Everyone seems to have a take on why the relationship between the Green Bay Packers and their MVP QB, Aaron Rodgers, has soured. I have to admit, initially, I didn’t understand it, but after a deeper dive into thought and after watching all three days of this year’s NFL Draft, I keep coming back to this -- R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Sure, respect can come in the form of money and maybe that can help solve this particular problem, however, players are not assets. Players are people and in this case, Rodgers is the one who has made the Packers organization hundreds of millions of dollars. Also in this case, because of how their organization is structured, there is no particular person/owner to show Rodgers the respect he deserves. The Packers are owned by a publicly-traded company. Mark Murphy, the team president, is as close to an owner as they have and should have seen this divide growing long ago. To me, it’s all on him now. An owner values his players as people, a company values its players as assets.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that Rodgers’ displeasure with the Packers and GM Brian Gutekunst was leaked to the media on the day of the start of the NFL Draft. After being embarrassed last year with the decision the Packers organization made on the same day, to trade up and to draft a QB In Round 1, without as much as a heads up before they picked, this was his return volley. There is absolutely no chance you ever draft a QB to replace your legend and don’t have a conversation ahead of time, with him. Its either the epitome of arrogance or inexperience, neither are good. And when it hit home in 2021, with Aaron returning the lob, it was embarrassing to the Packers.
As a former GM who had to constantly work on relationships with players, coaches, media and all of the other moving parts within an organization, the art of communicating is a constant opportunity to manage the message. My point is, this takes a special skill and you are always "on the clock" as an NFL decision maker. Someone is always watching.
I cannot get the vision out of my mind of Head Coach Matt LaFleur and GM Gutekunst pumping their fists and celebrating in the draft room once they made the trade up in 2020 and secured QB Jordan Love, the heir apparent to Rodgers. My guess is that Rodgers can’t either. When people say the Packers have treated Rodgers with the utmost respect throughout his tenure in Green Bay, I just keep re-playing that vision.
This behavior seems to be something we see more and more of these days. NFL decision makers circle around the draft room and celebrate making strategic picks much like players celebrating a touchdown by high-fiving or fist pumping with other staff members in the room. It might sound silly or even juvenile but these actions are their way of communicating to the outside world -- “we just made a great pick/ addition to our team”. These actions take place even though the selected player hasn’t played a snap, developed an ounce, or built up any sweat equity with other players or coaches on the team that selected them.
Meanwhile, there is an entire locker room full of players that have done all three things and who have busted their butts every day to keep their jobs. Call me old school, but I have just never felt good about this kind of demonstration in the draft room. In fact, when it would happen sometimes during my stint with a team, it made me squeamish and I tried to avoid it at all costs.
Another case in point this year was the draft room of the Philadelphia Eagles. You may have seen on social media that Eagles GM Howie Roseman emphatically went from person to person, getting acknowledgement from everyone on his staff that he had just made a bold and effective move. Longtime NFL GM Tom Donahoe, who now consults for the Eagles organization, wasn’t in a celebrating mood and came off on camera as an unwilling participant.
I thought it was an embarrassing moment for Roseman and his team. My thought was that if he needed to celebrate, it should have been in the room next door, without the cameras. As a general manager, I would not want to disrespect the current players on my team, including the players who might soon be replaced. If I was a player watching this from my living room or, in non-pandemic times, from the locker-room after getting in a grueling workout, I just might have felt disrespected as well.
I’m all for patting people on the back and making them feel appreciated, but just not at the expense of the feelings of current players. I know this might sound petty to some, but why even risk alienating current players? New Denver Broncos GM George Paton took several minutes in a wrap-up press conference (post draft) to thank, by name, all the people in his organization who worked their tails off during the long and arduous process of the NFL Draft. I thought it was classy, well timed, and excellent for sending the message of valuing employees and co-workers.
I don’t think we will ever see New England Patriots boss Bill Belichick celebrate any boardroom decisions made during the NFL Draft. It’s probably just me, but I like the poker face reactions. On draft day, these young players are still a far cry from being a lock to produce any tangible positive results for your organization. They are nothing more than “hope on paper” for the future.
Everyone knows that it's our job as team builders to always be looking to improve our team. What needs to be kept in mind is that these decisions have two sides that generally affect some in our group. It’s always been my philosophy not to declare a winner until the whole process has run its course. Because of the public nature of Rodgers vs the Packers, this one as a long way from getting resolved.