On Sunday night, I got a text from a number that I did not recognize within minutes of sending a tweet about why I believe the 49ers make the most sense to be Aaron Rodgers' next team. The text inquired as to why a different team wouldn't be an even more fitting destination.
I proceeded to lay out – in fairly blunt terms – why that team would not be very logical based on a litany of factors. Truth be told, I figured it was probably an inquiry from a producer from CBS Sports HQ whose number I did not recognize, probably gathering information for a graphic for my Monday morning segment about Rodgers' pointed postgame comments.
Turns out it was an NFL head coach, who leads the team that was asked about in the text.
We had a good laugh, and the coach did not in any way push back on my case for how difficult it would be for his organization to execute a trade for Rodgers. He acknowledged all of it, in fairly blunt terms, himself. And yet he would not give up hope in making it happen, despite the odds. And the sentiment he expressed has been echoed by other coaches, general managers, executives and agents around the league over the past two days, all of whom are convinced a bitter divorce is pending between one of the greatest quarterbacks of this or any generation, and the storied Green Bay Packers.
No matter how many oddly-worded statements team president Mark Murphy issues, and no matter how many in the media want to discount Rodgers' ability to force his way out based on salary cap or contract or whatever else, I see an ugly offseason ahead in Green Bay. Too many people within the industry have read Rodgers' remarks from Sunday night – on the heels of a contentious two years since the ascent of a new front office and the hiring of coach Matt LaFleur – as the defining salvo of his looming exodus. Despite whatever LaFleur and Murphy might desire.
"Everything you said is true," the head coach said to me about all of the potential roadblocks his team might face to a Rodgers trade, "but trust me we want in on this thing. It's never really been good between him and the coach. It's been a long feeling-out process, and it looks like it's over. Aaron knows exactly what he is saying and exactly what he is doing."
Want inside access into this unprecedented NFL season? Download and subscribe to All Things Covered with Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden for a player's perspective including thoughts on Aaron Rodgers' future in Green Bay.
An NFL assistant coach said: "It's been the worst kept secret in football. I don't think they've ever really won him over. Last year they held him back, and then they picked his replacement in the draft. This guy is nothing if not calculated. He's sending a signal to the rest of the league – Come and get me."
Indeed, many who know the quarterback well believe he is reveling in some degree in the sudden drama the Packers are facing following a coaching implosion in the NFC Championship Game. They liken it to the same sense of shock Rodgers professed publicly after this braintrust opted to move up in the first round to draft a developmental quarterback rather than provide any help for the 37-year-old passer in a generational receiver draft. And they believe it's irreparable, especially with Rodgers having to watch a 43-year old, who finally broke free from the only team he ever knew, celebrate on his home field. Tom Brady chose a Tampa roster overflowing with pass catching options and is going back to the Super Bowl because of it.
Brady already has as many NFC titles as Rodgers. And more NFC Championship Game wins at Lambeau Field than Rodgers. And despite Brady about to become the first quarterback to play a Super Bowl in his home stadium, and going to his 10th Super Bowl in all, the prevailing story in the NFL is about whether or not Rodgers will ever play again in Green Bay.
Of course, had Rodgers wanted to prevent any of this from festering and overtaking the Texans tumult with Deshaun Watson as the biggest soap opera in the sport, he could have expunged it any point. He could send a tweet or jump on a podcast or call into a radio station to explain how so many of us are misinterpreting the mess he so meticulously made. It could be over in an instant. Nothing to see here. I was just venting for a minute. Nothing to see here.
Instead, we reached a point Tuesday afternoon where the Packers are already having to conduct damage control, and, in doing so, misguidedly tried to send their own signal right back to the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. "We're not idiots," Murphy said on WFNL radio in Green Bay. "Aaron Rodgers will be back. He's our leader."
Seems a little presumptuous as best, and just might backfire. Inherent in that statement is the supposition that the Packers have some fundamental control of the situation. It's declarative to a fault. It just may well fuel the very fire Rodgers has to leave in the first place – this hallowed franchise always the star, above and beyond any individual. He saw firsthand how it unraveled with Brett Favre – with three prime years sacked from Rodgers' career while it played out – and then he seethed for years as the Packers clung to Mike McCarthy as head coach despite the offensive design becoming increasingly stale and the group around him increasingly thin. There are ample reasons why so many astute people around this league predicted eventual doom for this Rodgers/LaFleur/Murphy coupling, especially after Jordan Love was selected last spring.
"How about talking to your quarterback first before you put out that statement, or just waiting to see if he says it for himself?" said one long-time NFL executive. "Totally tone deaf. That's exactly what not to do. That thing is going to go nuclear. Trust me. The quarterback wants out."
No one in that organization should be attempting to speak for Rodgers right now. And the reality of professional sports in 2021 – in complete reversal of the heyday of Vince Lombardi – is that the players have more power than ever, and players of Rodgers' stature have the ultimate power. It's going to be about whatever he wants, and the Packers had best embrace that immediately, and try to mend whatever fences if they can.
With the NFL world abuzz about his comments and teams talking internally about the prospects of trading for him, Rodgers expounded on his remarks on Tuesday on The Pat McAfee Show: "After the season that I had, potentially winning MVP, and we obviously made another good run, I don't think that there's any reason why I wouldn't be back," Rodgers said. "But there's not many absolutes, as you guys know, in this business. To make an absolute statement about something that is not an absolute, I didn't do it. I guess that's why it went kinda nuts."
Rodgers possesses more than enough leverage to get out of Green Bay. With one simple word, if need be. Retirement. No one can force him to play his age 38 season in Green Bay. He can stay away as long as it takes and give Murphy a list of desired teams and see what he can get done before the league year starts in March. Want to delay the trade until after June 1 for cap purposes? Not a problem. No big deal. We just played a full season with no OTAs and barely any training camp and no preseason.
"A lot of people in the media are reading this wrong," said one very successful longtime NFL agent who has navigated many thorny quarterback situations over the years." Aaron has the ultimate leverage. He can play the retirement card, and play it very realistically. He can take his ball and go home.
"He can pull a Carson Palmer, and I think he will if it comes to that. It's totally different than Deshaun. Rodgers didn't just sign a new deal in September, and he is at the stage of his career – and he is the type of guy – who could say I'm done, and the Packers couldn't ignore it."
Sure, Rodgers could also clamor for contract alterations and more guarantees from Green Bay, and make it about the money as some have suggested. But beyond that, he is at a point in his career where he could pin the Packers firmly in the corner with the 'R' word. And it would be a checkmate.
Wasn't it just a few months ago when the Packers made the commitment to move up and grab Love? They clearly rated his ability higher than any other team. It's not like they weren't already preparing for the day Rodgers departed well before this season began.
Only now that transition may very well be on Rodgers' terms and timeline, and not theirs. He'd merely be calling their bluff. Funny how that works sometimes.
Because there will be an abundance of teams beyond eager to take on the three remaining years on Rodgers' salary and even sweeten the pot some more. That initial call I received out of nowhere Sunday night spoke volumes.
There are teams that aren't looking at the likely free agent purge the Packers may well be facing; teams with more offensive talent and with far more experienced coaches, who would make Rodgers feel wanted in ways he frankly hasn't in quite some time in Green Bay. Teams that would be dreading the day they had to draft his replacement rather than expediting it.
The grass could really be greener on the other side. Rodgers need merely ask the GOAT who ended his season how that can work out. It's entirely up to him.