CHICAGO – As long as Aaron Rodgers remains MIA in Green Bay, the NFC North is up for grabs.
The Packers quarterback was a no-show for the start of mandatory minicamp Tuesday – and Rodgers’ discontent with the organization remains the No. 1 story of the NFL’s offseason. It’s created a quandary for Green Bay, a problem that could shift the balance of power in the division and have serious ramifications on the rest of the conference.
The Rodgers situation became a messy public story for the Packers hours before the start of April’s NFL draft when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the fracture. Nothing has changed since. Rodgers skipped voluntary OTAs leading into minicamp and stands to be fined $93,085 if he misses all three days unless the club excuses him. Rodgers has already forfeited a $500,000 offseason workout bonus.
The rest of the division – the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings – watches with a sly grin anticipating what will be next in the standoff.
Rodgers appears dug in and the Packers don’t have a whole lot of options at this point after reportedly working to repair the relationship earlier in the offseason.
With Rodgers on the field, Green Bay is the team to beat in the division.
The Packers were 13-3 last season, with Rodgers winning his third MVP award. Green Bay has won the NFC North seven of the last 10 years.
Without Rodgers, the Packers will have to turn to 2020 first-round draft pick Jordan Love or consider Blake Bortles, who is 3-9 as a starter since helping the Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC Championship game following the 2017 season. The Packers also signed Kurt Benkert, a former practice squad quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. Anyway you cut it, the Packers without Rodgers would be a huge step down.
“The situation we face with Aaron Rodgers has divided our fan base,” wrote team president Mark Murphy, the former Northwestern athletic director, on the team’s website Saturday morning in his monthly column. “The emails and letters that I’ve received reflect this fact.
“As I wrote here last month, we remain committed to resolving things with Aaron and want him to be our quarterback in 2021 and beyond. We are working to resolve the situation and realize that the less both sides say publicly, the better.”
Love was the No. 3 quarterback all last season behind Rodgers and Tim Boyle, and didn’t get the benefit of preseason action. So when he takes snaps in exhibition games in August, it will be his first NFL experience. Perhaps Love represents the future for the Packers, but there’s no way of telling.
Rodgers has maintained that his beef isn’t with Love but how the franchise handled the situation – the Packers traded up get Love. He hinted at being disgruntled with the organizational philosophy during an appearance with Kenny Mayne on ESPN last month.
The stakes change when training camp arrives. If Rodgers doesn’t show, he’s subject to a $50,000 fine for each day he misses – a mandatory levy that cannot be forgiven. But if the situation goes beyond money for Rodgers – and he’s earned more than $242 million over his 16-year career according to overthecap.com – a hefty training camp fine isn’t going to move him off his position.
If Rodgers, 37, is still missing when camp rolls into August and the preseason cranks up, division rivals will be emboldened. It’s worth wondering if the Bears and Vikings will operate in a slightly different manner if the Packers are without Rodgers. The Lions are in the beginning stage of rebuild with a new GM and coach.
The Bears spent this offseason putting together their latest reboot of the quarterback position, signing Andy Dalton and trading up to draft Justin Fields. The team’s Week 1 starter will be the franchise’s 34th starting quarterback since the opening of the 1992 season, which is when Brett Favre arrived in Green Bay. The Lions are starting over at the quarterback position after trading away Matthew Stafford, who holds all of Detroit’s significant career passing records. The Vikings have had their share of QB issues too, bringing in Favre after his stint with the New York Jets, trading for Sam Bradford and more recently signing Kirk Cousins to what, at the time, was a record-setting contract.
Green Bay has experienced three decades of Hall of Fame-caliber play at the position, and without Rodgers, the Packers will find out how the other half lives, often in a year-to-year proposition with quarterbacks.
The Packers could still consider trading Rodgers, but they’ve shown no inclination to resolve the matter in that manner.
“We’re not going to trade Aaron Rodgers,” GM Brian Gutekunst told Green Bay media after the first night of the draft.
If the Packers aren’t going to trade Rodgers – at least not this year – and he’s absolutely opposed to returning to Green Bay, he could choose to sit out the season. That scenario would lead to massive speculation come January about what will happen. No one knows yet if he’s so entrenched that he would be willing to sit out a season at an age when he knows he doesn’t have too many years remaining.
The ongoing drama is capturing the attention of the league, and it’s a delight for Green Bay’s division rivals.