgers said: "It's a feeling." He then proceeded to list several things that could influence that feeling.
"Do I feel like I have anything left to prove to myself?" he said. "Do I want to go back and gear up for another grind? Or is it time? Is time to step away? Is it time for another voice to be leading this team?
"I think I need to get away and contemplate those things. Those are real to me. I have a lot of pride in what I've accomplished in this league, but I'm also a realist, and I understand where we're at as a team. We're a young team; there could be some changes with some of the older guys, and it could be time to step away. But I could take some time and say hell no, man, I need to get back out there and go on another run. But I'll have to see what it feels like once I'm away from it."
Even if the organization has yet to tell Rodgers face-to-face whether it wants him, it has done so publicly. Last month, general manager Brian Gutekunst told reporters he wants Rodgers to return. LaFleur said he believes the organization still feels the same way, even after one of Rodgers' least productive seasons.
"Yeah, in my mind, absolutely," LaFleur said. "But I think, ultimately, he's going to decide that."
While Rodgers didn't sound keen on playing for another team in the event he wasn't ready to retire but the Packers wanted to move on to Jordan Love, he didn't completely close that door.
Rodgers' last throw of the season was intercepted by Lions safety Kerby Joseph with 3:27 left in the game. The Packers never got the ball back. It was Rodgers' 12th interception of the season -- second highest only to the 13 he threw in 2008, his first season as a starter. Joseph, who picked off Rodgers twice in the November game at Detroit, became the first player to pick him off three times in a single regular season.
Yet Rodgers had no question in his mind that he can still play at a high level, just like he felt at this time last year, when he had wrapped up his second straight NFL MVP season and the fourth of his career.
"The answer is yes," he said.
Still, Rodgers found life after the trade of wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders in March to be rough sledding, even though the Packers drafted three wideouts in Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson and Samori Toure. Even so, Rodgers said there's "a lot of good, young talent on this team [and] if certain guys make the jumps from years one to two, this offense could look a lot different."
Just like he did after the previous campaign, Rodgers said he wanted to get away from the season and "take the emotion out of it."
That's something he did for most of his 20 minutes in the media auditorium Sunday night.
Until the end.
That's when he was asked, if this is it, what he will miss the most. Rodgers paused for 10 seconds and said: "I'll miss the guys. I'll miss the fans."
He paused again, collected himself and said: "Yeah. Thank you."
And into another offseason of contemplation he went.