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Brian Gutekunst, Packers face a Kobayashi Maru situation with Aaron Rodgers

There aren’t many no-win scenarios in the NFL, but the Packers GM is facing one with his franchise quarterback. Is there really a true victory in this situation?

NFL Combine - Day 2

Normally I wouldn’t dare guess what is going on the in the mind of an NFL general manager, but in the case of the Green Bay Packers’ Brian Gutekunst I’d be willing to wager a quote from Ron Burgundy is running through his head.

The quote? “I’m in a pickle!”

Since the news broke just over a month ago that franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers is deeply unhappy with the organization and may not want to return to the Packers, Gutekunst has found himself in the mother of all pickles.

In the coming weeks, maybe even months, the Packers’ GM will have to make a decision that will be felt across the franchise for years and maybe even decades to come. Will Gutekunst stick to his guns and absolutely refuse to trade Rodgers, even if it forces the quarterback into a premature retirement? Or will he back down, move the quarterback, and more than likely gain some premium draft capital to build around presumed new starting quarterback Jordan Love?

In short, Gutekunst is facing the NFL equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru scenario, which first appeared in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s the ultimate no-win scenario for a general manager and unlike James T. Kirk, Gutekunst can’t alter any programming to achieve the perfect outcome. He’s going to have to make a decision and he will have to live with whatever he chooses to do even if it ends up costing him his job.

There are two paths before Gutekunst and although either might seem to be the right call, both carry immense risk. No matter what he chooses, there is absolutely no way to make everybody involved happy — including the team’s passionate fans.

The first choice is to stick to the line he’s been preaching since this story broke: that the Packers will not be trading Rodgers. For now, this should be considered the most likely scenario since there has been absolutely no information coming out that Green Bay has even slightly softened its stance on the matter. If anything, sources confirmed to The Athletic this weekend that Gutekunst remains steadfast in his plans not to trade the QB.

What would the fallout of this outcome be? It’s important to remember we are dealing with hypotheticals here, but there would be both positive and negative effects.

On the good side, the Packers obviously would keep Rodgers around and would allow them in theory to keep their Super Bowl window open. However, that is assuming of course that Rodgers wouldn’t respond to the Packers calling his bluff by following through on an apparent retirement threat.

If Rodgers doesn’t retire and indeed does return to the fold, that would very likely mean he and the team agreed on a new contract that keeps him in Green Bay even longer than planned. After all, many assumed the Packers could and would turn the reins over to Love in 2022. Again we’re dealing in hypotheticals here, but that in theory would mean Rodgers would be content again if not happy.

This would of course be the happiest outcome for all parties, but who knows if it will actually play out that way. It also might be happy, but won’t come without some other issues.

If the Packers commit to Rodgers long term, what becomes of Love? Could he get the same treatment Jimmy Garoppolo got with the New England Patriots? It wouldn’t be very Packer-like, as bending over somewhat backwards to Rodgers would signal a major shift in the way the team does business. It also would leave the Packers without an heir apparent at quarterback and they would be back at square one when it came time to finding Rodgers’ successor. It’s difficult to see this happening.

That would lead to the negative side of this scenario. By basically giving into Rodgers’ demands (short of firing Gutekunst, which is reportedly on the quarterback’s wish list), the Packers would be abandoning the structure that has kept them among the league’s elite for nearly 30 years. The narrative that has surrounded Green Bay for the past decade-plus is that they have not done nearly enough to surround Rodgers with adequate talent, but the truth is that if it weren’t for the New England Patriots and Tom Brady (who of course won a Super Bowl in Tampa now as well), the argument would barely hold water.

In Green Bay players play, coaches coach, and general managers build the roster. It is a rigid and strict command structure. As more and more players get at least some voice in personnel matters, like Brady in Tampa Bay, this structure is going to be tested like never before. But if the Packers under Ted Thompson didn’t give into Brett Favre when it came to acquiring Randy Moss, then it seems highly unlikely Gutekunst, a Thompson protégé, will do the same with Rodgers.

That brings us to the other choice Green Bay faces: moving Rodgers via a trade. Gutekunst can dig in his heels all he wants but if Rodgers doesn’t budge on not wanting to return, he may succeed in forcing the team’s hand. The longer this drags out, the smaller the return in a potential trade will be. If Rodgers and the Packers stand pat and the stalemate continues, all the Packers will gain will be some salary cap space. The smart thing for the Packers to do would be to set an internal deadline to get things righted with the quarterback, and if he isn’t back on board by that date, start to take phone calls.

The benefits here are obvious. Instead of Rodgers retiring and saving the Packers money, they can instead get what is assumed to be hefty haul in return that would include draft picks and veteran players. This gives the Packers the chance to build a decent team around Love and shorten any potential “lean period” of poor seasons. It also would eliminate the possibility of another awkward exit down the road should Rodgers want to force the team’s hand again.

One drawback here is that moving Rodgers may in theory anger Davante Adams and all but assure his exit after the 2021 season. To say losing both Rodgers and Adams would constitute a doomsday scenario for the Packers would be an understatement. While the Packers would presumably use one of their draft picks on a top receiver should it come to this, you don’t just let the best receiver in the NFL walk out the door to take a chance on a prospect. It would be a reckless roll of the dice on Green Bay’s part.

Nobody knows how this all will ultimately play out, but Gutekunst is clearly in a “damned if you, damned if you don’t” situation. Capitulate to Rodgers’ demands and you appear weak and upset the chain of command that has served your employer well for nearly three decades. In doing so, however, you also give your team the best shot to win a Super Bowl in the short term. Trade Rodgers and you get a plethora of picks to build around Love but you also risk setting the franchise back a bit, potentially way back if their 2020 first round quarterback turns into a total dud. You also maintain the modus operandi that has served the team well more often than it has not.

The Packers are at a fork in the road of their storied history and Gutekunst will be the one who makes the ultimate decision on which course they go, defining the path of the franchise for the next decade or more.

Anyone want to be in his position?

I didn’t think so.