The most famous quote Aaron Rodgers ever delivered was an attempt to calm the panicked masses amid a 1-2 start to the 2014 Green Bay season.
“R-E-L-A-X,” Rodgers said.
The phrase soon appeared on T-shirts and posters, an unlikely battle cry as the Packers rolled to a 12-4 season and Rodgers won the second of his four MVPs. It became part of his image; a cool, calm presence who doesn’t get too emotional or rattled, whether it’s scrambling from the pocket on a fourth-quarter drive or offering a reasoned perspective following an unexpectedly slow start to the season.
It, however, belies the truth of his personality.
Not merely of a fierce and passionate competitor, but someone who, rather than be oblivious or unaffected to outside noise, actually feeds off of it.
That’s part of why the New York Jets should be confident in their decision to trade for the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer.
The deal isn’t done, as compensation needs to be worked out, but Rodgers announced Wednesday on “The Pat McAfee Show” that “my intention [is] to play for the New York Jets.”
And a big part of the reason, Rodgers said, is that “something changed” when it came to the Packers' approach and patience with him.
After a four-day “darkness retreat” Rodgers said he “heard from people around the league … there was some shopping going on and they were actually interested in moving me.”
And there you go. This is exactly the kind of situation Rodgers has excelled in across his legendary career. Doubts. Questions. Concerns. Drama. Even chaos. Some of it is real. Some of it is imagined. Some of it — especially in the offseasons of late — is self-manufactured. Maybe much of it.
Whatever it has been, it fuels his drive to be great. Forget days of darkness or Peruvian psychedelics, competitively at least, he feeds off hard feelings. Now the Packers have provided it. And not for the first time, either. He found ways to hate Green Bay even when he played for Green Bay.
“They drafted my replacement,” Rodgers said recently on "The Aubrey Marcus Podcast," referencing Green Bay drafting quarterback Jordan Love in 2020.
“And then I won MVP twice.”
If you think drafting Love bothered him, what do you think the franchise moving on to Love — and letting Rodgers go — will motivate him to do?
Bringing in an aging great to play quarterback has produced mixed results through the years. Assuming Rodgers still has the ability — essentially that a lack of surrounding talent and a busted thumb is the reason for last season's statistical slip — then the question comes to motivation.
With Tom Brady moving to Tampa Bay (the most recent example) it was about winning another title, extending his legacy, answering the question about whether Bill Belichick was the reason for his success in New England. Joining the forlorn Jets, with a win-now mentality in the nation’s media capital and playing in a loaded AFC, where he can feed off the idea that his old Green Bay franchise no longer fully believed in him (true or not), is exactly how a guy who will turn 40 next season stays sharp.
Deep inside Rodgers still feels the sting of having to go the junior college route after high school, or even after becoming a late first-round draft pick, sitting three years behind Brett Favre before getting a chance to start.
Across his 18 seasons in Green Bay, he often sought out the kind of slights that would make it feel like it was him against the world, including the Packers.
He battled with management over draft picks and roster moves. He made clear his distaste with coaching schemes. “I’ve been doubted before,” he said on the Marcus podcast. “[During the 2019 season] … I felt at times like a game manager.”
He gladly held extensive sessions with the media and then made weekly appearances on McAfee's show and other outlets. He didn’t mind taunting rivals, most notably division rivals Chicago and Detroit. He trafficked in passive aggressiveness. He claimed, even this winter, he didn’t want his decision to “drag out” … only to drag it out for a couple months.
Some of it had to be a concerted effort to make it feel like the league centered on him, that his every development, every result, every statement, every belief (football, political, vaccinations) was important.
And that has to be part of what the Jets are banking on. He is coming off a down season, both individually and as a team. The Packers missed the playoffs. Rodgers threw just 26 touchdowns against a too-high 12 picks.
Yet there is little doubt he remains one of the best passers, if not competitors, in the NFL. And in New York he will reunite with Nathaniel Hackett, his offensive coordinator in the most recent two of his four MVPs.
With a chance to show up Green Bay, with a chance to prove whatever critics there are (or he can invent), Rodgers heads to a desperate yet fawning fan base who believe that a seven-win team is ready for a serious jump into contention. Considering the power of their defense (fourth-fewest points allowed last season), they aren’t wrong.
The Jets needed just an average quarterback to make a leap. Instead, they're close to acquiring a four-time MVP and Super Bowl champion and are going for broke.
So is he, of course.