Aaron Rodgers and the Packers Must Come Together, Right Now
The best that the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers can hope for in 2021 is one last round of really wild breakup sex.
Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Intense. Passionate, but for complicated and semi-troubling reasons. NASTY. Leave 'em wanting more, just make sure you leave 'em: no cuddling allowed. Rodgers and the Packers clearly have irreconcilable differences, but they can snap some bedsprings and rattle the NFL's rafters one last time before Rodgers slams the door behind him and both sides learn whether or not they'll be better off without the other. (Spoiler alert: they won't be.)
The greatest breakup sex in history, besides that last hurrah you had with your post-college almost-fiancée on the floor of that unfurnished apartment (you freaks), was The Beatles' Abbey Road album. John, Paul, and George nearly strangled each other during the Let It Be sessions (Ringo kept quiet, honing the songwriting chops that would soon craft "Back off Boogaloo,"), then agreed to truly collaborate one last time for the sake of their fans and their legacies before going their separate ways. The "Abbey Road Medley" can be heard as one long, artistically explosive climax to the band's oeuvre and relationship. I am sorry if that ruins "Polythene Pam" for you and even sorrier if it improves it.
Packers fans deserve Abbey Road from Rodgers and the Packers. Unfortunately, they'll probably be forced to settle for All Things Must Pass.
Rodgers said at a charity golf tournament in early July that he's working on his "mindful practices" and "spiritual self," adding tidbits like "Sometimes, the loudest person in the room isn't the smartest" which are sure to make general managers eager to rip up their budgets and yoke their fortunes to the gifted-but-recalcitrant, not-so-young philosopher prince.
Rodgers also spoke a bit about mental health in the same interview. If he said he was suffering any actual mental health issues, of course I would be sensitive and respectful. But he made it clear that he was not. Rodgers is just a vague-posting Facebook in-law who loves to pretend to hate all the attention he's begging for. He spent the offseason impersonating Chuck Woolery and duffing with Phil Mickelson to shake off a case of the I-wanted-Justin-Jefferson blues and then half-heartedly framed the whole thing in vague therapeutic language, seeking sympathy from a populace who spent the last 15 months living like medieval hermits.
Happiness for Rodgers sometimes appears to be a zero-sum game. He can only experience joy if he's spreading an equal measure of misery among (in the good ol' days) his opponents and (more recently) coaches, teammates, employers, or the world at large. If that's the case, Rodgers must have felt downright euphoric when nearly ruining Jeopardy! with his smarmy pre-owned Acura dealership sales manager "charm."
Yes, lots of folks enjoyed Rodgers' Jeopardy! run, just as lots of folks are certain the backup quarterback is special after he leads the team to six 52-yard field goals in an 18-16 win over the Bengals. Rodgers interviewed contestants after the first commercial break as though he was ready to go through nuclear decontamination after being forced to chit-chat with a lowly normie. At best, he ranked somewhere between Blossom and the Buddy Holly guy as a Jeopardy! host, ahead of Dr. Quackenstein and the obnoxious executive producer (who came across like Roger Goodell doing play-by-play) but well below the true GOAT or Katie Couric, and he won't be in the same galactic quadrant as Geordi will be when he finally gets his chance. When it comes to hosting game shows, Rodgers is Matt Flynn.
The Packers played their part in the Rodgers saga by making sure the meatloaf was on the table the moment he came home for nearly a decade, then reversing course and going the accelerants-and-matches route. Unfortunately, Jordan Love is a $50,000 insurance policy on a million-dollar investment, and the Packers lost their bet by trying to hedge it. The Packers really were a player away from the Super Bowl last year; based on the NFC Championship Game, that player may well have been the type of receiver who was available in abundance in last year's draft. But Mark Murphy and Brian Gutekunst bought the au pair a tennis bracelet instead of fixing the leaky roof. Understandable as the urge to design an exit strategy from Rodgers may have been, history won't be kind to their decision.
If it sounds like I am being a little harsh on Rodgers, it's partly because I spent much of the spring and summer fielding Rodgers questions on podcasts and regional radio appearances and have grown a bit weary of parsing his bruised feelings and freshman-dorm-Taoist natterings. It's hard to make projections with confidence when Rodgers' absence might make the Cowboys serious Super Bowl contenders, the Vikings or Bears relevant, or Tom Brady cackle like a supervillain at the thought of any challengers to his supremacy. Rodgers has made my job harder, so I'm as done with him as he is with Gutekunst. I'm just actualized enough to admit it.
Rodgers has also been pushing the envelope of what an irreplaceable employee can get away with for years, but many fans (including Packers fans) keep falling for his emo Nice Guy™ routine and insisting that the passive-aggressively churlish and insubordinate Rodgers image is nothing more than a media-created narrative constructed around a driven-but-complicated prince of a dude. Yeah, sure. And Brady is a normal everyday guy who would totes love to have a beer with you, too. If anyone who calls Rodgers out on his act is stuck playing the heel, then I'm gonna lean into the role.
Brady, of course, kept the melodrama of his departure from the Patriots relatively painless and mercifully brief last year. Yes, the fact that Brady was a free agent expedited the process, but a simple trade demand/contract demand/retirement announcement/minicamp appearance by Rodgers would move things along if he could bring himself to stop playing the suffering sad guy and just be honest about what he wants. Brady announced his signing with the Buccaneers at the exact moment the sports world—heck, the world world—needed some news that wasn't laced with terror and uncertainty. Heaven knows I love roasting Brady, but he almost single-handedly saved my industry last year while Rodgers was muttering into his tequila about not getting the birthday present he wanted. Brady remained above all the he-said/he-said stuff. Rodgers just wants to pretend to be.
So Rodgers is now destined to someday host awful future network game show like Celebrity Guillotine or To Sniff Your Farts. Until then, we can't even place an NFC prop bet without speculating on the Rodgers situation. My best guess is that the Packers will trade him in some epic late-camp or early-season blockbuster once Jon Gruden gets a wild hare, John Elway tires of Drexton Lynchlock and Teddy Casekeenum, or some team like the Dolphins says "screw it" and goes all in. Until then, the whole Rodgers affair remains an endless divorce we're forced to hear every detail about until we no longer sympathize with either partner.
Breakup sex is cleansing, emotionally if not hygienically. But it's not the sort of thing you can plan. If either party thinks the other side is angling for one last tussle, they're likely to deny the opportunity (if they still cared about the other's desires, they probably wouldn't be breaking up) or turn it into pity sex, which is what Brady had with the Patriots in 2019.
Paradoxically, breakup sex is often also messy. Let it Be was ultimately released after Abbey Road, so our final image of The Beatles isn't a soaring medley but some scruffy guys barely able to harmonize during a rooftop jam session. Maybe 2020 was the Packers and Rodgers' breakup sex year. If that's the case, both parties are soon likely to discover that, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Comeback Player of the Year Prop Bets
When you bet on a player to win Comeback Player of the Year, you are really betting on every other player to not win CPOY. That means you are banking on lots of dedicated athletes to suffer injury setbacks or other career-threatening adversity so that you can win a little prop bet, you monster.
But seriously folks, Walkthrough will be leaning a little more heavily into the wagering content in the months to come, and while Comeback Player of the Year props aren't very popular, this year's field is interesting. Let's break down the prohibitive favorite and some intriguing challengers. All moneylines were taken from DraftKings as of July XXX. And only bet where it's legal!
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: +225
This feels so much like free money that I already played it. The likelihood that Prescott plays well after missing 11 games with an ankle injury in 2020 is very high. The likelihood that the Cowboys bounce back toward contention is also high. And if both of these things happen, the probability that it becomes one of the biggest stories of 2021 and makes Prescott an award-season darling will be close to 100%.
The biggest fear, besides the usual Cowboys nonsense, is that Prescott slingshots past Comeback Player of the Year all the way toward MVP contention.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals +700
Suckers' bet. Few voters would choose Burrow because he hasn't done enough in the NFL to really "come back" from an award-worthiness standpoint.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants: +700
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers: +800
KUBIAK projects 1,029 rushing yards, 346 receiving yards, and 11 total touchdowns for Barkley, and 1,120-564-13 for McCaffrey. Barkley plays in a bigger market and a much easier division and (somehow) has the better quarterback, meaning "Barkley turns the Giants around" is a more likely 2021 storyline than anything McCaffrey does.
That said, wagering real money on running back comebacks is a terrible investment.
Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts: +1000
KUBIAK projects a bounce back toward 2019 mediocrity for Wentz. I personally think he has become a little too much of an orchid to survive outside an arboretum. But a 10-to-1 payout that Frank Reich and a move closer to home (geographically, culturally, etc.) rekindles the Spirit of 2017 is semi-tempting.
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers: +1000
Rob Gronkowski won CPOY in 2014, so there's precedent for a tight end. That said, the 49ers sunk into national irrelevance last season, and Kittle played enough (48 catches in eight games, with a late-season return) to confuse the whole "comeback" narrative. Remember: CPOY is the most narrative-driven of all the awards.
Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers: +1000
A better bet than Kittle and not a terrible wager overall. Still, a dozen sacks probably wouldn't be enough to claim this award if any of the skill-position stars or more established defenders in the field have solid years.
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers: +1200
For casuals who still think Garoppolo will be traded back to the Patriots any minute now.
Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints: +1200
Give me more meat on the bone if you want me to wager on the Saints finding a stable quarterback solution AND Thomas not blasting off to Planet Wide Rediva. I should point out, however, that "wait for Thomas to get open" was the only downfield passing concept that Taysom Hill knew, and that Thomas caught 30 passes in The Lovechild's four starts. Talk to me if this gets to +2000.
Odell Beckham Jr. Cleveland Browns: +1400
Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos: +1400
KUBIAK has a 62-841-5 projection for OBJ, who hasn't had a truly excellent season since 2016. Sutton isn't established enough for a comeback storyline and will be catching passes from another Elway platoon. Two different flavors of bad wager, in other words.
Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers: +1600
I don't hate this. Defenders sometimes win CPOY (Eric Berry, Greg Ellis, Ted Bruschi, Joe Johnson, Bryant Young), James is famously cursed enough to move the needle, and a few interceptions (plus a Justin Herbert-fueled playoff run) may be all he needs to garner attention if the quarterbacks are meh. Again, though, I need a bigger payout to take this sort of flyer.
Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints: +1600
Maybe the best value on the board. Winston must beat out The Lovechild for the Saints' starting job, and that's a 50-50 proposition at best. But if he does, he's the quarterback of a likely playoff contender with an absolutely irresistible comeback narrative. Winston could even win the award by relieving Hill circa Week 9 and playing well down the stretch, Ryan Tannehill-style. Definitely worth a low-risk throwaway wager, especially if you are a Winston believer.
Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers: +1800
The house is straight-up trolling Adam Gase at this point, and I adore it. The trolling, that is, not the play.
Von Miller, Denver Broncos: +2500
Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings: +2500
Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals: +2500
If you have to jog your memory to recall whether a player was unavailable last year, chances are he won't be a popular CPOY candidate. Miller is much more famous than Hunter and Jones and suffered both an ankle injury and a high-profile COVID bout in 2020, making him much more likely to get attention from a bounce-back season than the others.
Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans: +2500
There are too many moving parts here, from Jones' age to a new team and run-heavy offense to the likelihood that any bounce-back will be attributed to his change of scenery, not a comeback from injury.
You can get Tim Tebow +5000 if banking on the Second Greatest Story Ever Told is your bag. Kelvin Benjamin is listed at +4000, and I'll admit that I think Tebow is more likely to have an impact in 2021 than Benjamin. Really, the bottom of the CPOY board is a leaf litter of lost causes and unlikely candidates. But not many people think about Comeback Player of the Year props at all, let alone in July, so it makes sense to scatter bait all over the pond.
The story sounded too good to be true. And it was.
A report crossed my desk last week that Adam Gase had accepted a job as an offensive coordinator for a suburban high school in Michigan. Delicious! Irresistibly absurd! And completely uncorroborated and ultimately untrue. But I was snookered. And by snookered, I mean that I wrote 1,000 hilarious words about Adam Gase, Public Educator before performing the very disappointing due diligence I should have started with.
The vision of Gase reduced to sitting in a rickety shack perched atop metal bleachers on frigid October nights grumbling play calls to teenagers who only understand 0.2% of his playbook was simply delightful. Not for the players, their parents, the faculty, or local citizens, mind you: Gase's penance would be a nightmare for them. But of all the well-connected "real leaders of men" in the NFL coaching fraternity, Gase is the one most deserving of boots-in-the-trenches coaching experiences like:
- Losing a star player to ineligibility in November because he never turned in a five-paragraph essay on Self Reliance.
- Getting a new bunghole torn by a tenured English teacher when he tries to pull strings for the Self Reliance kid. Football coaches always win those eligibility battles, but faculty hardliners make them fight for every inch of that ground like they're Frank Gore running inside zone on second-and-11.
- Weekly phone calls from the board-member dad who runs the local car dealership strongly suggesting that his 5-foot-6, 125-pound son get the ball more often, preferably on inside zones on second-and-11.
- "Are there practices in August? Oh, sorry, we're taking Johnny Quarterback on a family vacation to the lake for two weeks! BTW, his backup is 5-foot-5 and 120 pounds. And we are also on the school board!"
- His first time trying to make 504 accommodations. Or, more likely, the first meeting with the superintendent after the school is in catastrophic non-compliance because he thought he could ignore 504 accommodations.
- The aftermath of one of his bug-eyed tantrums, when he discovers that three starters quit to play soccer instead, two joined marching band, and one just opted for Mountain Dew and Fortnite.
- Weekly taunts of "your Jets sucked" by small groups of 15-year-olds standing well within earshot, only some of whom attend the opposing school.
Alas, none of it is really happening, and those bullet points are all I could salvage of the aforementioned 1,000-worder without making it obvious that's what I was doing. Gase is probably just laying low this year, living off the fat of his Jets contract and waiting for Nick Saban to sneak him onto the bottom of his offensive staff so the career rehabilitation can commence.
I won't provide links to the Gase rumor, but it appears to have started with some anonymous Jets-themed Twitter account, where it got picked up by the part of the aggregator-sphere that doesn't need fact-checking to have a good time. It may have been meant as satire, but there is no punchline. The details of the fake story are too plausible to work as a spoof: Gase attended a nearby high school, for example. At least the Fake Schefters who appear on Twitter during free agency get to laugh when a real reporter retweets "Seahawks trade Russell Wilson to Bears, Adam Scheftrrrrr reports." The Gase story was too poorly timed and generally pathetic to really trend. More likely, it started as a futile Hail Mary for engagement by someone desperate for credibility and doing the exact opposite of what it takes to gain it.
Still, I almost fell for it. Blame the doldrums of July. And blame the fact that I'm going to miss Gase in 2021. Sure, there are plenty of coaches to roast this year, from Urban Meyer to Dan Campbell to Kliff Kingsbury. But Gase's predictable, belligerent incompetence made him special. As villains go, Campbell is like Sabretooth; Meyer an overconfident Maxwell Lord or Norman Osborn; Kingsbury the embodiment of Jake Gyllenhall's Mysterio, charming the world with smoke, mirrors, and handsome stubblecheeks. Gase was M.O.D.O.K.—pure claymation cartoon evil, no self-awareness required.
Oh well. Gase will be back soon enough. And if he does coach high school while laying low, I'm ready for him.
Walkthrough, The Next Generation
So I return to Football Outsiders, and immediately:
- Tim Tebow returns to the NFL;
- Aaron Rodgers morphs into Brett Favre; and
- Tom Brady rolls his chronometer back to approximately age 34 again.
So it really is 2011 again, and all's right with the world, except for the many, many things which are dangerously and terrifyingly wrong.
Oh, some things have changed. The sports analytics community, like the roleplaying gamer and comics fandom communities, is a lot closer to the front pew of the cultural congregation now than it used to be. Our voice is heard now, both on television and inside team headquarters. The NFL has changed in innumerable ways. Its role as a sociopolitical institution shifted several times during the 2010s and is still evolving, pushing and pulling against serious societal issues in the great big world while simultaneously embracing and recoiling from analytics in our little one. Football Outsiders has also changed: we're bigger, better equipped, and far wiser than we were as geek-chic punkers in the mid-2000s. We're still your favorite microbrewery, though, despite the expanded bottling capabilities.
I have changed a little too, besides growing greyer and wider. I'm a Big Ten parent now, or at least a Rutgers parent, which technically counts. I'll definitely be writing some Big Ten checks this year, so please, puh-lease subscribe to FO+. I also learned some journalist-type stuff in my decade at Bleacher Report and elsewhere, and I plan to bring that fresh, slightly less "outsider" perspective back to Football Outsiders.
To clarify a few things: this is my debut as a full-time Football Outsiders writer and employee. I have been a part-timer, freelancer, or visiting nutty uncle in all of my other appearances since 2004. I wrote Walkthrough last year but was required to peddle much of my most marketable material elsewhere, so it wasn't always the Walkthrough I would have preferred to have written. This year, Football Outsiders will be the home of my Monday Morning "Digest" content, columns and analysis throughout the week, and some gambling material. Just about all of my NFL coverage will be here, though a little N.F.L. coverage may end up elsewhere, if you catch my drift. Then, come January, I will be spearheading expanded Football Outsiders draft coverage, because the draftnik streets desperately need us to restore a little order.
To extend the microbrew analogy: I'll be crafting some of the easy-to-drink session beers, a few saisons for early spring, some bourbon for the gambling crowd, and the occasional cask-aged black cherry Belgian Tripel for the regulars.
The official relaunch of Walkthrough is scheduled for August 2. We'll run twice per week through the preseason and several times per week beyond. Any kidding aside, be sure to subscribe to FO+ so you don't miss anything I/we produce during the 2021 season.
It's great to be back at the best spot on the Internet for thoughtful, thorough, insightful, and entertaining football analysis on the world wide web. I promise that the 2021-2022 season will be a blast.