As most of you know, in the past 11 seasons, I've had the great fortune to cover both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady up close and personal. I think I'm the only person who can say that.
(Hey, if you covered the Dolphins post-Dan Marino, you'd be owed some good NFL QB karma, too.)
I covered Rodgers from 2007-10: his final season as Brett Favre's backup, and then Rodgers' first two-plus seasons a starter. Brady I've seen since the middle of 2010.
I've seen both win Super Bowls. Rodgers in Dallas in the 2010 season. Brady in Glendale (2014), Houston (2016) and Atlanta (2018). I've studied both closely. I've had conversations with both over the years.
There's been a lot of talk this week about which player is more accomplished (no contest, Brady), more talented (no contest, Rodgers) and which player is the best. The latter basically comes down to what timeframe we're talking about it. If it's which one you'd draft today to start your team, it would obviously be Rodgers because he's 7 years younger.
The essential question, in my mind, is: if you could only pick one for this season, which quarterback would it be?
For me, there's very little debate. I would pick Brady for one season, one game, final drive — all of that stuff. Why? It comes down to who Rodgers and Brady fundamentally are as players.
Rodgers talks a very good game, but at his core, he is a selfish player. He's quick to throw his teammates under the bus in one form or another. He gives digs when it comes to personnel and coaching choices. There's being the highest-paid player in the league. He's always been cognizant of his stats and plays to them, at least he did earlier in this career. Rodgers, at one point, was able to rattle off his passer rating to a gaggle of reporters. I had never heard of that before or since in my career.
Rodgers plays and conducts himself like he is his own kingdom. He just naturally thinks about himself first. It's not necessarily a bad thing; that's just who he is. But he is, like Brady, tough as hell. Rodgers played four seasons (three in college) with a torn ACL. He's overcome multiple injuries. No one should question his toughness.
But, I'm sorry, when it comes to the quarterback position, I want someone who's naturally inclined to think of the team first. That's not Rodgers. I'm not saying he's not a team guy or like Favre — who dressed in his own room away from the locker room his final seasons in Green Bay. No, Rodgers is just different.
The best example I can give happened in the middle of 2009, Rodgers' second season as the starter. Keep in mind that in 2008, he took over a team that had gone 13-3 the year before and came a Favre interception away from reaching the Super Bowl against the Patriots.
Rodgers and the Packers went 6-10. Not all of it was his fault — the defense wasn't good. But it was largely the same team. That would not have happened under Brady (and probably not under Favre). Brady did take over a 5-11 team that started 0-2 in 2001, and proceeded to go 11-3 and win a Super Bowl.
Back to 2009. So the Packers, off a losing campaign post-Favre, come out and start 4-4 with the final loss being an embarrassing defeat against a Bucs team that was 0-7 entering the game.
Rodgers, at this point, was now 10-14 as a starter. Packers fans wanted everyone fired: Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson and Rodgers. Most felt choosing Rodgers over Favre was a colossal mistake.
At this point, Rodgers' offensive teammates had enough. Of Rodgers.
There was an offensive team meeting in the wake of that loss to the Bucs and while everyone was called to the carpet, Rodgers got it the worst. He was rightfully told he was holding onto the ball and partially responsible for a league-leading 37 sacks.
Rodgers has a tendency to play hero ball. Part of it has to do the blessing/curse part of being an athletic quarterback. There's a fine line between making a play and giving up on one. Pocket quarterbacks like Brady don't have to worry about that. It's a very difficult part of the game to manage. Rodgers has improved in this area over the years, but he has bouts of prolonging a play to his team's detriment because it's part of his inherent selfish side.
None of the above is in play with Brady, at least it wasn't until this offseason of his discontent. (That's why Brady's decision to skip just about everything this offseason bothered me because it was probably the trait as a player I most admired about him, and I could no longer play that card in comparison to other top QBs.)
Brady is without peer when it comes to being a good teammate. Despite his status, he has completely subjugated himself to the team — and the team has benefited enormously. If somebody else screws up, it's very difficult to tell from Brady on and off the field. Brady has worked with three different coordinators, a handful of QB coaches and never complained.
Bill Belichick has given Brady very little to work with at times at the receiver position, and the coach hasn't helped things by giving Brady's favorite targets the short end of the stick at the negotiating table. And Brady has left countless millions on the table for the team, especially in later years, which doesn't exactly help his teammates, but it does the team.
And nobody, maybe in the history of football, is a more demanding coach than Belichick. Brady gets called out more than anyone in film sessions. Rodgers, at least when I was there, was constantly coddled by his coaches — which drove some of his teammates nuts and led to them calling Rodgers out personally in that team meeting.
Brady, to this day, is utter perfection when it comes to being a teammate and a team player. It's probably unfair to compare Rodgers to Brady in this realm because I'm not sure Brady has a peer in NFL history.
But when it comes to comparing Rodgers to Brady and who I'd want leading my team, that's why I'll take Brady before every season until he hangs him up.
Rodgers is the talent coaches dream about. Brady is the realized dream when it comes to the face and leader of a franchise.
It's Brady. It will always be Brady.