GREEN BAY, Wis. – Making his first public comments since his anger with the franchise was revealed before the first round of the NFL Draft, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Monday night expressed his love toward his teammates, coaches and the fans.
Left out? General manager Brian Gutekunst.
Appearing on ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne’s final SportsCenter, Rodgers didn’t say he wanted out of Green Bay. He didn’t demand a trade. He didn’t threaten to retire.
On the other hand, he didn’t say he wanted to return to the Packers. He didn’t say the two sides were close to settling their differences. He didn’t provide the slightest clue that the “beautiful mystery” that is his future with the team was close to a resolution one way or the other.
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“Look, it’s never been about picking Jordan,” Rodgers said, referencing last year’s first-round pick, quarterback Jordan Love. “I love Jordan; he’s a great kid. [We’ve had] a lot of fun to work together. I love the coaching staff, love my teammates, love the fan base in Green Bay. An incredible 16 years. It’s just about a philosophy and maybe forgetting that it is about the people that make the thing go. It’s about character, it’s about culture, it’s about doing things the right way.”
Rodgers’ future with the Packers was thrown into disarray when Gutekunst traded up to select Love, a quarterback that would play no role in helping a team that reached the NFC Championship Game in 2019 take the next step. At that point, a potential timeline was clear. Rodgers would be the quarterback in 2020 and 2021. From there, the Packers could trade or release Rodgers to reap the salary-cap savings while letting Love play in 2022 so the franchise could make an informed decision on the pricey fifth-year team option.
Rodgers responded in 2020 by winning his third MVP. With Rodgers leading the NFL in passer rating, touchdown passes, touchdown percentage, interception percentage and completion percentage, Green Bay finished 13-3, earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and led the NFL in scoring. It returned to the conference title game but was upset at home by Tampa Bay.
During his postgame Zoom, Rodgers discussed his “uncertain” future with the team. When he thanked reporters at the end of his media session, it seemed like an acknowledgment that he might have played his last game with the team that drafted him in 2005.
“A lot of this was put in motion last year, and the wrench was thrown into it when I won MVP and played the way I played last year,” Rodgers told Mayne. “This is just a spill-out of all that.”
Green Bay entered this offseason well over the salary cap. The team could have gotten more than $13.5 million of cap relief by restructuring Rodgers’ contract, a move that would have given him some certainty that 2021 wouldn’t be his farewell season. Instead, led by Gutekunst, the Packers restructured several other contracts but left his untouched.
With Rodgers believing his future was out of his hands, ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reported before the first round of this year’s NFL Draft on April 29 that Rodgers no longer wanted to play for the Packers.
On Monday, with the team opening four weeks of offseason practices, Rodgers was absent from Day 1 of organized team activities. With Rodgers skipping the voluntary practices, Love, Blake Bortles and Kurt Benkert were the quarterbacks.
Through years of magnificent play, Rodgers has made the Packers a perennial championship contender. Perhaps Rodgers will return in 2021 and put the Packers in position to finally get back to the Super Bowl. At this point, though, his future remains as muddled as it was when he walked off Lambeau Field feeling “gutted” on Jan. 24.
“I think sometimes people forget what really makes an organization,” Rodgers said. “History is important, legacy of so many people who’ve come before you. But the people, that’s the most important thing. People make an organization, people make a business, and sometimes that gets forgotten. Culture is built brick by brick, the foundation of it by the people, not by the organization, not by the building, not by the corporation. It’s built by the people. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with a number of amazing, amazing people and got to work for some amazing people, as well. It’s those people that build foundation of those entities. I think sometimes we forget that.”