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Aaron Rodgers discusses opt-outs, COVID protocols, & empty stadiums in 2020

The Packers’ quarterback hit on most of the main questions about the upcoming NFL season in his first media availability of training camp.

Green Bay Packers v New York Giants Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

A day after Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur spoke to the media about the start of training camp, the franchise’s most important player did the same. Aaron Rodgers addressed questions from local and national media for the first time since after the NFC Championship Game back in January, which feels like a lifetime ago.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is the reason for that seemingly eternal offseason and with the NFL working to hold its season on schedule, many questions thrown Rodgers’ way dealt with the precautions and safety protocols in place.

“I think the protocols we have in place here, you know, are such that I think it gives us a really good chance (to have a full season),” Rodgers said. “We’ve been obviously testing every day, and there’s tracking devices and just, you know, the rules of the facility are obviously a lot different this year than in years past and give us the best chance to get into the season and finish the season.”

Rodgers consistently brought up the concept of personal responsibility on the part of the players and all members of the organization, echoing LaFleur’s comments from Sunday. He emphasized that the players must be “smart about (their) interactions” and that “there’s a lot of accountability on the players in terms of what you’re doing outside the facility.”

But while Gutekunst joked that the leaders in the locker room would be enforcing a bit of “peer pressure” on their younger colleagues, Rodgers pushed back on that a bit. “We have been talking about this so much, on Zoom meetings ... I don’t think we need to beat on it too much more,” He said. “I don’t think we need to enforce any other special things besides ‘hey, this is the accountabilty to the squad, think about who you’re surrounding yourself with, who you’re interacting with’ ... and also reporting any symptoms you may be having.”

Positive tests will almost certainly be inevitable in the NFL this year. With the quarterback position being the most important in football and perhaps in all of sports, LaFleur mentioned that he was considering sequestering one of the quarterbacks from the rest of the team. However, Rodgers said that no plan has yet been communicated to the players inside that room. “It’s crazy to think that those are the types of conversations we have to have in order to play, but that’s the reality we live in,” Rodgers said, but he also noted “that’s not my decision, that’s Matt’s decision.”

Opting Out

Numerous players around the NFL have chosen to opt out of the 2020 season amid the pandemic, a group that includes a current and a former Packers wide receiver. Rodgers noted that he has been in touch with Lions wideout Geronimo Allison, who opted out, noting that he has a young child at home, and that he spoke with Devin Funchess before he announced his decision. “I respect any person who decides to opt out; there’s a lot of different circumstances around each individual case,” Rodgers said.

As for Rodgers himself, however? “I did not consider it. I was always going to play.”

Perhaps one of the reasons is Rodgers’ age. At 36 years old and turning 37 in December, the clock is ticking on his career. With the Packers’ first-round draft selection of Jordan Love, it is clear that the team is setting itself up with options in the next few years if Rodgers does not fully return to his MVP-caliber play.

Rodgers acknowledged that in a recent interview with NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt, and explained a bit more of those comments on Monday. In particular, he’s focusing on what he can control, and seems accepting of the fact that there could eventually come a time when he and the Packers do not see eye to eye. “If they’re looking to move on before I’m ready to be done playing, then there comes an impasse at that point,” Rodgers commented. He added that “I don’t know what the future holds” and plans to continue focusing on his own play and what is within his control, but he emphasized that “at some point there’s other factors involved.”

Still, Rodgers is appreciating the moments and memories that he’s having now, particularly with the team being back for training camp. “As you get older, you do enjoy the little moments just a tad bit more, I think ... I savor every moment, every season, I don’t take any of it for granted.”

The 2020 Season

If the upcoming season does take place on schedule, it will happen with stadiums at severely reduced fan capacity, if fans are allowed at all. This will surely make for bizarre environments in the games, but it will also have an impact on how teams operate.

When asked about the possibility of playing in empty or nearly-empty stadiums, Rodgers started with discussing how it might affect the operation of the offense. “I would guess that that would mean we’d use some live cadence for 16 games, which would mean more opportunity for free plays, possibly,” he said. Rodgers is of course one of the best at drawing opposing teams offside, but that seems to happen most at Lambeau Field, where the fans remain quiet when the Packers have the football. To see him draw those free plays on the road would be an added advantage.

Still, any possible benefit would be balanced by the strangeness of the environment. “It would feel very different,” Rodgers said, adding “it would be strange to play in some of these venues that have been very, very loud,” and naming places like Minnesota, Seattle, and Kansas City for their volume. A pensive Rodgers then moved on to the home environment in Green Bay, saying “Personally, it will be very strange and sad to not see a full Lambeau every Sunday at home. That’s gonna be a little bit weird.”

The first truly football-related question came about 17 minutes into the videoconference, but Rodgers was not able to give many concrete answers about what he thinks the 2020 offense will look like in LaFleur’s second year running the show. “It’s so early, we’ve just done our first walkthrough,” Rodgers said. “The verbage is definitely coming a little easier for me at this point than it was last year. It was a good offseason of Zoom meetings for us, going through what we like, what we want to take out.”

With no on-field work in the spring, however, Rodgers notes that the team had a lot of extra time in the offseason: “We filled it up with a lot of football questions and that will pay dividends for us.”

Here’s hoping that’s the case.