“What is the crux of the Aaron Rodgers story?”
A question along this line of thinking has been asked to me as an icebreaker a hundred times this offseason, with the inquirer ranging from NFL sources to family friends I hadn’t seen in years. If you’re a Packers fan, I’m sure someone asked you something like “So what’s going on with Aaron Rodgers?” during the 4th of July weekend. It has become an often-requested question that is simply inescapable.
I used to answer the question by saying the Packers’ chance to get Rodgers to suit up in 2021 was to make right whatever offense the reigning MVP took in a private conversation that his former teammate James Jones stated is the center of his frustration. This seemed like the simplest problem to solve.
That was assuming that Rodgers was willing to make a mess, which Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown have shown us is how you actionably change your unwanted circumstances in the NFL, if that’s your true primary goal. Everyone can’t be Matthew Stafford with an appeasing franchise willing to move a star upon request.
What did it take for Brown to get moved from Pittsburgh, despite a then record-breaking $22.1 million dead cap hit? An absolute mess. What was Bell’s lasting image with the Steelers? His former teammates dividing out his locker’s contents and taking photos with his shoes for the internet.
Now, would Rodgers be willing to make a mess? It’s always a touchy subject to bring in people’s families into the equation, especially without knowing the full details, but the reports that Rodgers hasn’t been on speaking terms with his family in quite some time would seem to suggest an answer to the question.
That was how I saw it. He’s petty enough to actually retire if he’s not given what he wants. The modern athlete knows its value and leverage in these situations. He must be willing to make a mess if him wanting a trade out of Green Bay was leaked to Adam Schefter on draft day.
Here’s the problem with this theory: Nothing Rodgers has done this offseason has shown his commitment to making a mess. Vague statements can be overcome should he come back to the Packers with his tail between his legs for the team’s mandatory training camp later this month, which under the new collective bargaining agreement demands that veteran players either attend or are subject to $50,000 per day fines that now cannot be waived.
This is a different era for holdouts in the NFL, as it eliminates the possibility of an Aaron Donald holding out, signing a new deal and having the team that just handed him an extension waive over $1 million in fines to keep their relationship positive. By the way, this is a function of the same collective bargaining agreement that Rodgers voted against last offseason as the union’s Packers representative, a job he has since resigned from.
From the Packers’ perspective, the threat in this situation is that Rodgers won’t suit up for the team in 2021. The value in a threat is willingness. The measurement of willingness is commitment. Commitment to not playing in 2021 is simply not being shown at this point.
At golf’s The Match last week, Rodgers didn’t give the public more than “I don’t know” as an answer to if he will play for Green Bay in the upcoming season. This weekend in Tahoe, Rodgers stated he’s “going to figure things out in a couple of weeks.” From the Packers’ perspective, anything less than scorched earth is not going to get him moved, as NFL insider Jay Glazer has said Green Bay isn’t willing to even entertain trade calls for the gunslinger. In the context of scorched earth, Rodgers’ comments are non-commital.
Maybe Rodgers thought that the storyline would become large enough that the Packers would simply appease him to make it end, but the Packers organization, from the public comments of Mark Murphy, coaches and players, has not soured on the quarterback. Instead of making a mess, in which Rodgers would have to put real money on the line, he has only put vague pressure on the franchise, to which they have responded with “That’s unfortunate, but I hope 12 is there in camp.”
Now eyes turn to Rodgers in this standoff, where he’ll have to decide to quickly change his tone from “I don’t know” to “I’m willing to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a week to put more pressure on Green Bay” or “I guess I’m not unhappy enough with the situation to miss out on this much money.” The new framing of the questions in the Rodgers saga is “Just how unhappy is Rodgers?”
There’s a good chance this unhappiness with the organization, whatever it may be, goes back further than draft day 2021. Following the loss in the NFC Championship Game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rodgers was contemplating his future with the team in the post-game press conference. If that’s the start of Rodgers’ doubts in his future with the franchise, that would be an incredibly inconvenient place for the realization.
How far back does his friction with the team go? Is he feeling the same things in 2021 that he felt in 2020, before leading the Packers to the top seed in the NFC and earning the league’s MVP honors? If so, does Green Bay even value his happiness if he’s still going to continue to suit up for the franchise and produce?
The value in a threat is willingness. The measurement of willingness is commitment. If Rodgers isn’t willing to commit at this point, weeks before financial implications begin to set in for his holdout, what justification do the Packers have to treat the threat at face value?