The Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) are a half-game back of the Chicago Bears (7-6) and Detroit Lions (7-6) in the NFC North division race, even without their Super Bowl Champion and MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers broke his collarbone in a Week 9 loss to the Bears, and initial reports suggested that he would be out for 3-6 weeks. Since November 4, Rodgers still has yet to be medically cleared to play in the last five weeks and two days, and rumors have swirled that the Packers are “pessimistic” that he will start against the Dallas Cowboys this weekend.
Rodgers, one of the very few true “franchise quarterbacks” in the NFL, has proven to be the difference in the Packers’ 2013 season. When Rodgers was healthy, the Packers were 5-2 and were on their way to winning their third consecutive NFC North title. Since breaking his collarbone, Green Bay is 1-4-1.
Because of the Bears and Lions’ struggles during the Rodgers-less era, the Packers remain in the division hunt and they are clearly a much better football team with Rodgers under center. Regarding player injuries though, the Packers are one of the most fragile but careful teams in the NFL.
On Rodgers’ radio show “Tuesdays with Aaron” on ESPN 540 Milwaukee, he said after he returned to practice last week that he experienced more pain than expected in his left shoulder. Rodgers said he would need “different results and different responses” in practice this week if he were to return to the field this weekend.
According to ESPN, Rodgers could throw a football without discomfort last week in practice, but taking a snap and handing off the football with his left arm was painful. Rodgers is an athletic quarterback who historically gets hit often by opposing defenders, so there is no reason to risk playing him if he has pain doing simple and consistent movements.
Green Bay’s medical staff needs to be as cautious as possible, because the Packers organization and fans would potentially be dealing with a situation similar to the Washington Redskins if Rodgers was forcefully cleared to play.
Redskins quarterback and reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III was the golden boy of the league last season after accumulating 27 total touchdowns while averaging 54.3 rushing yards per game and committing seven total turnovers. However, Griffin suffered a torn LCL and ACL in his knee which led to multiple offseason knee surgeries.
Griffin and the Redskins mutually agreed that the star quarterback was “good to go” by the start of the 2013 regular season, but it’s apparent that the second-year quarterback is not healthy, and it has affected the Redskins (3-10) in the absolute worst way. Griffin’s 2013 numbers are down, head coach Mike Shanahan is on the hot seat, the defending NFC East Champion Redskins sit in last place in the division. Even worse, they don’t have a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Sure, Green Bay is still in the playoff race, but if Rodgers isn’t 100 percent, there is no reason to play him and risk further injury and possible offseason surgery. The debate which floats around Green Bay is whether fans would like to see an injured Rodgers lead an average Packers team in 2013, or a 100 percent Rodgers lead potentially better Packers teams beyond the 2013 season.
If Rodgers forced his way back to the field, he could re-injure his collarbone and never be the same quarterback again. If the Packers remain extremely cautious with their franchise quarterback, it would be best for fans to stomach one mediocre season in exchange for a bright future, even if it is painful.
Green Bay is in the thick of the playoff race and proved in 2010 that any NFL team can win in the playoffs. Should the Packers risk their entire future by playing a beat-up star quarterback for the next three games? Your move, Green Bay.