Let it Go and Play Ball, Aaron Rodgers

Anthony Barr tackles Aaron Rodgers in Minnesota’s 20-10 win over Green Bay in October. This hit would place him on IR.

Aaron Rodgers is a polarizing figure—even in Minnesota. He apparently wants out of Green Bay (or so he says) and Purple Nation is hanging on every word. We discussed it this past week on our podcast VikingsTerritory Breakdown, and I came out on the opposite side of the discussion with Breakdown co-host Joe Johnson and our guest, Sally Haag. And, of course, with all things A-Rodge, it requires more discussion and speculation.

Joe Johnson wrote a story on the issue this week and characterized our discussion this way:

“VT Breakdown co-host Joe Oberle disagreed with Haag and I that the team had mishandled things from the jump by not informing Rodgers that they were drafting his replacement as a courtesy the same way the Vikings reportedly gave Kirk “Not Aaron Rodgers” Cousins the same courtesy before drafting Kellen Mond in April.”

Now, while he is not wrong that I disagreed with them (you can listen to the pod here), I do think my opposition is a little more nuanced than that, and I am here to provide it. The truth be told, as the discussion was coming to an end, I did say that if I were faced with the decision of whether or not to inform Rodgers of the team’s desire to draft a quarterback, I would have done so. Rodgers, by virtue of his play throughout his career, deserves that “courtesy.” But frankly, would I have (or had the team), given it, I don’t think it would have changed much.

As Johnson notes in his story, Packers President Mark Murphy was recently quoted quoting former Packers GM Ted Thompson saying that Rodgers is “‘a complicated fella.’” Johnson contends that quote adds fuel to the fire of the already incendiary situation, and I don’t disagree. But I don’t think they have reached this point because Rodgers was slighted, it is exactly because he is a complicated fella.

Let’s play this out a bit (as I started to on the podcast): Say Rodgers gets the heads up that the Packers were looking fora quarterback a year ago, do you think he is then hunky dory with the whole idea or does he take offense at it andballs out and win the division and the the MVP. I think the latter, because that is how he rolls. Like many great professional athletes, they like a chip on their shoulder for motivation and Rodgers uses (and perhaps even manufacturers) any slight he can find. So, for me, that point is moot.

I contend that while the Packers and the equally self-confident head coach Guy Lefleur (okay, I mean Matt LaFleur) had their eye on Rodgers’ eventual successor (and also putting their own stamp on the organization), there is no guarantee that Jordan Love was going to be available when they picked (or traded up to pick), so do you rouse sleeping dogs when you don’t need to? If you know that Aaron is complicated and is likely going to be offended by this move, do you go poke the thin-skinned QB and have to listen to him rail against the decision when it is not even a for-sure thing? Human nature says you don’t—at least mine. Because then it is possible you have a surly QB and no replacement.

Furthermore (and I stated this on the podcast), I don’t think there is time during the draft to call Rodgers (or even Jake from State Farm, for that matter) to give him a heads up. The powers that be are too busy and under the clock trying to pull off the trade-up and working on a backup plan if it doesn’t work out. They are in a “let’s make the trade and address the fallout later” mode. 

Rodgers is not in the war room and he is not part of the decision-making for the future of the franchise. That is LaFleur’s, Murphy’s and Brian Gutekunst’s responsibility, as sometime in this coming decade Rodgers will be gone but the business will go on. Rodgers is paid to throw the ball to the teammates he is provided, to do his job as it is described (just like every other pro athlete or anyone other person holding a job). That’s the way it is. Heck, VikingsTerritory owner Joe Johnson didn’t consult me before expanding this network of Vikings sites to the great extent is has become (good thing he didn’t).

But it is just a courtesy, you might say. One Rodgers deserves for his Hall of Fame-like career. Sure. But it is not required. Just like it wasn’t required when the Packers drafted Rodgers himself to replace Hall of Famer Brett Favre. Folks (including myself) have brought up the “courtesy” provided to Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins before his team drafted Kellen Mond in this past NFL Draft. Some will point to the fact that Kirk is all-in on the pick and has stated his willingness to help mentor the rookie third-rounder with, if all things go as planned, to replace him some day in Purple.

Well, I believe that is a false equivalency. First off, Cousins is not Rodgers. He doesn’t have the pedigree, NFC North titles and isn’t a future Hall of Famer (yet). Secondly, he isn’t Rodgers in manner, either. Kirk knows his place, is comfortable with his guaranteed contract and situation and his personality is ruled more by his faith than a belief in the feud (as it was described in “The Outlaw Josey Wales”), and is taking the news in stride and not in the media. 

And thirdly, Cousins likely knows that Mond is not a threat to his starting job in the final two years of his contract. Mond is a third-rounder compared to the first-round pick and another selection the Packers gave up to get Love. Do you think Cousins would be happy and helping if the Vikings were successfully able to trade up and draft Justin Fields, as they tried to do? Fields would be a much bigger threat to Cousins’ current status than Mond is. (I mean, I am sure Cousins long ago threw away the voodoo doll of Robert Griffith III with several pins stuck in its knee. I kid, I kid.) Cousins’ starting job is not threat for the remainder of his deal, in my opinion.

And neither is Rodgers’, as we are now seeing from Love in minicamp. So, why the fuss, A-Rodge? I do believe it goes back to his personality. Rodgers was embittered for being passed over on his draft day and has never completely moved past it. It is who he is. And now, he has a couple new foils: Gutekunst (who hasn’t drafted better receivers for him) and Guy, I mean, Matt LaFleur—that guy. 

LaFleur came in as the next big thing in NFL coaches, and such a thing doesn’t come without an ego. There were clashes between LaFleur and Rodgers right out of the gate and they continued until last year’s NFC title game in which the head coach called for a field goal instead of letting his soon-to-be-named league MVP put the opposition away. While you can’t fault Rodgers for being ticked off at that, Rodgers’ reaction can cut both ways, and the head coach, like A-Rodge, has feelings, too.

Rodgers and his feelings. That is where I parted ways with Johnson and Haag in this discussion. The team was making a decision for the team’s future. Everyone on a team iseventually replaced, and the personnel department is tasked of deciding who and when. Rodgers is not privy to those decisions, and while it hurts to be the victim of them, it is still just business (unless there is something deeper and more nefarious afoot, then I am siding with Joe and Sally).

Rodgers has feelings, but this complicated fella is more of a diva in my estimation. So, suck it up, Aaron. This day ultimately comes for everyone, just like it did for Favre, when you were on the other side of it. (You remember that, don’t you?) I recall feeling a bit sorry for Rodgers during those days, particularly when Favre beat him twice while wearing a Vikings uniform. But only just a little bit. You won the Super Bowl the next season and erased those feelings real fast.

My point is, Rodgers is a bit thin-skinned (of course, I supposed you could say the same about me for writing this because I felt I my podcast take wasn’t completely portrayed in depth—guilty as charged) and a lot of this is his making. Would I have done it differently if given the power to do so, I think so. You should ride a talent like Rodgers as long as you can (but as I said, it would be a gamble to alert him ahead of time). 

Furthermore, as I said on the pod, I think the Packers will ride him out. I believe Rodgers, the competitor that he is, will recognize he has no hand in the situation and will come into camp without incurring any fines. All will be forgiven . . . on the surface. There is something more going on here than simply Rodgers not being given the courtesy of knowing who the team was drafting—and I don’t think that is the hill A-Rodge wants to die on.

Then the season will start, and all of us in Purple Nation enjoying this turmoil and disruption and distraction will watch as a newly motivated Rodgers, with a chip on his shoulder the size of a football, will roll over his opponents while Love is holding a clipboard. Great. Just great. But,then, I am just speculating.