By now, hundreds of articles have been written, in detail, about the ongoing “saga” between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. And damn, it’s gotten plenty ugly. If you’re a sports fan, it’s impossible that you haven’t at least tripped over one of these publications. While some have more light-heartedly compiled the events of his momentous offseason, at the core, this Packers situation has taken on a stressful life of its own.
In the interest of keeping it high-level, the Coles Notes version unfolds like this: Aaron has become malcontent (to put it mildly) with the Packers organization and the suspect decision-making that the personnel inside the front office has put forth over the past year and change. After a brutal loss to the eventual-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game with some questionable play-calling, the impasse has now officially been building for months, with the real genesis coming the night of the 2020 NFL Draft when the team chose — no, traded up — to draft his heir apparent in Jordan Love. At this point, the move has signaled very little on the football field, but plenty off of it. While Love has yet to take meaningful snaps, the selection itself kickstarted a rift that has been festering for months. And now Aaron, holding front row seats to the team’s puzzling series of transactions (and/or lack thereof), is frustrated with the franchise’s direction and certainly it’s status going into the 2021 season.
And you know what? I can’t say that I really blame him.
The Packers have posted consecutive 13-3 regular seasons and within each, managed to reach back-to-back NFC Championship games, falling painfully short of reaching the Super Bowl two years in a row. These heights were reached primarily on Aaron Rodgers’ shoulders. And if we’re being truthful, he’s THE reason they’ve achieved this level of success.
Looking at the new regime’s approach to the draft and free agency (where the Packers haven’t been major players for years now), GM Brian Gutekunst hasn’t exactly “enhanced” the aging quarterback’s weaponry. Whether it be the lack of depth at wide receiver, settling on a carousel of interchangeable tight ends, or failure to solidify an offensive line that seems to lose a big name every other year, the defense has consistently been the bigger blip on the radar (9 of the last 10 first round picks were spent on defensive players, with the one exception being the young quarterback named above). While fielding an adequate defense certainly has indirect advantages for an offense and its quarterback, the Packers have managed nothing more than a mid-tier to slightly-above-average defensive unit.
The most notable omission in the front office’s attempts to improve the team holistically, is the neglect to bring in another high-profile wide receiver to pair with (and take pressure off) Davante Adams, for whom the case could be made is the best and most reliable receiver in the league right now. Instead, the band aid solutions that they’ve tried to pass off (with no offense meant toward household names like Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, or Equanimeous St. Brown) just haven’t been enough when the late season snaps really count. The team even signed Devin Funchess during the 2020 offseason, but he quickly opted out of the season amid the pandemic. Fortunately, Adams has handled the double teams and solo act quite well, putting up monster numbers despite the lack of assistance on the opposite side of the field. Though, the thought of being in Green Bay without Rodgers has recently made him unsettled.
So here’s what the Packers should do to coddle this ongoing disaster:
1. Bend over.
No, seriously. Bend over, and begrudgingly take this one up the ass.
While there’s exactly a 0% chance this actually happens, they should admit they’ve wronged the guy. The guy who is the Green Bay Packers franchise. Perhaps arriving short of a formal apology, a cautiously-prepared statement about how the front office has neglected to be aggressive in acquiring above-average talent to accommodate their win-now quarterback, could go a long way in repairing the marriage. While Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur have continuously strengthened their relationship over the course of two years, he’s had to watch season after season, as the front office lacked assertiveness and instead plucked “elite” defensive players in the first round, while drafting “boom-or-bust” project receivers in the later rounds, hoping to find that diamond in the rough.
Essentially, they should say they’re sorry. Just not in those words.
And look, I’ll concede that Rodgers isn’t completely off the hook in this whole situation. While his arm, legs, and brain has pushed the Packers into contender status the past two seasons, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that he’s one of the more “sensitive” players in the whole league. He might even hold that title. His subtle, sarcastic nature can be filled with slights, often exuding a very prickly demeanor. He’s not always easy to please. I get that. But after what he’s poured into the franchise the past decade, the notion to ask for a little help in bringing in some qualified guys to make his job easier, shouldn’t be mistaken for that of a diva. He’s deserving of a shiny new offensive toy once in a while.
Packers brass should publicly express their acknowledgement and understanding as to why Aaron is frustrated and concede that they could have taken a different approach in further constructing the team’s roster. Like I said, short of an official “sorry,” but professionally stating that they indeed fucked things up, just a bit.
2. Restructure his deal as a form of peace offering.
While roster construction and competitive assertiveness is the likely the primary reason for Rodgers’ unhappiness, it would be naïve to think that money wasn’t at least a small factor. Money is always an element, whether in the forefront or in the background.
Aaron Rodgers makes a lot of money. This is fact. He doesn’t “need” more. But buried in that layer of sensitivity mentioned earlier, he believes in fair value, as most of us do. He’s currently in the midst of a four-year, $134 million extension he signed with the Packers back in 2018 and is under contract through the 2023 season. I understand that he’s a significant cap hit ($37.5 million) for the 2021 season and the team is (creatively) looking to decrease that number in order to make the type of moves that will support, and appease him. For the most part, it’s a catch-22.
So stretch his deal out. Commit to him. He’s stated his strong desire to keep playing football into his 40’s. Give him the extra couple of years. I’m certainly not an NFL salary cap expert so I have little idea as to what a revamped deal would even begin to look like. Perhaps he’s willing to take a little less money now, if he obtains that security of those added years. Coming off an MVP season ten years removed from his last one (an incredible and underrated accomplishment), he’s certainly not showing any signs of decline. I mean, your alternative is to move away from him in the short-term, and in turn, launching the “Jordan Love Era” much sooner than expected. That figures to be a painful and unguaranteed process.
The harsh reality is that we’re soon going to have inclinations on what the Packers are thinking their future-state at quarterback will be. If they don’t want to budge on a Rodgers extension, they will be showing their hand that a reset is inevitable and that Jordan Love is their “new guy” under center. If we hear rumblings over the next few weeks about some fruitful negotiations, Rodgers might indeed be around for the long haul.
The worst case scenario is that you have a slightly-declining Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback at the age of 41-42 years old, who could still be better than half the quarterbacks in the league, while still giving you the best chance to win every week. If his play slips to the point where the team isn’t competitive, only then would it make sense to mutually part ways. The best case is that you have a happy, healthy Aaron Rodgers who maintains his loyalty and gets to keep one uniform on for his entire career. He seems very much like a legacy kind of guy. But now, the team could have initiated the opportunity to place some legitimate and playmaking offensive talent around him, because of the decision to stretch out his contract and some cap room, all the way back in 2021.
3. Without resorting to an overhaul, commit to some strategic “enhancements,” while listening more closely to his input. Basically, get him more help.
Now, I’ve never been an elite professional athlete, but using my imagination, I would guess that there’s almost nothing that superstar players love more than when they’re able to have their own fingerprints all over a team’s makeup. This is likely true to an even greater degree for the NFL quarterback, where the overall impact is felt in every position that makes up the 11-player offense that’s on the field for every snap of every game.
There’s no doubt that Rodgers is cut from that same cloth. And if he can so swiftly control what happens at the line of scrimmage at a second’s notice, he can certainly assess what types of players and skills would be most optimal to him on the battlefield. Perhaps management should have a closer ear to the ground when it comes to this. Listen to your quarterback!
When the team drafted Love, Rodgers didn’t have a temper tantrum, but he did express his disappointment with the fact that they didn’t use a first round pick to secure some better skill position talent to put around him:
“Rodgers explained his state of mind after the pick – which he described as bummed but not bitter – during a podcast interview with Kyle Brandt. “I get it. I really do. I don’t harbor any ill will about it. Was I bummed out? Yes, of course. Who wouldn’t be? I wanted to play my entire career in Green Bay. I love the city,” Rodgers told Brandt. “I see it completely clearly. I’m not bitter about it. It kinda is what it is.”
After more than a decade in green and gold, can we really blame him for that?
Any elite quarterback with a limited window of opportunity would have felt the same way. Consider the G.O.A.T. Tom Brady. Without having Bill Belichick by his side, do you honestly think Tom wouldn’t have reacted the same way? Of course he would have. When he finally departed New England for sunny Tampa Bay, he was given some instant weapons in Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and even Leonard Fournette. The Bucs not only gave Brady the keys to a new house, but that ocean-view villa came fully-furnished with high-end offensive players. And look what it yielded in the very first season: A Super Bowl championship.
Rodgers already has the keys to the Packers mansion, but some of his furniture is from IKEA. He needs some higher quality furniture. Draft a receiver in the first round, make a free agent splash, trade for a reliable, but still productive veteran. Whatever is required to get over the Super Bowl hump and back into the big game. The window is closing quickly.
While he doesn’t have all of the leverage, he does have a few options. Rumors of him sitting out the whole 2021 season are getting stronger and more furious. That seems harsh, but it’s on the table. Practically everything is on the table as the plot thickens on a weekly, and sometimes daily basis. If the Packers truly want to win now, they need some course correction with their offensive strategy. If winning is instead a more of a medium-to-long term goal, then Cheeseheads should unite and prepare for a steep learning curve at quarterback. But the organization shouldn’t be coy about it. Just cut the damn cord.
As an actual Packers fan, I’m rooting for them to make amends and to keep one of the greatest players of all-time in the state of Wisconsin for a few more years. That will be the best shot at winning another Super Bowl.
But meanwhile, if it doesn’t end on a positive note between Aaron and the Packers, when September rolls around, he could even be observing these new Packer growing pains from his brand new podium on the set of Jeopardy! Who knows. Much like on the football field, the man does create his own options.