For good reason, the spring fiasco that is Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers has been centered around the player’s uncertain future with the franchise. Will he formally request a trade? Will he retire? Will he change his mind and return to the team? Rodgers’ interview with Kenny Mayne this week did little to squash doubts about returning to Green Bay, instead creating even more storylines about Rodgers’ decision.
But one thing learned from the interview is that perhaps it is time to examine the situation from the other side. Much of this disagreement might just stem from the Packers’ perception of Rodgers and how they viewed his future in Green and Gold a year ago compared to where they do now.
While the door remained open on a lot of beat-around-the-bush questions surrounding Rodgers during his interview, he did confirm one thing: the final acts of the saga began last offseason.
“It’s just kind of about a philosophy and maybe forgetting it is about the people that make the thing go. It’s about character. It’s about culture. It’s about doing the things the right way. A lot of this was put in motion last year. The wrench was just kind of thrown into it when I won MVP and played the way I played last year. This is just kind of the spill out of all that.”
While there may have been a build-up in tension on Rodgers’ side of things over the past year, that same tension may have existed on the Packers’ side as well. Last offseason, there were still questions about the quarterback’s buy-in into Matt LaFleur’s offense. Although those issues appeared to be rectified by season’s end, there may have been legitimate fear of Rodgers continuing to play by his own rules beforehand. Under Mike McCarthy, Rodgers was given more than free reign to change plays at the line of scrimmage, but that often blurred the lines of insubordination and could easily rub an organization the wrong way. There was never any doubt about Rodgers’ arm talent, but his willingness to play within a system and run the called play was in question immediately when LaFleur was hired and some of those questions remained into 2020.
Perhaps relationship strain, along with Rodgers’ injuries and recent inconsistency in performance, gave the Packers the sense that Rodgers’ time was running out, particularly last offseason. If looked at in that light, the selection of Jordan Love would make perfect sense, even if all the attention was placed on Rodgers’ view of the organization after the pick. If the team truly felt that a move at the quarterback position needed to be made within two years, an opportunity to get quality insurance would be sound enough reasoning for general manager Brian Gutekunst to characterize the Love pick as “in the best interest of the Green Bay Packers.”
However, that decision from the Packers’ brass would risk irreparable damage in their relationship with their current quarterback (i.e. “the people that make the thing go”), making him feel unappreciated.
The Packers’ decision, therefore, set the two parties on inevitably opposite paths, with the team’s planned path taking a detour in 2020. On Monday, Rodgers alluded to his MVP season changing the complexion of his future with the organization, using the term “wrench.” That specific word choice signals that it was indeed the Packers’ plans that were thrown into disarray after Rodgers’ on-field brilliance, which saw him playing much more within the confines of LaFleur’s offense and taking his performance back in time by 10 seasons. Rodgers was a changed player, one the Packers likely did not envision roughly 10 months earlier.
There looked to be more of a free spirit in Rodgers this past season. There was joy on the field, honest and respectful answers with media, and a positive leadership demonstrated with teammates on the field. The attitude and emotions fans were used to, often worn on Rodgers’ sleeve, were simply different. The media credited to many different factors, including a new romantic relationship and meditation. But what if Rodgers simply knew his time in one place was coming to an end — perhaps an ultimatum between he and Gutekunst, whether explicit or unspoken — and there was a sense of freedom, peace, and make-the-most-of-it in a final go-around? This makes his “beautiful mystery” comments after the NFC Championship Game much easier to understand. Time may have appeared to be up with Rodgers awaiting an unknown next step, the course of which shifted since the Packers’ previous conversations with the star quarterback.
More and more, the disdain Rodgers is expressing toward the Packers’ front office is suggesting that the Packers, specifically Gutekunst, made a decision on Rodgers’ future a long time ago — one that the All-Pro didn’t agree with and that made the long-term relationship between player and team irreconcilable. The frequent in-person visits that the Packers’ top brass have made, pleading with Rodgers about a change of heart, could be further evidence of the team changing its tune on a plan to move on from him sooner rather than later. In that case, retaining Rodgers after an MVP season would be a position the Packers did not expect to be in and one in which the future Hall-of-Famer holds much of the leverage.
We’ve all asked if Rodgers will ultimately come back to Green Bay, but as of now, the question is how much the Packers believe in a future with Rodgers compared to last offseason and how far they will go to keep him around — even at the expense of personnel members.