GREEN BAY, Wis. – The first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night should be about the Green Bay Packers adding the right pieces to finally get back to the Super Bowl.
Instead, Thursday could go down in history as the day the Packers’ long run as Super Bowl contenders crashed and burned.
In a bombshell by ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is so upset with the Packers that he no longer wants to play for the team that he’s led for the past 13 seasons.
In shades of Summer 2008, when the Packers’ brass flew to Mississippi to talk to Brett Favre, Schefter reported that general manager Brian Gutekunst, coach Matt LaFleur and team President Mark Murphy have flown to visit Rodgers. Nothing, though, has changed the trajectory of a fractured relationship.
“As we've stated since the season ended, we are committed to Aaron in 2021 and beyond," Gutekunst told ESPN. “Aaron has been a vital part of our success and we look forward to competing for another championship with him leading our team.”
Former ESPN personality Trey Wingo reported the Packers had agreed to shop Rodgers during the offseason, then changed their minds. A high-ranking source from another team did not believe that to be true.
Behind his rational words, a source said Gutekunst was fuming that this news broke on one of the biggest days of the NFL calendar. It let the cat out of the bag on what has been known for weeks in NFL circles.
“So, what the (expletive) is going on with Aaron and Gutey?” a high-ranking scout said recently after discussing some draft prospects.
Rodgers’ anger hit new levels almost exactly 12 months ago. With the Packers coming off a surprise run to the NFC Championship Game, Gutekunst could have added instant-impact players to the roster. Instead, he drafted Rodgers’ presumed successor, Jordan Love.
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“It was more the surprise of the pick based on my own feelings of wanting to play into my 40s and then really the realization that it does change the controllables a little bit because, as much as I feel confident in my abilities and what I can accomplish and what we can accomplish, there are some new factors that are out of my control,” Rodgers said in May 2020, his first public comments since the selection of Love.
“And so my sincere desire to start and finish with the same organization, just as it has with many other players over the years, may not be a reality at this point. And as much as I understand the organization’s future outlook and wanting to make sure they’re thinking about the team now and down the line, and I respect that, at the same time I still believe in myself and I have a strong desire to play into my 40s. I’m just not sure how that all works together at this point.”
Rodgers responded with one of his best seasons of a legendary career. He won his third MVP and got the Packers back to another NFC Championship Game.
“I’m always just trying to stay present, especially this year as much as anything, and enjoy the moments,” Rodgers said before that game. “I hope there’s more opportunities, but I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t. That stuff is out of my control. My future is a beautiful mystery, I think.”
Playing on their home turf, the Packers lost 31-26. Shortly after walking off the field, he acknowledged his “uncertain future” and went so far as to thank reporters. It seemed like a farewell at the time.
If the selection of Love threw Rodgers’ future into doubt, his play should have removed that doubt. A week after the game, Gutekunst said Rodgers “is our quarterback and he’s our leader.”
“Obviously he’s under contract, and he’s playing at an extremely high level,” he added. “What we’re trying to do as an organization and what we’re trying to accomplish, we can’t do without Aaron Rodgers right now. He’s such a part of what we’ve done. He’s such a part of what we’re doing right now and certainly in the future.”
Words are words but it’s money that talks. In this case, the money was silent. Logistically, nothing really has changed regarding his future with the team from a contractual perspective. The team can still move on from Rodgers after this season and save more than $22.6 million against the 2022 salary cap. Given the investment in Love and the team’s gruesome cap for 2022 – they are $8 million over the projected cap while having only 32 players under contract, according to OverTheCap.com – there are non-football reasons for the Packers to move on.
The Packers had to restructure several contracts just to get beneath the salary cap for this season. None of those contracts belonged to Rodgers, even though a restructure would have created cap space to be more active in free agency while giving him some certainty over his future. With each day, it became more and more clear that something was wrong.
And now, with the NFL Draft just hours away, the Packers and their franchise quarterback appear headed to a split that will test every part of an organization that has been carried by quarterbacking legends for three decades.