Aaron Rodgers made it clear Wednesday: His time with the Green Bay Packers is done. And Rodgers’ pending departure opens the door for contention to every other team in the NFC North.
The Packers have started a first-ballot Hall of Famer at quarterback for 31 straight seasons, an unprecedented streak that’s helped them dominate the division for most of the past three decades.
Rodgers led the Packers to eight NFC North titles and one Super Bowl in 15 seasons as a starter. He succeeded Brett Favre, who led Green Bay to another seven division crowns and one championship in 16 years with the team.
The Packers’ success has been one of many contributing factors in the Detroit Lions‘ decades-long struggles. The Lions’ last division title came in 1993, Favre’s second year in Green Bay.
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But the Lions should enter next season as the division favorites, with one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, a young, emerging roster and uncertainty about Rodgers’ replacement, Jordan Love.
“With or without him, we are on the rise and I think that we’re going to be for years to come,” Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone said Wednesday. “And it’s fun to see it happening and see it happening in real time, and seeing young guys develop, seeing pieces being filled that we need filled through free agency and the draft. It’s going to be a fun year going forward.”
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The Lions may have helped expedite Rodgers’ exit from Green Bay, beating the Packers in the final game of the 2022 regular season to eliminate them from playoff contention.
Rodgers, who is awaiting a trade to the New York Jets, completed a pedestrian 17 of 27 passes for 205 yards and one touchdown in that game. His final pass as a Packer, a heave downfield to Christian Watson, was intercepted by Lions safety Kerby Joseph.
“I had a part in it,” Anzalone said. “I got a piece of it, I hurried him. I think I got a hurry.”
Anzalone, who was credited with a hurry on the play, officially signed a new three-year, $18.75 million contract to stay with the Lions on Wednesday, a deal he said gives him added peace of mind after playing the past two seasons on one-year deals.
Anzalone, who played his first four seasons with the New Orleans Saints, made a career-high and team-leading 125 tackles last season and started every game for the first time in his career.
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“I think that when everyone gets drafted, you want to get an extension or sign with the team you got drafted by just cause you have the idea of I’m going to be with this team my whole career,” Anzalone said. “And obviously that wasn’t the case for me, but being here the past two years and then get a multi-year deal after that is kind of a similar situation in that way in my eyes.
“I feel like it is a good story to be told and my journey hasn’t always been the way I pictured it to be. Whether it was dealing with injury or any type of adversity like that, it’s cool to looking back of where I am now, where I am personally, where I am football-wise. It’s just awesome to see. I’m blessed and I’m grateful.”
Anzalone said he wanted to return to Detroit in part because of the confidence he has in what the Lions are building.
After going 3-13-1 in 2021, Anzalone’s first year in Detroit, the Lions won eight of their final 10 games to finish 9-8 last season.
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The goal this year is “to win playoff games,” Anzalone said, and Rodgers’ pending departure should make that easier for everyone in the North to do.
“It’s kind of, it’s going to be different,” Anzalone said. “But it’s nothing you can’t get used to. I feel like this league moves on from people no matter if you’re a Hall of Fame quarterback or not. So yeah, it’s a new era in Green Bay and we’ll see what happens.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.