Peter King wrote:I’ve always maintained this about Rodgers: He’s got so many other things he loves in life that I can’t see him playing till he’s 45. Forty-three, even. And here in Nevada, in one of Rodgers’ favorite weeks annually—renting a lovely home on the shore of Lake Tahoe, playing golf every day, and playing in the sports-celebrity American Century Championship golf event—I hope to nail him down about his football future, and his complicated contract. I do, sort of. But there’s more, and it’s better.
“Life’s great,” he says when we meet after his pro-am round at the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. “Fantastic. I did ‘Shark Week.’ Coming out July 22. Nose-to-nose with a shark. No cage.”
Packer Nation, in unison, from Prairie du Chien to Sturgeon Bay, from Kenosha to Superior, just read that and yelled, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
I can report Rodgers lived. So R-E-L-A-X. But this is the world of Rodgers. This off-season, he bought a share of the Milwaukee Bucks, got life advice from the Dalai Lama in India, journeyed to Africa to help outfit kids with hearing aids, went to the Indy 500, swam with the sharks off the coast of San Diego, and last week satisfied his golf jones with daily rounds at this golf paradise.
“I’m telling you,” he said, his tanned faced breaking into a wide smile, “it’s been a great off-season.”
First, the news. Rodgers, who turns 35 in December, says he wants to suit up till he’s 40, isn’t going to change how he plays because of the two clavicle injuries that cost him 16 games in five years, and would like to finish his career as a Packer.
“I’d love to play to 40,” he said. “I just think that number means a lot. Obviously, Tom [Brady] is kind of rewriting the book. Brett [Favre] had a good season when he turned 40. My goal is be able to move like I do or close to how I do and still be able to do that at 40 … just because nobody’s been able to do that and still move around the same. Steve Young’s career was cut short in his late thirties. John [Elway], the same—he didn’t really move the same as when he was younger. So to be able to move the same way at 38, 39, 40 would be cool. That’s my aim.”
He disagrees with my take that he’s got to get rid of the ball quicker, take fewer hits. “I try to already,” he said. “I’ve played football since I was 13 years old and I’ve taken two shots where I couldn’t wiggle free, and broke my collarbone twice. I feel pretty good about the way I play, avoiding some major stuff. I’ve had a couple muscle pulls. But other than that, as a starter I’ve been pretty healthy. Two hits. First time [in 2013, against Chicago] I didn’t see the guy. Second time I did. [In 2017, Minnesota’s Anthony Barr leveled him outside the pocket.] I didn’t think he was gonna hit me maybe as hard as he did. But he did and that was what happened.”
“Have anything against Barr?” I asked.
“I mean, I think it’s time to move on for everybody. I had looked over just to see if maybe there was gonna be a thumbs up, or hey you okay? Or whatever. It’s a league where you appreciate what we put our bodies through. I thought … knowing that I wouldn’t be on the ground unless it was a significant injury then maybe he’d be looking over, giving me a thumbs-up-you-okay? Or something. But it wasn’t the case. We had some words exchanged on both sides.”
“You consider it over?”
“I do,” he said.
Regarding his contract: Rodgers has two years left on a five-year, $110-million deal. At 34, playing for $22 million annually on average, lesser quarterbacks have wizzed by Rodgers this off-season: Kirk Cousins at $28 million per, Matt Ryan at $30 million per. Many theories have been advanced as to what Rodgers should do, including tying his annual pay to the annual percentage increases of the salary cap. That makes the most sense to me. Rodgers’ career passer rating (not the ultimate QB barometer, obviously) of 103.8 is 5.0 points higher than anyone else in history … 6.2 points higher than Brady, 7.3 points better than Peyton Manning. And while missing 16 games in five seasons is troubling, can you think of anyone you’d rather have for the next five seasons at the most important position in sports than Aaron Rodgers?
Rodgers wasn’t giving away much on this. But he sounded very much like a unique contract suits him more than a usual one, which could be obsolete 18 months after signing.
“It’s only been on my mind because … people have been writing and talking about it a lot,” he said. “There have been many conversations about it. I think that there’s some merit to looking into where you do a non-traditional contractual agreement. If anybody at this point is gonna be able to do something like that, I think there needs to be a conversation about it. I never said anything about [tying the contract to] the cap. I just think there’s ways to do contracts where you can still be competitive so the team is happy about it, but have some more freedom.”
He said he’d “like to” play his career entirely for Green Bay. “But I think in my time there, I realize no one is above the team. They can trade Brett Favre, Jordy Nelson. They can not re-sign a Charles Woodson or Julius Peppers. They make decisions that are in the best interest of the team. It could be me at some point. You have to be humble enough to realize that, and I do. I’d love to be able to …
“How many guys get to actually pick the way and the team how they go out? You know? Hardly anybody. You have to understand that’s a real possibility. But yeah, my dream situation would be to stay in Green Bay.”
Now for the important stuff. Now for the sharks and the lama.
“The only reason I wanted to do the shark thing,” he said, “is I have two main fears: sharks and heights. I’m not gonna jump out of a plane. But sharks, I don’t know. I watched “Jaws” when I was a kid and always felt like they’re in the water, out in the ocean water, and one’s got my name on its back and it’s gonna munch on me. I wanted to conquer that fear because I love the water. I love paddle-boarding. So they [the Discovery Channel] came to me and my agent and I said, ‘Yes. A hundred percent yes. I want to do it. They got Gronk too, and Lindsay Vonn. It was in the Pacific, outside San Diego. There’s a big continental shelf that drops off and the depth goes to thousands of feet. There’s an upswelling of water and there’s a bunch of predators there. So we went out to that spot. They found this blue shark and got me in the water, nose to nose. It’s crazy.”
“What was it like?”
“Terrifying,” he said.
Eyes don’t lie. Rodgers’ got bigger just then.
“Seriously. I was terrified. I was just thinking about what the expert they brought in had told me. He said there’s three sharks in the water. There’s the blue, the white, and the mako. The mako, if it’s bigger than you, get out. If it’s not, stay in and keep your eyes on it at all times. Never turn your back to it. The white, you look at it straight in the eyes the entire time. The only way it’s gonna come near you is if you’re not looking at it. And the blue, he’s gonna come right up to you. When he comes up to you, he’s got a long nose. You just Miyagi that.”
Miyagi that. I should have stopped him to clarify, but I figured he meant give the shark a little karate chop. Mr. Miyagi.
“So this blue, he literally came up to me—spoiler alert—I put my hand on his head. I pushed him down to the right. Nicely, gently. But I was terrified. Honestly, I was blacked out. It just came up to me and all I was thinking was, Oh my god it’s actually happening. What do I do? Okay, boom. I just moved his head down to the right. But it was fun. I have a different appreciation for sharks now. I’m okay with ‘em.”
Rodgers went from the sharks to the lama to Zambia. I mean, who has a more eventful off-season than that? See what I mean about Rodgers having more to do in life than your average football player?
The trip to India, and to the audience with the Dalai Lama, made Rodgers geek out like your 13-year-old daughter seeing her first Taylor Swift show. “Hard to describe,” Rodgers said. “It was at his palace in Dharamsala in India. We flew in and drove up this winding road. He lives in the mountains, up in Dharamsala. I don’t know what city we flew into but it’s way up in the mountains. So we drove up there and went to the palace in the morning. There’s people lining the streets to get a glimpse of him or get an audience with him. He sees some people every day. We had 90 minutes with him. It was fantastic.”
Rodgers doesn’t think the spiritual leader knew who he was, but he did bring an NFL football and a Packers’ hat, and the Dalai Lama wore the hat and posted a picture of them together, smiling. He speaks English well. “We talked about his vision for the world and his global message of kindness and acceptance and togetherness. But he’s funny. He makes jokes. He gets funny when he doesn’t quite know the translation of a word. He’ll ask his translators. He answered a couple questions. Fantastic. Surreal.”
I’d followed Rodgers around the course for part of his pro-am day, walking the course and watching him interact with fans. He looked into eyes and talked to a few strangers. He posed for selfies with the gallery as he walked. On the 17th hole, which hugs the lakeshore, loud music played and kids had footballs for him to sign. They’d stand behind the ropes and throw him wobbly throws. Three times, Rodgers waved the kids onto the fairway and threw passes to them; twice he did it with older guys, maybe 25-year-olds, and he waved them deep, and threw them long spiraled strikes. (Both were dropped, to load OHHHHHHHHHHS from the crowd.) Danica Patrick, his girlfriend, came out of the gallery at 18 and they walked maybe 75 yards together. The tugging, the pulling, the “AAAAAAARRRRRONNNNNN! PLEASE SIGN!” was never-ending for five hours. I thought he’d be exhausted. He seemed okay with it, hole after hole. When I suggested he should get a documentary crew to do a “Being Aaron Rodgers” doc so he’d always remember what crazy days like that were like, he said he’d watched some of Gotham Chopra’s life-of-Brady’s series last year and liked it.
Rodgers looked zen, the way you’d think someone who’d spent 90 minutes with the Dalai Lama would look.
“He said, ‘Remember to slow down. Slow down. When you get busy in life, just slow down and appreciate the things around you and the things in your life.’ That’s what I’ve been trying to do in this off-season.”