UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – If Rodgers comes, Broncos must plan ahead

With the hiring of Nathaniel Hackett as the next head coach of the Denver Broncos, that date takes on greater significance.

“Why?” you ask. 

Because that’s Aaron Rodgers’ birthday, and now that Hackett is coming to Denver from Green Bay, many are wondering if/when Rodgers will follow. “Hoping” might actually be the better word. 

But in the classic words of Lee Corso on ESPN’s College Gameday, I say, “Not so fast.”

Those who want Rodgers to play quarterback for the Broncos are thinking he’ll be the second coming of Peyton Manning, who led the team to 45 victories, four straight playoff appearances and two Super Bowls—including winning Super Bowl L—in his four years here.

Maybe that can happen again with Rodgers. But maybe not.

Manning was 36 years old when he came to Denver. Rodgers turned 38 last December 2. When Manning was 39, he played in only 10 games, going 7-2 in nine starts, and retired at season’s end. 

How much longer can Rodgers play at a high level? I haven’t heard anyone say he has Tom Brady’s staying power.

But the larger issue, for me, is what happens when he’s done.

The Manning years were great. And if bringing Rodgers to Denver can mean a few years of similar success, that would be great, too.

But if the Broncos learned anything from the Manning infusion, it should be that they’d better put a plan in place for the post-Rodgers era—while he’s still delivering the goods.

That wasn’t the case with Manning’s sojourn. Just look what life has been like for the Broncos since he retired: seven different starting quarterbacks in six seasons, a 39-58 record, and zero playoff appearances.

Fans can grouse that Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio were poor head coach choices, and hope that Hackett will be light years better. (His introductory press conference last Friday certainly suggested that he’ll be more personable, more dynamic. 

But the real culprit is a failure to groom a successor for Manning, as it was with Elway before him. (They went through a dozen QBs between Elway and Manning and went to the playoffs only five times in those 13 years.)

So, if somehow Aaron Rodgers becomes a Denver Bronco, my recommendation is that work begin immediately on identifying and developing his replacement. Rodgers himself spent three years apprenticing alongside Brett Favre, which makes the idea of having his understudy in place asap a plausible and wise move. Even he should be supportive of this approach.

Who might that wunderkind be? That’s for George Paton to figure out—with help from Hackett and maybe even Rodgers himself.

In the upcoming NFL draft, Mississippi’s Matt Corral and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett seem to be the leading prospects. The class also includes Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati, Malik Willis of Liberty, Sam Howard of North Carolina and Carson Strong of Nevada. All I’ll say is Ridder must have something to offer, given Cincinnati’s success with him at the controls.

My other concern with christening Rodgers the savior is a football thing. He’s been in the same system his whole illustrious career, and he knows the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates so well that his every decision, his every move, is reflexive.

Okay, Peyton Manning played for one team his whole career before coming to Denver, too. But Manning is the ultimate football wonk. His ability to transition to a new team after so long in one system is unmatched. 

I could be wrong, but Rodgers doesn’t seem to be as adaptable, or at least not as quickly. Maybe it’s his quirky, contrarian personality. (Hackett, during his press conference, praised Rodgers’ intelligence and said he learned from the quarterback that he’d better be able to answer any of his many questions about play design and strategy.)

Their career stats are strikingly similar. Manning quarterbacked 141 victories in 13 years before coming to Denver. Rodgers has been under center for 139 in 14 years. Manning threw for 399 touchdowns in that time, Rodgers 449. Their completion rates are less than half a percentage point different, each with more than 7,100 passes, and their passing yards are almost identical (4682-4651). 

This suggests there might be comparable benefit if Rodgers were to come to the Broncos.

So, will Rodgers follow Hackett to Denver?  (Surprisingly, the “elephant in the room,” as 9News’ Mike Klis called the Rodgers topic, was raised only once.)

When asked if hiring Hackett was part of a package deal that included Rodgers, Broncos GM George Paton answered in one word: 


The better question is, Are the Broncos willing to pay the price Green Bay will set to obtain Rodgers, who is under contract, in trade? 

Another: Will that price be too high, given the other considerations?

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.