This is dangerous territory for Packers coach Matt LaFleur
The quarterback will apparently break his silence. But if this lingers into June? The Packers need to act and the coach needs to lead. Otherwise, there will be long-term consequences.
Publicly, this sounded painfully desperate. A plea spiked with a touch too much emotion.
You’ve likely seen the clip by now, the PSA issued by Matt LaFleur to his quarterback.
"We still obviously feel the same way,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said. “We want him back in the worst way. I know he knows that. And we’ll continue to work at it each and every day."
Listen closely and you might even hear some sad, slow jazz playing in the background.
Meanwhile, the quarterback himself has not said a word. Aaron Rodgers’ silence — all month — has spoken volumes. It appears he’d like to punish his employer for a perceived wrong. As reports upon reports swirl that the Green Bay Packers will pay him whatever he wants and as Rodgers’ irritation with the franchise becomes more and more public, Rodgers does not seem the least bit bothered. He’s at the Kentucky Derby. He’s flying to Hawaii. He’s carrying on with his life.
Apparently, Rodgers will break this silence on Monday with Kenny Mayne.
There’s always a chance this is precisely when he declares all of us in the media nothing but mindless spam and reports back to work.
But if nothing has changed? If he continues to drag this on? The Packers absolutely must dictate the terms of this standoff, once and for all, and move on. They must make it clear to Rodgers that he is welcome back at this specific number, with this established chain of command and give him a drop-dead date to either accept or decline those terms. If Rodgers doesn’t budge? Trade the league MVP and embrace your 2020 first-round pick, Jordan Love.
It all has to happen well before training camp begins, too.
LaFleur (understandably) wants his QB back and the QB’s angst appears to be directed primarily at general manager Brian Gutekunst. He’s the easy punching bag for all blabbin’ heads right now. But LaFleur has a team to run and LaFleur has a say in Green Bay, too. The longer this charade goes on, and the more those “worst way” comments add up, the weaker LaFleur will appear to everyone in the locker room. It won’t exactly do wonders for morale. You can’t beg and plead for one player to change his mind out of one side of your mouth, then chastise a player for not finishing a play out of the other.
You’re dealing with grown adults as an NFL head coach. They’re watching closely how LaFleur handles this all. As much as many of them would love to have Rodgers back — again, by all accounts, he gets along with teammates — players value direction above all else. Team has to be prioritized over individual for the health of the organization itself. This is a defining moment for everyone in charge of the Packers. What they do this offseason could set the course for the next decade-plus.
Right now, the players I’ve spoken to are in the dark. Surely, they’d like to know what the hell is going on by training camp.
How long can LaFleur ignore the 1,000-pound elephant in the room? How long can he and his staff lead players through OTA and minicamp drills ignoring something that directly affects the livelihoods of everyone in the building? Maybe it’s not as damaging in June. But come August, the head coach cannot operate with his head in the sand. Letting this linger until then could do irreparable damage.
Everyone in charge — Mark Murphy, Gutekunst, LaFleur — needs to get on the same page, be decisive and move on.
Then, it’s on LaFleur to galvanize a talented roster.
We know the head coach is a smart offensive mind, but this is bigger than a playbook.
Every head coach has defining moments. Thinking back to the ones I’ve been around, a few moments come to mind.
In Buffalo, players enjoyed Rex Ryan’s motivational speeches. He was an empowering coach. But from an X ‘n O perspective, he completely lost the defense in September of 2015. His scheme was too exotic, too complicated, too much of a cluster-bleep and players realized it right away. When they spoke up after losses, Ryan essentially told them to get in line. A unit that dominated the year before was best getting from Point A to Point B.
Then, into 2016, Ryan took a party bus down to the World Series in Cleveland smack dab in the middle of a game week. Players noticed.
In Green Bay, it’s a miracle Mike McCarthy and Rodgers lasted as long as they did. That 2014 NFC Championship was one breaking point. When McCarthy coached with numbing cowardice, Rodgers was not happy. But as Ryan Grant pointed out, you’ve got to go way back to McCarthy drafting Alex Smith No. 1 in 2005. Rodgers never got past that.
In Oakland and Vegas, Jon Gruden has mostly been a disaster. He’s running the show with little-to-no direction and it all started with one asinine trade of Khalil Mack. He alienated players right out of the chute and, now, it’s hard to imagine Gruden ever winning anything of significance in the AFC West through the duration of his 10-year contract.
And at the other end of the spectrum, you have head coaches like Mike Tomlin. When tragedy and injuries ravaged the Pittsburgh Steelers through the 2019 season, his leadership was exceptional. I spent some time around that team for B/R, if you want to check that out. When a coach died, Tomlin knew exactly what to say. When countless star players suffered injuries, Tomlin found a way to keep everyone motivated and keep his team sqaurely in the playoff hunt.
As we’ve discussed together here, it’s OK to bend… and bend… and bend your principles for a special talent. You make concessions because the end justifies the means. Rodgers will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Rodgers has carried the Packers. But this has gotten ridiculous. One local media member said Gutekunst should publicly apologize to Rodgers. Multiple national media members have suggested the Packers should promote Rodgers to co-GM.
So, it bears repeating: Playing the game and running a team are two completely different jobs. Michael Jordan is both the best athlete of all-time and the worst team-builder of this generation.
No, Rodgers doesn’t need any more say than he already has.
Jake Kumerow had all of one catch after he was released.
Jordy Nelson deteriorated in Oakland. That ‘17 season, the wheels fell off. Nelson averaged 1.8 yards after the catch.
GM Rodgers would likely be a failure.
There’s a value in an emotionless man in charge. Wouldn’t Rodgers know? Wouldn’t Rodgers remember fans booing the hell out of him during training camp in 2008 because they wanted Brett Favre back? Ted Thompson didn’t blink when rabid fans stuffed petitions in his face at a shareholders meeting and it paid off. The more you think about this current standoff, the more baseless it is.
If Rodgers desires to have Tom Brady-like say in personnel — and that sure seems to be the message relayed to surrogates and advisors — then Rodgers is saying loud and clear that the talent around him is not good enough. What a slap in the face that is to guys like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has overcome so much to get to this moment and guys like AJ Dillon, who’s a true football unicorn. They didn’t lose to Brady because of MVS. They lost because the quarterback wouldn’t sacrifice his body at the goal line.
The deeper Rodgers digs in, the more that slap to the face should sting.
The deeper he digs in, the more out of control this will get. Those Jerry Krause texts will look like child’s play.
Internally, it’s on LaFleur to assert order. He might miss Rodgers’ talent but their relationship isn’t nearly as lovey-dovey as it’s portrayed. He’ll be OK.
We’re inching closer to showtime. Teammates such as John Kuhn and James Jones and Davante Adams would surely only speak with Rodgers’ blessing. The fact that they’re keeping hope alive for fans means one of two things. Either Rodgers is meticulously laying the groundwork for an amiable return to Green Bay or Rodgers was simply trying to soften the backlash. I doubt he expected Packers fans to be as pissed off as they were when Yahoo! reported that he wants the GM fired. Most all local polls indicated fans were overwhelmingly on Gutekunst’s side when that bombshell dropped.
On Monday, he’ll finally speak for himself.
Maybe it sounds corny. Maybe it sounds like something our grandfathers would tell us. But it’s as true in 2021 as it was in 1961. In this particular sport, team truly does matter more than individual. Sure, in the NBA, LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard and James Harden can be mercenaries and win wherever they sign. There are only five players on the court at once. One star player can utterly dominate a season, let alone a game.
Football is different. Football consists of far more moving parts. Brady was excellent in 2020 but Brady also threw three interceptions in the NFC Championship at Green Bay and Brady was not the primary reason Tampa Bay upset Kansas City in the Super Bowl, no, that’d be the Buccaneers’ violent defense.
(Side note: Down these lines, I sincerely cannot recommend Michael MacCambridge’s America’s Game enough. Learning exactly how pro football took off in the 50s and 60s provides so much context to today’s game.)
All in all, the Packers need to seriously consider all implications. At some point, begging Rodgers to come back while Rodgers simultaneously punishes you in the court of public opinion just isn’t worth it. The Packers cannot be held hostage now, just as the Packers could not be held hostage in 2008. If this QB chums it up with Mayne and does anything but declare he’s back in Green Bay, it’s high time for the Love Era.
Take your draft picks. Take your players. Rally your team.
Everyone upstairs needs to be on the same page and, then, it’s on LaFleur to lead the team privately and project strength publicly.
His players will be listening.
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