NFL

Aaron Rodgers, renaissance man, moves beyond football

Aaron Rodgers engaged to Hollywood actress.

Aaron Rodgers will guest-host “Jeopardy!” in April.

Aaron Rodgers donates $1 million to help struggling small businesses.

There are a few ways a quarterback can make headlines in the offseason. Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, both unhappy in their current roles, are taking one angle. Rodgers is apparently covering every other one.

Just a few weeks removed from his surprising and, for Packers fans, aggravating loss to Tampa Bay in the NFC championship, Rodgers remains as much in the public eye as he can without actively taking snaps. Sure, he still plays a lunk in those State Farm commercials — there is no Rodgers Rate, you doof — but in the third act of his NFL career, he’s also setting up to expand far beyond football.

First, his surprise engagement to actress Shailene Woodley — hey, Rodgers’ personal life is his business, but he’ll soon find it won’t stay his business alone. (Congrats to the happy couple, by the way.) Yes, he has been half of a high-profile relationship before; he and former NASCAR driver Danica Patrick were once a thing, but that didn’t resonate much past “SportsCenter.” Getting involved with Hollywood is a whole separate deal. After a few rounds with the Hollywood media or some rabid Shailene stans, Rodgers might long for the comforting embrace of Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald.

(Michael Wagstaffe / Yahoo Sports)

On the positive-PR front, Rodgers’ plan to establish a foundation to help his hometown of Chico, California survive COVID-related economic devastation is no doubt some welcome good news for that community. It follows Rodgers’ $1 million donation in 2018 in the wake of destructive wildfires. Yeah, the news was announced via press release from Rodgers’ camp, but when you’re donating seven figures, you’re entitled to a bit of self-congratulation.

It’s the “Jeopardy!” run that’s most interesting, though. Rodgers is clearly, and wisely, setting himself up for a life after football. Peyton Manning blazed this trail — the friendly megastar with a hand in damn near everything — and it’s easy to see Rodgers sliding right into that role when his own playing days are done, whether that’s in three years or five or 10. (Hey, he sat for three years behind Brett Favre; that ought to get him an extra three seasons on the back end, right?)

Yeah, yeah, Packers fans are screaming, what does any of this Hollywood/brand garbage have to do with what’s going to happen at Lambeau Field? Fortunately, not much. Per BetMGM, the Packers currently sit at 9-1 to win Super Bowl LVI; only the Chiefs at 11-2 have better odds.

Granted, Rodgers wasn’t happy about how the Packers’ 2020 season ended, a loss that, you may recall, included Matt LaFleur’s controversial field-goal decision late in the game while down eight points.

“It wasn’t my decision,” Rodgers said of the call, a smooth sidestep. He didn’t throw LaFleur under the bus, but he escorted LaFleur down to the sidewalk and point out the lane where the buses run.

Rodgers also tossed off one of those provocative lines that ignites blogs and sports radio segments — “A lot of guys’ futures, they’re uncertain, myself included” — but Rodgers knows the value of a properly deployed quote. (Witness his tequila quote — “I poured myself about four fingers” — after last year’s draft, when the Packers selected his presumptive replacement Jordan Love. Rodgers knows how to grease the gears that make the media engine hum.)

Unlike Wilson and Watson, Rodgers isn’t clamoring for upheaval. Rodgers has his eye on that second Lombardi, and the surest way to snag it is with his current squad. He’s out from under the Mike McCarthy regime that he believed stunted his potential, and in a prove-it-or-zip-it year, all he did was deliver an MVP season. Now, with a preferred coach and system in place, it’s up to him to top that, and there aren’t many higher rungs on the ladder.

It’s worth noting that all this external activity isn’t just noise. He’s also, consciously or not, insulating himself from the possibility that he won’t get that second Super Bowl ring. Manning has five fewer Lombardis than Brady, but take a guess who we’ll be hearing more from 10 years from now. Winning makes you a legend. Fame makes you immortal.

It’s already looking like 2021 will be the year of Aaron Rodgers, Renaissance Man. Whether that ends with him as the last man standing next February doesn’t matter; we’ll be seeing plenty of him the whole way there.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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