CHICAGO — Maybe the news didn’t fully compute Thursday afternoon. Aaron Rodgers discontent with management in Green Bay?
OK. Sure. Stuff happens.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. There’s also usually an extinguisher nearby.
But Aaron Rodgers fully committed to never taking another snap for the Packers?
Come on! Really?
It initially felt like juicy scuttlebutt and not much more, some of that junior high kind of drama that creates quite a stir but ultimately resolves itself before anything seismic occurs. Except this is not that. Far from it.
The initial rumors of Rodgers’ discontent were quickly backed up by legitimate reports — all from reliable and tapped-in NFL reporters. One piece of well-sourced intel after another, the stories passed the credibility test. As the kids like to say, “(Stuff) just got real!”
So here we are, about a week later, and the possibility that Rodgers is done as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers is as legitimate as it has ever been.
ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, who has been covering the Packers since 1997, has gone on record to say there is less than a 5% chance Rodgers ever wears his No. 12 jersey for the Packers again. That measurement moves the likelihood needle sharply from “possible” to “nearly certain.”
Andrew Brandt, a former Packers executive who is now a contributor for Sports Illustrated, has hinted that the Packers personnel department lacks people skills and that the front office unwittingly neglected its relationship with Rodgers.
Then on Wednesday, longtime Packers scribe Bob McGinn, who has been all over the beat since Lynn Dickey was taking the snaps at Lambeau Field, re-emphasized in a piece for The Athletic that Rodgers’ distrust of and distaste for general manager Brian Gutekunst remains at the root of all this turmoil. Wrote McGinn, citing sources: “Rodgers has mocked Gutekunst in group chats with his teammates in Green Bay by referring to the GM as Jerry Krause.”
Even as Chicago openly celebrates the idea that Rodgers soon might be heading to another NFL neighborhood, that Krause analogy certainly conjures up a bit of empathy. An MVP, championship-winning franchise legend suddenly wrathful with a self-confident but clumsy boss intent on mapping out the future his way?
Yeah. Sometimes those kinds of things can get messy. And unresolvable.
Whether Rodgers follows Jordan’s path into a premature retirement fresh off an MVP season remains to be seen. Perhaps he’ll demand a trade and ultimately have that request granted. (Keep a close eye on Vic Fangio’s Denver Broncos.)
Or maybe the tension will subside, the standoff will end and Rodgers will persevere through one more season with the Packers in 2021. A last dance, if you will.
That possibility, however, now seems like a major long shot.
Gutekunst’s move to draft Utah quarterback Jordan Love in the first round in 2020 was one thing. His oversight to not give Rodgers a pre-draft heads-up was a miscalculation. Rodgers felt disrespected, maybe even betrayed.
Then, late last summer, after Rodgers praised young receiver Jake Kumerow, the Packers released him and he wound up in Buffalo. That also didn’t sit well, especially with an accomplished player like Rodgers who, according to many who have been around the Packers organization for years, is an elite grudge-holder and an expert in passive-aggressiveness.
Simply put, when Rodgers is done, he’s done. When differences arise, he often cements them as irreconcilable. At this stage, those who know Rodgers and those who are tapped into the Packers organization see little chance the relationship can be repaired.
McGinn noted this week that a friend of Rodgers speculated there was a 98% chance the quarterback’s time in Green Bay was done.
Best in show?
You can imagine the private fist pumps that are happening at Halas Hall and also at team headquarters in Detroit and Minnesota. The Packers have won the NFC North seven times in the last 10 seasons. Since becoming the Packers starter in 2008, Rodgers’ 11 playoff victories are seven more than the Bears, Lions and Vikings combined in that span.
His exit from the division would warrant a standing ovation — out of respect and full-blown glee. And it also might leave the Bears with the most desirable quarterback situation in the NFC North.
Ten days ago, such a statement would have been beyond preposterous, worthy of a straitjacket. But here we are in the first week of May 2021, and the Bears’ future at the most important position in the sport might be brighter and more stable than any of their division rivals.
Would anyone really want this Packers melodrama, a bitter quarrel that seems headed for a divorce and the early launch of Love?
Can we also see a show of hands for those who would rather be in the Detroit Lions’ car right now? With all-time leading passer Matthew Stafford traded to the Los Angeles Rams over the winter and Jared Goff now in the driver’s seat with David Blough riding shotgun and Tim Boyle in the back seat?
The Vikings? Tenth-year veteran Kirk Cousins is entering the final season of his massive contract. And his up-and-down tenure in Minnesota has created enough anxiety that general manager Rick Spielman invested a third-round pick Friday night on Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond. That, folks, qualifies as a succession plan. And, according to multiple reports from the Twin Cities, the move to select Mond came only after the Vikings made efforts to trade up in Round 1 for Justin Fields.
Yep, that Justin Fields. The one in the navy No. 1 jersey with the “GSH” on the sleeves. The quarterback of the future who fell into the Bears’ lap in the draft and quickly cured all the irritation and despondency that cold-cocked fans when the team signed Andy Dalton in March.
Fields isn’t guaranteed to be the Bears’ long-term answer at quarterback. His career might at some point follow the paths of Rex Grossman, Jay Cutler and Mitch Trubisky — right into the alley dumpster. It would be impractical to bet on Fields becoming a surefire star. But at present, that seems to have greater odds than Rodgers playing for the Packers again.
And the mere opening for Bears fan to imagine and dream what Fields can become with his size and his speed and his arm strength and his athleticism and his drive and his playmaking penchant and …
Well, you get the point. Chicago has been rejuvenated. This Rodgers saga is only heightening the euphoria.
End of the road
Man, what a league. And what a wild offseason of quarterback craziness.
— Deshaun Watson’s trade demands followed by an avalanche of personal legal issues.
— The Stafford-for-Goff deal.
— Drew Brees’ retirement; Philip Rivers’ too.
— Carson Wentz’s exit from Philadelphia.
— Russell Wilson’s flirtations with four other teams — spurred on by his agent — and the Seattle Seahawks’ firm “You’re not going anywhere” response.
— Dak Prescott’s extension with the Dallas Cowboys.
— Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers and Teddy Bridgewater to the Broncos.
— Quarterbacks taken 1-2-3 in the NFL draft for the first time this century.
In some way, shape or form, 15 teams have had major quarterback news over the past four months.
Still, none of those stories would trump the abrupt end of Rodgers’ reign in Green Bay.
The Packers, for what it’s worth, haven’t exactly short-changed Rodgers. They have offered, per reports, to make him the highest-paid player in the NFL. He has access to an offense with one of the best receivers in football, a top-tier line and a versatile, playmaking No. 1 running back.
He has a connection with coach Matt LeFleur and the freedom to put his fingerprints all over the playbook.
Last season, Rodgers threw for a career-best 48 touchdown passes, won his third league MVP award, led the highest scoring offense in the league and was one victory from returning to the Super Bowl.
But he remains peeved at his GM and now has a strong desire to get the hell out of Green Bay as soon as possible. As unbelievable as it may seem, that’s the direction this seems to be headed.
Barring a significant twist, the NFC North is about to be blown wide open.