Recent offensive struggles aside, it’s not hard to argue that Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Super Bowl Champion, 2x MVP, and owner of the highest career passer rating and touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history. It’s heavily argued whether Aaron Rodgers came pre-packaged built for success or if his three seasons sitting behind Brett Favre (and eventually being groomed by Mike McCarthy) is what prepared the gunslinger for his current success. Regardless, he has been a difference maker for Green Bay and is a key reason the Packers are considered a yearly lock for the playoffs.
Another great player? Randy Moss. The well traveled receiver made a name of himself on the Minnesota Vikings and would go on to keep doing Moss things in Oakland before landing himself on the New England Patriots in 2007. Moss at receiver would be a key piece to the Patriots nearly perfect season, breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving touchdown record – along with the Patriots’ franchise receiving yards record while he was at it. Though controversial and having a hard time staying in one place, Randy Moss was considered a once in a generational talent. He was even named to the NFL “All 2000s” Decade Team. Man was great.
So what if I told you that the Green Bay Packers were once willing to ship Rodgers off to the Oakland Raiders in the hopes of landing Moss?
The year is 2007 and the draft is fast approaching. The number one pick in the draft belongs to the Oakland Raiders with a heavy need at quarterback looming over their shoulder. The top pick of the 2007 draft? JaMarcus Russell: a man who, in hindsight, is considered the biggest draft day bust of all time. It’s obvious that the Raiders are in the market for a quarterbaack. But what wasn’t well known is that Raiders owner Al Davis had been amusing a few calls to see if any teams would be interested in trading up for that pick. One of the teams that was knocking? Green Bay.
Conservative general manager Ted Thompson is not well known for making huge free agency or draft day splashes. No, Ted is more of a “draft and build” kind of GM. (Hence why you always hear commentators spout of the stat that Green Bay has the most “drafted” players on their team.) But in 2007, one small rumor was spinning around in Wisconsin: Brett Favre wanted Randy Moss. And when I say that, I don’t mean there was some article taken out of context where Favre said something like, “Oh he’s a great receiver, it’d be great to have a guy like that.” No, I mean Favre campaigned in the Packers offense to snag their former division rival.
When our real world draft came along; the Raiders took Russell, the Patriots traded to get Moss, and Brett Favre vented at a golf tournament about what could have been.
But now what if the Packers and Raiders made the trade?
First we have to talk about what was at stake here: the Packers would, of course, have to offer a sizeable amount of money to Randy Moss once he landed in Green Bay. See, Moss was only interested in landing on a team with a 1-year contract and he wanted to land with a Super Bowl contender. Most teams were turned off by those demands, including Green Bay. But let’s reverse that. Green Bay knows they have a young quarterback that Al really wanted in 2005, but watched in horror as his front office never pulled the trigger. The Packers, let’s say, are also willing to throw in some draft picks with the package. The Pats got Moss with a 4th round draft pick, so we’ll say he’s worth at least that (and Favre was convinced that they could get him for less). So let’s say, in addition to Rodgers, the Packers throw in picks 119 and 157 for good measure. Oakland now has some solid mid-round picks, a quarterback they can develop (and is much better suited for head coach Lane Kiffin’s style of offense), and, of course, the first pick in the draft.
With Rodgers now in the stable, the Raiders can bide their time on drafting a risky quarterback. So, instead of JaMarcus Russell, the Raiders decide to strengthen their receiver corps.
“With the first overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders select: CALVIN JOHNSON, WR, GEORGIA TECH.”
And from there everything just falls apart in this draft. Let’s have some fun, shall we?
With Johnson off to Oakland, that brings up the Lions at pick number 2. As we talked about last week, the Lions were on the up and up and not heading into full rebuild mode. In their mind’s they just needed some stronger weapons to help out their quarterback, not blow the whole team up. Pick number 2: Adrian Peterson!
Which brings us to the NFL’s eternal punching bag; the Cleveland Browns. The Browns, unlike Detroit, WERE in the quarterback market. Surely fate has smiled upon Cleveland! The top quarterback prospect in the draft has fallen gently into their laps! JaMarcus Russell goes to Ohio! And if there are any Browns fans reading this, just remember that the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead and you’ll feel better. And speaking of the Browns, their future offensive tackle phenom Joe Thomas is going nowhere near Cleveland. No, he’ll be falling to the 5th pick where he’s picked up by the Arizona Cardinals. Uh, Browns fans, sorry again. 3-1, right? We cool?
The Vikings in pick 7, who never really came into the draft looking for a running back, now have to use the pick to fill a real need. And the Vikings had a REAL need at wide receiver, which will prompt them to take Dwayne Bowe at number 7 long before the Chiefs get their hands on him (the Chiefs will instead take Ted Ginn Jr.).
The last question mark we’ll need to fill in here is where Brady Quinn will land. With the Browns coming in to pick 22 having secured a quarterback, the other 2007 quarterback will land about where a 26, going on 27-year-old highly touted draft pick should land. The 2nd round. With the Eagles to be exact, where he’ll be sitting behind Donovan McNabb for a little bit.
ALRIGHT. So, what does that mean for these franchises?
Starting in Green Bay, Brett Favre just secured himself a massive throwing weapon for 2007. And not a moment too soon. The Packers went on a prolific run in 2007, going 13-3 and snagging the number 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs. Green Bay already had an offensive corps to be reckoned with: captained by Brett Favre, he also had Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and James Jones to work with in his explosive passing attack. Add in Moss, and you’ve got insane depth from WR1-4. And with that insane depth, the Packers net an EXTRA win in the 2007 season when they score the needed points in the 4th quarter of Week 5 against the Bears (oh, and Favre doesn’t hurl 4 interceptions). That win propels Green Bay to a 14-2 record and the number 1 seed in the NFC!
Meanwhile in Oakland, they have a teeny tiny quarterback competition with their new, untested 3rd year quarterback and Josh McCown. It, uh, doesn’t last very long. Rodgers gets the nod but is noticeably rusty in his first season. Remember, even in Green Bay after receiving the bounty at receivers that he had, Rodgers still struggled to put games away in his first year starting. But, as we mentioned, the Raiders coach loves to work with players like A-A-Ron, so we’ll say the Raiders go 5-11 that season all things considered
And let’s not ignore the New England Patriots. I’m gonna say something that hurts, so brace for it Bostonians: no Moss = no 16-0 season. You want to know who the Pats have at receiver without Moss that year? Who, who, who, and Wes Welker. Welker becomes Brady’s top target, which is great, but it eliminates Welker’s chances of becoming a Slot God. Without Moss to distract opposing defenders, Welker gets eaten up and gets nowhere NEAR 1000+ yards. But the Pats still go 12-4 because of that unholy sacrifice Belichick must have made the night he burned his New York Jets contract.
Which brings us to the 2007 playoffs! Adjusting for our alternate universe shifts, your seeds look like this:
- Indianapolis Colts
- New England Patriots
- San Diego Chargers
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Tennessee Titans
- Green Bay Packers
- Dallas Cowboys
- Seattle Seahawks
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- New York Giants
- Washington Redskins
We’ll start on the AFC side. We didn’t mess too much with the 3-6 seeds, so we’ll go same results: Chargers and Jaguars advance, but they’ll be facing new foes. Jacksonville will be taking on their AFC South nemesis in the Colts, while San Diego boldly goes into Foxborough to take on the Pats. Peyton Manning’s Colts do what they did to Jacksonville all season: beat ’em. As for the Chargers, Bolts fans are licking their lips over the possibility of taking on the Pats sans Moss. But don’t forget, when these teams faced off for the championship, Moss had a quiet game. No, San Diego got burned by the run and this who at wide receiver (writer’s note: yeah, I know, Kevin Faulk is a Patriots Hall of Famer, but name one non-hardcore Pats fan who could think of Kevin Faulk. I’ll wait.). So the Patriots dump San Diego again and go back to Peyton’s place for all the AFC Marbles. History has shown that only 1 stat mattered when Peyton and Tom met in the playoffs: Home Field Advantage. Game is played in Indi? The Colts are going to the Super Bowl! The good news though, Pats fans: No Spygate scandal this time around. Lucky you!
On to the NFC. We’ll do the same thing with the wild card results, Giants and Seahawks advancing. The Giants go to Lambeau to take on the white hot Packers which I’m sure is getting Big Blue fans excited as they read this given that Eli’s boys seem to be the playoff bane of the Packers. But not so fast. Brett has a shiny new toy in that overtime game. A shiny new toy that reduced Bretty’s interceptions by having magnets for hands. Randy Moss, instead of watching a game clinching interception sail into his defenders hands, halls in the game winning touchdown and punches Green Bay forward to the NFC Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys! Peak Tony Romo going up against a living legend in Favre is a battle for the ages, with the boys in Green booking themselves a trip to the Super Bowl. Why Green Bay? Combination of things. Weather, home field advantage, playoff Romo, and Favre wanting to end his legacy on a high note (oh, and Randy Moss).
SUPER BOWL XLII: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS V GREEN BAY PACKERS! Two titans of quarterbacking poised for a game of the ages. Using my handy dandy game simulator and adjusting our rosters a bit, the game ends up being a shootout that ends with a 31-27 win for the Packers. Favre hoists the Lombardi one more time and not too long after…
…Announces he will not be retiring! After winning the Super Bowl, the Packers decide Favre was right all along and arrange to keep Moss on the team. Shortly after that, Moss starts approaching Brett and urging him to keep playing since the team has something special here. Favre and Moss both sign a 2-year deal in order to keep the good times rolling.
And boy do they! The duo charge into 2008 with their only competition being the crappiest NFC North in recent memory. Without having to adjust their playbook, play style, or offense in general to accommodate a new quarterback, the defending champs steam roll their to yet another #1 seed in the NFC that year.
Meanwhile in Oakland…
Something is cooking. Aaron Rodgers caught fire his second year at starter in Green Bay, and that doesn’t change in this hypothetical year two in Oakland. With the Raiders being pushed down a draft spot, they don’t get to draft highly touted Arkansas running back Darren McFadden (Sorry, did I say don’t get to? I meant don’t have to). Instead they use the 5th pick to get future pro-bowl DE Jerod Mayo before the Pats can trade up for him! And hey! While we’re at it! The Raiders are in dire need for a wide receiver and wouldn’t ya know it, with their recent success, the Packers don’t seem to be in the market for one in the 2nd round. So Oakland picks up Jordy Nelson while they’re at it. Ya know. The guy Green Bay drafted to help out Aaron Rodgers? Now he’s in Oakland. Alongside Calvin Johnson. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. There’s been an awakening; have you felt it.
2008 is a great year for Oakland to get rolling. Nelson gets put into a starting roll a bit faster after a great preseason showing and Rodgers legendary accuracy starts to surface. The Raiders, though not perfect, are able to improve well enough in a crippled AFC West to just barely snag that number 4 seed with an 10-6 record. The only bad part about that is they have to do it up against the defending AFC Champs.
The 2008 playoffs don’t go how anyone expects. Favre and Moss are able to host and defeat McNabb’s Eagles fairly easily, but what they weren’t ready for is the #2 New York Giants with revenge on the brain. Eli and company shock the world with an upset win over Green Bay and launch themselves into the Super Bowl (yeah, Eli is going to be able to do what Carolina couldn’t, by the way. The story book Cardinals, statistically, should have been out of these playoffs WAY earlier)! Manning takes on Big Ben’s Steelers in the Super Bowl. You think the Steelers had to win a nail biter against Arizona? What happens when they take on a fully stacked and loaded team in the big show? The Giants hoist the Lombardi for Super Bowl XLIII!
Favre and Moss, as agreed, hang on for one more year but once again don’t escape the playoffs with championship glory. Favre announces his retirement following the 2009 season (and STAYS retired this time) after doing what he felt he set out to do. Moss, however, still has juice in the tank and once again throws himself into the free agency pool where he gets picked up by the Tennessee Titans and proceeds to live a nice, quiet life with minimal stats. He retires after the 2010 season (and STAYS retired this time) feeling his best football was behind him.
The question then becomes who replaces Favre if not Rodgers? The Packers will be sitting in the later picks of the 1st round looking for a fresh, young quarterback to start leading their team to glory. And that man…is not Tim Tebow (I saw you getting all excited. Please. This is Ted Thompson we’re talking about). No, instead Green Bay hangs on longer and gets the highly touted and popular 2nd best quarterback in the draft who had stunningly fell all the way to the 2nd round. This time, however, he gets picked up in the first. Welcome to Green Bay, Jimmy Clausen (use him well, you’ll need to ditch him by 2013 and then choose one of those stellar quarterbacks…and then you’ll have to ditch him after this season. Throw the Packers hat into the “Washup for Watson” pool)!
Oakland catches fire, having secured themselves a franchise quarterback, but to this date it hasn’t yielded a ring (thanks in part to that pesky Peyton Manning and his stranglehold on the AFC West for 4 years). After bolstering their defense, Oakland starts standing as a menace in the AFC. Which also means that Derek Carr won’t be drafted by the Raiders in 2014. Instead, the promising young stud will be taking a slightly further tumble until landing in St. Louis to join the Rams, where he’ll eventually replace Nick Foles after some incredibly lackluster football being played. Carr, as we know, turns out to be a revelation for the Rams as he starts to keep them competitive in a tight division (sound familiar?).
Bringing us, finally, to the 2016 draft. The Raiders are poised to make a real run at the division with an explosive offense, and the Rams won’t be making any blockbuster trades with the Titans to secure the number 1 pick (why would they? Carr is great and they don’t need Goff). With the Rams suddenly out of the race for the number 1 pick, all of a sudden the Eagles come a knockin’ on the Tennessee door, promising the world, and snag themselves the first pick in the draft which they will spend on highly touted Cal product Jared Goff! Why not Wentz? Because let’s not lie to themselves, the Eagles were going to take whatever quarterback the Rams didn’t want. #1 pick means you get the #1 prospect and not your #2.
So what of Carson Wentz? The lesser division phenom will take a very small tumble until he falls neatly into the hands of another team who tried to do some pick maneuvering: the San Francisco 49ers! Where he easily beats out Gabbert and Kaepernick in the offseason and starts right away!
All this could have happened had the Raiders just pulled the trigger the second time on Rodgers.