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LeRoy Butler weighs in: 'That G will never change'
The QB took his shots. But as the Hall of Famer LeRoy Butler explains, the Green Bay Packers are bigger than one player. He takes Aaron Rodgers' criticism "personal," too.
Once again, Aaron Rodgers bashed the Packers for how they move on from veteran players. He cites examples that only prove the organization correct.
He tried his darndest to paint the current regime as evil compared to Packers regimes past, listing off the names atop the org chart when the team drafted him in 2005. And upon mentioning the team’s president, Bob Harlan, he cracked a huge smile and said, “Bob, legendary guy. I have so much love for him.” A not-so subtle dig at the current president. Never mind the reality that Mark Murphy put his career and reputation on the line in 2008 by green-lighting Ted Thompson’s decision to roll with Rodgers over Brett Favre. Never mind the fact that Brian Gutekunst, a scout then, has cited Thompson as a mentor many times and is following… oh… I don’t know… the same exact playbook.
Rodgers claimed he went into the darkness 90 percent retired, emerged, and was surprised the team was moving on. Out of one side of his mouth, he said the team previously indicated they wanted him back in 2023 but “something changed” when he left the cave. From the other side, he said he would not have been gung ho about playing for Green Bay even if they dearly wanted him back because “that wasn’t the sentiment I felt throughout the season.”
Throughout his airing of grievances, Rodgers deftly cushioned accusations with comments like, “I f--king love that city” and, after saying he may be the team’s best player ever, “nobody has bled green and gold like me.”
The dichotomy between the quarterback’s lovey-dovey statements and actions are now too obvious for anyone to ignore. Fans are smart and weathered on the subject. They’ll embrace Rodgers when his No. 12 is retired at Lambeau Field, but they also lived the same breakup 15 years ago. Through this all, the Packers only look better and better as a franchise. After absorbing so much shrapnel from its best player the last few years, Green Bay rediscovered its backbone. That’s not easy for Rodgers to stomach. All in all? He sounded like a 39-year-old fading star perturbed the team was no longer begging and pleading for his services. Meanwhile, minions scold Mark Murphy for being honest at that girls state basketball tournament. All Murphy did was speak directly to his shareholders — that’s worthy of applause, not scorn. “Complicated fella” was always putting it nicely. Allies still lose sleep over Gutekunst releasing Jordy Nelson, even though the wide receiver was clearly shot in ‘17 and out of the NFL one year later.
Every step, Gutekunst has been unflinchingly professional. Consistent. Poised.
At the Combine, he said the team was looking forward to chatting with Rodgers. Instead of engaging in this conversation, the quarterback sat down with Aubrey Marcus to discuss taking No. 2’s in the dark. Whereas the Packers would love to have hard conversations privately — as adults typically do — Rodgers instead chose his YouTube bully pulpit. So, at the owners meeting, Gutekunst had no choice but to reveal that he had tried to reach Rodgers “many times.”
“Our inability to reach him or for him to respond in any way,” Gutekunst told reporters in Phoenix, “at that point, I had to do my job and reach out and understand that a trade could be possible and see who’s interested.”
A resolution right about now sure would be great, eh?
With both Green Bay and Rodgers still in ultra-messy divorce court, I figured it was a perfect time to chat at length with the team’s greatest ambassador for more context: Hall of Fame safety LeRoy Butler. You may recall that Bob McGinn cited Butler as the team’s No. 1 “ambassador” in his 13-part series wrapping up four decades covering the team. For good reason, too. Butler played his entire 12-year career in Green Bay, revolutionized the safety position, created the Lambeau Leap, won a Super Bowl and forever kept the good of the team at the forefront of his mind. He has spent the next two-plus decades traveling Wisconsin to meet fans. His message is always authentic. Honest to his core, Butler doesn’t play fans for fools. He’s beloved.
There’s no better Packer great to discuss this defining moment with than him.
You’ve all heard enough from me on the subject — from calling the original plan genius to suggesting Green Bay trade Rodgers two years ago to why it’s now Jordan Love Time to applauding the Packers’ guts. I’ll stop yapping and give Butler the floor. Our hourlong chat is below.
At one point, Butler articulated the juxtaposition between Rodgers’ words and actions perfectly.
This is why he believes fans are turning.
“This is one of the best quotes my Mom gave me: ‘Don’t tell me you love me. Show me you love me,’” Butler said. “If I tell you I love you, but treat you terrible than why are you even telling me? But if I show you every single day that I love you, then you really get away without even saying it. My wife would say, ‘If you wake up and you’re respectful, you don’t cheat, you’re a great father, you rub my back when it’s sore, you feed me, you do everything to show you love me! You kiss me. You kiss my hand. All that.’ But if you say, ‘I love you! I love you!’ and then you’re disrespectful, you cheat, you’re looking at her friends, you’re not taking her anywhere, you don’t do anything… you’re not going anywhere.
“Instead of saying how much you love these fans, show them you love them.”
Butler correctly describes Gutekunst as a “problem solver” throughout this charade.
He admits he takes Rodgers’ harsh criticism of the team “personal.” He’s floored by the quarterback not even taking his boss’ calls, believes Rodgers will miss quiet Green Bay when TMZ’s lurking behind the corner in NYC and doesn’t think the QB is taking legacy into account in how he’s handling this all.
Further, he believes Love will flourish. Once this is all over? Butler says LaFleur is going to sleep like a baby.
Repeatedly, the HOF’er reverts back to one point that’s as true now as it was in 2008.
“I can’t say it enough,” Butler says, “that ‘G’ will never change. Sometimes, players — especially the quarterback, the last two quarterbacks to go to the Jets — forget about that. Those guys in the locker room deserve better than this.”
The health of the Packers franchise was in serious doubt 15 years ago. Back then, Brett Favre went on Greta Van Sustereen’s Fox News show to rip the franchise. He was equally dumbfounded and everyone had zero context then. Life Pre-Favre was so desolate that it was fair to wonder if another ice age was imminent. Thompson dug in. It paid off.
Again, emotions are running high. But as Butler explains, the Packers will be stronger for it.
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The quarterback put the Packers on blast, but isn’t Gutekunst essentially following the same playbook as his mentor?
Butler: I like the way Gutekunst has handled this. I like that he was upfront about the conversation that didn’t take place. He tried to reach out to Aaron. You have to go all the way back — even the most staunch Aaron Rodgers supporter has to be fair and say, “Wait a minute. If the general manager of the team is reaching out to you, you’ve got to communicate with him. Or let your agent.” I look at it a little bit different because I’m a passionate guy who played for one organization. The G never changes. Players do. For the most part, every quarterback in the league, you give them space to let them do what they want and there’s not a lot of repercussions. So it was refreshing hearing, “We can’t get it done with him, so we have to move on.” They’ve got to run a business.
They drafted a young man, Antuan Edwards, as my replacement. I was OK with it. You know why? Because when I leave — in my head, I’m not going to play forever — I want the team to succeed. He should be happy they drafted Jordan Love. To say, “I’m going to hand the keys to a guy because I want that G up there to succeed.” But it’s not about the team. And that’s what’s most disappointing.
Is he speaking out of two sides of his mouth on this? He expressed love for Love, and said he’ll be a good player. Yet, he’s obviously upset and quick to say “you drafted by replacement.”
Butler: We don’t pick players. I just play. I remember when Aaron Rodgers was a rookie. He came in to Brett Favre and said, “What’s up, grandpa?” Brett didn’t like that. It’s in Jeff Pearlman’s book. So, you would think he’d say, “I don’t have a problem with Jordan Love, nor do I have a problem with them finding my replacement because I can’t play forever. I want this team to succeed so, when I come up, I’ll see them putting banners up there.” That’s what’s really disappointing about all of this — what are you unhappy about? They gave you $150 million guaranteed. They did everything possible. And then they’re trying to call you. They’re trying to meet you. Remember a couple years ago, they flew out there to meet with him. I mean, give me a (break). Why are you so unhappy? We got all the players you want. Went and got Cobb. Gutekunst stood there and said the reason we got Cobb is because of Aaron and Aaron thought, “Oh, I’ve got a lot of control now.” But now, Gutekunst is saying, “I’ve got to run a business. I’ve got to take the control back. There should be an open dialogue with the players, especially the main one. That’s what’s confusing. Mark Murphy said it best: “We’ll welcome Aaron Rodgers back. He’s a Packers Hall of Famer. He’s a Pro Football Hall of Famer. We’ll retire his jersey. We’re trying to figure out what’s best for both parties.” I was so glad to hear that. Sooner or later, they have to run a business. It’s a head scratcher. Do you understand they have to run a business? So when he said — after the darkness — “I intend to play for the Jets,” not “I intend to play for the Packers,” I think a lot of people were checked out. A lot of fans said, ‘I’m throwing my hands up. I’m ready to move on.”
I didn’t think about it in those terms. They made you the richest player in the sport. And then you blew off the offseason, OTAs and had the worst statistical season of your career. Now, we have Zach Gelb’s CBS report that he blew off gameplan meetings with Matt LaFleur. Add it all up and, of course, it’s time to move on. He shouldn’t be surprised.
Butler: I don’t think it’s fair when you’re trying to determine whether you want to play or not, and the team can’t decide if they want you? Both sides can determine that! They’re determining on moving on. You’re determining on moving on. You’re trying to figure it all out. So, that’s fair. Even if you’re the most Pro-Aaron Rodgers guy, you’ve got to look at this fairly and say, “Wait a minute.” The team has done everything! Whatever they asked for, they gave it to him. Everything. And they guaranteed him the money. And that still wasn’t enough! Do you want to see yourself succeed or do you want to see the organization? That G will never change. Only players change.
If the quarterback’s gripe was talent around him, one solution could be to do what Tom Brady did. Structure your contract in a way that makes keeping Davante Adams or acquiring another veteran more plausible. Once the ink’s dry on the $150 million extension, what could the GM have done?
Butler: That’s another reason I looked at it a little different. Because I took three pay cuts to stay with the Packers. I knew the Packers fan base was amazing. I talked about this with my Mom. I said, “I’m a loyal person.” Now, everybody’s treated differently around the league. But for some reason we let quarterbacks, all 32 of them, we give them space. Because they go through a lot. When you see Seattle traded Russell Wilson for a boatload and you’re thinking, “Should we have traded him after the MVP season?” It makes you think that kind of stuff. Brian Gutekunst is calling you and you won’t even call him back? I was floored by that. I was floored. How do you wrap your head around that?
The Pat McAfee appearance mostly struck me as a player unable to come to grips with the fact that his boss is moving on — something a lot of players struggle with. He sounded a bit desperate throughout and didn’t understand that the Packers have a decision to make themselves as an organization. I can’t follow his logic on how the Packers move on from veterans. Does his criticism of the team make any sense to you?
Butler: It really doesn’t. Listen, I know Gutekunst a little bit. I don’t know him that great. But he seems to be a very approachable guy. If you have any grievances, you can go to him. Gutekunst is a problem-solver. Not a problem. He’s a problem-solver. Case in point, when he went and got Randall Cobb. That proves that Gutekunst is doing everything possible. But he has 52 other guys that he needs to manage. I’m proud of the way Gutekunst handled it.
There’s a way to do it. There really is. I take it personal when you’re attacking a team that gave you so much.
A good point. Randall Cobb’s presence stunted the development of a receiver the GM drafted, too, in Amari Rodgers. All to make the quarterback happy. Hey, how bad of a GM is he?
Butler: And then Randall Cobb takes a pay cut to play one more year. Everybody is taking pay cuts but Aaron.
I applaud Mark Murphy for how he has handled it. This is his legacy. His legacy started with the Brett Favre thing, and now his legacy is how he manages this Aaron Rodgers thing before he leaves in 2 ½ years. This is also Gutekunst’s legacy and Gutekunst’s legacy is Jordan Love. And the reason why they chose Jordan Love — I’ll be honest with you — the reason they chose Jordan Love is because they didn’t want to be like Tampa. They didn’t want to be like Atlanta. They didn’t want to be like some of these other teams that don’t have a quarterback of the future. They don’t have anybody in-waiting. The Saints. They’ve got to get a journeyman or a young guy you don’t know will work out. Get a guy. Put him under your wing. Develop him. And when he gets the keys to the franchise in 3 1/2, four years he’s ready to go. I applaud them for doing it.
Take a quarterback when you don’t need one. Don’t get caught with your pants down. More teams should do this even if it hurts feelings which, by the way, isn’t a bad thing. A pissed-off Rodgers won MVP twice. And if anyone should be able to appreciate the merits of such a draft pick, it’s Rodgers. Maybe that’s why he went out of his way to try to make this front office seem so different than the one in 2005. Is the playbook similar?
Look at how Gutekunst paid Jaire Alexander. He paid Kenny Clark. He paid the Smith Brothers. He paid Aaron Jones. Gutekunst paid the guys! He even paid you! My thing is, he’s going to miss the organization. He’s going to miss Gutekunst. I think it’s disrespectful if your boss — in any job — is trying to get you and you don’t answer the phone. … I had a lot of breakups with girls in my younger years, my teens and twenties. Sometimes you realize, “Man, I had it really good.” It takes a real man to say, “I’ve got it real good right now.”
I give them a standing ovation for how they handled it. You know it’s going to come up at the owners meeting. If you believe you’re such a great team (as the Jets) and you’re one quarterback away, give up a first-round pick. But they know they’re not one quarterback away. They have a lot of holes on that team. Aaron is going to cover up one of them. Joe Burrow is still over there. Patrick Mahomes is still over there. Josh Allen is still over there. Lamar Jackson may still be there. All of the top quarterbacks are in the AFC.
I say it’s a distraction. Because we should be more talking about the Detroit game. You would think the way Aaron acted this offseason that they just won another Super Bowl and he wants another $100 million. But with everything on the line against Detroit, it was so disappointing.
Two-of-six for 12 yards with an interception in the fourth. We spend a lot of time talking and writing about all of the other stuff that the meat of the matter gets lost in translation. Neither Gutekunst or Matt LaFleur will ever come out and say it, but the Packers have had brutal losses to end seasons. For a while, it was someone else’s fault: McCarthy, Bostick, Ted, the defense. Eventually there needs to be accountability at quarterback.
Butler: The biggest thing for pro athletes, the ones that never take accountability are the ones who make the worst teammates. Your teammates are trying as hard as they can and making a third of what you’re paid and have to answer questions of why they gave up a touchdown. But you won’t answer the question of why you threw an interception in the fourth quarter. That can tear a locker room apart. They have good leadership upstairs so I feel good about that. Once this trade is over with, the guy who’ll get the most sleep is Matt LaFleur. Now, he can run the offense he wants. They can find who they want. I just have never seen somebody rip the organization like that and still have a job. Guys will say all that when they’ve left already. Not when they’re still in the building and under contract.
We easily forget the reports two years ago that Rodgers needed Gutekunst fired to return to Green Bay — it got that personal. Gutekunst just took it. His poise the last three years is pretty amazing.
Butler: I think he’s done a hell of a job.
Now, it all comes down to Jordan Love. What are your thoughts on Love?
Butler: Aaron’s first year they were 6-10 and nobody said a word. The next year, Aaron got an extension. They said, “He’s our guy. We believe in him.” I think it made Aaron play better, too, because you don’t have to look over my shoulder. They have to decide to pick up Jordan’s fifth-year option by May. They’ll pick that up. So, he’ll be under contract. And if he plays anywhere near how Aaron played last year, they’ll be ecstatic — 3,500 yards, 26 touchdowns, 10 or 12 picks and the team wins eight games. They’ll be more than ecstatic. Can he beat Brock Purdy? Can he beat Daniel Jones? Can he beat these other quarterbacks who aren’t Hall of Famers. They just manage the game. Can he beat Jared Goff? He can beat some of these guys. He doesn’t need to throw for 400 yards every week. Throw for 250, keep the turnovers down, run the football, Bakhtiari’s coming back for the full year, the offensive line will be in good shape. The defense, I’m hoping, will play better. This isn’t a bad team. He’ll have a good team. Christian Watson is a nice weapon. They’ll get some guys in the draft. I think the future is very bright. If Jordan Love listens to Matt LaFleur, he’s going to be fine.
He also gives you an athleticism factor you don’t have with Aaron at this point. We just haven’t seen him.
Butler: He’s already working in the offseason with the kids. The guy looks good. He’s ready to start. You can’t keep him cooped up anymore. He’s out of the oven. He’s through cooking. He’s ready to go. Once you get out of the oven, you can’t go back in there.
You’ve been an iconic figure in the Packers organization for three decades now. What makes the Packers special? Because whether it’s that presser in 2021 or the McAfee spot two weeks ago, it sure sounds like Rodgers is trying to say it’s not special like it used to be.
Butler: It’s special because you don’t have fans — you have shareholders. That’s the best DNA of the Green Bay Packers. I ain’t ever leaving that. Never. I’ve talked to some players who go to other organizations and, man, they like the Packers. It ain’t even close. It ain’t even in the same ballpark. What this fan base has done for this team and, since Mark Murphy has been there, Green Bay looks like a mini Las Vegas. It’s amazing out there. That stadium. The amenities. Hinterland. When you come to Green Bay? That’s all they have. There’s no distractions. They don’t have TMZ in the bushes. They don’t have a baseball team or a basketball team. You’ve got to go to Milwaukee for that. The fans respect you and everything about you. All you have to do is be yourself and be a nice guy. That’s it. He’ll find that out when he has nowhere to park in New York. People following you around. You don’t have that in Wisconsin, man. It’s a great place, a great place. (Editor’s note: We got Ron Wolf’s thoughts on this exact topic in May 2021: "In my opinion, you can’t be in a better place.")
I do take it personal. I really do. Because the DNA of the Green Bay Packers are these fans. I appreciate what the organization has done for me, but it goes both ways. I’ve got to be respectful to them. This is one of the No. 1 reasons why I like Brian Gutekunst and why I like Mark Murphy and why I like Matt LaFleur — they don’t care if you disagree with them! You can still be loved. They’re OK with it. You can certainly criticize them and they’re OK with it. You don’t have to be a homer if you don’t want to. You can just be yourself! That’s why they’re the best organization. Because there’s no owner. No owner would allow him to say all of that stuff he said and still be under contract.
I understand you’ve got to blow off some steam. I get it. Get away. But it’s been nine, 10 weeks. We need to know. We have to run a business. He’s like the guy in the drive-through who ordered his food but won’t pull up. Pull up man! You got your food. Pull up! And he says, “Nope. I’m going to just sit here and make everybody know that I’m controlling this.” And the Packers are at the window saying, “Come on out! Your food’s getting cold!” You sit there long enough, they’ll get out and tap on your window: “There’s a tow truck on the way. You’ve got to move it.” “Why did you call a tow truck!” “Because I’ve got to run a business. Look at all the people behind you.”
You’ve got to be fair about this. This isn’t bashing Aaron Rodgers. The facts are, you’ve got to understand the G never changes. The players do.
I do wonder if Rodgers is freely bashing the Packers, as he has, if there’s a billionaire owner at the top.
Butler: Why do you think the Lamar Jackson stuff can’t get done? You’ve got an owner saying he doesn’t want to pay the guaranteed money. … Your legacy is what people say about you when you’re not in the building. Your career is what people say about you in the barbershop when you’re there. Your legacy is when you’re not around — what do people say? I don’t think he cares about that.
The fans lived this 15 years ago. They know the other side doesn’t have to be so scary.