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How the Green Bay Packers can solve their Aaron Rodgers problem for 2021

Matt Johnson

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The Green Bay Packers need quarterback Aaron Rodgers far more than he needs them, but the organization still holds all the power amid the ongoing standoff. With training camp approaching, both sides are running out of time to find a resolution and avoid a disaster.

Tensions between the two sides went public right before the 2021 NFL Draft when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Rodgers wanted out of Green Bay. While rumors varied surrounding the cause, it became evident that the reigning NFL MVP wasn’t happy with the current environment.

It’s since become evident exactly what Rodgers’ issues with the franchise are. Between general manager Brian Gutekunst drafting Jordan Love without notifying his franchise quarterback and the role CEO Mark Murphy has in football operations, Rodgers’ doesn’t trust the organization and his concerns about the team culture might be shared.

Since rumors of the fractured relationship surface, Rodgers has stayed relatively quiet about his plans for the 2021 season. Meanwhile, the Packers have worked behind the scenes to convince him to stay all while Murphy seemingly took public shots at the franchise quarterback.

  • Aaron Rodgers stats (2021):  4,299 passing yards, 48 touchdowns, 121.5 passer rating, 8.2 ypa, 70.7% completion rate

As training camp closes in, it’s still unknown if Rodgers will report or even play this year. One thing that is clear, per Schefter, this relationship won’t be lasting beyond the 2021 season. With that in mind, let’s examine how Rodgers and the Packers can make things work for one more year.

Tweaking Aaron Rodgers contract

Aaron Rodgers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Rodgers has been transparent about Green Bay’s decision to draft Love with its first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Packers saw signs of decline during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, leading to the decision to draft an heir at quarterback. Rodgers took that as a challenge, won his third MVP award and told The Pat McAfee Show it threw a wrench in Green Bay’s plans.

At one point, the Packers’ face of the franchise likely wanted a long-term deal. A contract extension would not only reflect a commitment to Rodgers, it would also allow him to finish his NFL career with the only organization he’s ever known. When Green Bay offered a restructured contract, offering no long-term assurances, Rodgers wanted out.

The Packers relented later this spring, offering a long-term extension. But for a quarterback who has played with a chip on his shoulder throughout his entire career, the damage was done. Green Bay has financial leverage over Rodgers, with more than $30 million in salary and bonuses that won’t be paid if he sits out. But they have a bigger problem.

Going from consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances to mediocrity puts jobs on the line and in a region obsessed with the Packers, it won’t take long for the pressure to create changes. If Love starts, the same quarterback who Gutekunst admitted isn’t ready, this team won’t make the NFL Playoffs.

Rodgers wants to win a Super Bowl and with Green Bay refusing to trade him in 2021, this team offers him the best shot at a Lombardi Trophy. The stakes are just as high for this franchise, which means a restructured contract is the best option.

  • Aaron Rodgers contract: $37.3 million cap hit (2021), $39.85 million cap hit (2022), $28.35 million cap hit (2023)

The first step in convincing Rodgers to return for one last run, adjusting his contract. There are three years left on the current deal, but Green Bay can alter the structure. In addition to Rodgers receiving more money in 2021, the Packers can also include a clause and promise that he will be traded before the 2022 NFL Draft to one of seven teams on a preferred trade list.

This would be the most important concession towards a resolution, but one more step should be enough to get Rodgers on the field for training camp.

Green Bay Packers acknowledge organizational failures

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Murphy (left) and General Manager Brian Gutekunst take questions at a press conference at Lambeau Field on Monday, December 3, 2018 in Green Bay, Wis. Adam Wesley/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Admitting mistakes isn’t easy, but it’s evident the Packers messed up a situation countless NFL franchises dream of having. Green Bay had one of the most talented quarterbacks in NFL history willing to finish his career with a franchise few free agents want to sign with. Yet, it seems like this organization understood Rodgers even less than most NFL fans.

Rodgers doesn’t forget the actions or comments made by others. He always remembered the San Francisco 49ers, his hometown team, passed on him in the 2005 NFL Draft. As described by NFL writer Mike Freeman, Rodgers is a world-class grudge-holder.

That’s what makes Gutekunst’s approach to the 2020 NFL Draft so jarring. Not once did he even hint to Rodgers, neither in the weeks before the draft nor shortly before the pick, that Green Bay would be drafting a quarterback. A simple gesture to the most impactful person in a franchise was overlooked and that’s not common.

Gutekunst is the same general manager who cut wide receiver Jake Kumerow before the 2020 season almost immediately after Rodgers praised the young receiver and talked about the impact he could have.

NFL stars, let alone future Hall of Famers, are supposed to receive incredible treatment from their team. But Gutekunst seems to have a different approach and the consequences are unfolding in 2021.

Green Bay’s general manager isn’t the only one in the organization who must admit his mistakes. Murphy has seemingly turned himself into the Jerry Jones of a franchise that prides itself on being owned by the fans.

The Packers’ CEO  changed the organization’s management structure so everyone would report to him. But it’s his comments this year, which seemingly made things worse, are even more problematic.

  • In a weekly column on Packers.com, Murphy responded to a compliment about doing a great job by taking an unnecessary shot at Rodgers for dividing the fan base and said everyone would be better off staying quiet.
  • Not long after, Murphy used the deceased Ted Thompson’s private comments to take another shot at Rodgers.

It’s clear that Gutekunst and Murphy are going to outlast Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. But both executives need to recognize that for an organization that can’t attract star talent in free agency, players take notice of what is said. If Rodgers is treated this way, that speaks volumes about how any other player will be treated.

Admitting mistakes to Rodgers, the fans and the public is just a small step toward this organization starting to repair a reputation that has taken a deserved hit.