The Thread: The clock is ticking in Green Bay

Sources make it clear that nothing has changed in the Packers/Rodgers stalemate. Nothing, that is, other than the fact training camp is rapidly approaching. Players in Green Bay need direction ASAP.

We have life.

A real, vibrant, promising… pulse.

After a month of fawning over their unhappy quarterback, the Green Bay Packers broke away from that talking point over the weekend. And this message came from the very top: President and CEO Mark Murphy. What an edition of the team-produced “Murphy Takes 5” column this was, too. Each month, the man in charge of the franchise directly answers to fans. And when someone made a comment — it wasn’t even a question — about something that had nothing to do with Aaron Rodgers, Murphy made a point to bring up Aaron Rodgers.

The back-and-forth went like this:

Ken: You have done a great job. Don't let the bastards drag you down. Washington needs a name. I suggest the Generals.

Murphy: The situation we face with Aaron Rodgers has divided our fan base. The emails and letters that I've received reflect this fact. As I wrote here last month, we remain committed to resolving things with Aaron and want him to be our quarterback in 2021 and beyond. We are working to resolve the situation and realize that the less both sides say publicly, the better.

Then, Murphy threw in a joke about the Washington Generals always losing to the Globetrotters.

There was also this.  

Duane: Murphy! Get that jerk Gutekunst to get off his butt and make a play to get Julio Jones on the Packers!

Murphy: Thanks for the email, Duane. Thanks as well for the 20 previous emails you've sent MT5 in recent months. Interestingly, there is not a single question among the 20 emails. While I appreciate your persistence and passion, I must tell you that I have tremendous confidence in Brian Gutekunst. In his relatively short tenure as our GM, he has completely turned around the fortunes of our team. He has put together a talented team (last year we had the most players voted to the Pro Bowl) that has a 28-8 record over the last two years, after consecutive losing seasons in 2017 and 2018, and has played in back-to-back NFC Championship games. Moreover, he has a great working relationship with Head Coach Matt LaFleur. He and EVP/director of football operations Russ Ball have managed our salary cap smartly and have us well positioned for the future.

All of this sure is a welcomed change of pace from everyone pleading Rodgers to return. As we wrote earlier last month, this is a defining moment for head coach Matt LaFleur in particular. It’s good to know the Packers are at least refusing to bend to Rodgers’ will. What a ridiculous precedent it’d set to fire a general manager — one of the best in football since taking over in 2018 — just because the quarterback demanded it. With a touch of humor, the CEO did a fine job here dismissing what is apparently the only solution Rodgers himself sees. (No, the league MVP didn’t deny that report in his chat with Kenny Maybe. If anything, he added fuel to that fire.)

Of course, they also need a plan. This whole thing starts to get real now.

Mandatory minicamp has begun and Rodgers is not in Green Bay.

The thinking here is the same it was exactly one month ago: Green Bay should deal Rodgers, accept its king’s ransom from Denver, Las Vegas, whoever and embrace Jordan Love. While it’s good to hear Murphy make it clear that Gutekunst isn’t going anywhere, he’s still publicly clinging to hope that Rodgers changes his mind and plays for the Packers this season. Very soon, the Packers absolutely must be decisive and run the organization on their terms.

They cannot be held hostage into training camp.

Nothing has changed all offseason and everyone Go Long has spoken to insists we shouldn’t expect any changes on Rodgers’ end into July…August… September.

“There’s nothing new. He’s not going back there,” one former member of the Packers front office says. “Unless they make serious changes to the front office, I doubt he’s going back.”

This source is not sure what the Packers’ plan is and warns that they shouldn’t be holding their breath right now.

“That dude is not going back. I’m telling you.”

And when asked if he believes Rodgers is legitimately willing to retire, he adds, “I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s got enough money to.”

For all of the pontificating on the matter every day since the bomb was dropped April 29, nothing’s changed between the two sides.

Here’s the thing, though. One factor has changed with time: The team dynamic.

Players are back in town. The 2021 season has commenced. The longer Rodgers insists he won’t play for the Packers and the longer the Packers try to clutch to any hope that he’ll change his mind, the more this all poisons the team itself. The more Rodgers leaves severe damage to the organization. This game of chicken will only hurt the Packers.

Players want to know what in the hell the plan is for 2021.

Players want some direction.

One veteran that spoke to Go Long on the condition of anonymity was blunt. He also does not expect Rodgers to show up by training camp and knows he’s not alone in wanting to see some decisiveness out of the franchise.

“We need to say, ‘F--- it, let’s go’ or he’s here,” says this player. “We don’t have time to be waiting around. We’re six weeks from training camp. How much longer are we waiting?”

Right now, management is publicly daring Rodgers to retire.

Yet this teammate echoes other sources in believing Rodgers would do exactly that if the Packers do not trade him.

“I don’t think that’s his first choice,” this player says, “but I don’t see him just biting the bullet.”

This second impression of Jordan Love has been quite impressive, too. This player says he’s gaining some more believers on the roster. Of course, there’s a massive difference between a quarterback throwing the ball on a practice field in shorts and facing third and 8… on Sunday night… in front of 70,000 screaming fans… with a linebacker screaming off the edge. But players saw a young, ultra-athletic QB with promise through OTAs. One player cited a deep throw in which Love rolled right and, on the run, gunned a bullet deep that whistled inches past a defender’s earhole.

Right here was the kind of throw the Packers were gambling on when they traded up for Love.

Right here was why the GM rolled the dice.

Teams perennially picking in the 20’s, like Green Bay, don’t have a shot at franchise quarterbacks in the top 10 so, in looking to ensure the long-term health of the team, Gutekunst took the QB who possessed glimmers of that Mahomesian, off-platform improvisation every team hunts for today. This is the silver lining in Rodgers’ holdout. This week, Love gets to work with his top four wide receivers all back at camp… including No. 1 wideout Davante Adams who’s smartly getting reps in with his potential QB in 2021.

The work Love put in with his private quarterbacks coach Steve Calhoun — who hung out with subscribers on the Happy Hour here — is starting to show.  

“He just needs more confidence,” this veteran says. “He just needs more reps. I think he’ll be really good.”

The Packers can do wonders for that confidence, too, by accepting this stalemate for what it is and moving on.

Again, this does not need to be a period of total gloom and doom. It’s an opportunity.

The late Ted Thompson understood this. Thompson, a former Houston Oilers linebacker himself, a man who cut his teeth as the director of pro personnel under Ron Wolf, deserves eternal praise for grasping the team dynamic like he did back in the summer of 2008. When Brett Favre flew into Green Bay, when a quarterback who took the team within one pass of the Super Bowl made it clear he wanted to return, Thompson knew how important it was to carve a clear, concise direction for his entire team.

A man who said very little made it clear the Packers were behind Rodgers.

No way were all veterans on the roster all-in on Rodgers then. Not when Favre was fresh off a 4,155-yard, 28-touchdown, 13-3 season.

But Thompson operated then with conviction even if it earned him roughly a 4.5 percent approval rating. Murphy, one year on the job, let Thompson handle this defining moment in Packers history. Now Murphy, 14 years on the job, needs to let Gutekunst handle this.

And similar conviction in Love could go a long way.

Let’s not forget about those other 52 players, too. What a job Gutekunst has done since taking over a roster that got away from Thompson by ’18. You either believe this roster is a bunch of Joes that Rodgers made look good or you believe these players are damn good in their own right. As you all know, I fall in the latter.

  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling left corners in the dust in leading the NFL in yards per reception. He’s been through hell and back off the field, too.

  • AJ Dillon is built unlike any back in the league. He’s set to leave a pile of bodies in his wake this season.

  • Robert Tonyan caught 52 of the 59 passes thrown his way. Nobody in the NFL with at least 40 receptions had a better catch rate.  

  • The offensive line may be the best in the NFL. This unit allowed only 20 sacks with a QB who tends to hold onto the ball to keep plays alive, while also paving the way for 2,118 rushing yards.

  • Of course, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams are stars.

What a situation for a 22-year-old quarterback to step into.

If the Packers are willing to call Rodgers’ bluff, well, good luck with that. When he’s dug in, he’s dug in. We’ll see. There’s always that sliver of a chance he returns and declares the media a bunch of clickbaiters but nobody I spoke to sees that as a realistic possibility. It’s gotten to this point for a reason. The last thing one player expects is for Rodgers to show up Day 1 of training camp with a big smile on his face. And, surely, the Packers know more than they’re letting on. After all, they’ve spent this offseason flying to California.

This isn’t about money. (They’ve offered him more than anyone.)

This isn’t about the roster. (This is arguably the best in the NFL.)

This is about something principled in the quarterback’s mind… as impossible-to-decipher as that “principle” may be. And since the Packers correctly will not fire Gutekunst, there are not any clear solutions on the table. As for this veteran’s interpretation of Murphy’s defense of the GM in that Q&A, he believes this was Murphy telling the world, “We don’t give a f--- if it’s Aaron Rodgers. We’re not going to just fire someone for somebody.”

He tries to think of a middle ground. He can’t.

“At this point,” this player says, “I don’t know what needs to get resolved to make Aaron happy.”

So, if you’re Green Bay, would you rather appear weak and plead Rodgers to return only for him to retire?

Or, if you’re Green Bay, would you rather appear decisive and take your silver platter of picks and players?  

In theory, as many smart analysts have posited, the Packers could get more in a trade one year from now. But that’d also require an aligning of stars. They’d need Rodgers to a.) stay healthy and b.) perform near that MVP level and c.) hope to maintain an inkling of leverage with everybody on the planet knowing they’re trying to trade him. It’s hard to imagine a “Last Dance”-like sendoff here. Further, things could turn sideways — fast — if a quarterback who clearly doesn’t want to be a Packer is quarterbacking the Packers.

As talented as Aaron Rodgers is, life can go on.

All of this drama will only affect the culture of the team more with time. It should be noted, too, that Tom Brady didn’t skip minicamp when he was upset with the Patriots in 2018-19. Green Bay needs to take this seriously with LaFleur able to sell a clear direction to the team by Day 1 of training camp.

If not, the circus of ’08 will seem like nothing compared to 2021 even if the media is (absurdly) banned from the locker room.

The Packers had the cojones to draft Love. Now, the Packers need the cojones to play him.

Of course, we’d all have a clearer idea of the situation if Rodgers simply said what he wants himself. At least Favre made his intentions explicitly known to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News. All Rodgers did was praise everyone but Gutekunst and Murphy and declare “it’s about the people.” Whatever that means. Everyone was left to their own interpretations. Five seconds after that aired, a player on the Packers did call me with his instant reaction.

“He’s gone.”

Do not sleep on that other team in LA

It’s easy to forget about the Los Angeles Chargers, especially with a certain league MVP potentially heading to the NFC West. But the tenants at SoFi Stadium easily could go from 7-9 to division champs in 2021. Quietly, the Chargers had a very productive offseason and the Chargers also happen to be led by one of the most promising young quarterbacks in football.

Justin Herbert was even better than anyone realizes as a rookie, in throwing for 4,336 yards, 31 touchdowns with only 10 picks. What may be most impressive is how well Herbert read the field to deliver the ball to a variety of weapons. Virtually all young QBs have the tendency to lock in on one stud wideout and force the issue as much as possible — think Favre-to-Sharpe, Culpepper-to-Moss, Stafford-to-Megatron, etc.

That was never a problem for Herbert.

Five different players were targeted at least 50 times on the Chargers last season.

Losing Hunter Henry isn’t ideal but the Chargers were smart to roll with the cheaper, still-productive, 34-year-old Jared Cook. (Keep an eye on undrafted rookie tight end Hunter Kampmoyer, too.)

They found Herbert a left tackle in the draft — Rashawn Slater allowed zero sacks in his last season at Northwestern.

Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, Josh Palmer, Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson give Herbert more than enough ammo to keep up with any offense. And the Chargers have a legit stud on each line of defense from Joey Bosa off the edge to Kenneth Murray at linebacker to, back from injury, the versatile Derwin James in the secondary.

Pencil these Chargers in for 11 wins. They won’t be afraid of the Chiefs in 2021.

Patience pays off

Both Bruce Arians and Jason Licht received well-deserved contract extensions in Tampa Bay.

The 68-year-old Arians has a chance to polish off a Hall of Fame resume.

And what a turnaround this has been for the 50-year-old Licht.

It’s not very often a GM takes a QB No. 1 overall, that QB doesn’t work out and that GM lasts seven seasons. But this is proof that it can pay to stick with a front office through some dark times. Licht was drafting really well around the quarterback position so, by the time Tom Brady arrived, the Bucs were locked ‘n loaded for a Super Bowl run. We all hyper-analyze the quarterback position, and for good reason. Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Rodgers and Brady can make a lot of warts disappear. But just as the supporting cast doesn’t get nearly enough credit in Green Bay, neither do all of those players around Brady in Tampa Bay.

Cornerback Carlton Davis, a 63rd overall pick in 2018, is as fearless as it gets on the boundary in today’s flag-happy era. After getting blistered by Tyreek Hill, he wasn’t shy ahead of the Super Bowl in this chat with Go Long and then backed it up. In 2019, Licht made Devin White the first inside linebacker picked in the top 5 since Aaron Curry busted in 2009. All White’s been since is arguably the best defensive player in football. In 2020, he drafted Antoine Winfield Jr. 45th overall and Winfield was a force from every contour of the field as a rookie, while also supplying an all-time taunt.

And edge rusher Shaq Barrett is one of the greatest free agent finds of this generation — he had Patrick Mahomes on the run throughout Tampa Bay’s 31-9 triumph.

Now, the Buccaneers bring everyone back in 2021. They’ll justifiably be the Super Bowl favorites in the NFC.

We all love Brady. Tampa Bay was fortunate to get him and the vets he attracted.

But Licht deserves a ton of credit for finding talent everywhere else through those lean years.

What’s ahead at Go Long

This Friday, be on the lookout for a profile on Seattle Seahawks cornerback DJ Reed. We chatted recently for an hour-plus and, man, what a fascinating road he’s taken to the NFL. Reed is easily one of the best players in the NFL we do not talk nearly enough about. From Fresno State’s coaches telling him he isn’t good enough right to his face to living with roaches in JUCO to the 49ers throwing the towel, Reed has plowed right on through a ton of adversity.

Reed helped turn the Seahawks’ secondary around in 2021 and he’s only getting started.

Happy Hour Update

What a fun time last Friday night with everyone on the Zoom Happy Hour with Peter King. If you missed it, here’s the replay below. King got into this whole Rodgers/Packers dilemma and offers his own potential solution. He also broke down the Hall of Fame voting process and why he believes it’s time Steve Tasker, Tony Boselli and Clay Matthews Jr. got in. You’ll also love his 80s NFC East memories.

We’re taking a Happy Hour “bye week” of sorts this week but will be right back at it soon with a pair of fan favorites in the Midwest.

It’s time to give the big uglies their due.

Packers center Frank Winters and Bears center Olin Kreutz will hang out with Go Long subscribers this month. Keep an eye out for log-in details in your email inbox or at GoLongTD.com.

No Huddle

  • Ryan Tannehill is a quarterback upgrade for Julio Jones. Give me him at this stage of his career over Matt Ryan at his. Health is the concern obviously but with Jones and AJ Brown and Derrick Henry on the same side of the ball, I’m not sure how any defensive coordinator gameplans for Tennessee. They may need to score 30-plus points a game with question marks on defense but that won’t be a problem.

  • The NFL moving away from Toradol is massive news. For years, players have been numbing pain with the drug. In the past, it was a shot. Today, it’s a pill. If Toradol really is being eliminated, we can expect a lot more players to miss time. Back in the B/R days, I spent a season talking to guys around the league about Toradol here if you want to check it out. We’ll be sure to cover this in full soon here.

  • One of the best players down the stretch in 2020? David Montgomery. Really. The Bears running back had 100-plus scrimmage yards in each of his team’s final six games. And his 1,508 total yards for the season ranked fifth in the league. Reflecting on his breakout season, Montgomery was hard on himself, too. He expects to be even better.

    Further, Montgomery’s trainer said he added 1.5 MPH of foot speed this offseason. We’ve been critical of the Bears handling of Allen Robinson in this space but with Robinson (reluctantly) signing that franchise tag, Montgomery’s emergence and with the team’s QB odyssey leading to Justin Fields, there’s suddenly a lot to like about this Chicago offense into 2021.

    Of course, we’ve said this before, too.

  • Speaking of Fields, he graded out as the most accurate college quarterback that Pro Football Focus has ever studied.

  • This is interesting. Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox worked with a vision specialist this offseason, per Syracuse.com. The idea of Zach Ertz joining this juggernaut offense in Buffalo is appealing, no doubt, but if the Bills cannot land the Eagles tight end? Not all is lost. Knox could be poised for a Year 3 leap.

  • Live in Western New York? We’ll be planning another hangout at Hamburg Brewing Company soon. Would love to meet as many of you as I can virtually on the Zooms and in-person at HBC. And, as always, let me know how you’re enjoying Go Long and what you’d like to read here in the comments, at thdunne@gmail.com or on Twitter @TyDunne.

    Thanks, everyone!

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