GREEN BAY, Wis. — The date was Aug. 30, 2018 — one day after Aaron Rodgers signed a record contract extension worth $134 million with the Green Bay Packers that ran through the 2023 season. That day was largely celebratory on the part of the quarterback and the team, except for one ominous remark:
“I don’t think this guarantees anything other than maybe the first three years of the deal,” Rodgers said.
Three years later, Rodgers and the Packers have reached that point.
And neither side is in a good place.
Rodgers has become so disgruntled with the team, as first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and confirmed by multiple media outlets, he’s told some in the organization he won’t play for the Packers again. Part of that is because general manager Brian Gutekunst not only drafted quarterback Jordan Love in 2020 as a possible replacement for Rodgers — and traded up in the first round to do so — but he also didn’t communicate his plans with Rodgers beforehand.
Now, coming off an MVP season — the third of his career — the balance of power has seemingly shifted back to Rodgers, who had this to say on the day his extension was announced: “I want to go out and prove that I’m still an elite player in this league, and if I do that then I’ll feel good. I’ve got the opportunity to finish my career in Green Bay, but I’m definitely not arrogant in the mindset that it would never happen to me. It happened to [Brett Favre], it can happen to any of us.”
Here’s a look at the events, from that point until now, that have brought Rodgers and the Packers to the brink of separation:
April 18, 2019: The Packers host Missouri quarterback Drew Lock, one of the top prospects in the 2019 draft, on a pre-draft visit. The news comes as a surprise even though Rodgers is at the same age, 35, as Favre was when the Packers drafted Rodgers in 2005. Still, Rodgers had never done the Favre/retirement waffling and had repeatedly expressed a desire to play into his 40s.
However, Rodgers is coming off a 2018 season in which he essentially made it known he was ready for a new coach (see his trashing of Mike McCarthy’s offense following a Week 4 win over the Buffalo Bills that previous season and his disappointment that Alex Van Pelt was ousted as quarterbacks coach earlier that year).
Aug. 6, 2019: The Packers finish joint practices with the Houston Texans. It had been 14 years since they hosted another team for training camp practices. Rodgers hates them, and says after the second session: “I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t do it for another 14 years.” Shortly before that, first-year coach Matt LaFleur had said, “Absolutely, 100% I want to do this again.” Rodgers’ contradiction bothers Gutekunst and others in the football department.
Feb. 21, 2020: If the Lock visit was subterfuge, then what Gutekunst said on this day is pure honesty. The GM says he would be open to drafting a quarterback in the first round. In the same session with reporters, Gutekunst is asked if he would be concerned what impact such a pick would have on Rodgers.
“Aaron wants to win, and I think that’s the most important thing to him,” Gutekunst says. “He knows we’re trying to make the best decision for the football team going forward. So I don’t worry about that, but I’m not — with all players — you can’t control that. Players get happy and sad about all kinds of things. So I’m not too concerned about that.”
April 23, 2020: Shortly after the Minnesota Vikings used the 22nd pick to take Justin Jefferson, a receiver the Packers coveted and Rodgers liked, another receiver comes off the board at 26 when the San Francisco 49ers takes Brandon Aiyuk. Then, Gutekunst makes his move. He trades his fourth-round pick (No. 136 overall) to the Dolphins to move up from No. 30 to take Love at 26.
May 15, 2020: Rodgers holds a nearly 40-minute conference call with reporters during which he says he is not “thrilled by the pick, necessarily,” but adds, “I understand.” He also says he realizes his desire to start and finish his career with the same team “may not be a reality at this point.” He reiterates his hope to play out his contract and perhaps beyond but admits, “I’m just not sure how that all works together at this point.”
Sept 3, 2020: Rodgers, during an interview on SiriusXM NFL radio, says he feels good about his top-four receivers: Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow, who Rodgers had raved about since the Packers signed him in 2017.
Sept. 4, 2021: Gutekunst cuts Kumerow.
Sept. 8, 2021: The Bills sign Kumerow to the practice squad.
Nov. 1, 2021: Just before the trade deadline, Rodgers is asked whether they need help on offense (Gutekunst reportedly made an offer to the Texans for receiver Will Fuller V). “We’ve had many conversations about this type of thing over the years,” Rodgers said. “I truly understand my role. I’m not going to [stump] for anybody, last time I [stumped] for a player he ended up going to Buffalo, so…”
Jan. 20, 2021: Rodgers continues his c’est-la-vie approach from the entire season during the week of the NFC Championship Game, when he calls his future a “beautiful mystery.” It comes in response to a question about whether Rodgers, at age 37, is looking at the game as a best last-chance to get to a Super Bowl.
Jan. 24, 2021: In the moments after the 31-26 loss to the Buccaneers in the NFC title game, Rodgers questions his future with the Packers, saying, “[The Packers have] a lot of guys’ futures that are uncertain — myself included.” Rodgers never got the ball back with a chance to win the game in the final minutes after LaFleur opted for a field goal to cut the deficit to five with 2:09 left rather than going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line.
Mike Tannenbaum says the Packers’ front office should be worried about losing Davante Adams alongside Aaron Rodgers.
Jan 25, 2021: Packers president Mark Murphy says on WTAQ-WNFL radio in Green Bay when asked about Rodgers’ comments a day earlier: “I’ll say this, there’s no way in heck that Aaron is not going to be on the Packers. I mean, he is going to be the MVP of the league. He might have had his best year ever. He’s our unquestioned leader, and, you know, we’re not idiots.”
Jan 26, 2021: In an appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show”, Rodgers says: “I don’t think that there is any reason why I wouldn’t be back,” emphasizing the word “think.” “But look, there’s not many absolutes in this business. So to make an absolute statement about something that is not an absolute, I didn’t do it. And I guess that’s why it went kind of nuts.”
Feb 1, 2021: Gutekunst, in a season wrap-up news conference, is asked if he feels like he needs to give Rodgers any assurances about his future. “I don’t think I have to do a lot of assuring him because I think obviously his play speaks for itself,” Gutekunst says. “I will say this: 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.”
March 2, 2021: Gutekunst is vague when asked whether restructuring Rodgers’ contract is an option. The Packers are still well over the salary cap at this point and end up restructuring several veteran deals.
March 20, 2021: The Packers don’t convert Rodgers’ $6.8 million roster bonus into a signing bonus, which would have given them more than $4.5 million in immediate salary-cap relief. Instead, a source said the bonus was “vested as scheduled.” Rodgers has an automatic conversion clause in his contract, but it still would have needed Rodgers’ signature to become official (which makes it worth questioning why it’s called an automatic conversion in the first place).
March 30, 2021: In the first public hint of serious trouble brewing, Murphy has a chance to diffuse things but does not. Instead, he refuses to say why a contract restructure never happened.
April 5, 2021: In what to date remains his last interview on the subject, Rodgers reiterates on “The Pat McAfee Show” nothing has changed in the year since the Packers picked Love. “That’s why I’ve used the phrase like ‘beautiful mystery,’ because it is quite uncertain which direction things are going to go,” Rodgers says. In the interview, Rodgers also mentions he would like to be considered for the full-time hosting position on “Jeopardy!” after his two-week stint as a guest host.
April 19, 2021: The Packers’ offseason program begins with four weeks of virtual meetings and workouts, but Rodgers does not report for the voluntary session.
April 29, 2021: Just hours before the NFL draft begins, Schefter’s story is teased on NFL Live and published on ESPN.com. Later that night, after picking cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round, Gutekunst says the Packers have no plans to trade Rodgers and believe things can be worked out. Gutekunst admits he should have communicated better with Rodgers before he picked Love.
May 1, 2021: Murphy, in his monthly column on the team website, acknowledges the media reports and writes, “This is an issue that we have been working on for several months.” He says the Packers are committed to Rodgers for “2021 and beyond.” Later that day, LaFleur also says he wants Rodgers back, but when asked what happens if Rodgers doesn’t want to come back to the Packers, the coach says, “Yeah, I know, and I can’t even take my brain to that spot right now.”
May 3, 2021: 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, one of LaFleur’s mentors, says on “The Rich Eisen Show” he called LaFleur the day after Schefter’s report went public to inquire about a trade. “The exact truth is I didn’t want to wake up the next day, on Friday, and see Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks in this league, traded, without doing any due diligence on it. So I just called Matt and asked him if there was anything to it, and Matt told me I’d be wasting my time if we had [GM John] Lynch call.”
May 5, 2021: Favre, during an interview on ESPN Wisconsin radio, says he doesn’t see Rodgers “coming back and just saying, ‘All right, let’s just bury the hatchet,’” and added his gut tells him Rodgers would rather sit out than play for the Packers if he’s not traded. Later that day, former Packers fullback John Kuhn paints a more optimistic picture on CBS Radio when he says he thinks “it’s somewhere around 70, 75% that Aaron Rodgers is the starting quarterback for the Packers this year.”
May 10, 2021: All-Pro receiver Adams, in an interview of Fox Sports Radio, says his future with the Packers would “potentially” be impacted by how the Rodgers’ situation is resolved. Adams is entering the final year of his contract.