Aaron Rodgers had won MVPs before — three times, in fact, before this season — but he had never won them in consecutive seasons until Thursday night.
Whether he goes for a third straight MVP and fifth overall with the Green Bay Packers or another team — or doesn’t go for one at all and retires — remains in question.
Only Peyton Manning has won five MVPs, and it was Manning who handed Rodgers the award onstage at the NFL Honors awards show in Los Angeles. Rodgers, 38, became the fifth player in NFL history to win the award in consecutive seasons, joining Manning, Brett Favre, Joe Montana and Jim Brown.
“They’re all different,” he said. “The first one was really, really special because we came off winning the Super Bowl and I had my best season to date that next year. It seemed like we were a juggernaut chugging along and going to win another one. That obviously didn’t happen. The divisional round disappointment. But they’ve all been unique in their own ways. I think the latest one always feels the sweetest.”
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt won Defensive Player of the Year after tying the league’s single-season sack record, while Kupp, who led the league in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, won Offensive Player of the Year.
A year ago, Rodgers called his future with the Packers a “beautiful mystery,” then boycotted their entire offseason. The Packers did not know whether he would return to them for the 2021 season until the eve of training camp, when they made concessions that would make it easier for him to leave Green Bay after the season.
Rodgers said recently that he would make a decision about his future before free agency begins March 16, but he did not address that in his acceptance speech Thursday night. However, he did thank the Packers’ front office — president Mark Murphy, general manager Brian Gutekunst and vice president Russ Ball — along with coach Matt LaFleur.
“It’s been an amazing 17 years,” Rodgers said of his time in Green Bay. “So thankful for the memories and the moments over the years.”
A year after Rodgers threw a career-high 48 touchdowns and only five interceptions, he finished with 37 touchdowns and only four interceptions, giving him the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the NFL. He missed one game due to COVID-19, but the Packers still captured the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The playoffs, in which the Packers lost in the divisional round to the 49ers, do not factor in the voting.
Watt was an overwhelming winner as top defensive player, receiving 42 votes from a nationwide panel of media members. Parsons and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald both received three votes.
Watt’s brother, J.J. Watt — a three-time Defensive Player of the Year himself — presented him with the award, which was the first one announced at the show.
Watt tied Michael Strahan’s 2002 single-season sack record of 22.5 despite missing two full games because of injury. He won the award at the end of a season that began with the Steelers making him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player. At one point this season, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Watt should not only be Defensive Player of the Year but also should receive MVP consideration.
“To be able to be recognized as the best defensive player in the year is definitely something that I strive to be,” Watt said after receiving the award. “I’m not huge on individual goals, but it’s tough for me not to want that when I saw my brother at the height of his career win the award three times. And I always just thought to myself, why can’t I do that?
“I’m just so motivated. I’m very honored to receive this award and to be voted when there’s so many successful and great players in the National Football League. And I don’t think it’s fully hit me quite yet.”
Kupp became just the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to win the triple crown of receiving, leading in catches (145), yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16). Only Steve Smith Sr. in 2005, Sterling Sharpe in 1992 and Jerry Rice in 1990 have accomplished that since the league merger in 1970.
Kupp received 35 votes. Colts running back Jonathan Taylor received 10, while Brady got three and Rodgers two.
Chase, the fifth overall pick in the draft, set the Bengals record for most receiving yards in a game (266) and season (1,455). He received 42 of the 50 votes. Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (5), Chiefs center Creed Humphrey (2) and Chargers tackle Rashawn Slater (1) received the other votes. Chase accepted the award remotely from the Bengals’ Super Bowl headquarters nearby in Los Angeles.
Parsons, the 12th draft pick, was the unanimous selection with 50 votes. He helped transform the Cowboys defense and became the first rookie in team history to be named a first-team All-Pro. Parsons was equally effective as an off-the-ball linebacker and as a pass-rusher. He set a Cowboys’ rookie record with 13 sacks and the coaches credited him with 64 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 42 quarterback pressures, 3 forced fumbles and 3 pass deflections in earning a Pro Bowl spot.
In other awards, Mike Vrabel won Coach of the Year after leading the Titans to a 12-win season despite numerous injury issues.
Vrabel received 36 votes. The Packers’ LaFleur, who won 13 games for the third straight season, was a distant second with eight votes. Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia, who was hired last week as the Packers’ special teams coordinator, received three votes, followed by Bengals coach Zac Taylor with two and Patriots coach Bill Belichick with one.
The Titans earned the AFC’s top seed for the first time since 2008 despite using an NFL record 91 players over the course of the season. Derrick Henry, the 2020 Offensive Player of the Year, played just eight regular-season games.
“This is a reflection of our 91 players who helped us win 12 games and our coaching staff,” Vrabel said as he accepted the award.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who tore the ACL in his left knee during his rookie season, edged Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott for Comeback Player of the Year. Burrow received 28 votes, Prescott 21 and Chargers defensive back Derwin James one.
Burrow, who suffered his injury in a late November 2020 loss to Washington, returned in time for the season opener and led the Bengals to the playoffs. He accepted the award remotely from the Bengals’ Super Bowl headquarters nearby.
Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth, who previously played for the Bengals, won the league’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
Before the show, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was named assistant coach of the year. Quinn turned around a defense that allowed a franchise-record 473 points in 2020 into one that finished ninth in points per game and led the league in takeaways.
Quinn altered his defensive philosophy from the single-high scheme he learned in Seattle and brought with him to the Atlanta Falcons, where he had a five-year run as head coach, to a much more varied scheme with fronts and coverages. After the season ended, he interviewed for a number of head-coaching vacancies but opted to pull his name from consideration to remain with the Cowboys on a multiyear extension.