Matt LaFleur suppressed laughter at the question. In fact, he responded with a joke, “Is that a trick question?” he replied to a question on if Aaron Rodgers will be the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback in 2021. Brian Gutekunst not only doubled-down, he expanded on the party line, saying not only would he be under center for the Packers this year but there was no circumstance he could see trading Rodgers, and that the team expects him to be the quarterback beyond this upcoming year. They’re saying the right things. Their actions must reflect their words.
Both coach and GM offered direct, unequivocal affirmations of Rodgers’ future with the team.
“Absolutely. There’s no doubt about it,” LaFleur said Monday of his quarterback’s place on the team this fall.
“You’re talking about the guy that’s going to win the MVP of the league. We’re not in this position without him. I couldn’t be happier with just not only his performance but how he led our football team, all the little things he does within that locker room to ensure that everybody is locked in, focused and ready to go. Absolutely he will be here for a long time.”
LaFleur and Gutekunst adamantly asserting that Rodgers is their quarterback — not just for 2021 but beyond — sends the message to everyone outside the building they’re set with him. Gutekunst even refuted Sam Farmer’s report in The Los Angeles Times that the Rams called the Packers on Rodgers, despite the fact that the same thing happened when Farmer first reported Ted Thompson was shopping Brett Favre when he was, in fact, shopping Brett Favre.
For a moment, take the cynical view of everyone’s actions since Jordan Love joined the team last April. The Packers planned to move on from Rodgers, an aging quarterback whose play hadn’t matched his contract for several years. Rodgers, in his comments coming out of the Love trade about his future, put the onus on the Packers. This was their decision. He wanted to be with the team forever, but they are doing this. His comments about his cloudy future raise the pressure on the team to do something to undercut that notion.
Maybe that’s not the cynical view. That could very well be exactly how it’s playing out. In fact, some version of that, to varying degrees, fits as the most likely characterization of the events.
So what does Green Bay doing now?
Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, Rodgers is miffed at the organization and “wants revenge” as ex-Packers T.J. Lang said in a radio interview, a line he’s already walked back as a joke.
It’ll be tough to win the PR battle for Rodgers if he hits the nuclear button and demands a trade. Plenty of fans are likewise frustrated with the team for not supporting their quarterback with enough talent, but he’s coming off an MVP season and the team’s support would pit fans’ love for team against their love for Rodgers. For a player who has insisted for years that he won’t exit Green Bay like Brett Favre did and who doesn’t want the stain of a bitter divorce on his legacy, that’s a severely upgraded tact from the path he’s currently on.
Green Bay’s public insistence of their faith in him makes it nearly impossible for the soon-to-be three-time MVP to go to management and say “I want more money in my contract for security.” Even if the Packers would be able to save some money now, they might not actually be all that interested in tying up longer-term dollars in an aging quarterback. They don’t have to do it. Unless Rodgers pushes that button.
And when it comes to free agency, the answer is even easier: the team has no money. The idea the Packers haven’t spent to make this team better doesn’t align with reality. In fact, they spent so much a few years ago that they’re now in a negative cap space situation. What’s more, Rodgers’ salary is a major reason for that.
That’s what makes the front office’s actions next so telling about how they feel about Rodgers. Pushing money off into the future, whether converting salary to bonus or doing some other kind of restructured deal, actually helps the team in 2021, a squad facing difficult cap challenges with the COVID-punctured revenues around the league.
Some insiders have suggested a re-worked deal to avoid a lame duck 2021 would go a long way with good will with QB1. If that’s indeed what Rodgers wants but the Packers won’t do it, they’ve made their intentions pretty clear: they really don’t see him with the team much longer.
That said, it’s worth noting we don’t actually know if that’s what Rodgers wants. Perhaps some new toys would be enough. That too would benefit Green Bay. But this team also has other trouble spots on the roster. Kevin King’s future and Josh Jackson’s failure to get on the field raise important questions about the cornerback position. With David Bakhtiari injured and Billy Turner only under contract until 2022, the Packers face a shortage at offensive tackle. And, as fans have clamored for a few years now, Green Bay could stand to upgrade the off-ball linebacker and defensive line groups.
Drafting for need creates complications for front offices, as does treating personnel acquisition as means to mollify a superstar player. But if we hear nothing on a Rodgers restructure, the Packers can’t retain any of their top free agents or acquire new ones, and then put together some DL/CB/LB/OT draft, we can argue they’re merely doing what they think is best for the organization. But they also know how their quarterback, coming off an MVP season and maybe or maybe not already being annoyed with you, is likely to react. It’s how any of us would react. We don’t have to have Ph.Ds in clinical psychology to read between the lines there.
One could easily make the case a draft like that actually signals to Rodgers, “Hey, we think this team is really close, that you and the offense is good enough [after all, they were one of the best offenses, per drive, of the last generation] and we just need a little roster fluff to make it work.” But plenty of fans won’t see it that way, and it’s possible No. 12 won’t either.
It’s likely true that Rodgers doesn’t want to blow up his relationship with the Packers. And because of that, Green Bay can exert some leverage right now. On the other hand, Rodgers is playing at an extremely high level and re-working his deal makes sense for both sides, as does adding a skill player or two. If this team is close — and they are — then the risk of not addressing other needs is theoretically lower and the risk of alienating one of the best players in the franchise’s history looms much larger.
This looks like a no-brainer for both sides. But it still has to get done. And until it does, these questions, the melodrama, will continue to hang in the air until the Packers do more than just say everything is fine.