Tyler Dunne had a telling quote in his April 2019 piece titled “What Happened in Green Bay?”. “Nobody holds a grudge in any sport like Rodgers,” he wrote. “When it comes to Rodgers, grudges do not merrily float away. They stick. They grow. They refuel.” It’s a noteworthy quote considering everything that has taken place in Packer Land over the past week and a half since it was reported that legendary quarterback Aaron Rodgers has little to no interest in returning to the Green Bay Packers for the 2021 season.
It’s a quote that peeled back the curtain on what could potentially lie ahead, should the Packers do anything to alienate their iconic quarterback publicly. Which is exactly what Green Bay’s brass did a little over a year later when they decided to trade up in the first round of last year’s draft for Rodgers’ successor, former Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, just four months after Rodgers and the Packers went 13-3 before falling to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
Even though the paths they took to get here are not at all similar, the fact remains the Packers are on the brink of having yet another legendary quarterback attempt to burn the franchise to the ground on their way out the door. Before we go any further, we must revisit how we got to this juncture. Instead of publicly addressing the thought of retirement — which is exactly what Brett Favre did as early as the 2002 season — Rodgers took a different approach when broached on the subject of retirement.
“How do you not?” Rodgers said of considering playing into his 40s. “I’m not some cliché guy that’s going to talk about taking it year by year. Of course, you look at what Tom [Brady]’s doing and still able to play at his age and play at a high level, and obviously what Drew [Brees] has done and Phil [Rivers] getting an opportunity to keep rolling in Indy.
“My thing is, legacy is really important. Having an opportunity to do it all in Green Bay would mean a lot to me. I understand the track record of our squad. There have been times where we’ve had veteran players, and they’ve finished elsewhere. I get it. I’d like to make that decision easy for them. The only way to do that is to keep playing at a high level and give them no choice but to keep bringing you back because you’re the best option and give them the best chance to win. That’s my goal. I’ve got four years left on my deal. I’d like to play four at a really, really high level, and if I feel like keep on keeping on from that point, to do it.
“I feel confident right now. I’m going to be 40 when the deal ends. I feel like I can keep going after that the way things have been going.”
The quote above was from Rodgers’ visit on Pat McAfee‘s radio show one month before the 2020 NFL Draft. Despite his public comments on the importance of his legacy with the Packers and playing into his 40s, Murphy and Gutekunst took a proactive, aggressive approach in the succession plan at the quarterback position for the franchise by trading up in the opening round for Love.
And circling back on Dunne’s quote from his Bleacher Report piece in April of 2019, Murphy and Gutekunst knew exactly what kind of potential ramifications came with spending top resources for life after Rodgers, instead of helping him win his second Super Bowl for the Packers. Not only that, but the fact that Rodgers was reportedly kept in the dark by Murphy and Gutekunst throughout the decision-making process of the Love selection is a blatant sign of disrespect for one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks of all time.
Given that Gutekunst has been in Green Bay’s front office since 1998, he had a front-row seat for the duration of the Favre-Rodgers saga. You would think that kind of experience would provide him with a proper blueprint to ensure that such an ugly breakup with yet another legendary quarterback would never happen again on his watch as general manager. But here we are.
And before you hit me with the cliché “Rodgers has a contract with the Packers! Who does he think he is?!?!” bit, let’s not pretend that stars at the game’s most important position haven’t been flexing their leverage for almost 40 years. Whether it’s John Elway refusing to play for the Baltimore Colts before the 1983 NFL Draft, or Eli Manning refusing to play for the San Diego Chargers before the 2004 NFL Draft, this isn’t necessarily uncharted waters here with Rodgers and the Packers.
While some folks want to claim that the NFL is embarking on a new era of player empowerment a la the modern-day NBA, it’s important to remember Elway and Eli taking control over their careers decades before rumblings of trade requests from Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson, and now Rodgers during this offseason.
At the end of the day, it simply comes down to how you take care of your No. 1 employee. As Jimmy Johnson once said, “I can’t be writing what the rules are because my rules vary from player to player. It’s like I told Lawrence [Taylor]: In Dallas, we had a linebacker named John Roper who got cut for falling asleep in a meeting. If Troy Aikman fell asleep in a meeting, I’d go over and whisper, `Wake up, Troy.'”
For someone who has accomplished as much as Rodgers has for the Packers, it should go without saying that he gets treated a little bit differently by his front office, similar to the way the Kansas City Chiefs are treating Patrick Mahomes nowadays. Just months after winning the Super Bowl, general manager Brett Veach sought out the insight of their most important player about what to do with the 32nd-overall pick in 2020. Mahomes reportedly hand-picked former LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and that was good enough for the Chiefs before turning in their draft day card.
Do you think Rodgers doesn’t see that sort of treatment taking place around the rest of the league? Instead of taking a cue from of the Chiefs’ front office and showing just how much they value and appreciate their most important employee, Murphy and Gutekunst would rather expect a generational athlete to keep his mouth shut and get in line, despite the obvious mishandling of yet another Packers legend. And Rodgers has never been the type of guy to shut up and get in line. I know that. You know that. And most importantly, Murphy and Gutekunst knew exactly that when they decided to keep their franchise’s most important player in the dark while selecting his replacement.
They knew what they signed up for when making the Jordan Love selection, and it’s unfolding in front of our eyes. And for those who were paying attention throughout the 2020 season, Rodgers wasn’t particularly shy about the idea of him playing elsewhere sooner rather than later.
Buckle up. This turmoil between Rodgers and Murphy and Gutekunst doesn’t appear to be coming to an end anytime soon.