When quarterback Aaron Rodgers faces the Chicago Bears on September 9, he'll be walking onto Lambeau Field as the highest-paid player in NFL history. On Wednesday, the Green Bay Packers reached an agreement with Rodgers, 34, on a four-year contract extension worth a reported $134 million.
Rodgers already has a Super Bowl ring, two MVP awards, and six Pro Bowl selections to his name in a career that is sure to secure him a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame when he eventually retires (his new deal runs through 2023). But, there was once a time when the idea of Rodgers having any career in professional football — much less finding his place among the NFL's all-time great players — seemed like a far-fetched dream.
In 2002, Rodgers nearly quit football. At the time, Rodgers had just finished high school in Chico, California, where he'd played quarterback and set passing records for his high school team. However, despite his skills at the position, Rodgers was also a late-bloomer, physically, who measured at just 5'10" and 165 pounds — several inches and at least 20 pounds below most of the top quarterbacks who get recruited by major college football programs.
When the undersized Rodgers failed to receive a college football scholarship from any Division 1 schools, he says he almost quit the sport and considered either playing baseball instead or even studying to become a lawyer. Rodgers seriously considered ending his football career before it started, he said in a 2014 interview, but "football was still my first love, so that kind of won out," he says.
"It just made me work that much harder, I think," Rodgers says of the rejections he received from colleges like Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin.
Instead of quitting football, Rodgers spent the summer after he graduated from high school training harder than ever until a coach from Butte Community College in Oroville, California convinced him to spend a year playing football at the junior college, after which he could try to transfer to a larger school.
Rodgers won the starting quarterback job at Butte in his freshman season, throwing 28 touchdowns and leading the team to the second overall spot in the national junior college rankings. (He also kept growing and adding muscle, which meant that Rodgers measured 6'2" and weighed 200 pounds by the time he was playing in junior college.)
Rodgers' play caught the eye of University of California, Berkeley head coach Jeff Tedford, who visited Butte Community College to recruit another player, tight end Garrett Cross. After watching game film of Rodgers, Tedford offered scholarships to both Rodgers and Cross.
"Jeff Tedford gets on the phone with me and he's asking all about Aaron, saying how impressed he was by the film," Craig Rigsbee, then the head coach at Butte, told Bleacher Report in 2016. "He asked me who else was recruiting him. The answer was nobody, and he said, 'Good. I'll be up there tomorrow.'"
Rodgers went on to play two seasons as the California Golden Bears' starting quarterback, throwing for over 5,400 yards in his two years at the school and garnering quite a bit of hype as one of the best young quarterbacks in the college ranks.
Rodgers' stellar college play made him a top recruit to play quarterback in the NFL, so he declared his eligibility for the 2005 NFL draft after his junior year. Rodgers was initially expected to be among first handful of players selected in the draft that year, but instead he surprisingly fell several slots and the Packers ended up picking him with the 24th overall selection.
In 2014, Rodgers told sportswriter Bruce Feldman how the disappointment he experienced early in his career, from the lack of recruitment by major colleges to his surprising draft-day slide, proved helpful in the long run.
"For me, it was great, because I got to sit and learn and be with the disappointment," Rodgers said. "Those experiences can either strengthen your character or make you really bitter. Thankfully for me, it really strengthened my character and gave me a good resolve."
Rodgers has put that resolve to good use, forging a Hall-of-Fame caliber career, during which he has already earned more than $137 million in NFL salary over 13 seasons, according Spotrac. His latest contract will pay him roughly $33.5 million per season, plus incentives, until he's 40 years old.
Rodgers was previously the NFL's highest-paid player when he made $22 million per season in 2013, but other players subsequently passed him with more lucrative deals of their own. Now, he passes Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who will make $30 million this season, to regain that title.
In a 2017 interview with ESPN, Rodgers reiterated how much he was motivated by the fact that zero major college football programs recruited him, and how he continued to use that snub to motivate him throughout college and the start of his NFL career.
"That was what fueled me — to wake up at 5 o'clock and work out before school and stay after and do extra sets and do extra throwing. The root of that was to be great ... to prove a point every single day," he said.
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