As a condition of Rodgers’s return, the Packers tore off the back end of his contract, which was scheduled to expire after the 2023 season. The Packers acquired Randall Cobb, their former wide receiver and a confidant of Rodgers’s, from the Houston Texans on Wednesday, reversing one of the roster moves Rodgers had criticized. Cobb does not appear to fill a roster need, but he does give Rodgers a sympathetic ear to gripe into on team flights. No matter how firmly they fix their smiles, the Packers and Rodgers are a couple planning to divorce the moment the children move out, a classic rock act pretending to get along until the end of its farewell tour.
Rodgers may have watched James Harden force a four-way blockbuster N.B.A. trade in January and thought that he could do the same thing. Unfortunately, everything, from the N.F.L.’s hard salary cap to the difference in the leagues’ cultures, makes such trades nearly impossible in football. Superstars rule the N.B.A., but even the greatest quarterbacks are mere commodities to the pro football industrial complex.
Rodgers may also have coveted what Tom Brady enjoyed last year: a relatively clean break from his longtime employer, a hero’s welcome in a new city and an I-told-you-so championship run. But Brady allowed his contract to expire as he grew disenchanted with the New England Patriots, then dictated his own terms as a free agent. Brady shrewdly bided his time and manipulated circumstances in his favor; Rodgers grew frustrated and tried to force a miracle. Their contract machinations mirrored their playing styles.
Whatever his objective may have been, Rodgers came up short: no new team, no new money. Just a shortened contract and some play dates with an old pal. The Packers, meanwhile, appeased fans and teammates by coaxing Rodgers back to the table (contract negotiations with the All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams grew touchy in Rodgers’s absence), but now must worry that their most important player will again hold his breath until he turns blue the next time he doesn’t get what he wants.
It’s hard to imagine that this strained union will result in a championship. Rodgers’s brilliance will yield plenty of wins, even if he’s gritting his teeth through the whole experience. But chemistry, communication and camaraderie really do matter in the N.F.L. If Rodgers, his teammates and his coaches lack faith or trust in one another at a critical moment in the playoffs, their season is likely to end in frustration, hurt feelings and bruised egos.
That’s how most Packers seasons have ended with Rodgers at quarterback in the last decade. At least both sides now know that this year will probably be the last time.