GREEN BAY, Wis. — One the eve of the 2021 NFL Draft, with rampant speculation regarding the future of Aaron Rodgers as the Packers’ quarterback, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan picked up the phone and called his longtime friend and counterpart, Matt LaFleur.
Was the three-time MVP available in trade?
“The exact truth is I don’t want to wake up the next day on Friday and see Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks in this league, traded without doing any due diligence on it,” Shanahan said while appearing on The Rich Eisen Show after the draft. “So, I just called Matt and asked him if there’s anything to it. And Matt told me I’d be wasting my time if we had [general manager John] Lynch call.”
And that was that. The 49ers, who had traded away three first-round picks to move up to the No. 3 overall pick, selected North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. Rodgers eventually decided to return to Green Bay for a 14th season as the starting quarterback.
On Sunday night, Rodgers will make his 13th career start against San Francisco as the Packers travel to Levi's Stadium.
Asked on Wednesday if he thought or hoped the 49ers would have traded for him, Rodgers laughed and said, “There were points where I thought anything was possible, definitely, but not a strong possibility.”
The potential trade adds an extra layer to this game, but perhaps not to the men who will be leading the teams. Having coached together at three different stops between 2008 and 2016, they've been close for years. If Shanahan's unsolicited phone call about the reigning MVP has strained their relationship, LaFleur gave no hint of it when asked after Wednesday’s practice. He says they have not talked recently but that was because he was in the "routine" of the season.
“Kyle’s a great friend of mine,” LaFleur said. “Absolutely, I hold no ill will towards him.
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“I understand, he’s trying to do whatever he thinks he needs to do for his football team. He’s got a responsibility to everybody in that organization and if there’s an opportunity, I don’t hold that against him. So, yeah, that will have no effect on our relationship.”
The trade would have made sense for the 49ers, who beat the Packers in the NFC Championship Game in 2019 but finished just 6–10 in 2020 due to a long list of injuries to key players such as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The trade would have made sense for Rodgers, a Bay Area native who would have been able to hit the ground running in Shanahan’s offense.
The trade might have even made sense for the Packers, who had used their first-round pick on quarterback Jordan Love 12 months earlier. But Rodgers won MVP, the Packers got back to the conference championship game and general manager Brian Gutekunst elected to keep the team together for 2021 to make another run at a Super Bowl.
“We heard it like everyone else,” Lynch said on The Cris Collinsworth Podcast. “There had been a lot of murmurs for a long time about Aaron’s not happy. And we’re human beings. We watch SportsCenter. We do those things. Like, ‘Something’s going on here.’
“We were so convicted on Trey, but you have to pick up the phone and just see. And so I said, ‘Hey Kyle, I think it’s better if you call Matt.’ He did, and it was a very quick conversation—‘No chance, Shanahan.’”
Out of options, Rodgers signed up to be a key part of what might be a last dance for this iteration of the franchise. So, instead of a quarterbacking battle between Love and Rodgers, it will be Rodgers vs. Garoppolo in a primetime game between NFC heavyweights on Sunday.
“He's tough to do it,” Shanahan said of Rodgers on Wednesday. “You can't give him the freebies. You can't give him some easy completions. You have to always watch the big plays. You'd love to keep him in the pocket. But even at his age, he's still got the skill-set to get out of there and just with the flick of the wrist he can cover about the whole field. So, you try your hardest to do it and he's been making people look bad for a long time. If you let him get comfortable at all, I think everyone knows what that result is.”
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