The reigning league MVP remains adamant that he won’t return to the team under the current stewardship of general manager Brian Gutekunst, a source in Rodgers’ camp said, and that he’s willing to weigh hardline options at his disposal — from refusing to show up for offseason activities to holding out of training camp and possibly retirement.
Asked if anything could be done to repair the relationship between Rodgers and the team, the source said a reconciliation may not be possible if Gutekunst remains and that team president Mark Murphy is aware of the quarterback’s feelings about the general manager.
“The ball is in Mark’s court,” the source said.
The heart of Aaron Rodgers' beef: Jordan Love
The fracture points between Rodgers and Gutekunst largely revolve around the drafting of Jordan Love in 2020 without Rodgers having knowledge of the move. Since then, the source said Rodgers has believed that it was Gutekunst’s plan to move on from him after the 2020 season — but that Rodgers smashed that timeline with his MVP performance. Rodgers’ response, according to the source, was he presented the Packers with an opportunity to re-commit to him after the season with a new contract (with new guaranteed money) that would ultimately cement Green Bay’s “all-in” embrace of him as the starting quarterback for at least the next two seasons. The source said the Packers were not initially willing to consider anything beyond a modest restructure of Rodgers’ contract that would have done little more than guarantee the 2021 season.
Rodgers is entering some of the same territory that Tom Brady trekked near his end with the New England Patriots. That's when Brady began to question the appreciation for his achievements in New England and whether he had any sway over some of the decisions that impacted him. This is part of what convinced Brady he needed a new setting when his contract ultimately came to an end with the Patriots. It’s part of what is driving Rodgers to have his own questions about whether the Packers' front office values him at this stage of his career. That and his suspicion that Gutekunst wants to ultimately move the team toward Love sooner than later has brought Rodgers to the brink of no return.
Could this play out like Carson Palmer's fight with the Bengals?
So what happens next? Well, if Green Bay refuses to make changes in the personnel department or somehow can't find a way to repair Rodgers’ relationship with Gutekunst, then the team’s minicamp in June becomes Rodgers' first opportunity to skip a mandatory team activity. After that, a training camp holdout could follow. And if it’s pushed to the regular season, he could make a retirement declaration to the team, similar to what Carson Palmer engaged in during the 2011 season when he refused to report to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The agent who played a large part in engineering that move for Palmer was David Dunn. It's the same David Dunn who has been Rodgers’ longtime agent. Ultimately, it was Dunn who drew the hard line in the sand for Palmer back in 2011, making it clear to the Bengals that Palmer would rather end his career than continue with the Bengals and team owner Mike Brown. In response, Brown dug in and challenged Palmer to follow through on his retirement, which lasted until the then-Oakland Raiders suddenly needed a quarterback. Dunn helped facilitate a workout for Palmer and the Raiders' coaching staff and then started working the parameters of a deal between Oakland and Cincinnati for Palmer’s rights. A deal was ultimately consummated before the 2011 trade deadline.
If Rodgers and Green Bay dig in heading into the 2021 season, that Palmer scenario could easily play out again.
One key component that can’t be forgotten in Palmer getting dealt from the Bengals was that then-rookie Andy Dalton played very well for Cincinnati in 2011, which helped loosen Brown’s willingness to trade Palmer. Oddly, if this stretches on into a regular-season holdout for Rodgers, it might take a strong start from Love to convince the Packers that they’re ready to pivot to the second-year quarterback.
Regardless of how you frame it, that’s a messy situation for Rodgers and the Packers. Rodgers has yet to say anything publicly about the trade demand that is now out in the open. It’s not beyond the norm for Rodgers to share his feelings with teammates or representatives only to backtrack when some of the things he says privately suddenly get leaked out into the public. Indeed, you could argue Rodgers already tried to backtrack on his feelings once this offseason, seemingly downplaying his frustration about his future during an appearance on "The Pat McAfee Show" earlier this offseason.
Backtracking in that manner now would be difficult. It’s more likely this fracture between Rodgers and the front office heats to a boil in the coming months, with the Packers deciding precisely how much Rodgers means to the immediate future of the organization. One way or another someone is going to come out of this getting what they want. It may just depend on who is willing to take the impasse further into the 2021 football calendar.
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