'The Packer Way' Has Finally Caught Up to Green Bay in Aaron Rodgers Saga

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMay 25, 2021

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws against the Detroit Lions during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

The NFL is a business, yet the Green Bay Packers brass and quarterback Aaron Rodgers have let it get personal. Primarily, the Packers have forgotten the single most important aspect of professional football: The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. 

Instead of doing everything it can to make the reigning MVP happy, Green Bay's front office has gone about its business in the usual manner, blissfully unaware of the potential repercussionswhich have metastasized into a full-blown standoff between one of the league's most consistent franchises and its most important player. 

Rodgers concisely laid out his issues with the team during an interview with Kenny Mayne on ESPN's SportsCenter (h/t Rob Demovsky): 

"With my situation, look, it's never been about the draft pick, picking Jordan [Love]. I love Jordan. He's a great kid. A lot of fun to work together. I love the coaching staff, love my teammates, love the fan base in Green Bay. Incredible 16 years. It's just kind of about a philosophy and maybe forgetting that it is about the people that make the thing go. It's about character, it's about culture, it's about doing things the right way.

"A lot of this was put in motion last year and the wrench was kind of thrown into it when I won MVP and played the way I played last year. So this is just kind of, I think, a spill-out of all that. But look, man, it is about the people and that's the most important thing. Green Bay has always been about the people, from Curly Lambeau being owner and founder to the 60s with [Vince] Lombardi and Bart Starr and all those incredible names to the 90s teams with coach [Mike Holmgren] and [Brett Favre] and the Minister of Defense [Reggie White] to the run that we've been on. It's about the people."

Here's looking at you, general manager Brian Gutekunst and CEO Mark Murphy. Instead of committing to and involving the future Hall of Fame quarterback, the team's brass made the mistake of thinking it could continue as it always had. 

Gutekunst admitted as much a year ago when he chose another quarterback with the 26th pick. 

Morry Gash/Associated Press

"We go through the same process every year. ... We build our board and try to stay true to the board and take the best player available," Gutekunst told reporters. "The way the board fell this year, he was the best player left and we're excited to get him."

First, there's a significant difference between a Rodgers-caliber prospect falling into a team's lap—and selecting him because he's too good to pass up—and choosing a prospect who was clearly the fourth-best quarterback in his class and not considered a top-of-the-first-round talent. 

Second, the general manager fibbed his way through his explanation since the Packers didn't simply let the board come to them. They traded up to acquire Love. The team identified its target and purposefully made a deal to get him. 

Finally, the team didn't consult Rodgers at any point about drafting his eventual successor.

The primary issue doesn't necessarily involve the selection of another quarterback. As Rodgers stated, he doesn't have any problems with Love, and the two worked closely all season. However, two missteps occurred. 

Rodgers should have some input on the team's direction. To be clear, quarterbacks shouldn't be making organizational decisions. But they should be heard since their influence is felt throughout the franchise. Their teammates certainly know where everyone stands, as Packers safety Adrian Amos tweeted after Rodgers made his comments on SportsCenter

Adrian Amos @_SmashAmos31

😂😂 Sometimes you gotta let people know who really run 💩

If nothing more, it's common courtesy to address the possibility of adding a first-round quarterback when an organization already has an elite signal-caller. 

Rodgers had no say in the matter.

In itself, the Love pick can be rationalized and even understood, in that Rodgers is aging will eventually need replacing. Still, the transactional part of the trade up for Love was the first mistake. Instead of investing in a wide receiver, the team bypassed the position altogether. At the time, those around the league questioned the Packers' approach.

An exec told The Athletic's Mike Sando after last year's draft of Green Bay's mindset:

"You make a conscious decision when you get into these player acquisition markets, do you want to support your quarterback or do you want to limit the other team from scoring and run the ball? Seattle wants to run the ball like it's 1920 and the forward pass is not yet legal. Still, they've drafted [Paul] Richardson, [Tyler] Lockett, [D.K] Metcalf, that big tight end from Washington [Will Dissly]. I don't understand."

As such, animus grew. A few more errant steps over the following months didn't help matters. 

Without adding significant talent to a wide receiver, familiarity became a significant portion of any type of offensive success Rodgers and Co. could achieve. In some ways, the approach worked, with tight end Robert Tonyan and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling experiencing career seasons. Yet the organization decided not to retain receiver Jake Kumerow, whom Rodgers grew comfortable working with, and agent David Dunn told SiriusXM the move became another point of contention (via The Athletic's Bob McGinn). 

In a famous scene from Moneyball, Brad Pitt, who plays Oakland Athletics executive Billy Beane, told Jonah Hill's character, Peter Brand, that he "can't develop personal relationships" with the players. The job entails making hard decisions that affect an individual's way of life. As a result, that mindset creates distance between management and the workforce. 

The rationale makes some sense. General managers in every sport must look at the big picture. They can't become beholden to emotional decisions. 

However, two things must be taken into consideration. Beane didn't win any championships during his time as a general manager, and quarterbacks are the most important position across the entire sports landscape. The position is simply treated differently.

Quarterbacks matter, and they matter more than most. As Rodgers said, it's about "the people," with him being the primary person of interest. 

He likely can't help but look around the league and see how Tom Brady has helped mold a championship-caliber roster. The three-time first-team All-Pro must also see how the Kansas City Chiefs did everything in their power this offseason to properly build around Patrick Mahomes. 

Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Sure, Rodgers may be an older triggerman at 37. But his career hasn't trended downward over the last few seasons. Instead of consistently building around him year after the year, the Packers stubbornly went in other directions.

The three-time league MVP watched as All-Pro center Corey Linsley and longtime right tackle Bryan Bulaga left the last two offseasons. Obviously, financial considerations must be taken into account since the Packers didn't have significant salary-cap space. Still, those departures can't be easy on Rodgers. 

McGinn's report of Rodgers' referring to Gutekunst as Jerry Krausethe man who built and destroyed Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls dynasty—in group chats with teammates comes as no surprise. The lack of respect between quarterback and general manager is obvious. 

Maybe fences could have been mended, with the team acquiescing this spring and showing its quarterback a little love. Once again, Green Bay bypassed an opportunity to draft a first-round wide receiver. Yes, this year's third-round pick of Clemson's Amari Rodgers should be a good system fit.

Too little, too late. The entire issue is a matter of principle at this point. 

While the team certainly has had success by reaching the NFC Championship Game in the last two seasons, Green Bay fell short of the Super Bowl while having arguably the league's best quarterback. Now, the sides seem further apart than ever and may split because of irreconcilable differences.

Gutekunst already made his choice. The general manager backed Love the second he drafted the young quarterback. Rodgers reportedly won't return while the team's general manager remains. 

The Packer Way no longer works, and the approach will likely cost the team an all-time great quarterback. If and when that happens, a realization must occur that certain individuals on the roster mean more than others and should be treated as such. Everything revolves around those people, not those sitting in the front office. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.