“There is only one quality worse than hardness of heart and that is softness of head.” — Theodore Roosevelt
The Green Bay Packers head back into an all-too-familiar offseason. The multi-million dollar question will again be whether or not the team decides to keep Aaron Rodgers, and all forthcoming decisions will be contingent on the quarterback situation. It is the third-straight offseason of speculation regarding Rodgers’ future. Nobody is getting any younger.
President Roosevelt’s 1904 quote could subconsciously reverberate around the collective conscience of Packers fans worldwide. The great dilemma with the Rodgers situation is whether or not it is fair to usher one of the franchise’s most iconic players out the door in the interest of “business.”
Green Bay is no stranger to these tough decisions. They made the business decision to jettison Brett Favre after he took the team for a similar ride back in 2007-08. Ultimately, Gutekunst has to wrestle with what he knows is the best choice for the team’s future; it is a decision that would, in the eyes of many fans, work to destroy so many of the cultural and family values that this small-market franchise holds so dear.
Here is the key question: Has Rodgers earned the right to decide his own future with the Packers?
There are many intersections of philosophy here. On the one hand, Gutekunst has to keep the team’s best interests in mind, and it is hard to fathom how a QB making over $50 million per season and only producing average play is a valuable asset. Rodgers’ contract would certainly suggest that he’s earned this supposed right to decide his own future, if only by virtue of the surreal amount of money Green Bay has guaranteed him. Keeping Rodgers around would certainly tap into the franchise “doing right” by him and allowing him to retire a Packer. But it is unclear how much that would harm the future prospects of the team.
Not to mention, Rodgers has undoubtedly earned the right in the sense that he has been one of the single most talented quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. Despite the supposed lack of playoff success, nobody has instilled more fear in opponents than Rodgers at his best. His track record, paired with his embrace of Wisconsin culture as a whole, has catapulted him to the top of any “All-Time Important Packers” lists out there. He’s been a largely likable guy (recent medical and political awakenings notwithstanding) that has done unparalleled work in the Green Bay community.
This teeming situation turns into a question that is routinely speculated upon league-wide and across global sporting leagues as a whole. If an iconic, generational franchise player is getting old and is seeing obvious signs of decline in play, have they earned the right to decide their own future with the club? Within the last five years, we have seen players like Lionel Messi and Tom Brady leave the teams they spent their entire career with. Barcelona and the New England Patriots, respectively, decided to move on from the most important players in their sporting history before the gap between the lofty wages and statistical output got too large.
Of course, these cross-league situations are different. There is far more player movement in international soccer and the NBA than in the NFL. Brady leaving the Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was anomalous and unexpected. However, it was not unlike the last few seasons of Favre’s career when he bounced around the northern part of the country clinging to relevance. Everyone expects these players to finish their playing days with their boyhood teams because, well, that’s just how those stories are supposed to be written.
Green Bay is in a particularly unique position here in regard to the treatment of the last generational QB to be shown the door. The end of Favre’s tenure did not sit well in the eyes of Packers fans, and that uneasiness turned to vitriol directed at Rodgers for his first couple of seasons at the head of the offense. The parallels between then and the current situation with Jordan Love could not be scripted any better, from the length of time Love has had to sit under Rodgers (three seasons) and how Rodgers’ last pass was an interception to seal the game just like Favre against the New York Giants in 2007. Gutekunst surely has this in mind as he prepares himself for what is yet to come.
Perhaps the best course of action, albeit unlikely, is for Rodgers to decide that he does not want to play any longer and would like to restructure his contract into more team-friendly language. It is no secret that there was a divide between Rodgers and the front office in the not-so-distant past, but it would seem that many of those issues have been publicly resolved as the team has bent to his will to keep him around. This scenario would be at odds with Rodgers saying that he would have to play elsewhere if the team decides to go with Love this season. Still, it is not entirely out of the question for Rodgers to renege on his newfound individualistic approach and throw Green Bay a bone.
There is certainly more to sports than winning championships. Social media won’t tell you that, but sports really are more about the friends made along the way. Continued team success and savvy roster construction is part of what has made being a Packers fan so enjoyable over the last two decades, so Gutekunst would be wise to take heed of the above quote from Teddy Roosevelt. If the front office avoids softness of the head, it overcomes any hardness of the heart, and the decision becomes clear.