DENVER — Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood remains unchanged. No need to forward mail. Or go house hunting in Boulder.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has won back-to-back MVP awards, has decided to stay in Green Bay. His friend Pat McAfee broke the news on Twitter on Tuesday, saying “there is no deal in place currently, but there is said to be a Cap Friendly deal on the way. Retirement was a real consideration & in the end HE IS BACK WITH THE PACK”
So perhaps the Broncos' best, if not viable, path to immediate Super Bowl contention has crumbled into rubble. Denver was prepared to make a bold trade offer for Rodgers if he was made available. And sources told Denver7 at the recent combine that if Rodgers played this season it was going to be for the Packers or Broncos.
With several suitors, the price tag would have likely included two first-round picks, a pair of second-round picks and a player. Denver remained interested in Rodgers since the first day of the draft last year when Rodgers leaked that he was looking to leave and was interested in the multiple teams, among them the Broncos. No traction developed because Green Bay refused to pick up the phone.
The connection to Rodgers and Denver strengthened this offseason as the Broncos hired Nathaniel Hackett, one of Rodgers' favorite coaches, to lead their team. Rodgers has said no one makes work more fun than Hackett. And Hackett admitted that he embraced working with Rodgers, which required always having answers for questions.
Denver has been bracing for this potential bad news, moving forward with multiple plans, knowing the acquisition of Rodgers was uncertain. While Hackett has energized the fan base with his modern approach to coaching, the Broncos remain in a tough spot unless they are able to address the most meaningful position in football in a meaningful way.
Those teams without an elite quarterback are urgent, if not desperate. The league has shifted since the Broncos won Super Bowl 50. Every division winner last season featured the best quarterback. There are not multiple ways to win currently.
Without an elite quarterback, the playoffs become a stranger. The Broncos know this well. They have missed the postseason six straight years, joining only the Jets in this active drought. They have posted five straight losing seasons for the first time since 1963-72 due in large part to a revolving door of head coaches, offensive coordinators and underwhelming quarterback play.
With Rodgers no longer on the table, the Broncos are expected to pivot and call the Seahawks to see if Russell Wilson is in play. After that the options become less appealing, like Minnesota's Kirk Cousins, the Colts' Carson Wentz, Cleveland's Baker Mayfield — if placed on the block — and San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo — the latter of whom is most likely to be dealt, but will not be healthy until mid-summer because of shoulder surgery on his throwing arm.
If not a proven starter from last season, then what? Marcus Mariota and Mitchell Trubisky, both backups a year ago, become viable options, pairing them with a first- or second-round quarterback or possibly Drew Lock.
“Obviously, quarterback is huge. You need one to get where you need to go. It’s on our mind a lot," Broncos general manager George Paton said from the NFL Combine last week. "We know. We hear it, but we don't need to hear it. We know how important it is. I think it’s always a priority. We’re always looking. No stone unturned to find that guy. We know we need better play out of the quarterback position. So, we’re going to be aggressive.”
Paton and Hackett are working together to address the issue. That means looking in all directions, casting a wide net, including potentially the draft.
Simply put, this is not considered the best year to stink. However, one or two from this class will likely blossom. The question remains - is that Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, the most pro ready, Liberty's Malik Willis, the most talented, North Carolina's Sam Howell, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder or Nevada's Carson Strong?
Hackett knows what he wants in a quarterback — intelligence, toughness and accuracy. And, well, other stuff.
"Whenever you’re talking to a quarterback, you’re always looking for that ‘it’ factor. That’s always so important because you want a quarterback that when he’s out there, he’s going to make other people better around him. You’re trying to find that in different techniques and different things to see how he presents himself in front of a group of a lot of people that he doesn’t know for the first time," Hackett said.
"I want to make him feel a little uncomfortable, but at the same time, have a little fun. In the end, it’s about that intelligence to be able to get out there and process quickly because it’s the hardest position in all sports, in my opinion. I mean, it’s unbelievable. You want to be sure you make the right decision there.”