Leader of the Pack
The disappointment of not being drafted No. 1 by his favorite team as a kid. The hours upon hours spent in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center green room. The idea of sitting the bench behind a legendary quarterback. His lack of Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school. The less-than-stellar NFL track record of Jeff Tedford-coached quarterbacks.
On April 23, 2005, Aaron Rodgers had plenty to talk about in the moments after the Green Bay Packers finally chose him with the 24th overall pick in the NFL Draft. But near the end of his phone call with Wisconsin reporters that day, Rodgers was asked about how much his draft-day tumble had cost him financially. No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith would wind up getting a six-year, $49.5 million deal from the San Francisco 49ers. Rodgers, meanwhile, would get a five-year, $7.655 million deal from the Packers.
“I’m just really excited about being a Packer. That (money) is not why I play,” Rodgers replied. “It’s nice, but I’ve got an opportunity to learn from the best quarterback of his era, and I’m excited about doing that. And like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m excited about the opportunity to be a Packer.”
Eight years later, on another draft weekend, Rodgers made up for those lost earnings – and then some. On Friday morning, he signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension with the Packers that reportedly guaranteed him $40 million up front, will pay him $62.5 million over the first three years and, yes, made him the highest-paid player in the NFL. Rodgers said contract talks didn’t start until the offseason began and “picked up some steam the last couple weeks.”
And yet again, as he stood in the middle of the Packers locker room, surrounded by a throng of lights, cameras and questions, it was about more than just the dollars and cents for Rodgers. Certainly, he said, it was humbling to be paid such an incomprehensible amount of money to “play a sport that I love.” And he fully acknowledged that such a paycheck not only meant financial security, but also carried “a responsibility I take very seriously.”
But for Rodgers, it was also a chance to reflect on a still-in-progress journey that began in uncertainty and has blossomed into a truly remarkable story.
“Eight years ago, I was in that green room wondering if there was a team willing to take a chance on me. … (And) as I got on that plane in Detroit (en route to Green Bay) and it was snowing on April 24, 2005, I didn’t know exactly what I was in for,” Rodgers recalled Friday. “I remember a great conversation I had with (then-Packers linebacker) Na’il Diggs (on the plane), and (how) the excitement started to grow when I got to the facility when I saw some of the trophies and the names on the stadium.
“This is a special place to play. You look on the walls around the facility, as I was walking around a few minutes ago, and realize you’re among greatest. There have been a lot of players who have come before you and allowed you to have this kind of opportunity that we all have and I have. It’s fun to be a part of a special organization like that with an incredible fan base.
“The relationship with my teammates is very important to me. I think respect is something that’s very hard to get from all the guys, but it takes your character being tested at times and you playing well on the field. I think I’ve done those things and the guys respect me. I’m one of the older guys now. I’m not the oldest yet, but (I’m) the longest-tenured Packer now and it’s an interesting position to be in. I’ve seen a lot of friends go to other places and you realize how special this place is when you hear some of the stories from those guys. And you also realize how short this period is in our lives and you make the most of those relationships.
“It’s kind of ironic eight years ago, the Packers took a chance on me this weekend, took a chance on me again in 2008 after seven games. I’m excited to know my future is here and I’ll be here for a lot longer.
“Obviously (being) from the West Coast, I’ve spent eight great years here and learned a lot about myself and enjoyed my time here. But for me it’s about the responsibility that comes with the opportunity I’ve been given and try to make the most of it.”
There’s little question that Rodgers has made the most of his opportunities so far.
“I think Aaron has proven himself to be a very fine quarterback, a very fine leader,” general manager Ted Thompson said after the second day of the draft ended. “The Green Bay Packers and the Packer fans have been very lucky to have Aaron Rodgers come in here and do the job he has following the legend in Brett Favre. To have those two guys for your two quarterbacks for that long of time is a remarkable thing and the record, I think, is a reflection of that.”
Statistically, Rodgers ranks No. 1 in NFL history (minimum 1,500 attempts) with a career passer rating of 104.9. He also ranks No. 1 in league history in lowest career interception percentage (1.73) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (3.72) and No. 2 in career completion percentage (65.7). For his career, Rodgers has completed 1,752 of 2,665 passes for 21,661 yards and 171 TDs with 46 INTs.
In 78 career regular-season starts, Rodgers has a 56-22 regular-season record and has recorded 28 games with 300-plus passing yards, 43 games without an interception and 46 games with a 100-plus passer rating. Rodgers was selected to the Pro Bowl three of the past four seasons and was the 2011 NFL MVP and Super Bowl XLV MVP after the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers for the NFL title following the 2010 season.
As a result of that success, Rodgers’ $22 million per-year average in new money surpasses the $20.1 million average that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco received in his six-year, $120.6 million deal earlier this offseason, making Rodgers the league’s highest-paid player.
Rodgers, who signed a six-year, $65 million extension in October 2008 after starting just seven games, was set to earn a base salary of $9.75 million this season and an $11 million base salary in 2011. Including the two existing years, Rodgers’ deal is a seven-year commitment and runs through the 2019 season, when he will turn 36 years old.
Asked if he expects to play beyond this contract, Rodgers replied, “I’ve played eight (seasons) – five as a starter – and I think I have eight left in my legs and body, at least, at a high level.
“This is like many deals: A lot of times you don’t see a deal all the way through if you’re playing well. It’s just the nature of some of these contracts. That’s a long way off. In order to even get to that conversation, it’s going to take many years in a row at a consistently high level of play for me, which I expect to do. I’m going to get myself in the best shape mentally and physically to do that, and hopefully we can have that conversation in seven years where I can still play and maybe we can keep this thing going.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.