Nine takeaways from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' candid comments
GREEN BAY - Wearing a Green Bay Packers hat and gray long-sleeve shirt, Aaron Rodgers stepped to the podium with the "G" logos plastered behind him inside Lambeau Field around noon Wednesday.
How long the three-time MVP quarterback will wear those colors and represent the franchise is still unknown as Rodgers said he's just trying to "focus" on this year and "enjoy" the 2021 season.
But it's clear. He is frustrated. And this goes way beyond the drafting of Jordan Love in 2020. That was just the tipping point of management not involving him in personnel decisions that "affect my job." This had been bubbling for years. And on Wednesday, there was no hidden message or reading between the lines on his T-shirt or a tweet. It was an unfiltered dive into a player who is always methodical in his words. He didn't hold back in his criticisms toward the front office.
If you had 30 minutes and some scotch, you could pull up a chair and listen to the "Aaron Rodgers Offseason 2021" documentary and you didn't have to wait until his "30 for 30" series.
So for the first time since it was reported this spring that he was so disgruntled that he wanted out of Green Bay, Rodgers was open and honest in discussing his grievances toward the organization, how serious he was toward retirement and his future as a Packer. Oh, and that draft day leak, he said that wasn't from him or his representatives.
Here are nine takeaways from his first news conference that kicked off what is sure to be the most interesting training camp since 2008 in Green Bay.
He says he wanted a commitment beyond 2021 and that it's not about the money
Rodgers, despite being under contract through the 2023 season, said in conversations he had with management in February that a sticking point for him was the lack of a long-term commitment toward him. President Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst have publicly said they want Rodgers as the quarterback for this season and beyond.
On Wednesday, Rodgers said he didn't want "to be a lame-duck quarterback, especially after an MVP season."
Rodgers added that following the NFL draft, the front office approached him about offering more money. "See if we can throw some money at you" is how Rodgers explained it. "I said from the start, it wasn’t about the money." But he added that "it seemed natural (about a contract extension) based on the way I played." He said this conversation didn't happen until May. Too late, Rodgers essentially said.
"To me, it was bigger than this. It was about trying to be a resource for the organization that I care about and love. When the money came at me, there was a part of me that did think there would be conversations about an extension."
Rodgers said he understands "he's not a victim" and that he's been paid a lot of money in his career.
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He has wanted to be involved in free-agency decisions
He said in talks with management that he expressed a desire to be part of conversations involving free agents, something he said "has never happened in my career."
"I’ve tried to pass along information. Hasn’t really been used, shall we say. So I wanted to offer up services as a recruiter. Green Bay isn’t a huge vacation destination. People are coming in here to play with me, to play with our team and knowing they can win a championship here. The fact that I haven't been used in those discussions was one I wanted to change moving forward. I felt, based on my years, the way I can still play, that should be a natural part of the conversation."
But he said it hasn't been, so that's why he said, "If you can’t commit to me past 2021 and I’m not a part of the recruiting process in free agency, if I'm not a part of the future then instead of letting me be a lame-duck quarterback and you want to make a change and move forward, then go ahead and do it.”
Rodgers is upset over how Packers treated, didn't retain veteran players over the years
While the divide between Rodgers and the organization has certainly not dissipated, he admitted "there were some developments in the last week" and "some things" were figured out that brought him back to Green Bay. He also would have faced $50,000-per-day fines if he didn't show up.
One of these "developments" appears to be the return of good friend Randall Cobb. After two seasons away from the Packers, Rodgers has one of his favorite wide receivers back for 2021. The Packers drafted Cobb in 2011 and he spent eight productive seasons (470 receptions, 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns) in Green Bay and now he's returning, to Rodgers' delight.
But the way the Packers let Cobb go in free agency after the 2018 season didn't sit well with Rodgers, nor did the way the team released many of the other veterans over the years.
He added he also wanted to help "the organization learn from some of the mistakes in the past about the way some of the outgoing veterans were treated."
"I'm talking about Charles Woodson, Jordy Nelson, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, James Jones, John Kuhn, Brett Goode, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, guys who were exceptional players for us, great locker-room guys, high-character guys, many of whom weren’t offered a contract at all or were extremely lowballed or were maybe not given the respect on the way out that guys of their status and stature and high character deserve."
Some of those players were aging veterans at the end of their careers with some injury history, while others had many productive seasons post-Green Bay like Hayward and Hyde. Woodson, elected to the 2021 Hall of Fame, returned to Oakland and had three solid seasons, including a Pro Bowl year. Peppers also had two good seasons in Carolina before retiring.
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He doesn't have a personal relationship with general manager Brian Gutekunst
Rodgers said he didn't try to get Gutekunst fired this offseason and, when asked to describe his relationship with the Packers general manager, he used one word: "Professional."
Rodgers said the coaching hire of LaFleur wasn't run past him, a move that again showed him his place in the organization
When Matt LaFleur was hired as the head coach in January 2019, Rodgers said he didn't find out about it until after the deal was done.
While Rodgers said "I do love Matt" and "we've had a blast together and I'm glad he's here," the quarterback added, "It's decisions like that that have happened over and over and over again that made me realize the organization looks at me and my job is just to play."
That shouldn't be the case, he said.
"Based on what I’ve accomplished in this league, the way I care about my teammates, the way I show up in the locker room, the way I lead, the way I conduct myself in the community, it should tie myself to a little bit more input," Rodgers said. "The rules are the same for most people, but every now and again there’s some outliers, guys who've been in organizations for 17 years, won a few MVPs where they can be in conversations at a different high level. I’m not asking for anything that other great quarterbacks across the last few decades have not gotten."
Packers' decision to cut Jake Kumerow bothered him and apparently still does
Speaking of input: One recent move made by the Packers' management that irked Rodgers was the decision to cut wide receiver Jake Kumerow last year.
A day before Kumerow was released by the Packers on Sept. 5, 2020, Rodgers went on a radio show and praised the former University of Wisconsin-Whitewater standout.
Kumerow played the 2018 and 2019 seasons in Green Bay. While he only caught two career touchdown passes and was ninth on the team in catches in 2019, his 2020 training camp performance was enough to catch Rodgers' attention.
Rodgers didn't mention Kumerow by name Wednesday but it was clear whom he was talking about.
Rodgers said he wanted "the opportunity to just be in the conversation so if you’re going to cut a guy who was our second-best receiver in training camp last year, maybe run it by me. See what I feel. I might be able to change your mind. Just to be in the conversation, makes you feel you’re important, you’re respected."
Kumerow signed a reserve/futures contract with the Buffalo Bills earlier this year.
He did seriously contemplate retiring
Rodgers has previously said he wanted to play into his 40s. Given his frustrations with the franchise and that he's going to turn 38 and has interests outside of football, did he actually consider retiring?
On Wednesday, he said retirement was "definitely something I thought about."
He said he "enjoyed" the offseason and in the process of "working on myself," he said he "continued to find joy and happiness in things off the field."
But Rodgers added, "There’s still a big competitive hole in my body that I need to fill. As I got back into my workouts, I just realized I know I can still play. And I want to still play and, as long as I feel I can give 100% to the team, then I should still play."
At one point, he said feels "really good" about being back, that the "fire still burns" in him.
He says he doesn't know what his future is beyond this year in Green Bay
Last week, Rodgers posted a photo of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen from "The Last Dance," a documentary series that chronicled the final championship season of the legendary Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. So will the 2021 season be Rodgers' version of "The Last Dance"?
Asked if he expects to be a Green Bay Packer beyond 2021, he said, "I really don’t know. I think things in that direction haven’t really changed at all. I’m just going to focus on this year. There’s a lot of moving pieces besides myself. Expiring contracts for a number of guys. There’s going to be a lot of tough decisions. I’m just going to enjoy this year and revisit that conversation at the end of the season."
He says he wanted to inspire change within the organization and, if change is made, he could end career in Green Bay
He said through it all that he wanted to "inspire change." Rodgers said he talked to retired players more this offseason and that has opened his eyes to "dysfunction" in organizations.
"You either move on or help foster some change," Rodgers said. "That’s all that I wanted to do. I love being a Packer. I can be used as a pseudo-consultant, because I know this place. I know what helps this go. As a quarterback, you hear a lot of (expletive). You hear what’s going around the building."
He then repeated a phrase he used in an interview on SportsCenter a couple months ago about "people" winning championships. "It’s the coaches, it’s players that win championships and everyone in the organization benefits from that. And we all win together. It’s the people that get it done. I just want to be a part of people decisions."
So if he sees changes made within the organization, could he be back after this year?
"That’s a tough question to answer. I’m not closing the door to anything. I’m always optimistic. I would never want anyone to give up on me. I’m always going to be optimistic in change being possible."
Contact Christopher Kuhagen at (262) 446-6634 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ckuhagen and our newsroom Instagram accounts at MyCommunityNow and Lake Country Now.