Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke the silence Thursday.
Rodgers, speaking with the media for the first time since the 2020 NFC championship game loss to Tampa Bay, detailed his past grievances with the Packers’ organization. He addressed almost every rumor month by month leading up to training camp. He name-dropped a handful of Packers who finished their careers elsewhere. He relayed his frustration with not being involved in personnel decisions. He reinforced gratitude for the coaches, fans and players in Green Bay and renewed a personal commitment to mental health.
What did Rodgers want from all that offseason drama?
“A commitment for the 2021 season and beyond,” he said. “That really wasn’t given at any time. For me, I had to assess the situation and not necessarily wanted to be a lame-duck quarterback coming off a MVP season. I think you can understand that.”
Absolutely. As far as press conferences go, it was honest, open and candid. Rodgers still did not speculate about whether he is a lame-duck quarterback. Will he be in Green Bay past 2021?
“I really don’t know,” Rodgers said. “Things that are in that direction haven’t really changed at all. I am just going to focus on this year. There are a lot of moving pieces beside myself, expiring contracts for a number of guys. There are going to be a lot of tough decisions. I’m just going to enjoy this year, and then revisit that conversation at the end of the season.”
That topic is the pressure point for the 2021 season. This wasn’t his first press conference or a Brett Favre-like retirement press conference. Rodgers is still in Green Bay, whether he wants to be or not.
Imagine the questions if the Packers start 0-2. Rodgers will be taking the heat after that tabloid-filled offseason.
Sure, Green Bay can build good-will with Rodgers beyond the immediate trade for veteran receiver Randall Cobb. The Packers could make good-faith moves by extending contracts for Davante Adams and Robert Tonyan. Gutekunst said Rodgers will be involved in those decisions now.
“I think what he’s done for this organization, he deserves at least the conversation every year about where we’re headed, where he’s headed,” Gutekunst said. “He’s earned the right to have those discussions.”
Gutekunst and 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love do not appear to be going anywhere. How much longer can that “professional” relationship last with Rodgers?
Rodgers didn’t call his shot, but he took enough calculated shots at the Packers to make his point clear. Rodgers vented about not being involved in free agency and personnel decisions in the 2020 offseason. He debated retirement. He submitted fair complaints about his role within the organization and Green Bay’s methods.
“I don’t necessarily agree with it, but objectively there has been a lot of success here over the last 30 years,” Rodgers said. “I just wanted to be a little more involved. I understand that’s not the way it went.”
With that statement, the pressure isn’t on the Packers now. All those grievances are out there. It’s on Rodgers, at least for this season.
Rodgers and several teammates posted Instagram pictures of former Chicago Bulls stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen last and the 1990s Bulls all weekend. If this truly is the “Last Dance” in Green Bay, then it has to come with the same conclusion.
Even then, the comparison is sketchy.
Jordan, Pippen and general manager Jerry Krause won five NBA Finals before adding that sixth championship. Rodgers has reached five NFC championship games, and the Packers have lost the last four since winning their last Super Bowl in 2010. Gutekunst wasn’t even part of that team.
Green Bay can expect Rodgers to deliver in 2021 now. The minimum expectation is an NFC championship game appearance, and that’s not easy knowing Tampa Bay and Tom Brady have all 22 starters returning. It is fair to hold Rodgers to that standard, even against one of the toughest schedules in the NFL.
That challenge is difficult knowing an NFC team has reached the conference championship game in three consecutive years eight times since 1970. Dallas (1970-73, 1980-82, 1992-95), San Francisco (1988-90, 1992-94, 2011-13), Green Bay (1995-97) and Philadelphia (2001-04). Of those teams, Dallas was the only one that didn’t reach the Super Bowl from 1980-82.
If the Packers get there, then they have to win this time, too.
As for “The Last Dance” motif, yeah, Jordan delivered. Who is Rodgers shoving off of to throw the game-winning TD in Super Bowl LVI? Will Cobb catch that pass? Does a Super Bowl victory keep Rodgers in Green Bay past 2021? Can the locker-room hold up in a win-or-else season?
Rodgers remained careful with his word choice when asked about his past desire to remain with Green Bay past 2021.
“I did, but as you recall I said last year there are some things that might be out of my hands at this point,” Rodgers said. “Based on them drafting my replacement J. Lo last year, that kind of put things in motion. I thought we could progress some of those conversations with greater commitment in the offseason. That really didn’t happen.”
Here is what can’t happen: Another “Summer of Schefter” in 2022. The “pissing match” Rodgers referenced is not going to reach the point where he ends up in a Vikings uniform two years later. Green Bay already maximized quarterback drama with Favre. This has to be the line.
The Packers took the hits Wednesday. They won’t do that again.
As for Rodgers? He can always take that train to Denver, Las Vegas or wherever else after the 2021 season, but there will never be more pressure to get back to the Super Bowl than there is now.
“I realize the type of team that is in place here,” he said. “It’s a team that has a lot of talent on it. It’s been close the last few years.”
Then Rodgers must realize it’s on him to take the Packers even closer.
Yeah, it is Super Bowl-or-bust as usual. More, even. That is a ton of pressure.
That is what you get for being honest, open and candid.