Green Bay Packers: Peyton Manning

While the first month of the season has the Green Bay Packers on the road for three out of four games, including a pair of NFC North games back-to-back against the Lions and Bears to close out September, it's the middle of the schedule that might determine whether they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Sandwiched around the Week 9 bye are games at the Saints and home against the Bears and Eagles. The Saints are the favorites in the NFC South and the Eagles in the NFC East, while the Bears are probably the biggest threat to the Packers in the NFC North.

Complete Packers season preview.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- No one in the media knows more about quarterback play than ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, a former NFL quarterback himself and a devout watcher of game film.

So it's always interesting to hear what he has to say about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers
Rodgers
By now, everyone knows that Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

But what makes him such?

That’s where Jaws comes in.

On Monday, he released his latest quarterback rankings Insider.

It should come as no surprise that Rodgers is No. 3 on that list behind only Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Considering Rodgers is six years younger than Brady and eight years younger than Manning, there's a good chance he might soon top Jaworski's list.

Here's what Jaworski had to say about Rodgers, 30, as he enters his 10th NFL season:
"Rodgers may get the ball out of his hands quicker than any quarterback in the league right now. He is probably the best off-platform thrower in the NFL and doesn't need functional space to make a downfield throw. Rodgers understands coverages and can torch defenses with his legs, both running the ball and eluding rushers in the pocket. He has elite arm strength and, like Brady, pinpoint accuracy. There really aren't any holes in his game right now."


Earlier this offseason, ESPN.com’s Mike Sando polled league insiders to rank all the starting quarterbacks Insider, and Rodgers tied for first with Manning, Brady and Drew Brees.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Who do you trust to evaluate NFL players -- those paid to do so for a living or those who are paid to play the game?

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando polled 26 front-office executives and coaches Insider and found that Aaron Rodgers -- along with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning -- belonged in the top-tier of quarterbacks. Even more telling was that the four tied for the top spot in the voting.

Rodgers
Rodgers
Yet when the NFL Network solicited the advice of current NFL players for its latest top 100 list, the Green Bay Packers quarterback came in as merely the 11th-best player in the league regardless of position.

How can that be?

The answer is simple. Like in many things NFL-related, players don't know what they're talking about. Every one of them is in the NFL for a reason -- whether it's blocking, tackling, catching the ball, running with it, throwing it or kicking it.

But that does not mean they are qualified to judge others who do so.

Maybe the players polled looked at last season, when Rodgers missed seven-plus games because of a broken collarbone, and forgot how good he is. But they should have been reminded of that when he returned for the regular-season finale and led the Packers to a Week 17 win against the Bears that gave the Packers their third straight NFC North title and their fifth straight playoff appearance -- all under Rodgers.

Listen to the players if you want, but Sando's 26 league insiders -- eight general managers, two former GMs, four pro personnel evaluators, seven coordinators, two head coaches, two position coaches and a top-level executive -- are far more qualified to judge talent.

In Sando's project, designed to rank all 32 starting quarterbacks and determine who among them are elite, here is what he wrote about Rodgers:
If Rodgers gives up anything to Brady and Manning before the snap -- which is debatable -- his athletic ability seems to make up for it.

"You can't fool him," a defensive coordinator said. "We watched some cutups on him and he was ridiculous. He sees everything. They'd have a blitz on and he'd throw it and he knows what the blitz is. I don't know how he knows it. He throws into this tight window that nobody would throw into. Brees is the same way."

A veteran cornerback I talked to this offseason put it this way: "He is very cerebral. I don't think he is quite like a Peyton Manning, but he can read defenses and all that stuff, and when stuff breaks down, he is mobile enough to get out of the pocket and run. That is what made him so good, especially a couple years ago. He is still playing well. He just got hurt last year."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It is not uncommon for NFL contracts to become outdated in a hurry.

Someone is always signing a new deal or an extension to become the highest-paid this or the highest-paid that.

Rodgers
Rodgers
So when Colin Kaepernick signed his contract extension with the San Francisco 49ers last week, the initial reports suggested his deal contained more guaranteed money than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s highest-paid player.

On paper, Kaepernick signed a six-year, $114 million extension that contained $61 million in guaranteed money. But in this case, the definition of guarantee is a loose one.

As ESPN’s John Clayton pointed out in his weekend Mailbag column, Kaepernick's deal is much more of a pay-as-you-play contract than the five-year, $110 million extension Rodgers signed on April 26, 2013. Rodgers’ deal was loaded with real guarantees.

Rodgers' signing bonus of $35 million followed by a guaranteed roster bonus of $9.5 million that was paid this March and another one worth $9.5 million due next March brought his guaranteed money to $54 million in real dollars.

For those who were outraged that Kaepernick received more guaranteed money, a closer examination of the deal revealed that those were "soft" guarantees. Kaepernick's yearly guarantees don't become such until April 1 before each season, meaning the 49ers can get out from under the deal at any point without paying those so-called guarantees.

So for the time being, even though Kaepernick has the potential to collect more than Rodgers, it's not accurate to call him the higher paid at this point.

Perhaps the best measure when comparing contracts is a three-year window. Looking at it that way, here's a breakdown of the top quarterback contracts by average per year, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data:
Three of the quarterbacks on the list -- Ryan, Cutler and Kaepernick -- signed their deals after Rodgers did his 14 months ago. In that time, Rodgers' contract has held up. He remains the highest-paid quarterback with a $22 million-per-year average over the life his deal.

Maybe Russell Wilson, the next quarterback likely to cash in, will surpass him. But Kaepernick's deal did not.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If you're a fantasy football player, then you're probably already thinking about your roster for this season.

And if you're a Green Bay Packers' fan, which is safe to assume since you’re reading this, you have decisions to make. Do you draft with your heart and select Packers players or do you draft with your head and take the best player available?

Perhaps there's a way to do both.

We have unveiled our latest fantasy rankings for the 2014 season. Among the top 200 players overall regardless of position were seven Packers.

Here's a breakdown of where they fell on the top 200 list:

6. Eddie Lacy: After rushing for 1,178 yards last season, the reigning offensive rookie of the year could top that if he can stay healthy for the entire season. He missed one full game and significant parts of two others because of injuries (concussion, ankle) last season. Running backs occupied the top six spots, and Lacy was behind Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Jamal Charles, Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch.

12. Aaron Rodgers: Only one quarterback, Peyton Manning, ranked ahead of Rodgers. That says it all.

22. Jordy Nelson: Nelson is hoping to avoid his every-other-year pattern. In 2011 and 2013, he had big seasons with 1,200 yards or more in each season, combined to catch 23 touchdowns and did not miss any games. But in 2012 he missed four games and managed just 745 yards and seven touchdowns. Ranked seventh among receivers.

30. Randall Cobb: After an 80-catch season in 2012, he was poised for another big year last season before a fractured leg limited him to six games. Like Nelson, Cobb is in a contract year, which could help his production. Ranked 10th among receivers.

122. James Starks: Had his most productive season last year as Lacy's primary backup, posting career highs in touchdowns (four -- three rushing, one receiving) and yards per carry (5.5). Ranked 51st among running backs.

154. Mason Crosby: Saved his job last season by making 33-of-37 field goals (89.2 percent) after a career-low 63.6 percent conversion rate in 2012. Has tallied at least 100 points in seven straight seasons. Ranked fourth among kickers.

161. Jarrett Boykin: Emerged last season as a viable No. 3 with 49 catches for 681 yards and three touchdowns over the final 12 games but could see reduced playing time this year after the Packers drafted three receivers. Ranked 54th among receivers.
The San Francisco 49ers did not think Aaron Rodgers was worth taking with the first pick in the 2005 draft.

Their decision to take Alex Smith instead said as much.

Knowing what they know now, there's little or no doubt the 49ers would have selected Rodgers No. 1.

How many current quarterbacks, with the benefit of hindsight, would be worthy of the top overall pick in the draft?

That's a question ESPN.com's Mike Sando posed to ESPN analyst Bill Polian, ESPN.com scout Matt Williamson and an anonymous NFL general manager.

They came up with seven.

Rodgers, of course, was among them. He was listed second behind Peyton Manning and just ahead of Tom Brady.

Here's what Sando wrote about Rodgers:
"The order between Rodgers, Brady and Brees seems inconsequential. All three have consistently produced at a high level statistically. All three have carried their teams. All three have won a championship. Rodgers ranks second in Total QBR (77.2) and third in passer rating (103.1) among quarterbacks with at least five postseason starts since 2008, his first season as a starter. He ranks among the top two in both categories in the regular season over the same period."

The rest of the those on the list -- and a few that are close -- can be found in this ESPN Insider post. Insider
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Packers have needs at every level of their defense, starting up front on the line and also including both the linebacker group and the secondary.

But to listen to ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. on Thursday, it sounds like teams that need help on the defensive line should address it early before attacking their other weaknesses on that side of the ball.

“I don't think the defensive line is something you can wait on,” Kiper said during an hour-long conference call with reporters. “There's not a lot of depth at end or tackle. There's more depth in the secondary that you can get guys down the line, particularly at corner.”

Though the question that prompted that response from Kiper was specifically about the Chicago Bears and was asked by Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune, it was applicable to the Packers even though they pick 21st -- seven spots after the Bears.

The Packers' needs on the defensive line depends partly on whether or not they re-sign any of their own free agents. Their three starters -- Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji -- plus backup C.J. Wilson all are scheduled to be free agents next month.

In another Packers-related item from Kiper's conference call, he was asked about the pressures facing quarterbacks who are high picks in the draft to play right away, and he brought up Aaron Rodgers and how he did not have to play immediately.

“Quarterbacks now are expected to be the guy in Year 1 and Year 2,” Kiper said. “In the late 70s and 80s, it was a 3-5 year process developing quarterbacks. Look at Aaron Rodgers. He sat for [three] years behind Brett Favre, and look what happened. He wasn't ready to play as a rookie. Had he played as a rookie and been forced in there, everybody probably would've been calling him a disappointment and a bust. Who knows how his career would've gone?

“But they handled it properly and they were afforded the opportunity to develop him, and look how it paid off. These other young quarterbacks, Year 1, some of these guys aren't ready. I said that about Blaine Gabbert. I said when he was drafted, he's not ready. He needed a year or two to develop. He wasn't given that, now he may be kicked to the curb.”

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
  • Safety Morgan Burnett denied saying anything to Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who in an ESPN The Magazine story claimed that Burnett insulted him and trash talked during the Dec. 8 game at Lambeau Field.
  • Of all people on the Packers' defense, Burnett would likely be the last one to do something like that.
  • On the three-year anniversary of Super Bowl XLV, we looked back at the 53 players who were on the Packers' roster for that game and where they are now.
  • Kiper and Todd McShay unveiled their latest mock drafts. Each had the Packers taking a defensive player.
  • And if you're wondering what Rodgers is up to this week, he's playing in the PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. His professional partner is Madison, Wis., native Jerry Kelly. They were tied for 42nd at 6-under par when play was suspended in the first round. Rodgers was the low quarterback, bettering the scores by Pro-Am teams that included Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Alex Smith.
Best of the rest:
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause conducted a wide-ranging interview with Packers president Mark Murphy, who defended the team's decision to raise ticket prices, offered his full support of general manager Ted Thompson and reiterated the fact that the team would like to retire Favre's number before he's eligible for Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in the summer of 2016.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne wrote that if Thompson continues his practice of drafting players from the University of Iowa as he has done three of the last four years, then Hawkeyes tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz could be next to come to Green Bay.
Football season is over, but you can still see some NFL stars -- including Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- in competition this week.

Rodgers is in the field at the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He’s the amateur partner of PGA Tour professional Jerry Kelly, a native of Madison, Wis. Rodgers and Kelly tee off Thursday at 12:39 p.m. ET (9:39 a.m. local time).

The pairings list Rodgers as a 7-handicap. His official USGA handicap index is 5.4 via the Wisconsin State Golf Association. His home course is Green Bay Country Club.

Of the NFL quarterbacks in the field, Rodgers is tied for the lowest handicap with Peyton Manning. Tom Brady is listed as an 8, while Alex Smith is a 9.

Brady’s coach, Bill Belichick (a 14 handicap), also is in the field and is in the same group with Brady.

Another group to watch includes a pair of ESPN NFL personalities Chris Berman and Herm Edwards, both 18 handicaps.

TV coverage of the event is on Golf Channel and CBS. The NFL stars are sure to get some air time.

Season predictions revisited

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GREEN BAY, Wis. – With the 2013 NFL season officially in the books, it’s time to look back at how things turned out as opposed to how yours truly predicted.

On Sept. 3, ESPN NFL Nation’s season predictions went live (although truth be told, our deadline was much earlier than that).

This isn’t an exercise designed to throw myself a bouquet or be self-deprecating but rather to illustrate how things over the course of a 17-week NFL regular-season plus the playoffs.

Here’s how my predictions looked and how things turned out (see chart to the right):

Notes: Although I picked the Broncos to win the Super Bowl before the season, I didn’t subscribe to the I-picked-them-to win-in-September-so-I’m-sticking-with-them theory. With the benefit of seeing the entire season play out, I changed my Super Bowl pick to the Seahawks last week.

In each conference, I correctly picked two of the four division winners and four of the six playoff teams. But two of my predicted division winners – the Texans and Falcons – combined to finish 6-26. The Texans (2-14) finished last in the AFC South, while the Falcons (4-12) finished tied for last with the Buccaneers in the NFC South.

In the awards section, I hit on both Eddie Lacy as offensive rookie of the year and Peyton Manning as MVP but missed on Chiefs coach Andy Reid as coach of the year (although he finished second to Carolina’s Ron Rivera) and Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah as defensive rookie of the year (he did not get a single vote despite leading all rookies with 8.0 sacks).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Three Green Bay Packers ranked among the top 50 NFL players in total retail sales of items in their names.

In a release by the NFL Players Association at this week’s Super Bowl, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (No. 6 overall), outside linebacker Clay Matthews (No. 12) and receiver Jordy Nelson (No. 43) were among the league leaders in sales from September through November of 2013. Both Rodgers and Nelson missed time because of injuries during that period.

NFL Players Inc., the marketing and licensing arm of the NFLPA, releases the data quarterly. The players association said the list is compiled from “overall total sales of all licensed products from online and traditional retail outlets as reported by more than 65 NFLPI licensees.”

The top-six players on the list all were quarterbacks. Seattle’s Russell Wilson was first followed San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Denver’s Peyton Manning, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, New England’s Tom Brady and Rodgers.

Matthews was the third-highest ranked defensive player behind Houston’s J.J. Watt (No. 7) and Seattle’s Richard Sherman (No. 11), while Nelson ranked eighth among receivers.

NFLN survey/Super Bowl QB: Packers

January, 29, 2014
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No highlight film of Aaron Rodgers' career would be complete without an array of throws from Super Bowl XLV.

There was the 29-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson on third-and-1 in the first quarter on a perfectly placed throw down the sideline.

Rodgers
Rodgers
There was the 21-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings in the second quarter on perhaps one of the best throws he’s ever made, splitting a pair of Pittsburgh Steelers defenders.

There was his third touchdown pass, an 8-yard out to Jennings in the fourth quarter.

And don’t forget his 31-yard completion to Jennings on third-and-10 to keep the clock moving in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps those throws were in the minds of some of the 320 players polled in our latest NFL Nation survey. We asked them to pick one quarterback they would want in the Super Bowl with two minutes remaining and the game on the line.

In that poll, Rodgers finished third with 32 votes or 10 percent of the total. The MVP of Super Bowl XLV ranked behind only New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (128 votes, 40 percent) and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (86 votes, 26.9 percent).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In another NFL Nation players survey, we asked those around the league who they respect the most.

This was another category in which Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning led the voting, with 26.8 percent.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was fifth (3.4 percent) in a category in which 78 players received votes.

Respect means different things to different players, which could be why the Packers don't elect season-long captains. Rather, they use three different captains -- one from the offense, one from the defense and one from special teams -- during each regular-season game.

However, league rules require that playoff teams select captains to represent them throughout the postseason. Because of that, we got a look at who some of the most respected players in the Packers' locker room were this past season. The team picked six captains: Rodgers and receiver Jordy Nelson on offense, linebacker A.J. Hawk and safety Morgan Burnett on defense, kicker Mason Crosby and cornerback Jarrett Bush on special teams.

Rodgers has been selected as a playoff captain five times, meaning all five times the Packers have made the playoffs since he became a starter. Bush has been selected four times, while Crosby and Hawk have been picked three teams each. It was the first time for Nelson and Burnett.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Our latest NFL Nation survey asked players around the league to pick one player with whom they would start a franchise.

Nearly 13 percent of the players surveyed picked Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While that doesn't sound like an overwhelming number for a former league MVP, the leading vote getter, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, tallied only 19.3 percent of the vote.

Rodgers came in fourth behind Manning, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (17.5 percent) and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12.8 percent). In all, 37 different players received votes in this category.

Keep in mind that most of the polling was done midway through the season, when Rodgers was sidelined because of his broken collarbone. In a fully healthy season, perhaps Rodgers would have garnered even more votes. Had this poll been conducted in 2011, when Rodgers was on the way to leading the Packers to a 15-1 regular season, he might have come in at the top of such a list.

The fact that more players chose the 37-year-old Manning and the 36-year-old Brady over Rodgers, 30, and Luck, 24, tells how players think -- they want to win now.

Welcome to the 30s, Aaron Rodgers

December, 2, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brett Favre won all three of his NFL Most Valuable Player awards before the age of 30.

The former Green Bay Packers quarterback was 26 when he won the first one in January of 1996. He won his three MVPs in consecutive years, meaning his last one came at the age of 28.

Aaron Rodgers was 28 he was named the NFL’s MVP on Feb. 4, 2012.

The Packers' current quarterback turned 30 today. So does that mean his best years are behind him?

Probably not.

That Favre’s MVP seasons all came in his 20s has not been the norm for award-winning quarterbacks in recent years.

Dating to the 2001 season, for which St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner was the MVP, 10 quarterbacks have won the award. Seven of them, including Warner, were in their 30s.

Rodgers is under contract through the 2019 season thanks to the extension he signed in April. He will be 36 years old when that deal expires.

How many more MVP-type seasons would be it reasonable to expect? This season, even if Rodgers returns this week from his broken collarbone -- which is still a big if -- is lost in terms of his MVP candidacy. However, based on the past winners, the answer to that question would seem to be several.

An NFL scout told me last week he thought Rodgers had four more “great seasons” in him.

Three non-quarterbacks have won the MVP since 2001. All were running backs, and all were in their 20s -- Shaun Alexander (28), LaDainian Tomlinson (27) and Adrian Peterson (27). That’s not surprising considering the shelf life for running backs is much shorter than for quarterbacks.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- From the video Jermichael Finley posted that shows him walking down a hospital corridor to the report Tuesday by ESPN's Ed Werder that Finley could be released from the hospital within 24 hours, the early signs indicate that the Green Bay Packers tight end will be able to lead a normal life.

But what about a normal football life?

That is likely to be a point of great debate over the next several weeks and months.

[+] EnlargeJermichael Finley
AP Photo/Morry GashSources indicate that Jermichael Finley is expected to heal from the spinal injury sustained Sunday. Yet it may be difficult to reach a consensus about whether he should continue his career.
According to Werder, sources said Finley was diagnosed with a spinal contusion located in his neck after he sustained a hit in Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. The sources said that is expected to heal, leaving Finley at no greater risk of another spinal injury than any other player.

However, before he is cleared to return, Finley is likely to visit several specialists, and it's possible there might not be a consensus about whether he should continue his career.

"There are some things where you could probably put doctors in a room and they would all agree because it would be so blatant," said ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell, a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist. "There are some that they call absolute contraindications to play. If they see something like that, they would probably say, 'Hey, we all agree.' But more often than not, these things are not clear cut."

Whether Finley has spinal stenosis could play a significant factor in his football future. Spinal stenosis, according to the National Library of Medicine, is a narrowing of the spinal column that causes pressure on the spinal course or narrowing of the openings where spinal nerves leave the spinal column.

Several recent Packers players who sustained bruised spinal cords or columns -- including safety Gary Berry (in 2000), receiver Terrence Murphy (2005) and linebacker Jeremy Thompson (2009) -- all were diagnosed with stenosis. The Packers did not clear them, and they never played in the NFL again.

There are two types of stenosis according to Bell -- congenital and functional.

"In the case of stenosis, which is the first thing you think of with an injury like this, you ask is it congenital, where he has a narrow [spinal] canal and this was bound to happen at some point and you're lucky it wasn't more serious?" Bell said. "Or does he have functional stenosis, where in certain positions the canal is compromised but normally wouldn't be? And that's a gray area.

"Or does he have a bulging disc, and the disc is now pushing into that space. If the disc bulge didn't exist, there would be no stenosis. And in those cases, what they've done with players in the past -- there's a whole case series that's been reported out of Pittsburgh -- is they operate on them, fuse the two vertebrae together -- which is kind of the same surgery Peyton Manning had -- and then they can return to play."

Even if Finley doesn't have stenosis, there's another question that needs to be asked, according to Bell.

"It always goes back to, if he could have this once, could he have it again?" Bell said.

Finley's injury was especially troubling to those who witnessed it up close because initially Finley said he could not move.

"He couldn't move at the time, so I just told him, 'Just stay here, just lay here, don't move,'" said Packers tight end Andrew Quarless, who was the first person to reach Finley after the hit.

Even though Finley regained movement shortly thereafter and he reported that he has feeling in his extremities, there are too many unknowns to make any final decisions.

"We hear that he's got all of his feeling; he's got all of his movement," Bell said. "But when they start going in and testing with pinpricks on the edge of his fingers or tips of his toes, if there's something that never returns, we won't hear about that. But there's all these little things that they're going to be looking for.

"The obvious ones are he didn't have a fracture; they wouldn't have him up if he did. He didn't have some kind of gross instability; you usually fracture before you damage ligaments up there because the ligaments are so strong. If they didn't find anything, then it becomes a matter of comfort level of the doctor who is consulting, what they've seen, what their experience is, what they believe philosophically."

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