Every day seems to shed new light on the feud between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Thirteen years after Brett Favre endured an unceremonious departure, his successor appears more and more likely to leave on similarly shaky terms. How, exactly, did we get to this point? When did all of the raging trade rumors first kick into high gear? As the Packers try to downplay the possibility of Rodgers heading elsewhere and the reigning NFL MVP apparently jockeys to control his own destiny, here's a timeline of what's gone down and what could come next:
The 2020 draft
April 23, 2020: The Packers trade up from No. 30 to No. 26 and select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, their first Day 1 QB pick since Rodgers in 2005. The move isn't unprecedented, with other clubs (like the Chiefs, in 2017) moving up for a QB successor despite already boasting a playoff-proven starter, and Rodgers coming off three straight "subdued" seasons -- one shortened by injury and all with fewer than 30 touchdown passes, a mark he'd hit in five of his previous six years. Still, just two years after the Packers signed Rodgers, 36, to a four-year extension through 2023, it has ripple effects ...
April 24, 2020: Packers coach Matt LaFleur places a phone call to Rodgers after (virtually) welcoming Love to Green Bay. He tells NFL Network's Mike Silver that Rodgers remains the Packers' future at QB: "Obviously, Aaron Rodgers is the leader of this football team, and my expectation is that he will be for a long time. I sincerely love the guy, and I love working with him, and it's a hell of a lot of fun. I'm really excited about where we can take this, and that hasn't changed one bit."
April 29, 2020: Brett Favre joins "The Rich Eisen Show" and says he spoke with Rodgers after the Love pick, suggesting the surprise move "got the wheels turning in Aaron's mind" about a future split with the Packers. He predicts Rodgers will finish his career elsewhere.
Hinting at a split
May 15, 2020: Rodgers addresses reporters at the start of the offseason program, saying he was surprised by the Love pick but is excited to work with the rookie QB, before hinting he could eventually play elsewhere: "Like any great athlete, there's things that are out of my control ... If there feels like a time where I feel like I can play at a high level, and my body feels great, there's been other great players that have gone onto play elsewhere."
July 28, 2020: Rodgers tells Kyle Brandt, via The Ringer, that he foresees -- and is at peace with -- a future split with Green Bay: "I think that's probably what happens ... Just look at the facts. They traded up, they drafted him, obviously they like him, they wanna play him ... And I get it, I really do. I don't harbor any ill will about it. Like, was I bummed out? Of course. Who wouldn't be? I wanted to play my entire career in Green Bay. I loved the city. I grew up there ... But look, I get it. I see it completely clearly, and I'm not bitter about it. It just kind of is what it is."
Fall 2020: With a literal MVP performance, Rodgers "flips the script" on the Packers' apparent succession plan, guiding Green Bay to a second consecutive NFC Championship appearance while throwing a career-high 48 touchdowns and 121.5 QB rating, his best since 2011, when he was fresh off a Super Bowl win and claimed his first MVP.
Hinting at a split: Part II
Jan. 24, 2021: Immediately following the Packers' NFC title-game loss to the Buccaneers, Rodgers is asked by reporters what lies ahead for him: "I really don't know. There's a lot of unknowns going into this offseason now. I'm gonna have to take some time away, for sure, and just clear my head and just kinda see what's going on with everything. It's pretty tough right now, especially thinking about the guys that may or may not be here next year. That makes the finality of it all kind of you hit you like a ton of bricks."
Jan. 24, 2021: Asked whether Rodgers will be back after the NFC Championship loss, coach Matt LaFleur supports the QB -- who's still under contract through 2023 -- but leaves the door open for change: "I sure as hell hope so. I mean, the guy is the MVP of this league. He's the heart and soul of our football team. So, hell yeah. He better be back here. He's our leader."
Jan. 26, 2021: Packers president Mark Murphy downplays speculation about Rodgers' future -- including from the QB himself -- with comments on WFNL radio in Green Bay: "We're not idiots. Aaron Rodgers will be back. He's our leader."
Jan. 26, 2021: CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora reports that coaches, general managers and other executives around the NFL are quietly anticipating a "bitter divorce" between Rodgers and the Packers this offseason. Some believe the QB is prepared to "pull a Carson Palmer," the former Bengals QB who essentially retired his way into a trade out of Cincinnati in 2011.
Jan. 26, 2021: ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio reports that Rodgers only wants to return in 2021 under a new contract with additional guarantees. "A new deal means renewed vows," Florio writes. "No new deal means the clock will still tick toward a potential, if not inevitable, divorce."
Jan. 31, 2021: A day after the Rams agree to acquire Matthew Stafford from the Lions, the Los Angeles Times reports the team attempted to trade for Rodgers first. The Packers quickly rebuffed their efforts, Sam Farmer writes.
Feb. 1, 2021: Packers GM Brian Gutekunst tells ESPN there is no truth to the report of a potential Rams trade, reiterating that Rodgers is Green Bay's QB of the short- and long-term future: "We're really excited not only for next year but the years to come. He's playing at such a high level that he always has, and I think this year was a special team. It didn't finish like we wanted to finish, but I think everybody's purely motivated to get back and I think, like I said, I don't think there's anything that we have to do. He's our quarterback, and he's our leader."
April 3, 2021: Rodgers joins ESPN's Kenny Mayne for a one-on-one and reiterates that his Packers future is uncertain: "I didn't know if that was actually possible to be able to finish (in Green Bay). I still feel that's kind of where we're at. I don't know that a lot of that is in my hands. I guess we'll just kind of see as we go." Pressed by Mayne to simply declare he wants to remain a Packer for life, Rodgers offers this: "Ken, you and I both know that's not how this works."
April 5, 2021: Appearing on the Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers again says his future is "quite uncertain" and suggests his 2020 MVP performance ran counter to the Packers' plans at QB: "My future, really, a lot of it's out of my control. That's why I use a phrase like 'beautiful mystery.' Because it is quite uncertain which directions that things are going to go. All I can do is play my best, and I feel like last year I did do that, and may have thrown a wrench into some timelines that have been thought about or desired."
The 2021 draft
April 28, 2021: A day before the start of the 2021 draft, the 49ers inquire about a potential Rodgers trade, as GM John Lynch later confirms. Reports indicate their No. 3 overall pick is floated as part of an unofficial offer for the QB, but Green Bay refuses to engage.
April 29, 2021: The morning of Day 1 of the draft, a year after Green Bay's surprise move up for Love, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Rodgers "is so disgruntled with the Packers that he has told some within the organization that he does not want to return to the team." ProFootballTalk unofficially echoes the report, saying Rodgers "doesn't like anyone" in the Packers' front office.
April 29, 2021: ESPN's Trey Wingo reports that, as of the night before the draft, Rodgers was convinced he'd be traded to the 49ers. He also suggests the Packers told Rodgers earlier in the offseason they would deal him, only to backtrack on that stance.
April 30, 2021: ProFootballTalk reports that Rodgers has prepared a list of three teams he'd prefer to be traded to: The 49ers, Broncos and Raiders. Denver emerges as an apparent front-runner, with analyst Mark Schlereth telling 104.3 The Fan that a Broncos trade is "as close to a done deal as it can get."
April 30, 2021: The Broncos consider trading back in the draft to add more picks for a potential Rodgers trade package, as later reported by NFL Network's Mike Silver.
April 30, 2021: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports Rodgers is seriously contemplating retirement "unless the situation (in Green Bay) is repaired to his liking." Fresh off an appearance as the celebrity guest host of "Jeopardy," Rodgers is prepared to potentially pivot to a TV job barring a trade, Rapoport says.
May 1, 2021: Packers president Mark Murphy acknowledges an "issue" with Rodgers in a column on the team's official website: "This is an issue that we have been working on for several months. (GM) Brian Gutekunst, (coach) Matt LaFleur and I have flown out on a number of occasions to meet with Aaron. We are very much aware of Aaron's concerns and have been working with him (and his agent Dave Dunn) to resolve them. We remain committed to Aaron in 2021 and beyond. He is not only a tremendously talented player, but has developed into a true leader for us. The relationship that Aaron has forged with Matt and the other offensive coaches has propelled us to the brink of the Super Bowl in two straight years. We look forward to competing for another Super Bowl championship with Aaron as our leader."
May 1, 2021: Yahoo! Sports' Charles Robinson reports that Rodgers' issue is primarily with Gutekunst, the Packers' GM, who allegedly did not inform the QB of the Jordan Love pick beforehand and originally intended to move on from Rodgers after the 2020 season. Rodgers is "adamant," Robinson writes, that he "won't return to the team under the current stewardship of ... Gutekunst, and that he's willing to weigh hardline options at his disposal -- from refusing to show up for offseason activities to holding out of training camp and possibly retirement." Gutekunst downplays the report to ESPN, denying that Rodgers has "said anything like that to me" or "publicly."
Fuel to the fire
May 5, 2021: ESPN's Rob Demovsky reports the Packers are upset with the 49ers and Broncos for allegedly contacting Rodgers to gauge his interest in playing for them, a would-be violation of the NFL's tampering rules.
May 5, 2021: Brett Favre once again says he touched base with Rodgers, and this time believes the QB is more likely to sit out than return to the Packers, as told to ESPN's Wilde & Tausch and on his own podcast: "I don't see him coming back and ... if it's not resolved, or even if it's resolved but he feels like they have one up on him, he ain't gonna play. Knowing Aaron, he would sit. Now, he would forgo a lot of money, but he's also got a lot money ... His rift isn't with the fans, nor the players; it's with the front office. So will he swallow his pride and come in? Maybe, but I don't see that happening. If there's not a trade, my gut tells me he'd rather sit out than play."
May 5, 2021: The Athletic's Bob McGinn reports that Rodgers has privately referred to GM Brian Gutekunst as Jerry Krause, the former Chicago Bulls GM who was infamously disliked by Michael Jordan, in group chats with teammates. McGinn also says Rodgers has, in recent months, turned down offers by the Packers to make him the NFL's highest-paid QB, because the "fractured relationship" goes beyond money.
May 6, 2021: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Packers have begun exploring other QB additions amid the Rodgers uncertainty, potentially eyeing competition for -- or depth behind -- Jordan Love.
May 6, 2021: NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reports Rodgers was telling prospective Packers free agents back in March -- and perhaps as far back as the 2020 season -- that he was unlikely to return to Green Bay in 2021.
May 6, 2021: Former Packers fullback John Kuhn, a teammate of Rodgers from 2007-2015, tells CBS Sports Radio the QB's future in Green Bay is still up in the air: "I will say he's conflicted. Because this man loves to play the game of football, this man loves to be a Green Bay Packer and this man truly sees careers -- he's watched friends leave, he watched Brett Favre's career toward the end. He's watched all these things play out in front of his eyes, he's taken notes throughout his entire career, he's seen some situations that didn't feel were done or finished the way that they could or should have, and he's just trying to take his own destiny within his own hands."
What comes next?
As many have pointed out, a resolution to the Rodgers drama is most likely to come after June 1. That's when the QB's contract becomes even more amendable to a trade. If Green Bay were to deal the QB before then, his departure would net them just $5.6 million in 2021 savings, whereas a post-June 1 deal would save them an instant $22.85 million.
Do the Packers plan to deal him, though? No. All indications are they do not plan to do so. But there's a difference been plans and reality. While Rodgers would be losing money by holding out or briefly retiring in order to accelerate a move from Green Bay, at some point the Packers will have to weigh the benefit of retaining Rodgers against the public-relations cloud of their star QB refusing to suit up. Rodgers has played nice and played his part before (see: 2020), but all signs are he's more convicted than ever about controlling his NFL future.
CBS Sports contributor Joel Corry, a former agent and cap expert, believes the Packers' only solution for appeasing Rodgers (without a trade or GM switch), probably requires two actions: 1.) Trading Love to "de-commit" from Rodgers' heir apparent; and 2.) Extending Rodgers on a market-resetting deal through at least 2025. In any event, Corry doesn't foresee Green Bay deviating from its apparent original plan of turning the keys over to Love -- and thus gaining added financial flexibility -- by 2022. In other words, if a true and deep commitment from the Packers is what Rodgers wants, it's more likely that he'll ultimately wind up elsewhere.
And where that might be? The 49ers can safely be counted out of the mix now that they've added their QB of the future in Trey Lance. Though a handful of NFC teams would surely inquire, it's also unlikely Green Bay would ever agree to keep Rodgers in the conference. That probably leaves the Broncos and Raiders as logical destinations, with Denver openly hungry for even more QB help (and a history of big swings; see: Manning, Peyton) and Las Vegas offering both a coach and GM who adore Rodgers, as well as a city closer to the QB's California home and apparent off-field entertainment interests.