When Aaron Rodgers spoke in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers exited from the NFL playoffs in late January, everyone had an opinion on what he said. He pretty much told everyone that the future in Green Bay was unsure, including his own, and everyone in the organization needed to look in the mirror to get answers. He cryptically critiqued the past and put in doubt what was ahead. At the time, I disagreed with the timing but not necessarily with Rodgers' message. Here is what has changed since then.
His All-Pro center, Corey Linsley, has signed with the LA Chargers. The Packers have re-upped a 37 yr old TE, Marcedes Lewis, for two years at $4M a year. They resigned corner Kevin King to a one-year deal for what could be up to $6M. Both the Lewis and King deals were ho-hum in my opinion. However, their biggest resigning was RB Aaron Jones who gives them a legit threat out of the backfield in both the run and pass game. There have been no other difference-making additions from the outside world that would add to this roster that both public sentiment and their star QB seem to desire. The Packers have instead chosen to rework several key veteran contracts to help create cap space and navigate a reduced cap that the whole NFL is dealing with for the upcoming season. To me, the fact that Rodgers has not been one of those to rework/restructure his contract is the first indicator that the current league MVP’s shelf life might indeed be approaching expiration, at least in Green Bay.
As a General Manager, I believe that the relationship with your best player is very important. You have to work together, share a vision, communicate, and be okay with an exchange of ideas. There has to be a trust and respect that each is doing his part for the overall good of the organization, setting aside personal agendas if they exist. Let’s face it, the QB, the Head Coach and the GM are the three faces of your franchise and when combined, they are what sets your franchise on a course for success or failure when making football decisions. The most underrated portion of a GM’s job, IMO, is to manage all the personalities and people in the building and be the glue/communicator to all these facets. The GM’s job is NOT to just sit in a bubble and pick players as most think. I have said before in this space that communicating is hard and a full-time job in itself. Being a good communicator requires people skills, an authentic ear to others, and having a problem-solving ability that cannot be judged until the lights are shining bright and the stakes are high. It’s really no different for a GM than it is for a player. He must come thru at the biggest moments or others will lose faith.
That being said, the Packers not executing a restructure with Rodgers is problematic on both sides. I’m not sure which side pumped the breaks or decided this is not a good idea (at this time) but it makes me raise my eyebrows at the very least. The fact is the relationship is fractured and last week the timing was best to start to repair it, IMO. The importance of this train roiling downhill, in a negative fashion, all started when the Packers chose to trade up, and draft QB Jordan Love, Rodgers' replacement at some point soon, in last year’s NFL Draft. I’m not here to critique the team building decisions of the Packers over the last 10 months, but I am saying that to move the franchise forward, they need to address the divide that has developed between their executives and their star QB.
A $6.8M roster bonus, contained in Rodgers current contract, would have been a good place to refocus on last week. For all I know, it could have been Rodgers that balked at a restructure. I frankly don’t know. The fact that this bonus was not renegotiated (turned into signing bonus and prorated out with a voidable year or two) to create cap room nor was his base salary for 2021 tinkered with in the same manner, as of this writing, is a missed opportunity for both sides. What has become commonplace around the league in a year when salary cap space is at a premium has already been done by the Packers with several of their key players. The fact that this hasn’t happened with Rodgers sends a mixed message at best. The Packers have elected to risk alienating Sir Aaron even further by doing nothing.
Here are the facts. The Packers have called out Aaron Rodgers and his performance in 2019 by drafting Jordan Love. Message sent. I don’t care what anyone else says, this move by the front office in Green Bay helped to motivate Rodgers into having an MVP year in 2020. He in return said ,"I told you so. I’m still good”. He first showed them, then he told them in so many words after this season by saying so publicly.
Going forward, the drafting of Love and the case of Rodgers needs to be mutually exclusive and totally separate. The Packers need to show a commitment to Rodgers beyond what currently exists-- 2023. Forget about the investment of the first-round pick in Rodgers' replacement. Rodgers showed this past year that he is NOT READY TO BE REPLACED. Everyone needs to check their egos at the door now. Brian Gutekunst, the Packers General Manager, needs to go all in on putting the best team around Rodgers that’s possible, even if it means stretching out cap dollars beyond what they are normally comfortable doing. They are missing an opportunity to make their team better when there is a deep market of players at bargain prices and limited competition. The Packers need to send this message to their locker room most importantly. We want to win right now. This is what comes with having a Tier 1 QB and your obligation to use his talents best. Stop doing this tap dance around the elephant in the room and pick a lane. Its either Rodgers for the next 3-4 years or not.
Their actions will soon give us the answer. Gutekunst needs to use his problem-solving skills and bring everyone together, including the Team President who seems to really have all the authority in GB. It takes two to tango though and if Rodgers doesn’t see that progress, and, in turn, shows his willingness to be there, you will see him exit “stage left” in 2023, if not in a trade before, just like Tom Brady did last off season with the Patriots. I really don’t see how the Packers can go forward without Rodgers, but he has to buy in as well. If he doesn’t, just track these lyrics for your long-term answer...“When the lights go down in the city….” ☺