A day after the Aaron Rodgers Half-Hour captivated football fans and media alike, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst had his chance to respond.
Rodgers spent a good portion of his Wednesday session criticizing decisions made by the Packers under Gutekunst’s direction, and added he’d like to have more input in the franchise’s personnel process. Soon after, Randall Cobb became a Packer once more via trade, a move heavily suggested by Rodgers.
“We realized this was an important piece for Aaron early on in. We started thinking how could this work? How could we make this work?” Gutekunst explained Thursday. “Not only from a football team perspective, salary cap, trade, compensation, all that type of stuff.
“At the end of the day, there are positive and negatives to everything. Having Randall Cobb in our building is a positive, there’s no doubt about that. Not only as a player, but a person to our locker room, he’s a positive, specifically to our quarterback, which is a very important piece of what we’re trying to accomplish in 2021.”
Specifically, the acquisition of Cobb appeases Rodgers, who spent an entire offseason in a standoff with the Packers and made the reasons for his discontent incredibly clear Wednesday. The divide isn’t entirely bridged between Rodgers and the Packers, but adding Cobb at least laid a few planks over the span.
Gutekunst won’t be taken for a doormat, though. Anyone with even a basic understanding of the NFL knows how important Rodgers’ involvement is to the Packers, and adding a former fan favorite in Green Bay isn’t a massive concession, especially if it brings Rodgers back into the fold. It’s not as if Rodgers was attempting to convince Green Bay to bring Donald Driver out of retirement.
But Rodgers was rather vocal about other decisions made by Gutekunst and those who came before him, referring to a dozen former teammates whom Rodgers believes the Packers could’ve treated better as they departed. This was as direct a criticism of Gutekunst as any delivered by Rodgers, and one Gutekunst certainly had to address Thursday.
“I wouldn’t say I have any regrets. Obviously, this is a hard business. This is a tough business,” the general manager said. “When it comes to an end for any player, I don’t think it usually goes well, I don’t think they usually feel good about it. We are always very sensitive to what those players have given this organization, and when we go through that, it’s always with class and dignity. But again, it’s a hard business.
“Sometimes, we, the Packers, may take the brunt of what is the NFL business. While those decisions are hard, they have to be made for the team to grow. Keeping players longer than maybe we should, all of a sudden we’re not signing guys we should later down the road. It’s a domino effect, and it’s hard on players. Players should have those feelings. It’s hard, and you play as long as Aaron has, you’re going to see a lot of that.”
Gutekunst has a point. The cold-blooded business of the NFL often requires personnel chiefs to make difficult decisions that rely more on dollars and age than personal relationships or a history of contributions. It’s difficult for a player to spend an entire career with one team, and even harder for a team to make an inevitable departure graceful.
Rodgers’ statements Wednesday painted him more as a hypothetical GM who would make decisions with his heart even more than his brain (or calculator). That often leads to mistakes that can, as Gutekunst said, have a domino effect and gradually unravel what was once a great club.
If the Packers want to keep Rodgers around beyond 2021, though, they’re going to have to at least feign interest in hearing his input. Interestingly, Gutekunst said the Packers have always welcomed, received and valued Rodgers’ opinion on personnel matters, a stance that at least partially clashes with what Rodgers said Wednesday.
“I think it’s no different than it’s always been. The input from him, he’s unique, not every player is going to have that kind of input,” Gutekunst said. “It’s going to be Aaron. He’s always had it. I think it’s how we incorporate it. At the end of the day, it’s really no different than other people in the organization who have opinions about what we’re going to do. At the end of the day, I’m going to take that in, and I’ll make the decision and move forward.”
The fashion in which Gutekunst closed that statement is telling. I’m still the one who calls the shots here, even if the team’s future Hall of Fame quarterback and reigning MVP just leveraged his way into a reunion with a former teammate and didn’t quite make the franchise look spectacular in the process.
There’s also the matter of figuring out if this is still a viable marriage beyond 2021. Rodgers said he didn’t earn the right to choose where he plays in 2022 in his amended contractual agreement, meaning he’s still under team control within the three years left on his deal. But the Packers don’t owe him enough guaranteed money (or, as it stood before Rodgers’ return, any at all after 2021) to ensure that Rodgers will have a place in Green Bay beyond this season.
That is a key component of why this whole thing started. And for now, there isn’t an answer to the matter, which can’t help but remind fans of how the Packers handled Brett Favre’s departure more than a decade ago.
“There’s no relinquishing of decisions or control,” Gutekunst said. “It’s literally just finding a way to incorporate Aaron’s thoughts and (explaining to him) why we’re doing what we’re doing. That’s a big part of the things that he’s got some grievances on. I think it’s maybe he just doesn’t understand exactly why we did what we did. And we probably didn’t communicate that well enough to him.”
Like every relationship, effective communication is essential. It seems the Packers are learning that about their relationship with Rodgers. Green Bay fans will hope they learned before it was too late.
Training camp is finally here! Be sure to check outNFL Network’s extensive live coverage, including Inside Training Camp every day and highlighted by Training Camp: Back Together Saturday Fueled by Gatorade on July 31.
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