The last week has been a whirlwind of emotions. If you are not familiar with the five stages of grief, I recommend you brush up on your knowledge here.
In short, the five stages may occur in but are not limited to this order:
If you are reading this article, chances are that you or a loved one is a Green Bay Packers fan. Please be conscious that during these uncertain times, Packers fans are all over the spectrum of grief. It is an important part of the grieving process that we understand where we lie on the spectrum as we navigate the horrors of a prospective Rodgers-less reality.
Me? Well, I’ve oscillated through the cornucopia of stages like a pendulum on the Edmund Fitzgerald. Every time I approach the fifth and final stage of acceptance, another incredulous story about Aaron Rodgers‘ discontentment gets broken from anonymous sources. It’s been a wild ride.
The piece you are about to read comes from a blend of the first, second, and fourth dimensions of grief: denial, anger and bargaining. It is a deep cut that I know will receive backlash, and deservedly so. However, as we navigate this grieving process, we must explore all possible avenues and perspectives of all parties involved in the trauma.
Today, I’d like to explore the notion that Rodgers himself could be (partially) to blame for the current offseason issues the Packers are facing.
Where did it go wrong?
To witness the true nature of this entire saga, one needs to look back into the post-Super Bowl era of the Rodgers-Packers marriage. After immaculate seasons in 2011 and 2014, where Rodgers played MVP-caliber football, Green Bay embarked on a notable downturn that saw the release of franchise pillars Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson in the twilight of their careers. The lack of performance from the team also led to the demotion of former general manager Ted Thompson, whose replacement, Brian Gutekunst, swiftly fired much-maligned head coach Mike McCarthy.
It is difficult to discern whether any of these moves alone sparked the flames of disenfranchisement in Rodgers, though the way the Packers organization went about them was a cause for concern. The covert operations that led to the hiring of head coach Matt LaFleur in 2018 and the subsequent selection of Jordan Love in the draft last year are only a couple of the transactions that the organization did not run by Rodgers. This stark lack of communication with the heart and soul of the team has paved the way for this massive PR fallout between Rodgers, Gutekunst and the rest of the Green Bay front office.
All of this history brings us to where we are today: Another Packers franchise player that is supremely unhappy with the organization and wants out. The similarities to the end of Rodgers’ Packers tenure and Brett Favre‘s saga are uncanny. John Egan of Zone Coverage did a great write-up on Mark Murphy’s role in all of this, but until next season officially starts, fingers will be pointed at anyone and everyone in Green Bay.
Let’s start with the first finger-pointer and the three fingers that are pointed back at himself.
Is Rodgers totally blameless here?
I know that sounds like a stupid thing to say, but hear me out.
In the modern era of player empowerment, it is fair to side with players who are looking to move on from franchises. This phenomenon is surely more popular in the NBA, where the players actually have some freedoms and agency, but we are starting to see the NFL trend in that direction. The years of the NFL’s modus operandi being akin to the latest stages of capitalism may not be as near-death as some would hope. Still, its current construction lends itself to easy cheers for the proletariat players.
The downfall with the player empowerment era comes at the expense of fanbases across the country — most notably, small-market teams. As a fan of small-market teams myself, it is a grim notion that players may continually have their eyes focused on the idea of moving to greener pastures, both literally and figuratively. Milwaukee Bucks fans should not have to stay awake at night with constant reports swirling that Giannis Antetokounmpo will get swept off of his feet by the sunny skies and good players in Los Angeles. Timberwolves fans don’t need to hear any more unfounded reports (from any “capologists,” mind you) about how Karl-Anthony Towns should demand a trade to Boston or Miami. Packers fans then, in that same vein of thought, should be spared from the idea that Rodgers would throw away his 16-year history with Green Bay to play in San Francisco.
The difference between these three scenarios here is the reassurance from the players themselves. Both Giannis and Towns regularly express their desire to stay in their respective cities. What has been concerning with the recent Rodgers news is his complete radio silence on the matter. In fact, the only time Rodgers has addressed any of the numerous reports that have been floating around was at the Kentucky Derby last weekend when he said that he was “unhappy that the news leaked.”
For a player that regularly went on the Pat McAfee show last season and preached about the values of drowning out the media’s noise and rumors, Rodgers himself is operating under a smokescreen. It has now been a full week since Adam Schefter and other NFL insider moguls have [re]leaked the news of Rodgers’ unhappiness with Green Bay’s front office. To this point, Rodgers has not publicly uttered a single word. One statement could quell the unrest of an entire nation, but Rodgers has instead chosen to let other people speak for him.
This unrest has led to some of the wildest and speculative takes about Rodgers’ future in Lambeau. We’ve heard everything from Rodgers simply wanting to go to San Francisco, to Rodgers retiring to host Jeopardy, to Rodgers calling Gutekunst Jerry Krause, which is not a flattering comparison.
Until Rodgers speaks for himself, the rumors will continue to swirl. That is a direct consequence of his inaction.
Who is at fault?
Perhaps the biggest scapegoat in all of this is Gutekunst. A report came out a while back that Rodgers wants Gutekunst fired. It is easy to see why Rodgers wants this, given the personnel decisions that Gutekunst opted not to run by Rodgers.
There is much speculation out there that these moves have been made in an attempt to “slight” Rodgers. As a teacher who preaches about the value of positive intentions within people, I find it hard to believe that a brand new general manager of a team would intentionally disenfranchise the most talented player that the Packers have ever had.
While I personally run the risk of portraying myself as a Gutekunst apologist, the early returns on his tenure as general manager have restored Green Bay’s status as the premier NFC North team and as a perennial Super Bowl contender. The hiring of LaFleur, while speculative at first, has proved to be the right call. Gutekunst has also had good draft and free-agent additions that have helped the Packers get over the hump the last couple of seasons. Many of his key moves have been outlined in one of my earlier pieces.
Again, let’s take a look at this from the perspective of an outsider. The Packers have been winning — quite a bit, as a matter of fact. The news breaking of Rodgers’ frustration, paired with what we already know about the situation at large, brings us to one question.
What does Rodgers want?
If Rodgers wants to find success, wins, and perhaps another Super Bowl ring, he’s going to be hard-pressed to find a more favorable situation to succeed in outside of Green Bay. While many of the moves that Gutekunst made haven’t been the most ethical by Rodgers’ standards, it is hard to argue with the fact that the team has been winning games. Rodgers has built chemistry with this team and fanbase over the last 16 years. He would be throwing away a generation of relationships and talent due to him taking business decisions personally.
Making the NFC Championship in two straight years is certainly considered a massive success, especially in a league where the propensity of random outcomes is significantly higher than other leagues due to the lack of games and single-elimination playoff format. Outside of the psychopaths who think the only metric of success in the NFL is winning Super Bowl rings (spoiler alert: it’s not), one cannot argue that the Green Bay Packers have been one of the most successful franchises in the NFL over the last decade-plus.
At this point, one has to wonder whether Rodgers’ competitive drive is enough to overcome his burning desire to stick it to a franchise that he has perceived to have slighted him. As always, time will tell.