Occasionally, in Big NFL Media, we are granted a perfect storm. The perfect story comes along at the perfect time to further sustain what has already become a near endless news cycle, and reaches such an all-encompassing crescendo that essentially anything goes.
No report is too out there. Nothing is too bizarre. Typical rules, perhaps, might not apply. Indeed, anything goes, it seems. If it's whispered, if it's pondered, if it's suspected -- by someone who may or may not truly know what's going on -- there's a good chance you will hear about it or read about it if you are someone who generally consumes NFL content.
And right now, my friends, we are right at the vortex of one of those perfect storms. Perhaps the likes of which we have never seen before, given where society is in regards to social media and how information gets dispensed and consumed. Aaron Rodgers v. Green Bay Packers. You couldn't ask for a more iconic clash. The gloves are off, no morsel is too bizarre not to share, and neither side is going to say much publicly as all the mud is slung back and forth. It makes Prescott v. Cowboys from last spring look like a harmonious sideshow.
A first-ballot Hall of Famer whose bust should also one day reside in the Grievance -- or perceived grievance -- Hall of Fame, versus an iconic franchise that also managed to botch the exodus of their last first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, Brett Favre. Throw in the fact that Favre himself cannot stay out of the headlines these days -- whether it be for things he mutters or money he has yet to repay -- and that he now appears to be uniquely aligned with the player he once shunned, and you have the makings of a football reality show that will dominate the spring and summer seasons.
Buckle up, buttercup. You ain't seen nothin' yet. We are approaching critical mass.
Yes, the "Brian Gutekunst recast as Jerry Krause" stuff is juicy, as is the idea that the release of a journeyman receiver with 21 catches in his career truly careened us to the point where Team Rodgers hijacked the first round of the NFL draft to begin disseminating its talking points in the battle for the hearts and minds of Cheesehead Nation. Does it all pass the sniff test (please excuse the cheesy pun)? I suppose that is for each individual to decide. Let's just say that I am trying to be judicious in what I convey, while attempting to be discerning about what to absorb ... but separating fact from fiction will not be easy.
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Given the backdrop of Favre v. Packers, for those old enough to remember the days of Ed Werder staked out on the gunslinger's farm, and with Rodgers's own deep, public feud with his family a subplot of sorts as well, and you have an arena where so much grudge-holding can be projected force. Almost anything is believable, or somewhat believable, at this point.
Then consider all of the various agendas at play -- with many of the same individuals representing Rodgers, and his understudy (Jordan Love) whose selection is at the core of this, as well as the head coach of the team, and, well, things get messy. And don't forget about the unusual structure of the Packers front offices -- which many in those parts and around the league saw as an impending red flag the moment team president Mark Murphy announced it a few years back -- and let's just say there are no shortage of competing interests and no shortage of careers at stake and no shortage of reasons why various parties involved in this saga (or close to those involved) might intone "information" that might not be entirely grounded in truth.
But make no mistake -- this cold war is very real, it will not easily thaw, and Rodgers is one of the last people I'd want to be playing a very public game of chicken with. Very good chance you swerve before he even considers tilting the wheel. It's too soon to know the absolute end game of it all, but I wouldn't rule out Rodgers going to great lengths to force his way out of Green Bay and into whatever situation he deems most superior. Could take months -- perhaps even into the season -- to know for certain, but with OTAs nearing, I'll attempt to provide a little context, and perhaps nuance, on where things stand.
Those I trust who know this quarterback well believe strongly that the covert manner in which the Packers handled the drafting of Love is every bit at the core of this fight, and that the franchise going out of its way to blindside him about the possibility of moving into the first round to select his predecessor brought all of of Rodgers's issues from the past (keeping head coach Mike McCarthy too long, how conservative the offensive approach was in 2019 under rookie coach Matt LaFleur, promoting Russ Ball to EVP/director of football operations in the aftermath of Ted Thompson's departure, to name a few), back to the fore.
"He looked at that as a deception," said one source who has been in contact with the quarterback. "That was the beginning of the end."
Despite all of the chatter about Guty, lately, numerous sources close to that team have told me for years that Rodgers was not a fan of Ball's, a former strength coach who rose up the ranks and has overseen the cap, contracts and negotiations for years. Ball is the right-hand man for Murphy as they chart the budgets and spending for the team; he wields significant power, and the idea that a second-year general manager was the sole arbitrator in the cloak-and-dagger effort to navigate the draft to hand-pick the young-and-cheap inevitable replacement for Rodgers, is, frankly, folly.
Murphy was the architect of the front-office realignment, he is the de facto owner -- he and the team's board are in charge. And there are no shortage of people who have worked in football operations in Green Bay over the years who maintain that Gutekunst's ascent to the GM role came in no small part because he was seen as someone who would conform and could coexist with Ball in this arranged marriage, whereas some others may object.
"The quarterback doesn't like Ball, that's a fact," said one source with knowledge of the situation. "That isn't some new revelation. It goes back to when Mike (McCarthy) was still there."
That so much effort it seems has been placed into casting Gutekunst as the villain in all of this has struck many in NFL personnel circles as a bit unusual given the limits of his power and overall demeanor. Many are wondering precisely where that's coming from and who may be benefitting in the public sphere from it. Based on my reporting, I'd pin the blame -- in Rodgers' estimation -- not so much on any one individual but the overall decision-makers in Green Bay, their lack of foresight and bedside manner with the Love selection, and their ham-handed attempts to then message that draft pick both in the media and privately.
The concept that merely throwing Guty to the wolves makes this all go away and placates the QB just doesn't hold up. And if this was just about money, it would have been resolved before it was made public in the first place. It is more complicated than that; it runs deeper than that.
If there even is some way to put this back together again, one wonders which individual of the three-headed football operations monster will be best suited to execute it, and I'd tag Rodgers as having a far tougher stomach to navigate a messy, lengthy, gossipy, PR-nightmare divorce than anyone over at Lambeau Field.
That lack of one true owner could end up being another complication to mitigating this mounting disaster, and stopping the flow of sordid details will be impossible to manage at this point. Rodgers will stay just removed enough to maintain some sort of plausible deniability about the origins of it all, and the Packers will try to maintain it's all being overblown, and that they still have their leader and quarterback in place and can manage this most challenging situation.
Only one of them won a Super Bowl as the quarterback of the franchise and threw for nearly 50 touchdowns last year in an MVP season. Only one of them accounts for untold fortunes from people buying jerseys with his name on the back. Only one of them can demand a trade. And at this point, only one of them might be able to actually win this fight, a fight he would suggest they picked.