Should the Packers Sit Aaron Rodgers?

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We had an interesting question from a reader this week on whether or not the Packers should sit Aaron Rodgers for the last two games of the 2018 season.

Aaron asks via our Facebook page:

Should the Packers sit or play Aaron Rodgers? Tank for picks and to protect Rodgers from a further injury or give him more reps with young guys and try not to go 0-8 on the road?

The article Aaron references is by ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky His analysis boils down to three factors in favor of Rodgers playing and three things arguments against.

The case for playing Aaron Rodgers against the Jets and Lions

  1. The Packers will get more reps with Aaron Rodgers and the young players out there – wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, J’Mon Moore, Allen Lazard, and tight end Robert Tonyan.

  2. It won’t undermine the team’s leadership and avoid the poor optics of giving up on the season.

  3. Playing Rodgers this Sunday likely helps avoid the possibility of going winless on the road for the first time since the "gory" years.

There are some good things in these arguments – Rodgers gets more opportunities to play in an actual game with those young players instead of just practice.

In addition, I’d imagine Green Bay would want to avoid saying Aaron Rodgers is some kind of "special guy" where he gets out of playing in meaningless games. What does it say when Rodgers gets to sit out games that don’t matter, but others like Davante Adams and David Bakhtiari don’t? Why do they have to put their bodies on the line when Rodgers doesn’t?

And furthermore, if you start playing that game, at a certain point you have ask where the line is. If you sit Rodgers, then decide to sit Bakhtiari, then Adams, where does it stop? Who is unimportant enough to play? And how do you keep enough guys out there to have an actual team?

The case against playing Aaron Rodgers against the Jets and Lions

  1. Rodgers could be injured or further aggravate his knee or groin injuries in such a way that jeopardizes his 2019 season.

  2. It gives you a chance to get a look at DeShone Kizer, while positioning the Packers – potentially – to get a better draft slot.

The injury point is obvious. You don’t want Rodgers to sustain an injury that would affect his availability for 2019.

The draft argument is simple, too. If Rodgers doesn’t play and the Packers go with Kizer for the final two games, a pair of losses likely gives Green Bay a draft pick between sixth to tenth. There’s an unlikely scenario where if everything breaks their way, Green Bay may be able to have as high as the third overall pick. It’s not an inconsiderable difference.

Should the Packers play or rest Aaron Rodgers?

So what’s the bottom line? Should the Packers sit Rodgers or play him?

I am skeptical of the argument that playing Rodgers is going to get him any kind of real quality reps with younger players. A lot of these guys may not even be on the roster next season. Let's look back at the end of the 2017 season, for example. You had running back Devante Mays, tight end Emanuel Byrd, and wide receiver Michael Clark all getting meaningful reps in Week 17. None are still with the team.

Tight end  Emanuel Byrd  was a bright spot in the Packers’ 2017 Week 17 loss at Detroit. He is no longer with the team.

Tight end Emanuel Byrd was a bright spot in the Packers’ 2017 Week 17 loss at Detroit. He is no longer with the team.

This young receiving group is hardly the same as that, but that’s almost the point. Anybody who is on the roster today who is going to be on the team next year has already had plenty of reps with Aaron Rodgers this season, and will get the same next season because their position for next year is more or less secure. Is a few reps now going to make a big difference? I’m not convinced.

The only players in the same category as Mays, Byrd, and Clark are receivers like J’Mon Moore, Jake Kumerow, and Allen Lizard. It’s doubtful any meaningful connection can be developed with those players over two weeks while the usual suspects like Adams, Cobb, and Graham are on the field.

As to Kizer, it’s hard to argue that these two weeks are super meaningful as to the Packers’ opinion about him, either. The chances are that the Packers already know who DeShone Kizer is. There's been plenty to look at in his short career. He started fifteen games for the Browns last year and played plenty in the 2018 preseason. What else is there? And what makes you think that you're going to get a realistic look at Kizer if he's throwing to Moore, Kumerow and Lizard, players on the bottom end of the roster?

Draft positioning, too, is a bit of a tricky wicket. Currently, the Packers would pick sixth, which isn’t too bad at all. Here are the players drafted from sixth to tenth last year:

  • Guard Quenton Nelson

  • Quarterback Josh Allen

  • Linebacker Roquan Smith

  • Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey

  • Quarterback Josh Rosen

It’s not like the Packers would take a quarterback that high, but if the Packers end up getting a shot at a player like Nelson or Smith, that’d hardly be a bad thing.

But with a couple wins, the Packers also could pick around eleventh to fifteenth in the draft. Here’s who went in those five spots last season:

  • Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick,

  • Defensive tackle Vita Vea

  • Defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne

  • Edge rusher Marcus Davenport

  • Offensive tackle Kolton Miller

Consider also that linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Leighton Vander Esch, safety Derwin James, and cornerback Jaire Alexander were also on the board too.

I don’t see that dramatic of a difference in the quality of player if you tank to be in the six-to-ten range versus ending up in the eleven-to-fifteen range. Each draft is different, but it doesn’t seem to be a meaningful improvement of the Packers draft stock to lose a couple games.

So if all these benefits and downsides are as wishy-washy as they appear, what do the Packers do?

My gut feeling is that the Packers will wait this out and see if the decision is made for them. Currently, Aaron Rodgers is kind of injured – not really specifically injured, but he's dealing with a groin injury plus the myriad other bumps and bruises one accumulates over the course of a season of professional football, not the least of which is the lingering effects of his Week 1 knee injury.

If he’s normally at 95 percent of full health at this point in a season, and his injuries have him near 85 or 90 percent, maybe they shut him down. That way, the Packers don't have to walk the tricky line of explaining that while he’s technically able to play, he won’t. And maybe the Packers will likely be leaning on the scales a little bit if the decision is close.

Update (12/19, 2:43 PM EST): ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reports Rodgers is playing on Sunday.

 
 

This post is an adapted transcript of the most recent episode of Blue 58, a Packers podcast from The Power Sweep. Listen to the full episode below, and don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, CastBox and more to stay on top of the best in Packers news and analysis.