Much has been made about Rodgers’ unhappiness with the Green Bay Packers organization. Not because it is the offseason and there is nothing else to talk about. But, rather because perhaps the most talented quarterback in the history of the league is making a power play to get exactly what he wants. Much like a superstar NBA player, he is trying to rewrite his own destiny.
Does he want the GM fired? Does he want certain players on his team? Would he like a new contract or some more guarantees? Would he like Jordan Love traded? These questions and more are swirling around this rather ugly situation.
Here, let’s look at the specifics of the various squabbles between the two sides and some of the prospective answers to these questions to come to a conclusion on what is best for the 2021 NFL MVP.
In the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, general manager Brian Gutekunst went a little rogue in the eyes of both Rodgers and Packer fans. The team won 13 games the previous season, culminating in an NFC Championship Game appearance in which the Pack was embarrassed by a lack of run-stopping ability and an exposure of their poor wide receiver depth. Instead of filling those glaring holes, Gutekunst traded up to grab quarterback Jordan Love in the first round.
Moving up to trade Rodgers’ replacement when the team’s Super Bowl window was as wide open as any in the NFL is strange enough. Here is the kicker, though: since Rodgers took over Packers’ starting role, the front office has never taken an offensive (skill) player in the first round. The very first time they took an offensive player, it was the guy who was expected to take his job.
Andy Dalton was informed when the team was trading up to take Justin Fields. Tom Brady was notified when the team decided to grab Kyle Trask in the second round. Jimmy Garappolo was told the 49ers were planning on taking a quarterback with the third overall pick. Adding insult to injury, the team did not even let Rodgers know they were taking a quarterback. That is not the norm and he was rightfully disgruntled at both their decisions and lack of communication.
In hindsight, the Love decision seems to be a bet that Gutekunst went all-in on. He was betting that Rodgers’ play would show a significant decline in 2021, making him look like Nostradamus if Love had to step in. He would have gotten the next quarterback with a shrewd, calculated move, while quietly letting Rodgers’ contract expire or trading him to a veteran-hungry team.
Instead, Rodgers threw 48 touchdowns to only five interceptions. He completed over 70 percent of his passes. Hell, the team Rodgers had more passing touchdowns than J.K. Scott did punts over the 16 game season on his way to a third NFL MVP trophy. And he did this in spite of Gutekunst not drafting a single wide receiver (one of their biggest needs) in one of the deepest pass-catching drafts in recent memory.
So, the Love slight is two-fold. Gutekunst drafted Rodgers’ replacement while he still clearly has plenty of gas in the tank. He also picked a player that did not see a single snap during the entire season, which may have been the difference between a second-straight NFC Championship Game exit and a Super Bowl appearance.
Reports have now surfaced that Rodgers may want Gutekunst fired if the Packers plan to keep him around. He has also compared him to late Bulls GM Jerry Krause, who broke up the Bulls dynasty at the peak of their powers after a third-consecutive championship, in group texts with teammates. In short, no matter what Rodgers says publicly, he is most certainly not a fan of his GM.
Jake Kumerow/Alex Van Pelt
Alex Van Pelt was Aaron Rodgers’ friend, confidant and quarterback coach from 2014-2017. When his contract expired in 2018, it was not re-upped. Reportedly, Rodgers was not told about this and was not happy that Van Pelt would not be a part of the team anymore. He landed on his feet, though, as he is now the Browns’ offensive coordinator.
Borderline wide receiver Jake Kumerow was let go one day after Rodgers went out of his way to talk him up publicly. He perceived this as yet another slight against him. At first blush, it seems like a silly thing to be mad about, as he totaled just 322 yards and two touchdowns over 19 games played during his two years in Green Bay.
On the other hand, the timing is strange. Rodgers praised him on a radio interview, then the very next day, the team cut him. Plus, at this point it must feel like death by 1000 cuts for Rodgers. Small things do pile up and it simply borderline impossible that Kumerow was too expensive to hang on to.
Tom Brady & the Buccaneers
Let’s call it what it is when it comes to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The front office is doing whatever Brady wants. When it comes to coaching personnel, extensions, free agency, even play calls, the Buccaneers are essentially run by Brady.
All of the coddling of Brady and his 42-year-old skill set led to a Super Bowl victory. Their approach worked, and it worked quickly. Brady is happy, the Buccaneers front office is happy and being that they improbably retained the entire roster after their Super Bowl win, his teammates must be happy too.
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers needs just one or two pieces to get him back to the Super Bowl. The team promptly drafts zero receivers, and instead opts to take his replacement. Pouring more salt on that wound, Brady and the Bucs went to Green Bay and beat him on their way to their Lombardi Trophy. He had to watch their approach work first hand, at his expense, in his house, while the coach took the game out of his hands in the fourth quarter.
It would be an insult to Rodgers’ intelligence to think that he does not see what is happening in Tampa Bay. He wants that kind of say in the organization and feels like he has earned it with his consistently excellent, Hall of Fame-worthy level of play.
Rodgers is under contract until 2023, but the team has an option in 2022 to move on from him. He is not able to be cut, and has a no trade clause. He is owed almost $23 million this season and $25 million in each of the next two seasons. Those are the hard facts surrounding his contract.
Here comes the speculation. Rodgers feels disrespected by that team option and the lack of guaranteed money and years on his current contract. He wants the Packers to commit to him for the longest term possible (given he will be 38 years old this season, the number of years is up for discussion). He also wants more guaranteed money as he reaches the twilight of his career.
Now, the Packers have apparently tried to smooth this particular rift over. The team has apparently tried to restructure his contract multiple times, even flying out to where he has been residing in the offseason to offer him more money. Among these offers was apparently a contract that would have made Rodgers the highest paid quarterback in the NFL.
The fact that he is turning down these offers is evidence that these other slights are piling up and weighing heavily on his mind. A lot of money can cover up a lot of problems. If these reports are to be believed and he truly does not want their money, then Packers fans need to be scared.
The case for Green Bay
After all of that, why in the hell would he stay put? The answer is deceptively simple; it’s the best place for him to win.
If a team trades for Rodgers, they will have to give up both players and picks. Let’s use the Broncos as an example. Denver would have to surrender at least three first round picks. That keeps three (likely) talented players off of their team. They would also have to give up Jerry Jeudy, if speculation is to be believed. Jeudy is a big part of their offense and is looking like he will be a top-flight receiver talent in short order and as great as Aaron is, he cannot throw to a receiver who is not on his team.
Finally, the team would probably restructure his deal right away. Rodgers knows his worth and is going to demand he is compensated fairly. The only problem is, his worth is so high it may kneecap the team he goes to depending on their cap situation. Whatever deal he would end up taking would likely be as team-friendly as possible, but paying a player like Aaron Rodgers what he deserves is never going to amount to a team-friendly amount of money.
Denver would have to rework their offense to suit Rodgers. They would have to do what Green Bay did not and find him the pieces he feels he needs to be a Super Bowl-level of successful, while also letting go of some of their own players. They would have to mortgage their future and shell out a lot of cash.
The thing is, though, that is not just Denver’s situation. It is anyone’s who wants to trade for him. At least one of the best players on the roster and multiple high-value future picks are leaving a team if that team gets Rodgers. Period.
So why would Aaron want to deal with any of that uncertainty? As many times as the Packers have slighted and embarrassed him, it does not change the fact that the team is built around him right now. They have a solid running game, one of the best lines in the league, an emerging tight end, and a defense that is trying its best to be more and more productive every year. Yes, the receiving core is lackluster but Davante Adams is still a top-10 player in the NFL and their relationship is second to none.
Rodgers, simply, has a legacy to protect and build on. He deserves to get some of what he wants out of the Packers. Some combination of a new deal, a new general manager that is not pushing him out of the door and a trade of the quarterback breathing down his neck could convince him to stay.
Because this organization and Aaron Rodgers can both win a Super Bowl right now. If they split up, both of them assuredly get further away from that goal. Grudges are hard to overcome and Rodgers is right to hold almost all of the ones listed above. But if the front office pulls together and just gives him some of what he is asking for, he might just stay because he knows he can win with this team.
As Packer and football legend Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” And it may be hard to make out some of these problems when they are reflected in the shine of a Super Bowl ring.
Featured Image courtesy of Ben Margot/Associated Press
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