It’s Not Easy Being Aaron Rodgers

It must be awesome to be Aaron Rodgers, right? You make an annual average of $50 million per year for playing a game that you love. That’s just your football income. You are the star of TV commercials. You date movie stars. You travel the world seeking entertainment and enlightenment. You are a headliner at celebrity golf tournaments. You even got to host your favorite legendary TV game show.

When you decide to end your football career, you will be immortalized in the Hall of Fame and, no doubt, will have your pick of numerous high visibility job offers from several professions. What a life! Any of us would trade places in a heartbeat, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. Rodgers always comes off as Mr. Cool, the guy in the room who has everything under control. He’s the one who told all of us to RELAX. He’s in charge, and as long as that’s the case, everything will be all right.

Yet, every once in a while, you see indications that he is not impervious to the monstrous pressure that comes with his situation. Internally, it weighs heavily on his shoulders. So much so, that the decision to come back and play again this year was not a slam dunk, despite an offer that made him the highest paid player in league history. He told reporters on Tuesday he thought long and hard about whether it was worth it.

“It’s more about how I’m feeling mentally. The playing is easy. That’s the easy part. It’s the other part that’s a grind. You wear a lot of hats as a quarterback, and it’s more than just playing on Sundays. At some point the grind gets to all of us. Every year it seems like a slightly bigger commitment, to commit to being ‘the guy’ again for another season.”

Yes, he knows that if he comes back, he must be “the guy”. That’s what he gets paid for. The guy who instantly becomes the center of attention the second he steps on to the premises. The guy who must set the tone for the spirit and work ethic of the team. The face of the franchise. Oh, there are other leaders in the locker room, but none approaching the cache’ of the four time MVP. He’s the only one on whom the national media will hyper focus, probing and massaging every word out of his mouth to see if there is an issue to exploit.

Even the coaching staff depends on him to be an extension of themselves out on the field. Consider this from Matt LaFleur on Wednesday:

“Aaron does such a great job of, when he sees something, whether it’s right or wrong or whatever it may be, of having conversations with those guys, and telling them what he’s looking at and what he’s thinking. So I think the more time they’re around each other, those conversations will take place organically and we’ll get everybody on the same page.”

It’s hard to picture the coaches expecting that kind of authority from Jordan Love. Indeed, when it comes to developing chemistry with the new receivers on this year’s team, Rodgers takes much of the responsibility for getting them ready. “It’s on me”, he says “to make sure the message is very clear and concise to them when it’s delivered.”

As is the lot of all quarterbacks, Rodgers will receive the lion’s share of blame for all losses and failures to live up to expectations. However, in his case, the pressure is magnified because of his high profile. Last season’s playoff loss to the 49ers cemented his reputation as being a choker in the post season, despite the epic fail of special teams and the offensive line, and despite an overall winning record of 11-9 in playoff games, including a Super Bowl victory in which he was the MVP. His eleven wins ties him with signal callers like Troy Aikman.

To be sure, Rodgers has brought this enhanced scrutiny on himself. He raised the pressure level exponentially last summer, when he held out of the entire offseason, claiming he would never play for the Packers again because he wasn’t being given an adequate say in team decisions. When the franchise gave in to all his demands, there were no more excuses. Fans expect him to win, and will cut him no slack. He will receive little sympathy, and certainly is not asking for any. He tries to embrace the challenge and, by all indications, seems to enjoy leadership and the responsibility that comes with it. “They know what to expect from me, the type of leadership, and that’s what they’re going to get” he told beat writers.

Once a mandatory camp is over, Rodgers will leave town, removing himself from the attention, the pressure, the responsibility, even if only for a few weeks. He has a plan to prepare for the psychological stress of being “the guy” for another season. The expectations begin the first day of training camp, and will only end with the hoisting of another Lombardi trophy. He says he’s all in, and he’ll be ready.

“It’s been a nice offseason this year to get to this point where I feel really focused, really mentally clear, and being able to come back here and lead the way I want to lead.”