Former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers sent a message about his future to Packers management, the media and the public following Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers. But was it a calculated ploy to get better talent on the team, or will he really consider demanding a trade?
Ever since the Packers drafted quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 draft, there has been anticipation about what Rodgers would say about his future after his last game of the 2020 season. The anticipation grew as Rodgers proceeded through a season that is expected to earn him a third MVP award.
So here's what Rodgers said unprompted following Sunday's 31-26 loss to the Buccaneers in the NFC championship game:
"Lot of guys' futures that are uncertain, myself included."
When asked specifically about his future with the Packers, Rodgers said this:
"I don't know. I really don't. There are a lot of unknowns going into this offseason now. I'm going to have to take some time away for sure to clear my head to kind of see what is going on with everything, but it's pretty tough right now, especially thinking about the guys that may or may not be here next year."
At the end of his interview session Rodgers also did something he has never done before at the end of a season: He thanked the media members on the video conference call.
"I do appreciate you all and the job that you've done this year. I appreciate our interactions, appreciate the opportunity to share every week and will always be thankful for this season. Thank you."
That sounds like a farewell address. Or is Rodgers just making it sound that way to get everyone's attention?
Never has an NFL MVP started the following season on a different team. The closest to it occurred in 1974, when 1973 NFC MVP John Hadl (there was a 10-year stretch from 1970 through 1979 when an MVP was awarded to a player in each conference) was traded from the Rams to the Packers in the middle of the 1974 season. Hadl had lost his starting job to James Harris seven games into the 1974 season, and the Packers gave up a bunch of draft picks to get Hadl in an October transaction.
There were three cases in which an NFL MVP retired before the following season -- 1955 MVP winner Otto Graham, 1960 MVP Norm Van Brocklin and 1965 MVP Jim Brown. But none of those players was making the exorbitant amount of money that today's star players earn. And retirement does not seem to be an option for the 37-year-old Rodgers.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur left no doubt about his feeling when asked whether he expects Rodgers to return to the Packers:
"I sure as hell hope so."
He called Rodgers the heart and soul of the team, its leader and and a player whose words carry a lot of weight in the locker room, adding this:
"Hell yeah, he better be back."
LaFleur addressed the Rodgers issue midway through his postgame interview, shown here:
Virtually everyone agrees Rodgers was making a statement to the Packers' brass that the team needs to do more to improve the roster.
NFL.com's Michael Silver said this:
In that charged moment, his wounds still fresh, Rodgers, a highly intelligent and hyper-aware 37-year-old, chose his words carefully. And when he spoke, I believe he delivered a message to his bosses, one I'd roughly translate thusly: Your way of doing business has to change, or maybe I should be on my way.
ESPN.com Rob Demovsky painted the dollars-and-cents picture of Rodgers' attachment to the Packers.
The 37-year-old presumptive NFL MVP is under contract through 2023 via the $134 million contract extension he signed in 2018. But his long-term future with the Packers was thrown into question when general manager Brian Gutekunst traded up to select Rodgers' possible eventual replacement, Jordan Love, with the 26th pick in last year's draft.
Rodgers has a salary-cap charge of $36.3 million in 2021 and $39.9 million in 2022. If he and the team were to go their separate ways after the 2021 season, the Packers would save $22.648 million in salary-cap space but would have to count $17.204 million in dead money. If they moved on after this season, they would save only $4.76 million on the cap and have $31.556 million in dead money.
The storyline about Love, who did not take a single snap this season, faded away as the season wore on, but the game against the Bucs brought the issue back on the table, as Demovsky points out:
It resurfaced Sunday, in a glaring way. As the Bucs celebrated their victory over the Packers at Lambeau, how could Rodgers not have pondered the disparity between the two organizations' respective approaches?
In March, when Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht landed Brady, a living legend who'd turn 43 before the start of the season, he reacted by putting the pedal to the metal and running through stop signs and speed bumps. From Rob Gronkowski to LeSean McCoy to Leonard Fournette to Antonio Brown, Licht took huge swings on talented veterans he hoped might make a difference in a furious push to maximize the relatively small window created by Brady's presence.
Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, said the following in a story with the headline, "Aaron Rodgers isn't going anywhere in 2021: Why the Packers remain his best option to get back to a Super Bowl":
Of the four championship-game teams, the Packers stood out as the team surrounding their star quarterback with the least. In Buffalo, Brandon Beane pulled off a franchise-altering trade for Stefon Diggs before the draft. In Kansas City, Andy Reid and Brett Veach continued to stockpile talent in order to "run it back." In Tampa Bay, Bruce Arians and Jason Licht acquiesced just about every Tom Brady request since March.
Could Rodgers demand a trade, and would the Packers accommodate that request if he did?
It's becoming more frequent for star players in all sports to be accommodated if they request a trade. Pro bowl safety Jamal Adams demanded a trade from the Jets this past offseason and landed with the Seattle Seahawks. Two big-name quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson and Matthew Stafford, may be demanding trades from their current teams, and there's a good chance they will be traded.
If Rodgers makes it known that he wants out, it would be difficult for the Packers to keep him, even though they would suffer severe financial loss if they do trade him or release him. Rodgers' recourse would be to hold out until a trade is made.
But would another team give Rodgers a better chance to get a Super Bowl ring?
Jones of CBS Sports ends his report with this statement, suggesting Rodgers won't be going anywhere:
The future is indeed a beautiful mystery, but there's little mystery to me where Rodgers will be playing next season.
Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless debated Aaron Rodgers' performance and his future. Bayless called Rodgers comments "blame-deflecting finger-pointing" and concluded Rodgers was "groveling for sympathy."
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