Even as his relationship with the Old Gunslinger has tightened in recent years, Aaron Rodgers has always fancied himself the anti-Brett Favre.
When Rodgers became the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback, he did everything in his power to differentiate himself from the franchise’s former on-field leader.
He takes care of the football to the nth degree, unlike Favre. He held his weekly media conferences at his locker instead of Lambeau Field’s media auditorium, unlike Favre. He even called his apparent successor on draft night to offer congratulations, unlike Favre.
That’s what makes the torpedo of reports regarding his potential departure from Green Bay all the more gut-wrenching. While there have been hints of Rodgers’ displeasure with the Packers in recent months, the NFL landscape was presented with a stunner on Thursday afternoon when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Rodgers is so disgruntled with the organization, he does not intend to return to the team in 2021. Further reports indicated that Rodgers was willing to retire should the Packers not meet his demands, and such demands included the firing of incumbent general manager Brian Gutekunst.
While the first-round selection of Jordan Love in 2020 signaled Rodgers’ Packers career wouldn’t resemble a storybook ending, No. 12’s inevitable departure should’ve gone smoother than Favre’s. Surely the familiar faces — Rodgers, Gutekunst and Mark Murphy, to varying degrees, were all present for the gruesome summer of 2008 — had learned valuable lessons in the last divorce, and would make efforts to ensure such nightmares would not recur.
And surely Rodgers, aware of the vitriol that both he, the replacement to a legend, and Favre, the hero turned villain, would not follow in his predecessor’s footsteps.
In the public eye, Green Bay’s front office has handled this admirably. Gutekunst had every opportunity to throw Rodgers under the bus during draft weekend, and to his everlasting credit, he passed. Instead, he reiterated Rodgers’ importance to the organization.
However, Gutekunst is far from blameless. Not warning Rodgers of the impending selection of Love was a colossal misstep. If the far-more accomplished Bill Belichick was willing to make a courtesy call to Tom Brady in a similar situation back in 2014, Gutekunst should’ve shown Rodgers the same respect.
Murphy, perhaps predictably, has fumbled in his role in all this. For Murphy to allow a communication breakdown with Gutekunst and Rodgers, after reorganizing the front office structure for the specific purpose of improving communication, is derelict of duty.
Don’t forget, Rodgers’ excellence (like Favre before him) is a major reason why many in the Green Bay front office hold their current positions, and why expansions to Lambeau Field and the development of the Titletown district were possible. Yes, Rodgers has been rewarded with handsome contracts for his significant contributions, but his impact transcends play on the field. He’s entitled to the transparency that Gutekunst did not deliver.
There’s also Matt LaFleur, a 26-6 head coach who said he “can’t fathom” the thought of Rodgers in another uniform. LaFleur is no dummy — he knows his job depends on winning football games, and he can’t do so, at least in the immediate future, without Rodgers.
What about Rodgers? The reigning Most Valuable Player spent his weekend in Louisville, Kentucky for the Kentucky Derby. He declined an interview with NBC’s Mike Tirico but, in Tirico’s words, articulated how he “loves Green Bay, loves the fans, loves the franchise.”
Those words jive closer to the Rodgers we’ve come to know over the last 16 years, certainly more so than the incoherent, whiny teenager Rodgers comes off as through his reported unhappiness. While Rodgers has put his passive aggressiveness on display several times throughout his career, jabs at Mike McCarthy’s offense or the professionalism of his young receivers never reached the point of this volcanic eruption.
There’s a disconnect. There’s no denying it. Packers fans can no longer bury their heads in the sand, or plug their ears and yell in ululation.
However, there’s something that doesn’t pass the sniff test. Why would Rodgers, who consistently expresses his disregard for the (in his opinion) premature and often inaccurate coverage of the NFL and news in general, choose such a medium to force a move out of Green Bay?
That, and the aforementioned oddity and hypocrisy of following down Favre’s path, is why it’s imperative to take the Rodgers-related reports at face value.
It’s now on Rodgers — much like he did in 2019 when a story surfaced detailing the turbulent relationship with his former head coach — to speak publicly and either refute or confirm what’s been reported. We need to hear it from him. Not Adam Schefter. Not Ian Rapoport. Not agent Dave Dunn. From Rodgers.
Let’s say it’s all true. Let’s say Rodgers joins the Pat McAfee show and tells the world he refuses to return to Green Bay. What then? Because if the reports are to be believed, a contract extension — which would give Rodgers the starting quarterback security he clearly desired — can no longer douse this flame.
The Packers have remained steadfast in their belief that Rodgers will remain with the team. They have not entertained trades, nor should they. The only way Green Bay contends for a Super Bowl in the immediate future is with Rodgers. And perhaps the only way Rodgers contends for a Super Bowl in the immediate future is with Green Bay.
Could Rodgers actually retire? He’s accomplished enough and earned enough money to walk away comfortably, but such a decision would be inconsistent with the player who has routinely expressed a desire to play into his 40s, and a person so competitive he makes up rules to win charity softball games.
Rodgers is not the first unhappy superstar athlete and he won’t be the last. While there are endless examples of such a situation ending poorly, the Packers must have faith this time can be the exception. Remember, it was only months ago that the Seattle Seahawks were in a similar predicament with their franchise quarterback, Russell Wilson. And despite similar drama, Wilson remains with the team.
Wilson’s discontent can be instructive to the Packers’ current situation with Rodgers, partly because of Wilson’s apparent desire for say in personnel decisions (which the Seahawks have given no indication they’ll concede). On Monday in an appearance on NFL Network, Rapoport referenced the Packers’ release of depth receiver Jake Kumerow during 2020 training camp, and how that decision served as a final straw in Rodgers’ unease with Gutekunst. Rodgers, only a day prior, heaved praise upon the undrafted veteran journeyman.
Rodgers isn’t so obtuse to sever his relationship with the Packers over the departure of a receiver with 21 career receptions. But it furthered Gutekunst’s pattern of disregarding the opinion of his superstar quarterback and broached the question of whether Rodgers’ opinions on football matters should be of consideration.
It’s a question without a discernible answer. Rodgers is the quarterback and Gutekunst is the general manager, and the latter shouldn’t have to send a text whenever he’s pondering a free agent visit. However, if Gutekunst can’t see the on-field and interpersonal value in utilizing Rodgers’ football acumen — even if he doesn’t always follow through on Rodgers’ advice — this won’t be the last unhappy quarterback he works with. Maybe Gutekunt’s weekend comment that he’d welcome Rodgers’ opinion on such matters can serve not only as an olive branch, but a future understanding.
Remember, it’s only May, with almost two months remaining until players report for training camp. Perhaps time and patience can be the bricks to rebuilding this broken bridge. In the meantime, parties involved — Gutekunst, Murphy and Rodgers himself — must be willing to make concessions to ensure a winning compromise for all involved.
When Brett Favre returned to Lambeau Field in 2015 he was celebrated and embraced, but it took a long and winding road between the player and organization to get there. And no matter the amount of honorable distinctions, the cheers of “We love you, Brett!”, or the hugs and handshakes since, Favre’s legacy will always include that nasty footnote from the summer of 2008.
The Book of Rodgers is still being written. Let’s hope in this sequel, lightning doesn’t strike twice.