Picking Jordan Love in the first round last year was the Packers’ acknowledgement that, should they ever need an escape hatch from the Aaron Rodgers experience, they would have a cost-effective measure already groomed within the system and ready to go.
It was also, after years of being bombarded, a gentle return serve to try and remind the quarterback of his place on the organizational pecking order. A moment of found confidence as they broke in a new head coach.
People in Green Bay have become accustomed to Rodgers’s willingness to artfully display his unhappiness. His press conferences have become a lesson in decoding. A banal training camp visit from a national reporter can turn into an organizational landmine. A radio appearance, in passing, can expose friction the general public never thought was there. But, familiar to all people regularly exposed to calamity, there tends to be a rhythm: a process of letting Rodgers get his passive aggression out, finding what could solve the problem, and moving on until the next episode.
That changed on Thursday when, hours before the NFL draft, ESPN reported that Rodgers is done with the Packers. He is starting a new life. He prefers to live on the West Coast. He wants to be a game show host and play football. Living in Wisconsin doesn’t really make that all possible, especially when you apparently dislike most of the people you work for. It’s not an unreasonable request. We are all searching for ideal work-life balance and pursuing our own individual happiness. Reportedly, all of the Packers’ major decision makers have made frantic trips to California to try and solve the problem, to no avail.
The difference between this episode and the last several is that it seems like Rodgers’s way of purposefully upping the ante to the point where it could escalate the situation out of the Packers’ expanded comfort zone. If there is any professional football player who better understands the machinations of the media, the timing of stories and how to scramble the landscape like an unhinged, Heath Ledger–style Joker, it’s Rodgers (he is, according to NFL Network, going to be quite visible at the Kentucky Derby this weekend). Allowing this thing to detonate hours before a league tentpole event, effectively clogging the Packers’ phone lines as every team gleefully rings to inquire about trade requests, is one of the most resolute middle fingers a player of his status can wield.
Green Bay has only two options now: deal Rodgers to a team sitting at the top of the draft—Thursday night—or deal Love, fire whoever Rodgers is feuding with in the front office and publicly offer Rodgers a top-of-the-market contract extension eclipsing that of Patrick Mahomes, making him the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history. While he has reportedly turned down extension offers, and this version of the same old feud seems far beyond money, would it perhaps be difficult to say no to outright groveling?
It’s a fascinating question if you’re in Green Bay’s upper management. How long are you going to continue to let one of the best players in the NFL push you around? At what point does your confidence in a brilliant young head coach and a first-round pick at quarterback eclipse your fatigue of these outbursts? If you back down now—again—what does that mean for the future?
For most of us, the answer is simple. Football, especially in Green Bay, is only about winning. You cower. You grovel. You take the floggings and, probably, maybe, this year, you call one of his media tributaries and find out who he might like you to draft at wide receiver. You pray for the chance to deepen this wholly, completely unhealthy relationship. That’s what we would recommend.
But maybe those running the Packers realize that it’s finally time. Yes, Rodgers still has great football left. Yes, he’s brilliant on the field. Yes, he’s been responsible for all the good the team has experienced over the last decade-plus. He’s also brought them to this place of complete disorientation. He's reportedly asking to be dealt to the Raiders, among other teams. Perhaps there would be some self-satisfaction to be gained from sentencing him to three years of hard labor digesting Jon Gruden's painfully verbose play calls.
Starting over is going to seem scary. It’s going to seem foolish. It’s going to seem like selling off the franchise’s Super Bowl chances for the next three seasons.
It may also feel wonderful to let it all go.
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