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DIVA RODGERS WRITES THE BOOK ON HOW TO SHAME THE BOSSES
A lengthy standoff of trade demands, “Jeopardy!’’ gigs and Jerry Krause references ends just as we expected: with the MVP demanding that the Packers win a Super Bowl now … or he’s gone this winter
Consider it a workplace tutorial. Title: How to challenge your dumbass bosses to do better, all while dominating the national sports conversation, manipulating the media, dividing a fan base, guest-hosting “Jeopardy!’’ and swimming in Hawaii with your movie-star fiancee.
The Offseason of Aaron ended just as we figured — and about as well as a modern-day ruthless Mister Rodgers realistically could have hoped. He is too competitive to sit out an entire season and lose millions, at age 37, just to spite Green Bay management people who haven’t helped him win a Super Bowl with various offseason bungles, including the drafting of would-be successor Jordan Love. And the Packers are much too dependent on Rodgers to trade him now, as he was demanding for months.
So, as training camp begins, the NFL’s reigning MVP enters his 17th season with the best possible outcome under the circumstances. He’ll commit to one more season with the Packers, with the final year in his contract voided in 2023. And if he doesn’t like what happens this season, the team will review his situation, according to ESPN, meaning he’ll be traded if he desires. It’s a reasonable assumption that the Packers, with so much self-induced uncertainty involving Rodgers and impending free-agent receiver Davante Adams, again will fail in a wide-open NFC that includes Tom Brady’s run for an eighth Super Bowl ring and Matthew Stafford’s return to football civilization in Los Angeles.
Then, Rodgers can ask for a trade without rancor … to Las Vegas or New Orleans or Denver or Miami or wherever he wants to finish his career. Thus ends an offseason he described as “a beautiful mystery,’’ with a crystal-clear conclusion: a Vince Lombardi Trophy or a one-way escape down Vince Lombardi Avenue. Sounds much like “The Last Dance,’’ doesn’t it? Though Rodgers is not Michael Jordan in any all-time sports pantheon, his playbook resembles that of Jordan when he tired of Bulls management and declared the 1997-98 season would be his last in Chicago.
Which means we should take a mental snapshot of his return to work, on Tuesday, when he reported to Packers camp with bad-ass sunglasses and a wry t-shirt: “THE OFFICE,’’ with a “DUNDER MIFFLIN’’ logo. He’s always sending a message, that Aaron Rodgers.
The reconciliation, however brief, leaves only one unresolved drama in an offseason when several quarterbacks attempted power plays as Brady did last year. Deshaun Watson still wants out of Houston, and the Texans want rid of him … but what team possibly would want him as 22 active lawsuits accuse him of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior? Eight of the 22 women are among 10 who’ve filed complaints with Houston police. Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, acknowledges that settlements are a possibility, but the NFL still could suspend Watson after completing its investigation.
Want a public-relations nightmare? Trade for Watson.
In the leverage playbook, Rodgers executed the pre-agency version of how Brady fled Bill Belichick. He had to wait until his contract expired to divorce the New England Patriots, whereas Rodgers is setting up his departure 2 1/2 years before his contract allowed. The Packers don’t deserve him for another day, seeing how they’ve never allowed their franchise QB — a smart, cunning man — to help with personnel decisions. They’ve left him without sufficient playmaking weapons, and they’ve drafted the Love Boat project without conferring with him. Given his place in history, at the most important position in team sports, the Packers should have been inviting him to regular skull sessions and, for that matter, shining his lone title ring. Instead, they treated him like the help, not advisable in a franchise that allowed a previous Hall of Fame quarterback, Brett Favre, to leave in an ugly split.
“A complicated fella,’’ team president Mark Murphy described him last month, adding that Rodgers was dividing Packers loyalists in his rage against the honchos.
To which Rodgers responded with an “I’m Offended’’ t-shirt, not long after telling buddy Kenny Mayne in his ESPN “SportsCenter’’ finale: “I think sometimes people forget what really makes an organization. History is important, legacy of so many people who've come before you. But the people, that's the most important thing. People make an organization, people make a business and sometimes that gets forgotten. Culture is built brick by brick, the foundation of it by the people, not by the organization, not by the building, not by the corporation. It's built by the people."
Was the back-and-forth snipefest annoying? At times, yes, particularly when every Rodgers move seemed calculated for the national media — including his two-week stint in the late Alex Trebek’s “Jeopardy!’’ seat, which Rodgers framed as a possible immediate career move. But as an MVP dealing with a front office that can’t get out of its own way, he has a certain leeway as a diva. And his social media posts and cryptic remarks eventually slowed as both sides realized they need each other for now, even if both must hold their noses. Though Murphy runs the league’s only publicly held team, Rodgers aimed his wrath at general manager Brian Gutekunst, the mastermind behind the drafting of Love two years ago. Recently, Rodgers was dropping more references to Jerry Krause — the villainous GM who wreckingballed the Bulls dynasty before its time — in Instagram posts with Adams. In his eyes, Gutekunst is Krause, and he and Adams are Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
But the iceberg melted this week in the Wisconsin heat, when Murphy stood before 3,900 shareholders at an annual meeting — after a pandemic season when revenues fell 27 percent and the Packers spent more money than they generated for the first time since 2000 — and made amends. Murphy said he wanted Rodgers for “2021 and beyond,’’ adding, “He is our leader, and we're looking forward to winning another Super Bowl with him. Obviously, it's been a challenging situation for both Aaron and us as an organization. But let's not forget all the great things Aaron has done for this organization. Three-time MVP, Super Bowl champion. It's easy to forget that but he's a phenomenal talent. We're happy to have him."
What about the Jerry Krause references? “I think they’re just having fun,’’ Murphy said. “I hope Aaron can win as many rings as Michael. That would be a heck of an end to his career.’’
As for Gutekunst, he finally acknowledged a mistake in not first informing Rodgers before the 2020 draft, when he traded up and drafted Love with the 26th pick. “The draft’s an interesting thing. It can kind of unfold differently than you think it’s going to unfold, and it happens pretty fast,” he said. “But certainly, I think, looking back on it sitting where we sit today, there could have been some communication things we did better.”
Apparently, that was close enough to an apology for Rodgers to declare victory and pack for camp. Let there be no debate: He won the staredown. The shareholders generally supported management with applause, even when Murphy paused to praise Gutekunst, though the Associated Press reported that one man yelled, “I’ve never seen him throw a touchdown.’’ Packers fans generally have sided with Rodgers, fearing a repeat of the Favre fiasco and not entirely trusting Murphy, who nearly sabotaged the renewed vows when he said, “Lambeau Field is the best asset we have as an organization.’’
Nor was this comment necessary when asked about the reaction: “I thought there would be more booing either against us or Aaron, but I think I was pleasantly surprised. I don't know if they're against the Packers or against Aaron.’’
For now, they’re united as one. But if Aaron Rodgers has another MVP-worthy season as the Packers fall short again, I wouldn’t want to be the dumbass bosses. Green Bay is a small town. The fans will find them.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes sports columns for Substack and a Wednesday media column for Barrett Sports Media while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.