Aaron Rodgers-Packers split? History shows it would be nothing new

  • Covered Packers for Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1997-2013
  • Two-time Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association

GREEN BAY, Wis. — When Aaron Rodgers signed his most recent contract — a then-record $134 million extension in 2018 — he posted a message of thanks to the Green Bay Packers on his Instagram account. Among the hashtags at the bottom of his post was #packerforlife.

In the NFL quarterback world — even the one where future Hall of Famers reside — #forlife is a subjective time. In Rodgers’ case, it might mean only three more years from the time he signed.

If Rodgers never takes another snap for the Packers, the question becomes, does he retire or play for another team?

The Packers have made it clear throughout the offseason standoff that they have no plans to trade the three-time NFL MVP. But this is the same franchise that traded Brett Favre 13 years ago.

There is precedent both in Green Bay and around the NFL. Twelve of the 27 modern-era quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame split with the team they’re most associated with and finished their careers elsewhere.

The coming weeks will determine if Rodgers is destined to be No. 13.

Here’s how it went down for the previous 12:

Norm Van Brocklin, Rams, 1949-57

What was behind their split? “The Dutchman” had a 42-20-3 record over nine seasons with the Rams and played on their 1951 championship team, sharing quarterback duties with Bob Waterfield. His 554-yard passing performance in 1951 still stands as an NFL record. After a 6-6 season in 1957 in which he led the NFL with 21 interceptions, Van Brocklin briefly retired at age 31 mostly because he didn’t want to play for coach Sid Gillman. When he decided to keep playing, he was traded to the Eagles in 1958.

How he fared with new team: Van Brocklin led the NFL in completions (198) and attempts (374) in his first season with the Eagles, but they finished with a 2-9-1 record. Following a 7-5 mark in 1959, Van Brocklin and the Eagles made history by defeating the Packers 17-13 for the NFL championship, the only playoff loss by a Vince Lombardi-coached team. At age 34, Van Brocklin also won NFL MVP in his final season in 1960.

Quotable: “I didn’t much want to come to the Eagles,” Van Brocklin told Sports Illustrated in 1958. “You can’t beat that West Coast living. But what else am I going to do? I guess if I knew what I’m going to do when I get through, I’d start doing it now.”

Y.A. Tittle, San Francisco 49ers, 1951-60

What was behind their split? The Niners thought Tittle was pretty much done. He was 34 years old at the time of the trade and coming off an injury-plagued 1960 season. San Francisco coach Red Hickey was running a shotgun offense and had their 1957 first-round pick John Brodie groomed to be the starter. Hickey and owner Vic Morabito made it clear to Tittle that he would be traded. Tittle wanted to be dealt to the Los Angeles Rams. Instead, he went to the Giants, much to his initial dismay.

How he fared with new team: Tittle resuscitated his career with the Giants. They went 8-1-1 in his 10 starts that first season in 1961, and he was named first-team All-Pro the following two years. The Giants won three straight Eastern Division titles and Tittle set new league records with 33 and 36 touchdown passes in 1962 and 1963, respectively. He even won the MVP in the 1963 season. Even though he never ultimately won an NFL championship, Tittle had a nice run in New York.

Quotable: “Who the hell is Lou Cordileone? They didn’t even bother to trade a name player for me. Tittle for a guard named Cordileone? Well, that takes me down a peg.” — Tittle upon learning of the trade (via his book “Nothing Comes Easy”).

Bobby Layne, Detroit Lions, 1950-1958

What was behind their split? Is the Curse of Bobby Layne real? It certainly seems that way after years of heartbreak in Motown. It may be hard to believe, but the Lions dominated the decade of the 1950s, winning three championships led by Layne. However, Layne suffered a broken and dislocated right ankle, opening the door for his backup Tobin Rote to lead the squad to the 1957 title. The next season, Lions coach George Wilson traded the Hall of Fame quarterback to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Layne was bitter. He supposedly uttered that the Lions wouldn’t win a championship for another 50 years. Sure enough, the franchise has not come close to winning again, with only one playoff victory since the title.

How he fared with new team: As a Lion, Layne won three NFL championships. He played in four Pro Bowls and made First-Team All-Pro Twice. In Pittsburgh, he made the Pro Bowl twice in five seasons, but never reached the playoffs again before retiring ahead of the 1963 season. The Lions have seemingly been cursed for decades following his bold statement. He died in 1986 at age 59.

Quotable: “No, there’s no sour grapes,” his son Alan Layne told the Detroit Free Press in 2017. “He never said anything derogatory around me or my brother. It was just water under the bridge. He wasn’t like that, and he just went on.”

Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1956-72

What was behind their split? Robert Irsay took over controlling interest of the Colts in 1972 and installed general manager Joe Thomas, who wanted the 39-year-old Unitas benched early that season in favor of Marty Domres. Coach Don McCafferty resisted and, after a 1-5 start, he was fired. Domres took over as the starter. Unitas, who held every significant passing record at the time and led the Colts to three world championships, saw spot duty in three more games, attempting just four passes. His Colts career officially came to an end when Thomas traded Unitas to the Chargers on Jan. 22, 1973 for a reported $150,000. Unitas told the New York Times after the trade that he was not even sure it was legal because he had signed a 10-year personal services contract with the Colts under former owner Carroll Rosenbloom that would pay him $30,000 per year.

How he fared with new team: The 40-year-old Unitas’ Chargers debut in 1973 was a disaster, and it didn’t get much better from there. He completed 6-of-17 passes for 55 yards with three interceptions in a 38-0 loss to Washington. He started three more games, losing two, before being benched for rookie Dan Fouts, who went on to become a Chargers legend and a Hall of Famer. Unitas completed just 34 passes in his 18th season and opted to retire.

Quotable: “… I got a call from Ernie Accorsi, the Colts’ PR man, and he said Joe Thomas wanted to talk to me. I said, ‘Fine, put him on,'” Unitas told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. “Thomas said, ‘You’ve just been traded to San Diego,’ and bang, he hung up. That was it, after 17 years with the ballclub.”

George Blanda, Houston Oilers, 1960-66

What was behind their split? Blanda played 26 seasons for four teams, but his best run as a quarterback came with the Oilers. He led the AFL with 3,330 yards passing and 36 touchdowns in 1961. He also led the league in interceptions four straight years, including 42 in 1962. Also a kicker, Blanda made just eight starts at age 39 in 1966, throwing 17 touchdowns against 21 interceptions and completing just 45% of his passes. The Oilers released him, but Blanda wasn’t ready to retire, and soon Al Davis called.

How he fared with new team: Blanda joined the Raiders at age 40 and was used primarily as a kicker for nine more seasons. He only made one start at quarterback with the Raiders but appeared in 126 games and helped Oakland to its first AFL championship in 1967. He played in 11 championship games, including seven with the Raiders. Blanda retired just before the 1976 season, weeks shy of his 49th birthday, with 2,002 points in 340 games.

Quotable: “When I look back on my nine years with the Raiders, what comes to mind first is my great association with Al Davis,” Blanda told the Raiders website in 2010. “If it had not been for him I may not have done the things I did once I left Houston. I may not have even kept playing if it weren’t for Al. I respect him highly.”

Joe Namath, New York Jets, 1965-76

What was behind their split? Namath and the Jets parted ways in 1977. The Super Bowl glory from 1969 had long since faded, and the 33-year-old Namath, his body ravaged by injuries, didn’t fit into a planned youth movement that included quarterback Richard Todd (a 1976 first-round pick). Ownership made an 11th-hour plea for Namath to stay, probably because he still was a big draw, but he requested a trade to the Los Angeles Rams, who eventually picked him up on waivers. From a football perspective, he wanted the Rams because they were a perennial playoff team and because of his affinity for coach Chuck Knox, a former Jets assistant. The lure of Hollywood had to be a factor, too.

How he fared with new team: Broadway Joe never became Hollywood Joe. His one season in La La Land was a disaster. The Rams made the playoffs, but Namath was benched after only four games. The old magic was gone. The tell-tale moment occurred during a playoff loss to the Vikings. Knox, looking for Namath to come off the bench and save the day, made eye contact with him on the sideline. Namath looked away, tacitly turning down the opportunity. That’s when he knew it was over.

Quotable: “I really felt like I could still play even though I lost a lot of physical skill that I was able to play with earlier. I really felt like I could still play given the opportunity to be with a team that was pretty damn good, but it turned out to be a very difficult transition. To change teams, it’s tough, it’s really tough.” — Namath to ESPN.com

Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders, 1970-79

What was behind their split? Stabler, who was NFL MVP in 1974 and led the Raiders to a Super Bowl XI victory two seasons later, saw not only his play dip after winning a long-awaited championship, but his team’s success falter as well with only one playoff win his last three years with the team. “Blame the lefty,” Al Davis said in 1978, “he makes all the money.” A year later, Stabler responded in kind when asked if he would like to bury the hatchet with the iconoclast owner, saying, “Yes, between his shoulder blades.” Stabler, who held franchise career passing records until 2020, was traded after the 1979 season to the Oilers in a starter-for-starter swap for Dan Pastorini, though Pastorini suffered a broken leg in Week 5, opening the door for Jim Plunkett and a Super Bowl XV win.

How he fared with new team: Stabler, in his first year with Houston, led the Oilers to a wild-card berth, where he faced … the Raiders. Oakland dominated Stabler, sacking him seven times and picking him off twice, including a game-sealing 20-yard pick-six by Lester Hayes in the Raiders’ 27-7 victory. Stabler didn’t appear in the postseason again as he went 16-12 in two seasons with the Oilers and 11-11 in three years with the New Orleans Saints, before calling it a career after the 1984 season.

Quotable: “It was a sweet encounter. It was like two old friends, circling back around to where they were. Mr. Davis was very fragile, and Kenny hugged him very gingerly … they both found peace.” — Kim Bush, the late Stabler’s life partner, recalling the 2009 meeting in Davis’ office that ended their feud.

Joe Montana, 49ers, 1979-92

What was behind their split? Montana led the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins in the 1980s, but by the end of the decade he was pretty banged up. San Francisco traded for Steve Young in 1987 and viewed him as the heir apparent to Montana, who missed 37 games over his final six seasons with the 49ers. An elbow injury suffered in the NFC Championship Game following the 1991 season carried over into the 1992 season. Young started all 16 games, passing for 3,465 yards and 25 touchdowns, leading the 49ers to a 14-2 record. Montana could see the writing on the wall, and he asked for permission to seek a trade. The 49ers worked out a trade with the Phoenix Cardinals, but Montana turned it down. He wanted to be dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers finally traded Montana, a 1993 first-round pick and safety David Whitmore to the Chiefs for their first-round pick.

How he fared with new team: Montana signed a three-year, $10 million deal with the Chiefs but was unable to wear his familiar No. 16 because it was retired after being worn by another Hall of Famer, Len Dawson. He opted for No. 19. The Chiefs won a division title in Montana’s first season as the starter — their first in 22 years. They lost to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game, and Montana went to his eighth and final Pro Bowl. After a 9-7 season in 1994 that included a win over Young and the 49ers in a Week 2 Monday Night Football matchup, Montana retired from the NFL at age 38.

Quotable: “The thing that stuck in me the most wasn’t that I was going somewhere else, but it was the reason I was going … I had felt I shouldn’t be [leaving] at that point in time,” Montana told the Kansas City Star in 2013. “I could understand it if my play was down, but it wasn’t at that point. It was simply because they didn’t want to have a quarterback controversy.”

Warren Moon, Oilers, 1984-93

What was behind their split? After the 1993 Oilers failed to reach the Super Bowl with a 12-4 season, then-owner Bud Adams opted to keep backup quarterback Cody Carlson over Moon. The Oilers received a fourth-round pick in 1994 and a third-round pick in 1995 for the 37-year-old Moon, who won a franchise-high 70 games. According to the Houston Chronicle, Adams at the time said Moon would not have been traded if it weren’t for the NFL salary cap, which was put into place before the 1994 season.

How he fared with new team: Moon played three seasons in Minnesota, throwing for more than 4,200 yards and making the Pro Bowl in back-to-back seasons before breaking his collarbone in his final year with the Vikings. Including the 1994 and 1995 seasons in Minnesota, Moon was named to eight straight Pro Bowls. He closed out his career with two-year stints with the Seahawks and Chiefs before retiring in 2001 at the age of 44.

Quotable: “I think they made a mistake trading me,” Moon told the Houston Chronicle in 1994. “You look at what management did, and they got what they deserve. I think they did what they thought was best, but sometimes what you think is best isn’t always right.”

Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams, 1998-2003

What was behind their split? One of the best underdog stories in sports history, Warner went from the Arena League to two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion with the Rams. He posted three prolific seasons with the Rams in which he led the NFL in completion percentage each year and passed for 98 touchdowns, but injuries plagued him for his final two years in St. Louis along with some tension between him and coach Mike Martz. Warner was benched early in the 2003 season in favor of Marc Bulger and was cut the following summer.

How he fared with new team: Warner signed with the Giants and became the placeholder at quarterback for No. 1 draft pick Eli Manning. Warner won five of his nine starts but managed just six touchdown passes in 277 attempts and was replaced by Manning. At age 34, Warner signed with the Cardinals in 2005 and made just 15 starts in his first two seasons as the team gave Matt Leinart a chance to be the franchise quarterback in 2006. Warner took over as the No. 1 quarterback in 2007 and led the Cardinals to their first-ever Super Bowl in 2008 when he passed for 4,583 yards and 30 touchdowns. He led the Cardinals back to the playoffs in 2009, losing to the Saints in the divisional round, the final game of his Hall of Fame career.

Quotable: “I don’t know what went wrong or why decisions were made the way they were,” Warner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch soon after his release from the Rams in 2004. “But I know the organization decided to go in a different direction. And they’ve got a tremendous young quarterback there in Marc [Bulger], and if you look at that you can’t say they did anything wrong.”

Brett Favre, Packers, 1992-2007

What was behind their split? Favre had been waffling about retirement for years, each time taking longer to decide whether he would return. Following the 2007 season, the Packers wanted an early answer. Favre wasn’t ready to commit to another year after a grueling overtime loss in the NFC title game, so he hastily retired on March 4, 2008. Rodgers had just finished his third year as the backup, and the Packers believed he was ready. By early summer, Favre told people he was getting the itch to return. The Minnesota Vikings inquired, to the point where the Packers filed tampering charges against them. The Packers tried to buy off Favre with a $20 million golden parachute to stay retired, but he wouldn’t bite. When Favre forced the Packers’ hand by reporting to the team, they traded him to the Jets on Aug. 6. Fans largely sided with Favre and were angered by the move.

How he fared with new teams: After one up-and-down season with the Jets, he retired again only to unretire and sign with the Vikings in 2009, creating a bitter feeling among the fan base. He was resoundingly booed in his return to Lambeau Field. He led the rival Vikings to the NFC title game but lost again in a bid for one more Super Bowl. He reluctantly returned for the 2010 season, and it was mistake. His iron man streak of consecutive starts ended at 297 late in a 6-10 season.

Quotable: “I couldn’t envision myself playing with another team. If that was ever to come up, I would probably just retire. I’ve made enough money that I don’t have to jump ship and go anywhere else.” — Favre on the day in 2001 when he signed a 10-year, $101.5 million contract extension with the Packers.

Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts, 1998-2011

What was behind their split? Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. His absence was the main reason the Colts finished with a 2-14 record, which led to them having the No. 1 overall draft pick. The combination of Manning’s age (36) and the Colts having the first pick with quarterback Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as the projected top picks, made it the right time to part ways and start the rebuilding process with Luck. The Colts released Manning on March 7, 2012. The move also allowed owner Jim Irsay to avoid having to pay Manning a $28 million bonus in 2012.

How he fared with new team: How does winning at least 12 games in all four seasons, being named league MVP, playing in two Super Bowls (winning one) and becoming the NFL’s all-time touchdown pass leader (momentarily) sound? All those things happened during Manning’s four seasons with the Denver Broncos. It was a good time for the Colts to part ways with Manning, but he also proved he still had something left.

Quotable: “There will be no other Peyton Manning,” Irsay said the day Manning was released. “The No. 18 jersey will never be worn again.”

NFL Nation reporters Eric Woodyard, Paul Gutierrez, Mike Wells, Sarah Barshop, Rich Cimini and Jordan Raanan contributed to this story.

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