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It's time for the Green Bay Packers to trade Aaron Rodgers
He isn't going to change his mind. He isn't going to see how good he has it in Green Bay. Here's why GM Brian Gutekunst should deal the league MVP.
When you’re out, you’re out. There is no reconciliation. If Aaron Rodgers puts you on his shit list, there is no path off of that shit list.
The grudge is real. It’s been discussed.
And leak to leak to leak, Rodgers let the world know who the latest person to make this list is: Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst. You could almost hear Rodgers cackling all the way to the Kentucky Derby this past weekend as the bomb detonated in his wake. No doubt, he loved the fact that Gutekunst and the Packers’ brass had to deal with shrapnel flying in all directions.
It was quite laughable to hear Rodgers tell Mike Tirico how “disappointed” he was that news of the riff went public.
Rodgers wants out and he’ll apparently do whatever it takes to get out. In a span of 72 hours, we heard everything from the QB telling teammates he’s finished in Green Bay to the QB threatening retirement to the QB wanting Gutekunst fired. The longer the Packers stick with their line — Aaron Rodgers is our quarterback — the deeper Rodgers will dig in. That’s his M.O. He does not magically change his mind, not even if it means losing the $22.8 million he’s scheduled to make this season.
Green Bay can fly to California for as many Kumbaya sessions as they want.
He isn’t going to flip.
So, if you’re the Packers, what do you do? It’s simple. Declare that enough’s enough. Trade your disgruntled MVP. Gladly accept your king’s ransom from Denver — from anyone — and move right along. It’s not easy. It’s not how you envisioned this marriage deteriorating. But it is most certainly necessary for the Packers at this stage in dealing with a player unlike any other and unwilling to play football with a first-round pick at his position. If Rodgers wants to bail, if Rodgers fails to see that this is actually the best situation for a quarterback to play in, that’s his problem.
None of this should come as much of a shock for two reasons.
Aaron Rodgers — unbelievably talented, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a player always worth a certain degree of drama — can ramp that drama up to uncomfortable levels and be less than ideal to work with. (Here’s that ‘19 autopsy from the B/R days.)
And for three decades of sustained success, the Packers front office — Ron Wolf to Ted Thompson to Gutekunst — has not operated on emotion. The setup is old school here with the GM in charge. Nor will this GM open his door up to a quarterback, hand him a glass of scotch, rub his shoulder and ask, “Who should we draft this year?” This reality pissed Brett Favre off and, now, it’s pissing Rodgers off. Isn’t it funny? Rodgers used to tell everyone who’d listen how much he despised how Favre conducted himself early in his career and now he has essentially become Favre.
Careful to give himself plausible deniability, the quarterback sure appears to have shifted into victim mode. How dare the team draft Jordan Love. How dare the team not surround me with weapons. Such are the tired talking points vomited by his legion of friends in sports media, and those talking points sure ramped up to max volume when the news broke Thursday. Tears flowed —instantly — across the airwaves. And it’s all one magnificent myth. Fiction. The greatest lie going in sports is that Packers haven’t done enough for Aaron Rodgers.
So, trade him. There’s no convincing No. 12 that this actually is the best place to advance his career.
Let’s count the ways…
— Rodgers has the best left tackle in football (David Bakhtiari) and, arguably, the best offensive line in football. Three other QBs who have demanded trades ranked No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 on the most-sacked list. Carson Wentz (50 sacks), Deshaun Watson (49) and Russell Wilson (47) spent most of last season running for their lives. Rodgers? He was sacked 20 times last year.
Every quarterback creeping toward age 40 should prioritize a strong offensive line above all else. He’s got it.
Hey, you guys know here that I’m all for player empowerment but only when it makes sense. Whereas Matthew Stafford has spent a decade-plus losing and getting sacked 385 times in Detroit and Wentz was surrounded by XFL-level talent in Philly, Rodgers has gone 13-3 in back-to-back seasons.
— Rodgers has, arguably, the No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL in Davante Adams. Their relationship is seven years in the making. Both can draw on ridiculously-specific moments from any play at any moment along those seven years — on the fly, presnap — to make defenses pay. Such a rapport is central to the quarterback’s success. Adams is 28 years old and fresh off a career season.
— As we covered here at Go Long, everyone sure as hell should believe in Marquez Valdes-Scantling, too. He’s one of the best deep threats in the NFL. Huge things are coming.
Clemson’s Amari Rodgers is one of the draft’s greatest steals, too. Scouts couldn’t believe he fell to the 85th pick.
— Rodgers has a top 5 running back in Aaron Jones. And, of course, a unicorn of a backup running back in AJ Dillon. This is the best running game Rodgers has had in his career. The scheme up front? Masterful.
— The Packers did not lose to Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship because of a lAcK oF wEapOnS, no, Rodgers failed in a big moment again. Rodgers missed a wide-open Allen Lazard in the end zone when the corner across the receiver fell down. Rodgers missed Adams on the back-shoulder throw in the end zone. Rodgers failed to run in what could’ve been the game-winning TD on the team’s final offensive play of the season.
Rodgers played well but Rodgers did not play like an MVP as one lone voice on TV, NFLN’s Michael Robinson, pointed out.
Green Bay did not lose because the Buccaneers acquired Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette. The whipping boy in this argument in fact, Valdes-Scantling, caught four balls for 115 yards and a score. Rodgers should’ve targeted him more.
It is zero coincidence that Rodgers ever-so cryptically put his own future in jeopardy moments after that game. Every word he uses is calculated. Sure enough, the morning after, the entire sports world was singing the same old blues for the quarterback instead of pointing out that Rodgers was now 1-4 in the NFC title game.
— Yes, nine of the Packers’ last 10 first-round picks, Thompson to Gutekunst, were defensive players. That’s a good thing. Gutekunst keeps loading up a defense that has forever melted in the playoffs and he’s had that luxury because the offense is so good.
It seems people have forgotten Green Bay led the NFL in points last season.
— Then, there’s the No. 1 reason Rodgers should be the happiest quarterback in the NFL. He has what every quarterback craves: Freedom. Beautiful, uninhibited freedom. The same quarterback who railroaded Mike McCarthy — often, for good reason in the coach’s archaic offense — has the green light to change plays as he pleases with Matt LaFleur.
Don’t take it from me.
MVS detailed the setup in Green Bay perfectly. He says there are “two playbooks” in Green Bay, the one LaFleur employs and the one Rodgers employs.
“There are times (Rodgers) may say, ‘That might not work’ or ‘We’re going to go no-huddle, I’m going to call the plays,’” Valdes-Scantling said in our convo down in Florida. “Those are things that happen. You’ve got to be able to do that. It’s not super simplistic where some coaches say, ‘This is the play. Run that play.’ And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. There are teams like that. There are quarterbacks like that who say, ‘I’m going to call whatever’s called.’ … That’s the balance they’ve done a great job of creating. There are times he lets Aaron do his thing. And there are times where Aaron lets Matt call the plays.”
During our Go Long Draft Happy Hours, Packers tight end Jace Sternberger added even more detail. The 2019 third-round pick recalled Rodgers once calling an audible from 2014(!) during a game. Mentally, the QB’s mind moves at warp speed at the line of scrimmage — you never know which signal’s coming from which practice or which game. Rodgers has the autonomy to change whatever play LaFleur sends in… autonomy that does not exist with most NFL offenses.
Sternberger noted that one high-profile player on the 49ers, for example, said their quarterback has zero freedom in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Shudder to think how long Rodgers would last in, say, Las Vegas with Jon Gruden, whose control of the position is notoriously suffocating.
The clip below is worth replaying in full. Green Bay sure sounds like quarterback heaven:
So, let’s recap.
Rodgers got one coach fired. The coach who replaced that coach granted him freedom, ushering in the offense Rodgers requested. Rodgers then had an MVP season. And… he’s still unhappy? The relationship between Rodgers and LaFleur sure seems perfectly fine publicly and maybe it is privately — the head coach was pretty clear with his language that he wants his QB back. Still, one source familiar with the Packers’ brass wasn’t so sure any relationship at the top was hunky dory, saying “I can’t imagine anyone likes anyone.” It’s worth noting that LaFleur was involved in the recruitment of Love — he spoke at length with the ex-Utah State coach who knew Love best: David Yost. I don’t buy the implication that Gutekunst acted rogue in drafting Love.
And let’s just say that Rodgers miraculously has no problem with any of the above. That’d mean his only problem is the existence of Jordan Love on the roster, a gripe that should be giving everyone a migraine by now. If anyone on the planet knows the value of drafting a quarterback when you do not need one, it’s Rodgers. It’s the 24th overall pick of the 2005 draft. It’s the man who waited three seasons to become the team’s starter.
That was the Packers’ plan with Love. Is that starkly different than how all other teams handle the position in today’s NFL? Yes. But that’s the point. We covered the genius of this thinking back in December.
What the Packers apparently did not account for was Rodgers’ refusal to compete, nor the possibility that Rodgers could manufacture the illusion that he’s being forced out.
That isn’t the case at all. Green Bay would love for Rodgers to keep on playing — he’s under contract for three more seasons.
And right there lies the raw truth: Rodgers still holds all control with his play. He’s no victim.
Despite the Packers drafting Love, despite the Packers’ potential “out” after the 2021 season, despite the fact that he’ll turn 38 years old in December, Aaron Rodgers is the one with the final say here because Aaron Rodgers quite literally has the ball in his hands every play. If he keeps playing like he did in 2020, the Packers will have no choice but to roll him out as the Opening Day starter in 2021… 2022… 2023… as long as he damn well pleases. The Packers would have no choice but to trade Love like the Patriots did Jimmy Garoppolo.
It’s worth noting that Tom Brady made it to two more Super Bowls after Jimmy G arrived.
Rodgers could play pissed off (again) and force Green Bay’s hand with his play.
Instead, he wants out. Make no mistake about it: He masterfully used his pursuit of the Jeopardy! job as leverage. Rodgers is such an iconoclast the Packers absolutely have to take this interest seriously. In making it clear he’s A-OK retiring from football to host a game show, Rodgers is essentially telling Gutekunst, “You better trade me now or you’ll get nothing in return.” Jeopardy! was the hidden ace up the quarterback’s sleeve all along.
Finally, there is one other theory to contemplate. None of us have seen any snaps of Love. There was no preseason in 2020 and he never came close to sniffing the field. Maybe Rodgers sees Love’s potential day-in and day-out, is legitimately scared he’ll be let go after this 2021 season and wants to get ahead of it — he’s certainly acting scared right now. Quite possibly, Rodgers sees the writing on the wall.
For now, we’re all left to speculate. Rodgers has chosen to communicate via leak instead of sitting down with, oh, I don’t know, Greta Van Susteren like a certain quarterback did 13 years ago. As the days pass, don’t discount the possibility of Rodgers hanging out with one of his pals in the local or national media to declare — defiantly — that all those stories back on draft weekend were nothing but noise and smears and, somehow, he winds up getting whatever he’s looking for from the Packers. This could be nothing more than the ultimate financial power play, the Packers cave and “Bang the Drum” blares on Sundays once again with Rodgers throwing touchdowns.
Time will tell. I doubt it.
My guess is that Aaron Rodgers is sincerely dug in for good and he isn’t turning back.
So if you’re Gutekunst, it’s time.
Trading Rodgers isn’t the end of the world. How many franchises in NFL history are able to move on from Hall of Fame quarterbacks with that quarterback’s value so insanely high? Picks, players, more picks. Green Bay can instantly reload for the Love Era.
Initially, I didn’t think Rodgers would take it to this extreme considering he is someone who cares so deeply about the narrative of his career. He surely knew fans could’ve turned on him the way they did Favre because most of this fan base still prioritizes that “G” on the helmet more than any name on the back of a jersey — it’s a community-owned team, after all. The more you think about it, though? Rodgers probably does not give a damn. Because while he did see firsthand how fans turned on Favre, he also saw how those same fans later welcomed Favre back to Lambeau Field as a conquering hero.
Rodgers knows his legacy in Green Bay will be just fine years down the line.
No. 4 is retired. No. 12, one day, will be as well.
Right now, as one source said, Rodgers sounds like a guy who’s “done with Green Bay.”
Last weekend’s bombshell was not a total surprise to the Packers themselves. Another source indicated that the front office had grown frustrated with the QB’s unwillingness to restructure his deal and that the team would have pursued a weapon in free agency if they were able to get some cap relief. Rodgers, though, prefers an extension. Prefers a deal that’d make it harder for Green Bay to move on from him after the 2022 season. Further, the Packers took a far closer look at the quarterbacks in this year’s draft than anyone realizes in case Rodgers did go nuclear.
One source close to one QB taken Day 2 of the draft said he was stunned by how interested the Packers were — the entire Packers brass sat in on the player’s Zoom meeting.
This cannot be an easy decision to navigate for all parties involved. Everyone reports to team president Mark Murphy so it’s Murphy’s call. He could grant Rodgers’ wish, fire the GM and hang onto Rodgers forever. But he also presided over Thompson’s decision to end the Favre Era. He saw the guts that took and those guts paid off in a big, big way. Gutekunst, who’s been in the organization since 1997, absolutely deserves the same opportunity to stick to his plan.
The precedent of trading an unhappy player isn’t ideal but the precedent of an unhappy player getting the general manager fired is a million times worse. Grant Rodgers his wish and move on. As pointed out here, a post-June 1 trade makes the most sense, too.
Count on more chess moves from Rodgers, too. He’s likely reveling in this game of PR manipulation with surrogates across the country. We’ll hear his side of things while rarely hearing the Packers’ side of things since they don’t care nearly as much about public messaging.
This may be a painful time for fans, but at least they’ve been here before and, like before, the roster is strong enough to transition.
The Packers can turn the page with one minor question looming: Is Jordan Love good?
Hey, there’s only one way to find out.
Miss any of our past stories on the Packers? Here’s some linkage…
The Packers have a plan (it’s genius, too) (Dec. 4, 2020)
The Impossible Life of LeRoy Butler (Jan. 19, 2021)
Jamaal Williams is living his own anime (Jan. 21, 2021)
The Thread: As QB chaos grips NFL, Packers are A-OK (March 1, 2021)
Why you must believe in Marquez Valdes-Scantling (March 11, 2021)
‘It’s coming:’ The time is now for Packers RB AJ Dillon, a unicorn (March 26, 2021)