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GEORGE WILLIS: There’s no reason for Aaron Rodgers to keep playing other than ego

aaron rodgers
New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) walks out onto the field with the offense to face the Buffalo Bills in the home opener at MetLife Stadium on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in East Rutherford.

Aaron Rodgers has nothing more to prove.  His legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever put on a helmet is secure.  His gold jacket of football immortality awaits. He should get his torn Achilles fixed, retire, and savor the adoration of fans throughout a tranquil retirement. 

But he won’t.

Rodgers will come back. Being carted off the field is not the way the great ones want to leave their game. His career isn’t over. Count on it.

Rodgers and the New York Jets lived their worst nightmare Monday Night when the savior of their franchise, the centerpiece of their Super Bowl aspirations went down with a crushing season-ending injury on their fourth offensive play of the game against the Buffalo Bills. Met Life suddenly had No Life.

Yet, in the darkest of hours, the Jets showed they’re not the SAME OLD Jets. They showed resilience. They showed it is more than a one-man team. The defense created five turnovers and a punt return in overtime for the ages helped propel the Jets to an exhilarating 22-16 triumph. But the euphoria of the season-opening victory over a bitter AFC East rival was tempered on Tuesday by the reality the season must continue without the four-time NFL MVP.

Aaron Rodgers will leave on his own terms

new york jets
Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

At some point, Rodgers must inform the Jets whether he plans to retire or don their jersey again and give this New York ending another try.  My guess is he’ll choose the latter and attempt to end his career on his terms.  It has been done before.

Carson Palmer, a quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals, was nearly 35 when he tore his Achilles tendon in 2014. He played three more seasons before retiring.  Joe Flacco tore his Achilles tendon in 2015 at age 30 and played seven more years. Flacco was a backup on the Jets the previous three seasons and might still be on speed dial.

Other football players who have overcome a torn Achilles include Terrell Suggs, the fearsome Baltimore Ravens linebacker, who ripped his tendon in 2012, and defensive back Richard Sherman, who went down in 2017.  Both returned to the field and finished their careers on their terms.

Aaron Rodgers, at age 39, is older than Palmer and Flacco when they were injured. And he’s much more accomplished having won a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl XLV MVP, along with his four league MVP awards.  There’s no reason for Rodgers to play again other than his competitiveness and ego. Yet, that’s why we can expect him to return in 2024.

He will undergo surgery, and then embark on an intensive rehab program, driven by the kind of work ethic and mental focus that made him one of the game’s greatest players. He’ll give Zach Wilson all the knowledge he can, but his main focus will be to defy the odds and create another triumphant moment even bigger than Monday night when he carried the flag into a raucous stadium in the Meadowlands.

The Jets want him back. They dealt a first-round pick, a second-round pick, a sixth-round pick and a conditional 2024 second round pick to get the Green Bay legend. That a huge price tag for just four plays.

They won’t have to twist his arm. The great ones never want to go out the way Rodgers did on Monday night. They want their final bows to be their choice. Giants legend and Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor ended plans for retirement after tearing his Achilles in 1992.  He played two more seasons. The late great Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in 2013.  Bryant was 34, but through an intense rehabilitation regimen and a relentless commitment to recovery, the NBA legend played three more years before retiring.

Rodgers is made up of the same unique DNA.  It’s what has made him a champion and a winner. He’ll go out on his terms.  He’ll refuse to leave the stage.

George Willis is a columnist for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.