The Aaron Rodgers “will he” or “won’t he” offseason-long drama with the Packers has reached its anti-climactic end with the start of training camp. Long after a bombshell report from ESPN during the 2021 NFL Draft that suggested Rodgers wanted out of Green Bay, the NFL Network reported Monday he plans to stay and play out the season.
For three long months from late April to late July, Rodgers gave little clarity on the situation. He had a busy offseason away from the field that included him guest-hosting “Jeopardy!”, adventuring with his fiancee, co-winning “The Match 4” golf challenge and earning an NBA championship ring as a Milwaukee Bucks minority owner. Rodgers did say he used the time to work on his mental health, without confirming or denying he would return to the Packers in time for training camp.
Although Rodgers’ spring absence from voluntary workouts and mandatory organized team activites was unprecedented for his career, there was no indication he wouldn’t be there when it counts most in the preseason. With the potential of real money being lost in camp, the report date of July 27 had always been the true deadline.
This doesn’t mean things between Rodgers and Packers are perfect to the point the reigning NFL MVP quarterback also will be thrilled playing for them in 2022 beyond. Packers president Mark Murphy told reporters it remains a “challenging situation” to fully appease Rodgers. GM Brian Gutekunst already admitted that Rodgers was right about the team mishandling the communication regarding the first-round drafting of QB Jordan Love in 2020.
But Rodgers’ rift with management wasn’t enough for him respond with a real holdout or trade demand in the short term. Here are the reasons why any outcome other than him reporting for the opening of camp didn’t make sense:
A big part of Rodgers’ elite success as an all-time great and surefire Hall of Famer is the fact he still plays the game with a chip on his shoulder. It’s been a long time since he was overlooked by major college programs, slid to No. 24 overall in the 2005 draft and needed to wait to start behind Brett Favre to start his career. But the fire within him has kept on raging, further fueled by any signs of disrespect.
You can bet the selection of Love instead of a supporting offensive player revved up Rodgers, at 36, to throw his arguable best NFL season in the Packers’ faces in 2020. Now there has been the unfair portrayal of Rodgers of being a selfish player who doesn’t believe he can win a second ring in Green Bay despite all the seasons in which he heavy-lifted up the team.
Rodgers didn’t suddenly prefer hosting a game show or playing pro-worthy golf. He’s just that talented of a modern renaissance man. He also still loves to prove there’s no one better playing quarterback. He can’t do that if he’s not playing. Rodgers sitting out a season when he has several prime years left wasn’t in his nature, especialy with more reason to burn up inside.
Rodgers also isn’t the type of player to let down his teammates. It’s not by accident he has a lot of great friends on the offense, because he has worked to make all of them better. In the end, he’s not playing for or with Murphy or Gutekunst, but for a peer-like offensive-minded coach in Matt LaFleur and with a lot of other talented grinders.
He wants to be there for his go-to wide receiver, Davante Adams, to help him maximize his next contract. He wants to help running back Aaron Jones and tight end Robert Tonyan live up to their new deals. He wants to enjoy a lot of more of that great chemistry he has with his offensive linemen.
Rodgers, when appearing on Kenny Mayne’s last “SportsCenter” broadcast for ESPN, kept mentioning the “people” of the organization being the most important thing. He made it clear that between his teammates and LaFleur, the Packers had winning culture and character. Rodgers’ introspective individuality often gets misconstrued. He doesn’t want to do things his way, but only in the right way. The environment for the players in Green Bay is in a good place and it’s difficult for Rodgers to separate from that.
According to a new ESPN report last week, Rodgers turned down a two-year contract extension through 2025 that would have once again made him the highest-paid quarterback and player in the NFL. While the focus has been on Rodgers reportedly declining another big money bump, that’s ignoring one strong possiblity. It likely was another a team-friendly deal that would still give the Packers favorable outs from committing to Rodgers in the nearer future.
That’s not the case in 2021. The Packers would still absorb a massive $38.356 million dead money hit over two years by moving Rodgers now with limited cap savings of $16 million of little use to them now with salaries for their roster in place. Before June 1 next year, Rodgers can be traded with a cost of only $17.2 million in dead money with more significant cap relief in relation to that, $22.6 million.
Based on the parameters of Rodgers’ contract, 2022 was always the most feasible breakup year should the Packers want to commit to Love before his rookie contract ends. For Rodgers and the Packers in 2021, the best choice was him playing through one more season.
No, this doesn’t mean the Packers have granted Rodgers a lifetime supply of cheese curds, nachos, brats, pretzels and beer. This is all about using 2021 as a bridge season to repair the remaining issues Rodgers has with the team.
ESPN reports instead of including an extension with preferred parameters that locks the Packers more into Rodgers, the team would agree to reduce the length of the deal so he can become an untagged, unresticted free agent a year earlier in 2023. In the short term, they would work to find solutions to Rodgers’ problems with the organization before committing to reassess the situation after the season.
The Packers would be putting some actions behind their words to prove their commitment to Rodgers, but at the same time, still give he Rodgers his desired out and a chance to be transparent about a potential successiion plan involving Love.
Rodgers once reminded Packers fans how to spell R-E-L-A-X after the team’s 1-2 start to the 2014 season. Green Bay went on to finish 12-4 and lose a heartbreaking NFC title game to the Seahawks. The team had a simliar disappointing end in the 2020 playoffs, with a big comeback against Tom Brady’s Buccaneers falling short.
Rodgers isn’t one to say or do something rash in the wake of frustration, on or off the field. He has a cool, cocky demeanor reminscent of many all-time best QBs. Despite his displeasure in how the Packers disrespected him, there was no sense of panic that leaving Green Bay right away would be the only acceptable solution. Like how well he reads the field and the putting green, Rodgers was thinking about the long game more than the quick fix.
By playing as a happy camper now, Rodgers has assured that he and the Packers have a much better chance of getting what they want later, either still together or apart.