Aaron Rodgers didn’t mince words in the most epic training camp-opening press conference an NFL quarterback has ever given. While breaking down his long offseason rift with the Packers in full detail, Rodgers couldn’t commit to playing in Green Bay beyond 2021, citing the team’s lack of current commitment to him as the starting QB.
At the same time, Rodgers didn’t rule out the possibility of staying in 2022, thus staying on track to finish his career as a Packer.
“I’m definitely not closing the door on anything,” Rogers told reporters Wednesday. “I’m always optimistic on the ability to change.”
The crux of Rodgers’ issue with the organization is the fact he wasn’t brought into conversations about personnel decisions as the most valued veteran on the team, even if not having the final say on re-signings, free agent targets and draft picks. The first-round selection of Jordan Love in 2020 was only part of the equation. Choosing to continue to not get Rodgers’ input on such matters in early 2021 after the best MVP season of his career widened the divide.
Rodgers doesn’t like the idea of being a “lame-duck quarterback,” but it’s clear the Packers cannot conduct business as usual in the front office and on the field if they expect Rodgers to give 100 percent of himself to them again next season, too.
Here are five big steps the Packers need to take to ensure Rodgers keeps playing for them in 2022:
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1. Re-sign Davante Adams, Robert Tonyan and other top Rodgers targets
The Packers brought back Randall Cobb in a trade with the Texans to give Rodgers an ideal slot receiver again — a versatile, mentoring one who can also help bring along rookie Amari Rodgers. While that was a welcome development in the wideout corps, it’s not enough.
Aaron Rodgers admitted he was still upset about the team deciding to cut Jake Kumerow, whom he thought was the No. 2 receiver in camp behind Adams last year. The Packers, including Cobb and Adams, have a crowded depth chart at the position, with nine players in this year’s camp capable of making the final roster.
Over the years, Rodgers has operated best when he has the variety of targets he trusts most. The Packers’ front office, led by GM Brian Gutekunst, needs to trust Rodgers more in figuring out how to keep maximizing his passing.
One no-brainer is re-signing Adams, a pending free agent, to a lucrative long-term deal as soon as possible. The second guy who needs to be locked up fast is 2020 breakout tight end Robert Tonyan, especially with once-promising Jace Sternberger fading with a two-game suspension looming.
Most other receivers in camp have expiring contracts, too, led by Marquez Valdes-Scantling (unrestricted) and Allen Lazard (restricted). Equanimeous St. Brown and Devin Funchess are two more UFAs, while Malik Taylor, Reggie Begelton and Juwann Winfree will be exclusive rights free agents.
A good start in talking to Rodgers about personnel is giving him more control over whom all he will be throwing to next season.
2. Trade Jordan Love
The ill-fated decision of Gutekunst to select Love No. 26 overall in 2020 while Rodgers was still playing at a high level in his prime set much of Rodgers’ frustration in motion. No elite but aging QB likes his replacement drafted without knowing about it.
As long as Love is looming on the roster, he’s a threat to be the Packers’ preferred path at quarterback starting in 2022. Rodgers is smart enough to know the Packers need to see what they have in Love in the critical third year of his rookie contract. With their salary cap-centric ways, Packers’ officials would go for the big youthful yet unproven discount without needing a double check.
The Packers haven’t entertaining dealing Love, but it they really want Rodgers back, this would be massive second step. It doesn’t need to go down right now; remember the Patriots made a mega deal with the 49ers at the midseason trade deadline to move Jimmy Garoppolo behind Tom Brady to help appease him. When Nov. 2 rolls around, several teams with QB uncertainty, ranging from the Broncos to the Steelers, will a have a better idea of how they want to address the position next year based on how 2021 is going. They might see Love is the cheapest option for a young high-upside stash.
Showing love to Rodgers and further opening the door for him means showing Love out of that same door.
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3. Give Rodgers the exact type of contract extension he wants
Rodgers has said multiple times his concern isn’t about the money and is appreciative of how much he has made from the Packers in his 17-year career. The issue isn’t how much he’s been paid, but how he’s getting paid. There’s no question he wants a Patrick Mahomes-like deal with big guarantees and security through his best remaining years in Green Bay, which should be plenty based on how well he played at 36 in 2020. With that, there would be no reasonable contract out on Rodgers for the team and in essence would show the true commitment to him on paper.
If the fire keeps burning in him to compete, Rodgers should have the physical tools and commitment to staying in shape to give him up to six more stellar seasons. The Packers like team-friendly deals that give them favorable finances, which is why they handle the cap so well. But from Rodgers’ perspective, that also has made them impersonal with past personnel at times.
Rodgers wants to be treated like the special exception to their contract philosophies, which he deserves. Signing his favorite supporting skill players and offensive linemen are important, too, but as the Buccaneers showed the past two offseasons, there are ways to keep adjusting contracts to keep everyone happy. It would be easier for the Packers to extend Rodgers on his terms — and for Rodgers to want to agree to the deal — If Love is out of the picture.
4. Brian Gutekunst needs to make Rodgers relationship less “professional”
That’s how Rodgers described his lack of rapport with Gutekunst, all while glowing about other “people” related to the organization’s success — the players, the coaching staff and Packers fans. Rodgers’ drafting meant volumes Gutekunst’s late predecessor, Ted Thompson, who took pride in doing whatever it took to make Rodgers succeed post Brett Favre. Rodgers had a great personal relationship with Thompson.
There hasn’t been that same vibe between Rodgers and Gutekunst since the latter was promoted from Thompson’s protege in 2018. Based on how much Rodgers mentioned his frustration about not bringing back former go-to receiver Jordy Nelson for another season that year, you can bet that didn’t get Gutekunst off to a good start with Rodgers. The same thing happened with Cobb the following offseason.
Should Gutekunst sign all of Rodgers’ key receivers, move Love and give Rodgers his ultimate desired deal, he can erase footprints of several past missteps. But he also has to get a point where he does involve Rodgers more so they can quickly develop a feeling of mutual respect, vs. trying to work toward a championship with clashing means. Communication problems, above everything else, is what got the Packers into this mess.
5. Break through for a Super Bowl with Matt LaFleur
Rodgers won Super Bowl 45 MVP after the 2010 season. The Packers haven’t played in a Super Bowl since. They have knocked on the door plenty of late, making it to the NFC championship game four times in seven seasons.
The first two seasons with LaFleur as Rodgers’ offensive-minded coach, they have gone 13-3 and buried the past dysfunction Rodgers experienced at the end of the Mike McCarthy era. On paper, they overachieved in both seasons. They had a Pythagorean win total (adjusted for points for and points against) just short of 10 in 2019 and just short of 11 wins in 2020.
With Rodgers’ return for 2021, the Packers’ over/under for wins is back at 10. That’s tied with the Seahawks and behind seven other teams, including the last two NFC champions who beat them, the Buccaneers and 49ers. In terms of Super Bowl 55 odds, however, Rodgers puts the Packers back at +1200 on DraftKings, only behind the Chiefs (+500), Bucs (+600) and Bills (+1000).
However you look at it, Green Bay should be a strong contender in play to win it all again. Should the Packers enjoy their overdue breakthrough to take Super Bowl 56 in Los Angeles, that would be the ultimate way ensure they shouldn’t want to break up with Rodgers, and vice versa.
Nobody said it would be easy being in Green Bay for Rodgers past one more season. But there are definitely a series of steps the team can take that will keep him from walking out the door.