The Packers began the mandatory portion of their training camp Tuesday without Aaron Rodgers, who may or may not have been comfortably at home, practicing his pronunciation of the word genre in preparation for his next gig after football.
It was an expected escalation in the feud, which after some draft day theatrics, has remained at a slow burn throughout the summer. Rodgers is not tipping his hand publicly and does not seem bothered by the financial repercussions (almost $100,000 in fines). The Packers are moving on with life, trying to somehow stay afloat amid a public relations battle they cannot win with a player they cannot please.
If this entire exercise feels like two intelligent, well-meaning entities removing their noses to spite their faces, then you’re just about caught up. Football tends to work this way, with millions of dollars beyond our wildest imagination poured into franchises with tremendous resources, creating 32 space station equivalents that seem powerful enough to make the ocean salt-free, but ultimately come up short of such levels of human achievement because the people involved aren’t interested in learning how to talk to one another or bury their egos.
Take Rodgers, for example. While he’s away, his understudy, the cause of so much of his behind-the-scenes foot stomping, is taking all of the most important reps and receives intimate one-on-one instruction while he learns the offense. This offense, while almost unstoppable with Rodgers, is good enough (especially when coached by Matt LaFleur and Nathaniel Hackett) to hoist Jordan Love to more than a handful of victories this year. Given the dismal NFC North landscape, would it surprise anyone to see a Love-led Packers team creep to 10 or 11 wins? Could that eventually embolden the very people he’s trying to squeeze?
The three-time MVP is also missing time with Amari Rodgers, the Packers’ highest-drafted wide receiver in six years. At Clemson, Rodgers caught 97% of the catchable balls thrown in his direction during his final full season in 2019; that’s better than any year had by Jaylen Waddle, Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Rashod Bateman, Kadarius Toney, Elijah Moore or D’Wayne Eskridge. His expected points added per target was higher than Bateman’s throughout his career. While we’ll stop short of hiking up our athletic shorts and extolling the necessities of voluntary minicamp, this feels like useful time both Rodgerses could be spending together, especially as it seems to take time for Aaron to develop a comfort level with his receivers.
It feels different from the end of Tom Brady’s time with the Patriots, when the quarterback prioritized family time after 20 years steeped in an offense of his own creation, surrounded by loyal, high-catch-percentage wide receivers and a mammoth tight end who could make it all run smoothly. The time away probably benefited New England more than having a quietly disgruntled Brady plodding around the practice field while his heart was elsewhere.
Now let’s take the Packers. This isn’t hyperbole: It’s the last chance they’ll have to win a Super Bowl with one of the best players in franchise history. Rodgers is planning on their feeling the heat of this at some point. Without Rodgers, there will be no trip to SoFi Stadium in February. Burning this season also burns some of the Packers’ most valuable players. Not just a year of Davante Adams’s prime, or that of some talented players on defense, but players who are less likely to remain on the roster in 2022. Those like Marcedes Lewis, Billy Turner and Robert Tonyan, who are either climbing toward retirement, out of their athletic primes or into bigger contracts but are integral to their success right now. The team’s brass has opted to don the pragmatist cap, put their heads down and invited Blake Bortles to training camp as a utility arm.
Throughout this process we’ve been told that if the solution were that simple, it would have been hammered out by now. In another world, Rodgers, in his gentle television voice, could be on the sidelines right now assuring us that this was all the product of media frenzy—the typical go-to rallying cry for those who utilize those same channels to get what they wanted in the first place. The Packers’ front office could be upstairs breathing a sigh of relief, feverishly working to fend off the next attempt their quarterback makes at bucking them into the cheap seats like an ornery bull.
But instead, we’re just here watching everybody lose. Lose time. Lose money. Lose golden windows of success in the NFL that few teams actually taste over the course of a decade, where life could be good if they only realized how good it’s already been. Both sides are at fault, though; until anyone realizes it, we’ll be here, just wasting away.
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