Few members of the media who cover the NFL have as close a relationship with Aaron Rodgers than James Jones. The former Green Bay Packers receiver caught passes from Rodgers for eight of his nine years in the NFL, and he remains in close contact with his former quarterback to this day, counting him as a friend.
Amid all of the reporting surrounding Rodgers’ unhappiness with the Packers organization, Jones’ comments on the situation should get some special attention. In an interview with Colin Cowherd on FOX Sports on Tuesday, Jones weighed in on the situation and clarified some of what Rodgers has told him and why, because of those conversations, he believes the two sides will come to an understanding in time for the 2021 season.
“He’s told me it’s not about the GM, it’s not about new money,” Jones said, replying to a question about whether firing Brian Gutekunst would satisfy Rodgers. “So when I hear everybody on here say ‘it’s about getting the GM fired’ and these things, it’s not about the GM. It’s not about that. Because what he’s told me and the conversations we’ve had, knowing Aaron Rodgers and being close to Aaron, I truly believe it’s fixable.”
Jones would go on to explain that — in his opinion — it is the team’s willingness to move on from veteran leaders who still have an ability to play football that is at the core of Rodgers’ issues. “(Rodgers) wants to keep some of the guys that have been in that building that help this team win,” Jones said. Although the release of Jake Kumerow after last year’s training camp was a blow in this regard, Jones feels that Rodgers’ feelings on this topic stretch back much farther, to the days when Ted Thompson was in charge. “It’s not just about this past season. It goes back to the Charles Woodsons, the Clay Matthews, the Julius Peppers, the Jordy Nelsons, the James Jones (laughs) ... these dudes are big in the locker room for the young fellas, they’re key parts of this team to win championships and that’s the most important thing for him.”
All of those veteran players that Jones listed, including himself, were either released by the Packers or allowed to walk in free agency after the age of 30, but would go on to have productive years elsewhere. Woodson, Nelson, and Jones all ended up with the Oakland Raiders, with Woodson playing three more years with his original team and making another Pro Bowl at age 39. Jones had a solid year in 2014 before the Packers brought him back following Nelson’s torn ACL in 2015, while Nelson remained productive in the 2018 season, his final NFL season and his only one in Oakland. Meanwhile, Peppers posted 16 sacks over two years with Carolina following his departure from Green Bay while Matthews had eight in one season with the Los Angeles Rams.
Jones seems to think that these departures are a much bigger problem for Rodgers than any perceived lack of investment in player acquisition around him, an angle that Cowherd tried to press. The team’s focus on patiently developing offensive contributors rather than acquiring big names through free agency is something that Jones believes Rodgers understands and respects, and that it is not his issue. Rather, Jones sees Rodgers taking the following viewpoint: “I can’t control who you bring in in free agency, but what I do want a little input on is the guys you’re letting out of here.”
In all, Jones does believe that the two sides will find a way to work out their differences. A primary reason for this is Jones’ suggestion that Rodgers wants to work out the issues and return for 2021, a position that few others have taken.
“He’s willing to go in there and make sure they can get this thing right and get it fixable and go out there and put the best football team on the field and try to compete for a championship. And that’s why I truly believe that he will be there for training camp, this will get fixed, and I think the relationship will get much better between him and the GM.”
The two sides have just under seven weeks to work on closing the rift before NFL teams are set to report for training camps on July 27th. If Brian Gutekunst’s job status truly is not a factor in Rodgers’ potential return, perhaps hope still does exist for a reconciliation.