As GM declares Aaron Rodgers won't be traded, Packers have only themselves to blame for draft day chaos

For all intents and purposes, Aaron Rodgers won his argument with Green Bay Packers management in January.

Even at the age of 37, his MVP season and performance in the postseason was more than enough to quell any hesitancy about his standing in 2021 and beyond. The campaign should have been over.

He had earned these three things: A longer-term buy-in from the front office, with guaranteed money that cemented him as the franchise centerpiece for the next three seasons; some consideration from general manager Brian Gutekunst when it came to retaining or adding some offensive players to the roster; and some clear backing from team president Mark Murphy when it came to navigating a tense relationship between the quarterback and general manager.

This is what Aaron Rodgers believes he earned. And when it became clear he wasn’t going to get one or maybe any of those needs met, it was time to seek another horizon. And according to sources close to the quarterback, that’s when he decided to express to the team brain trust that he wanted out.

"No. We're not going to trade Aaron Rodgers," Gutekunst told the Green Bay Press-Gazette on Thursday night after the draft.

We'll see now that this has blown up publicly.

We can go round and round about the mechanics of when this moment of supreme dissension arrived, but all that matters now is this is where it has settled: With Rodgers looking at Gutekunst as a general manager who is not fully invested in him, and with Gutekunst looking at Rodgers as a dwindling quarterback resource that necessitates replenishment before it actually runs out. It’s an age-old problem that continually confronts elite quarterbacks in the winter of their careers — this dynamic tension of wanting to maximize their final act while the decision makers around them are already planning for the curtain to drop.

Green Bay Packers' team president Mark Murphy, left, looks on as general manager Brian Gutekunst speaks during a press conference at Lambeau field in Green Bay, Wisc., Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. The Packers fired head coach Mike McCarthy after a loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Green Bay Packers' team president Mark Murphy, left, and general manager Brian Gutekunst speaks during a press conference at Lambeau Field. (AP)

The simple truth of this is the Packers should have seen this impasse coming after the 2020 season, when Rodgers exceeded the organizations expectations and drove a stake through the plan to begin a transition to Jordan Love in 2021 or 2022. Whatever the master plan was to engineer a smooth transition, it was clear that Rodgers wasn’t going to deteriorate to the point of making the change simple. That put the Packers into a position to make a choice: Either re-commit to Rodgers and scrap the Love transition plan in the next few years, or open their ears and listen to what Rodgers is saying about where he wants to go.

The Packers fumbled both choices. And that’s how we arrived at Thursday, with Green Bay stealing the first day of the draft for all the wrong reasons. It all set up a swirl of narratives that will seek to place blame on one side or the other, rather than sharing in the unified destruction of the relationship between a Hall of Fame quarterback and his team of 16 years.

In some ways, it will smack of Tom Brady’s end with the New England Patriots and who was to blame there. And maybe one year from now, it will also reek of how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers going all-in on Brady in the aftermath of his Patriots departure, giving elite veteran quarterbacks a snapshot of how wonderful a second life (and second team) can actually be.

Some of that is mixed up in all of this — Rodgers getting a chance to see what things could be like with a new front office that might be unabashedly invested in his remaining years. And of course, there is some residue of guaranteed money that also brings some element of guaranteed power, too. It’s never just one thing that leads to this kind of uncomfortable intersection.

Rodgers bares some responsibility in this moment. But the Packers let it get to the stage where it pushed further out into public view, with Rodgers feeling like he had to play a chess match of vague statements about his future and the helplessness over the direction of his remaining years. Green Bay had to know it was going to get worse. And Gutekunst had to know that Rodgers had carved a more powerful position for himself by playing out of his mind in 2020.

Once that happened, it was incumbent on the Packers to sit down with Rodgers and listen to what he wanted for himself and his career. If he wanted a Brady situation and the franchise wasn’t going to relent to that, the next question was whether the Packers were prepared to engage in a public battle with their star quarterback. If they weren’t, then their ears needed to open to trade possibilities long before the first day of the draft.

Instead, Green Bay slow-played Rodgers on his contract demands, then tried to repair the damage when he stopped playing games and said it was time to sever ties. But at some point, the damage is beyond repair. If Rodgers doesn’t think Gutekunst believes in him — or maybe has a creeping suspicion that Gutekunst doesn’t really want him round — then there is no getting the toothpaste back into the tube. At least, not without some kind of significant mess that ends with Gutekunst's firing.

We know that’s not going to happen, not with Gutekunst showing the ability to successfully lead the franchise — well, all except one very important piece of it. So the choice now has crystalized: If Rodgers no longer wants to play for a Packers franchise that is shaped by someone he doesn’t feel believes in him, then the time for Rodgers to go has arrived.

We’ve been heading to this divorce for months. That Green Bay couldn’t stop it — and that Rodgers doesn’t appear to want to save it — is precisely why it’s time to relent to it. For everyone involved.

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