Aaron Rodgers stands in the way of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers potentially becoming the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. If things played out a little differently, Rodgers may be wearing pewter and red instead of his signature Packers No. 12. Rodgers was brought to Tampa Bay for a pre-draft workout and then-Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden was strongly considering taking the Cal quarterback with the No. 5 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Longtime NFL scout Gil Brandt worked for the league office at the time and was tasked with inviting players to the green room. This required confidential conversations with teams, so that he could invite the players that were slated to go at the top of the draft. Brandt described the details of his conversation with Rodgers in an article for NFL.com noting that the Buccaneers could have stopped his draft-day fall.
“Looking back, I’m not so sure Rodgers trusted me fully,” Brandt explained. “And I don’t blame him. He was being fed all kinds of information, and mine was just another piece to add to the large pile. At one point, someone in the 49ers organization told him he would be their pick. Two days before the draft, Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden called Rodgers and intimated that if he was still around at Pick No. 5, he would be the Buccaneers’ choice.”
Jon Gruden Considered Drafting Aaron Rodgers for the Bucs Prior to Selecting RB ‘Cadillac’ Williams
Ultimately, Gruden opted to select Auburn running back “Cadillac” Williams who started his NFL career with a bang notching 1,178 rushing yards and six touchdowns. It would be the only time Williams rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his seven NFL seasons, while Rodgers went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. During a 2011 interview with ESPN, Rodgers admitted he thought the Bucs were going to take him with the No. 5 pick.
“Jon [Gruden] actually called me, when I was in New York, on Thursday, April 21st, and sounded like at the time they were going to take me with the fifth pick,” Rodgers noted.
Things would have worked out differently for both Rodgers and the Buccaneers but decades later the franchise would snag their own legendary quarterback when Tom Brady migrated south. Now, Rodgers will try to prevent the team he could have led to Super Bowls from winning a title in Brady’s first season in Tampa.
Rodgers Threw Passes to Jerry Rice During His Pre-Draft Workout With the Bucs
Gruden even had a surprise guest for Rodgers’ workout in Tampa as the coach brought in legendary receiver Jerry Rice to catch passes from the quarterback prospect. The former Bucs coach called passing on Rodgers “one of the greatest regrets of my lifetime.”
“I went and watched tape with Aaron,” Gruden told ESPN in 2017. “I can still remember it like yesterday. I watched tape with Coach Tedford and Aaron. Was really impressed in the film room and then we went out right there in the stadium. We walked right outside and started playing catch to loosen him up and then you look up in the stands and here comes this strange figure walking down the aisle and Aaron says, ‘Who is that?’ I said that’s our receiver. He says, ‘Well who is it?'”
That is when Gruden surprised Rodgers with the reality that he would be passing to Rice in the workout. The star wideout was considering playing again in 2005, and Gruden brought in Rice to be part of Rodgers’ session. Even with Rice catching passes, the Buccaneers opted not to select Rodgers instead selecting a running back that has been out of the league for nearly a decade.
“I said, ‘You’ll see.’ So it’s Jerry Rice,'” Gruden continued. “That was pretty good. That was a great day. I’ve still got the picture hanging right here at the FFCA [Fired Football Coaches Association]. It’s a memento of why I was fired. You can see one of the greatest regrets in my lifetime.”
The Buccaneers quarterbacks at the time of the 2005 draft were Brian Griese and Chris Simms. Rodgers would have been a massive upgrade at the position and perhaps kept Gruden from getting fired in Tampa.