Rodgers rift just got kicked into high gear

At the very least, Aaron Rodgers proved a point Tuesday.

Coming into this week, the Green Bay Packers quarterback had already shown he was willing to lose money this offseason, forgoing a $500,000 bonus that failed to trigger after he skipped voluntary workouts. And he has been willing to tread into some vaguely critical waters, taking a few thinly veiled shots at the Packers’ front office culture

Now he has shown us something new: a willingness to meaningfully escalate his rift with Packers management closer to a point of no return.

Rodgers may never get there, of course. The nuclear option in these types of standoffs usually comes earlier in the fight, and the fact remains that both sides have gone months without breaching that boundary. But Rodgers' refusal to report to mandatory minicamp this week took the impasse to a different place. It's one where the NFL’s reigning MVP is now standing in defiance of his front office and showing he’s capable of removing himself from vital parts of his team’s preparation, to the point that when this minicamp ends, Rodgers will have separated himself from the Packers for the expanse of an entire offseason.

No weight training. No passing program. No classroom work. No practice installation. By late July, it will have spanned six months without Rodgers having thrown a single spiral in the presence of Packers coaches. 

That’s a hell of a statement. 

Aaron Rodgers, pictured in 2017, never missed a Packers offseason program until this year. (Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
Aaron Rodgers, pictured in 2017, never missed a Packers offseason program until this year. (Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

It gets the attention of virtually everyone associated with the NFL, speaking to a reality about Rodgers’ current resolve. And if he’s willing to take things that far, he’s capable of taking this impasse even further. Maybe right into the regular season.

Among the many things Packers management has to have on its mind right now, that had better be first on the list. Not just that the star quarterback didn’t walk through the door this week — but that he might not walk through it for a long, long time. And maybe not ever again. 

That’s how serious this is now. Even if there is a mountain of logic to suggest that it’s in the best interests of both sides to eventually meet in the middle, there’s now a possibility that one side ends up reaching for diplomacy while the other side reaches for the door.

That’s the hard and real news here. While some are prone to saying Rodgers is skipping camp because nothing has changed, that’s not really true. A lot has changed. We started in January with the league’s MVP quarterback vaguely describing his future as a “beautiful mystery” that was out of his hands. That escalated to necessitating multiple cross-country trips from the Packers' brass to essentially recruit Rodgers back to the franchise. Then it exploded into a reported trade request Rodgers has never shot down. And finally, it settled into Rodgers criticizing the kind of culture that has been embraced at the top levels of the organization.

And all the while, Rodgers has refused to show up for a single thing relating to the functionality of the Packers next season.

Indeed, a lot has changed. And that change has been nothing but a progression from bad to worse. It's at a point where Packers president Mark Murphy is going out of his way on the team website to talk about the rift with Rodgers dividing the fan base, which is probably better than publicly addressing what this might actually be doing to the team itself. Lest we forget about that larger picture, nothing about this has made Green Bay a better team. Not when you have a coaching staff that badly wants Rodgers back, while fully knowing the front office created this problem and let it fester into something so public and messy.

If the Packers brass thinks this all gets put back together because training camp and games mean more to Rodgers than everything else the quarterback has missed, then it's arrogantly compounding past mistakes. While playing in 2021 surely means a great deal for Rodgers (especially given the finite years he has left as a player), the simple truth is Rodgers’ own frustration and pride might actually mean more to him. Maybe he has snapped, and years of gripes and displeasure have all come tumbling out, revealing that it’s not just job security or general manager Brian Gutekunst or past personnel decisions, but the overall feeling he has about playing inside the Packers franchise.

If Tom Brady can get there with the New England Patriots — arriving at a point where he needed a change mentally — who’s to say Rodgers can’t get there with the Packers? And if that’s where Rodgers is, how easy is something like that to solve? If a player doesn’t feel appreciated or valued by someone who has direct authority over virtually everything surrounding that player, how do you get that trust back? What if you can’t buy something that typically has to be earned?

That is what the next six weeks is going to have to be about for the Packers. The leadership has to take Rodgers seriously when it comes to his willingness to maintain this course of defiance. Then it has three choices. First, it could listen carefully and address whatever can repair Rodgers’ fractured trust — whether that’s personnel moves, a contract extension or a combination of different types of good faith changes that the public will see and understand. Second, it could meet Rodgers halfway and offer to release him after the 2021 season so he can arrange his own Brady-esque free agency and finish his career where his heart desires. Or third, it could yield to Rodgers’ wishes and set up a trade to the highest bidder.

Those are serious solutions to a serious problem that isn’t going to heal itself organically or get resolved by the calendar. Rodgers has made his point. And he’s on a track where he’s going to continue making it, so long as he thinks the team isn’t listening. If Green Bay’s decision-makers can’t see that now, they never will.

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