We’ve reached the four-week anniversary of the now very public beef between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. It was a monthlong traffic snarl of news, commentary and speculation surrounding the quarterback and his NFL team, with no resolution in sight.
But also no resolute statements.
That’s what the Packers might be hanging on to, particularly now that everyone has had their chance to step to a microphone and let it rip. That includes Rodgers, who made his first meaningful public statement in the coziest of national television confines with longtime friend Kenny Mayne on Monday night. It was an ESPN venue he chose to seemingly let the Green Bay fan base know that, yes, there is a problem here and things are not good.
Here’s the thing that lingers from that interview: There’s a big difference between a broken relationship and a dead relationship. And when Rodgers wandered through all the things he loved about being a Packer on Monday night — making it about the people, the people, the people — he never definitively declared his relationship with the franchise to be dead. He stayed far from it, criticizing only the “philosophy” of how management treats players and what the franchise plan might have been before his MVP season last year.
That should mean something to the Packers’ brain trust, who had to be uncomfortable not knowing what kind of lob pass Mayne had in store for his friend, perhaps offering up the juiciest question and an opportunity for Rodgers to dunk on general manager Brian Gutekunst or team president Mark Murphy. To his credit, Mayne didn’t let Rodgers off the show without pressing the QB for anything about the impasse. Mayne even interrupted at one point to ask Rodgers point blank if he was seeking a trade. The question was ignored, fueling that one glimmer of hope that the door is still cracked for reconciliation.
That doesn’t always happen in these situations. NFL history is littered with players who tried to burn everything down to get themselves out the door of a franchise. Indeed, even when a split is attempted with a relatively even hand, there is still a definitive moment when you know it’s most likely over.
If we look at the last time NFL agent David Dunn led a high-level quarterback through this kind of minefield, the line was drawn very publicly and very quickly. It featured Dunn — who now represents Rodgers — writing out a statement about Carson Palmer that erased any ambiguity about whether his quarterback client was exiting Cincinnati.
Immediately after Palmer met with Bengals owner Mike Brown in 2011 and told him that he wanted a trade — drawing a hard “no” — Dunn released a statement. He let everyone know exactly what was happening between the two sides: “Because of the lack of success that Carson and the Bengals have experienced together, Carson strongly feels that a separation between him and the Bengals would be in the best interest of both parties.”
Straight to the point. Clear. And right into the hands of the media for deepest possible saturation.
That hasn’t come close to happening with Rodgers and Dunn. It didn’t happen during draft weekend. Nor did it happen in the ensuing weeks, when the Packers kept talking about how Rodgers wasn’t going to be traded, even as more of his displeasure with management became obvious. Most notable, it didn’t happen after nearly a month, when Rodgers was presented with a national stage to air his grievances with a friend on the other end of the dialogue.
Instead, he took some light slaps. He appealed to the kind of thing fans would understand. But he never called in the airstrike that could have significantly advanced a trade push. And a few days later, that’s what lingers.
Of course, that’s not saying it was a good night for the Packers’ front office. Rodgers didn’t shoot down the trade report. And he didn’t walk back virtually anything that has been reported about his issues with management, even addressing the drafting of Jordan Love with a nuanced statement of not having a problem with Love the person or teammate. It was the kind of stuff that wins over some of the public opinion, absorbed by some fans as, “See? He still loves the team.”
Even with the moment of Rodgers talking up seemingly everyone but the team president and general manager, it struck a measured chord. And for the Packers, that’s far better than dropping a hammer — or at least far better than Dunn repeating history with a statement of “Aaron strongly feels that a separation between him and the Packers would be in the best interest of both parties.”
The lack of that moment allows a perturbed star to retain some finite space between “I’m not happy with things” and “I’ll never be happy with things.” And as long as that space exists, a flicker of hope exists.
Maybe this is what former teammates like James Jones and John Kuhn are talking about when they say things are fixable. Maybe they have been waiting for the coup de grâce like everyone else, and just haven’t heard it. Maybe Rodgers has adopted a more measured tact with the draft in the rearview mirror and the remaining trade options looking more dicey than they did in March.
Whatever the reasoning, we’re a month removed from Rodgers’ displeasure being aired out during the first night of the draft and we remain in the same unresolved space. That isn’t great for Green Bay but it isn’t the worst spot, either. At the very least, now everyone has had their opportunity to speak.
Aaron Rodgers hasn’t denied anything. He hasn’t destroyed anything, either. That might be enough to cling to as the Packers seek the right olive branch to resolve this thing.
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