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The Packers’ Choice: Play for Greatness or Set Precedent

Along with the Rodgers drama, Green Bay’s front office must also deal with Davante Adams’s contract and decide: Will they make exceptions for greatness?

Precedent seems to be the main reason the Packers couldn’t scrounge up a modicum of good news and sign Davante Adams to a long-term deal this week, instead adding him to the heap of unhappy players who will wisely begin aligning with the unhappy quarterback who began staging this anti-management coup a few months ago.

NFL Media reported that their “classic structure” on contracts leaves “limited options” for Adams, who has caught more touchdown passes (36) over the past three seasons than anyone in football. If the Packers are determined to play hardball with Aaron Rodgers, hoping his public tantrum will exhaust itself, having Adams as a security blanket for Jordan Love would seem to be of primary importance.

Instead, it seems the Packers are digging in on being the Packers and whatever that means when it comes to contracts. Perhaps they don’t like to pay players of a certain age a ton of money. Maybe Adams is looking for a particular, unique structure to the deal that is foreign to their front office. Maybe $27.25 million, which is currently the annual average on a wide receiver contract in the league (DeAndre Hopkins) is too rich for their blood. Regardless, it was their relationship to the past and the way they’ve always done things that has brought them to this point.

This is understandable—to a point—in the NFL. General managers, some of whom are more connected to the suits with the legal backgrounds floating around the facility’s big offices, hold precedent close to their hearts. It keeps them from being pushed around at the bargaining table. It sets expectations for hungry agents walking through the door. It prevents them from making the kind of catastrophic mistake that could leave the organization reeling financially, unable to get flexible with their cap spending in future years.

But there is a point when it’s taken too far. There have been general managers who have painfully, to the point of near exhaustion, fought to maintain their precedent on offset language in rookie contracts. (This clause basically gives them a rebate coupon on released draft picks should they be cut before their initial contract expires.) It’s this lack of flexibility that gives front offices the distant, opaque feel and makes them an easy target for talented players to club in the media during negotiation time.

The question anyone in a front office should be asking themselves: What’s the point of these self-imposed rules and guidelines if they ultimately place a cap on your success? Many great businesses, thinkers and organizations have evolved when the parameters have changed. Teams rarely have the kind of potent QB-WR combo that the Packers have in Rodgers and Adams. They have won 13 regular-season games and advanced to the NFC title game in each of the last two seasons with this aging core. What reason would they have to stick with precedent now, when the Super Bowl feels like it’s an arm’s length away?

It’s a thought that could extend to Rodgers, too. While there is a good case to be made—and we have—that the Packers should trade him, rake in the haul and keep themselves from getting kicked around every season when Rodgers decides there is something he’s unhappy about, there is also a world where Packers management comes out, half-heartedly admits to some cultural issues (what Rodgers has alleged is his main problem with the franchise), says they’re hiring an independent third party to evaluate where the franchise is as a collective, emotional entity. If and when they win the title game, it’s the lead story, showing how brilliant and self-reflective management was willing to be and how that won them a championship.

Caving, though, prompts the worst fear, that somewhere, some other day, some other time, someone walks in making the same request because it was done before. Here’s how the Packers can handle that theoretical.

Receiver A: I would like a Davante Adams–type contract.

Packers: Are you one of the four best receivers in franchise history?

Receiver A: No.

Packers: Are you on pace to break Don Hutson’s astronomical franchise receiving touchdown record?

Receiver A: No.

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Packers: Every year since the statistic has existed, have you increased your quarterback’s completion percentage simply by virtue of being on the field?

Receiver A: No.

Packers: Super! We’ll take this all into account and get back to you.

Let’s try it with a quarterback:

QB: I think we should improve the culture, and you changed things when Aaron Rodgers was here.

Packers: Yes we did! Are you Aaron Rodgers?

QB: …

Packers: Super! We’ll take this into account and get back to you.

If the answer to any (or most) of those questions is a yes, then this is great, too. That means you have a transcendent, once-in-a-decade talent; one that you should pay and keep happy.

Breaking precedent is only an issue when you do it with bad players. In Green Bay, with both Adams and Rodgers joining forces to two-man suplex the Packers’ front office, sometimes you have to recognize that precedent got you here, but here is not where you were when you required precedent in the first place to become good.

Here is the place where you’re choosing between playing for a title or maintaining precedent.

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