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Opinion: Aaron Rodgers' situation with Green Bay may look bleak, but Packers shouldn't panic yet

·4 min read
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Matt LaFleur chose his words carefully, and for good reason.

As the third-year head coach and the Green Bay Packers on Tuesday kicked off a three-day slate of offseason practices designated as mandatory minicamp, one of the most storied franchises in NFL history remained in a standoff with its star quarterback.

A week after LaFleur expressed hope that Aaron Rodgers and management would have resolved their differences so the quarterback could return to the field, Rodgers remained away from team headquarters. In his stead, second-year project Jordan Love directed the offense.

Well-aware that management's poor communication -- along with public humiliation after the blind-side drafting of Love a year ago -- brought the Packers to this precarious juncture, LaFleur has done his part to ensure a potential resolution could play out behind closed doors. The coach on Tuesday conveyed his confidence in Rodgers and the kind of unflappable leadership that Green Bay desperately needs right now.

Will QB Aaron Rodgers and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur have a third season together in 2021?
Will QB Aaron Rodgers and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur have a third season together in 2021?

LaFleur, 41, may boast only limited experience as a head coach, but thus far has handled this undesirable situation, created by management, with poise beyond his years.

“I’m not going into my conversations with Aaron and the communication,” LaFleur told reporters when asked whether the two have spoken, and how he feels about the organization’s ability to resolve this dispute. “I think I’m naturally optimistic, but again, we’ll take it day-by-day and do whatever we can to help remedy the situation.”

While chances for reconciliation may appear bleak in this first full week of June, it’s just that: early June. It’s still not time to hit the panic button.

The Packers have time on their side, and although Rodgers boasts leverage and could single-handedly derail hopes for Super Bowl contention in 2021, the team holds the trump card. Rodgers remains under contract, so if he aims to play this fall, he’ll have to do so in Green Bay, given management’s stance that it will not trade him.

Publicly, everyone from LaFleur to general manager Brian Gutekunst to team president Mark Murphy have expressed the desire to keep Rodgers. So for now, LaFleur, his assistants and Rodgers' teammates will focus on what matters most: coaching, teaching and learning their own roles while their bosses exercise patience and diplomacy with Rodgers and his camp. That’s their only hope for reconciliation and competitive play come football season.

At this point in his career -- with 15 seasons, a Super Bowl, three MVP honors and nine Pro Bowl selections -- Rodgers doesn’t need offseason practice. He knows the system and he knows his teammates. He could stay away until three days before the regular-season opener and still have a better chance of leading his team to victory than most quarterbacks.

“Aaron has a ton of experience, and he’s not a guy that I worry about particularly that much,” LaFleur said with a chuckle. “He’s a pro’s pro. I know he knows how to take care of his body and how to get himself ready to play, so that is not much of a concern for us at all.”

Rodgers' absence actually is a blessing in disguise because Green Bay doesn’t have an experienced backup. Love possesses athleticism and potential, but he didn’t step foot on the field last season and received only limited reps in practice. So if he does indeed represent the future, every practice Rodgers misses provides prime learning opportunities for Love.

“He needs every rep he can get right now. He’s a young quarterback who was not afforded a preseason last year,” LaFleur said. “Every rep he takes is so valuable both for good and the bad.”

The Packers took the same approach years ago when Brett Favre opted against attending practices for multiple offseasons. A young Rodgers got the reps and learned the system, and that no doubt helped ensure the smooth transition the Packers enjoyed once Favre exited and Rodgers took over.

So until Rodgers returns, LaFleur and his staff will continue to “coach the heck out of” the cast of unproven quarterbacks on this offseason roster.

Behind the scenes, Gutekunst and Murphy must do everything possible to fix their relationship with Rodgers. They must kiss the ring and apply patience.

After botching this thing in such avoidable fashion, for now, they’re playing their cards right.

***

Follow USA TODAY Sports NFL columnist Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Aaron Rodgers' situation may look bleak, but Packers shouldn't panic