GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a key but not unexpected development, reigning MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers will not report to Green Bay Packers’ mandatory minicamp.
(Update: There was no last-minute change of heart and he was not present on Tuesday morning.)
The news was reported simultaneously by ESPN and NFL Network on Monday evening, the eve of the three-day minicamp.
The decision is the first noteworthy development since Rodgers voiced his unhappiness with the team via a series of anonymous-source reports on draft weekend.
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Unlike his absence from two weeks of voluntary OTAs, the team could fine Rodgers more than $93,000 if it chooses for missing practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He already forfeited a $500,000 workout bonus.
Rodgers is coming off an MVP season and the Packers reached the NFC Championship Game for a second consecutive season. Obviously, their hopes of taking the next step and getting back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010 hinge greatly on Rodgers’ return for the games and not just some June practices.
“Aaron definitely knows how we feel about him, how he’s such an important part to our football team, such an important part to our organization,” coach Matt LaFleur said during the first week of OTAs. “We’re just going to continue to try to work through this and, hopefully, can get him back in the building at some point.”
That won’t happen this week, but Davante Adams and the rest of the veteran receivers who skipped the voluntary OTAs reportedly will report for duty.
Without Rodgers, Jordan Love will be throwing to Adams and Co.
Rodgers’ anger with the organization took the shine off draft weekend and set the stage for a tense offseason. Before the first round of the draft, ESPN.com reported Rodgers no longer wanted to play for the Packers. After Gutekunst said following the first round that he would not trade Rodgers, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported before Day 2 of the draft that Rodgers would consider retirement. Before Day 3, a source within Rodgers’s camp told Yahoo that Rodgers wouldn’t return to the team unless the Packers fired Gutekunst.
To salvage the relationship, public silence was needed. That’s more or less been the case over the past month. On Kenny Mayne’s final SportsCenter, Rodgers said nothing about the “beautiful mystery” that is his future with the team. He did, however, lay out his reasoning for his disillusionment with the franchise.
“I love the coaching staff, love my teammates, love the fan base in Green Bay,” Rodgers said. “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.”
In other words, Rodgers did all the right things. He played brilliantly to ease the concerns that followed two subpar seasons and led to the 2020 first-round pick of Love. However, Rodgers’ virtuoso performance did nothing to change the reality that the team could move on from Rodgers following the 2021 season, a transaction that would create salary-cap space while giving the franchise a full season of Love as the starter so it could make an informed decision on the pricey fifth-year option on his contract.
Sensing his fate was out of his hands, Rodgers attempted to regain control of the situation by forcing the team’s hand.
Rodgers is keeping the pressure on by skipping minicamp.
With Rodgers wanting out, the franchise at least publicly continued to state its desire for its star quarterback to return. In his monthly Murphy Takes Five column at Packers.com, team President/CEO Mark Murphy on Saturday restated his hope that Rodgers would “be our quarterback in 2021 and beyond.” He noted the stalemate has “divided our fan base,” a potential message to Rodgers that the ordeal was hurting the longtime face of the franchise’s legacy.
Both sides have a trump card. For Rodgers, by not returning to the team, Green Bay’s championship chances would be all but torpedoed. On the other hand, there’s no law that says the Packers have to give Rodgers what he wants. If the plan was to hand the team to Love at some point in the future, then the future would be now. The game would go on, no different than after the Packers parted ways with Brett Favre in 2008. Lambeau Field would be full of fans to watch Love (or Blake Bortles). The team might lose money at the Pro Shop but it would gain money via the recouping of Rodgers’ signing and roster bonus.
During the draft, Gutekunst spoke hopefully that the fences could be mended. Rodgers badly wants to win a second Super Bowl. The Packers have made back-to-back appearances in the NFC Championship Game and might have reached the Super Bowl in 2020 had left tackle David Bakhtiari not suffered a torn ACL before the regular-season finale. Gutekunst has kept most of the team intact in hopes of making another run.
The key to it all, though, is the quarterback.
“I’m not going to speak for Aaron, but we have a really good team and I do think he’ll play for us again,” Gutekunst said. “We’re going to work towards that and we’ve been working towards that on a number of different fronts. The value that he adds to our football is really immeasurable, you know what I mean? He brings so much to the table not only as a player but as a leader. He’s so important to his teammates, to his coaches, so, yeah, that’s the goal.”