OPINION: Packers Fans Reckon With Havoc They Wrought
Months of tension surrounding the future of Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers came to a head just in time for the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, as reports leaked presumably from Rodgers’ camp that the QB was disgruntled and would not return to the team.
Most attributed the onset of that turmoil to the Packers trading up to draft Jordan Love with their top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but that is a conveniently early start to the timeline. The “four-year plan” to move on from Rodgers did not begin with GM Brian Gutekunst’s third draft in Green Bay, but a few months before his first. Selective memory may cause us to forget, especially in lieu of his passing in January of this year, how much we wanted Ted Thompson out of his 2017 role as GM. I say “we” because I was very much among those who believed his time with the Packers should come to a close. However, did Thompson stepping back after the 2017-18 season to an advisory role, before resigning in 2019, signal the beginning of the end for Rodgers?
Rodgers was Thompson’s first pick after taking the job in Green Bay in 2005. There was definitely a bond between the two, linked by fortune but cemented by substantiated belief in one another. Once it became clear what the Packers had in Rodgers, Green Bay took one QB prior to the fifth round (Brian Brohm, second round in 2008) for the duration of Thompson’s tenure. Love him or hate him, Thompson clearly did not want to run a second Hall of Fame QB out of town. This loyalty was almost to a fault, as a couple seasons were derailed by limited backup options when Rodgers went down.
Rodgers, for his part, was also very vocal about his reverence for Thompson in comments after his passing.
“I definitely wanted to prove that he made the right decision,” Rodgers said of Thompson picking him. “And I think he was really proud of what I achieved.”
As Thompson stepped back in 2018, Brian Gutekunst took over. He assumed the role of GM while facing immense expectations to make the most of the twilight of Rodgers’ career, while building a team that could compete well into the future. A year later, the Packers would also move on from long-time coach Mike McCarthy in a decision that may have further accelerated long-term priorities. That move, much like Thompson’s relegation to advisor, came after significant scrutiny from fans and media.
The problem with adding two new faces to two of the top leadership positions on the team is the inevitable desire of those new hires to establish their own legacy. Brian Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur, despite saying the right things in their press conferences, ultimately don’t want to be known as the bookend regime of the Rodgers era. To their credit, they want the Packers to be a successful franchise well beyond the tenure of any individual player.
They likely looked at Rodgers early on as a superb asset to inflate their acclimation period, but ultimately they are not tied to him the way Thompson was. Viewing Rodgers through the lens of 2018 to 2019, you see a two-time MVP who had missed half of two of the last six seasons with collarbone injuries and potentially developed superstar syndrome. Perhaps a great deal was underestimated about Rodgers’ capability to put forth his best season in the pros in his age 37 season, not the least of which was his ability to be motivated by spite. Nevertheless, Brett Favre and Bart Starr each spent 16 seasons in Green Bay, and this past year was also Rodgers’ 16th. As has been said countless times this offseason, the writing has been on the wall.
Packers fans wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They wanted a new GM, a new head coach but somehow not a new QB. Running NFL teams rarely works that way, especially in a league that does not cater to stars as much as the NBA often does.
While Thompson’s deteriorating health certainly would have brought this day eventually, Packers fans have themselves to thank for moving the timeline up at least a year. It remains to be seen whether this timeline will end as messily as it did with Favre in 2008.