When the NFL reinstated Brett Favre on Sunday, it begged the question: Did the Packers tell Favre he could compete for the starting quarterback job?
That was unclear Sunday afternoon, with one source close to the talks between Favre and the Packers telling SI.com that Favre would be able to compete for a job in camp, but not distinguishing between the starting gig or a backup role. The source also said Favre did not personally speak with general manager Ted Thompson or head coach Mike McCarthy before leaving Mississippi for Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon.
A private plane carrying Favre, wife Deanna and agent James "Bus" Cook arrived in Green Bay shortly after 8 p.m. ET Sunday night. Favre exited the plane and waved to a crowd of several hundred fans gathered at the airport -- in a severe lightning storm, no less -- before driving off in an SUV.
If the competition involves a duel with currently anointed starter Aaron Rodgers for the starting job, the move would be a sea change in the Packers' thinking. Thompson and McCarthy have steadfastly insisted Rodgers is their starting quarterback. It could be the team is simply allowing Favre to come back to win the backup job over rookies Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn.
Details in this ever-changing story of the 38-year-old, walk-in Hall of Famer's battle with the team he brought back to prominence over the past 15 years were murky as of late this afternoon. But those close to the story believed late Saturday night Favre was going to turn down Green Bay's invitation to return to camp with no guarantee he would be competing for playing time. Instead, sources said late Saturday, Favre had all but decided to take the team's offer of a rich, long-term marketing and promotions contract instead of playing.
"Frankly, Brett's change of mind put us in a very difficult spot," team president and CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement released by the team. "We now will revise many actions and assumptions about our long-term future, all predicated on Brett's decision last March to retire.
"As a result of his decision, we invested considerably in a new and different future without Brett and we were obviously moving in that direction. That's why this wasn't easy. Having crossed the Rubicon once when Brett decided to retire, it's very difficult to reorient our plans and cross it again in the opposite direction -- but we'll put this to our advantage."
What changed on Sunday morning is unclear. But for Favre to willingly and in good spirits wing his way toward Green Bay could mean the team changed its offer and finally gave in to what fans and countless NFL officials have been saying for weeks -- it was folly for Green Bay, even with Favre's wishy-washiness, to force him into retirement in favor of a quarterback, Rodgers, who had never started an NFL game.
It is also uncertain how much of a role NFL commissioner Roger Goodell played in bridging the gap between Favre and the organization he loves but has grown to distrust. However, Goodell has been an intermediary between the two sides for the past two weeks and it's likely he played Henry Kissinger over the past few days in mediating Favre's return to the team. Earlier Sunday, he reinstated Favre from the NFL's reserved/retired list, meaning the Packers had 24 hours to activate Favre, trade him or release him. Goodell spoke to Favre several times in the last few days, including at least twice on Saturday. And for him to have pressed the reinstatement button Sunday morning, he had to have felt there was nothing more he could do to bring this nightmare of a story to an end.
In his statement, Murphy said only that coach McCarthy would "talk to the team and the quarterbacks about the plan moving forward, and after he has done that we will share it publicly."
Favre could be on the field as early as Tuesday.
The team has a scrimmage at Lambeau Field on Sunday night, then does not have another scheduled public practice until Tuesday morning. Favre's arrival in training camp could cause a major disruption to the team, although he would not likely begin practicing with the Packers right away.
For the past month, Favre has sought his release from the Packers so he could choose which team he wanted to play with in 2008. Most people close to Favre felt if he had his druthers, he would sign with Minnesota upon his release. But the Packers have been steadfast in denying Favre's request because the Vikings are their biggest rival in the NFC North this season, and are one of their two biggest rivals in any season (along with the Bears).
With Green Bay relenting and allowing Favre to compete in training camp this week, it's clear Favre understands no matter how much pressure he brings to bear on the team, he won't be released to make his own deal elsewhere.