GREEN BAY — From his “I’m offended” T-shirt to his tongue-in-cheek remarks about his “quiet offseason,” Aaron Rodgers managed to once again draw attention to his situation with the Green Bay Packers without saying anything substantive about where his relationship with the organization stands.
Speaking during a conversation Tuesday to promote the July 6 “The Match” made-for-television golf showdown — a virtual interview that included Rodgers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and PGA golfers Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, and was moderated by TNT’s Brian Anderson, the TV voice of the Milwaukee Brewers — Rodgers discussed his offseason, which has seen him stay away from the Packers’ organized team activity practices and mandatory minicamp for the first time in his 17-year NFL career.
The exchange began with Anderson saying to Rodgers, “You’ve really kept a low profile this offseason. I’ve hardly seen your name at all, and you haven’t hosted any TV shows or been involved in any kind of controversy or anything. It’s been a nice, peaceful offseason for you, it sounds like, AR.”
Rodgers nodded, then replied: “Yeah, BA, it’s been one of those quiet offseasons you dream about, where you can kind of just go through your process on your own, quietly. And that’s all you can ask for as an older player in the league and someone who’s been around for a long time and just enjoys that time to yourself, to just relax, to not be bothered, to not have any obligations or anything going on.”
The three-time NFL MVP then begins to smirk before adding: “I think that’s what this offseason has been about. It’s been about really enjoying my time and spending it where I want to spend it, and not feeling like I have to go anywhere, not having any responsibilities — but still being an NFL player at the same time. It’s been great.”
While Rodgers was promoting the golf event, which pits him and DeChambeau against Brady and Mickelson, the Packers were holding the penultimate OTA practice of their offseason — a voluntary session that Rodgers, who was the only player to not attend last week’s mandatory minicamp, was hardly the only one to skip.
Missing that three-day minicamp left Rodgers subject to $93,085 in fines, though the team would not say whether Rodgers’ absence had been excused. While Rodgers stayed away, wide receiver Davante Adams and cornerback Jaire Alexander, who both skipped the on-field OTA sessions, attended the minicamp. Alexander worked at his traditional starting cornerback spot while Adams did only drill work and was held out of 11-on-11 periods.
On Tuesday, of the Packers’ offensive starters, only one — running back Aaron Jones — was taking part in the practice at Clark Hinkle Field. In all, 35 players were absent from Tuesday’s session, and similar attendance is expected for Thursday’s final practice. Coach Matt LaFleur, whose players will go their separate ways before reconvening for the start of training camp on July 27, is scheduled to address reporters following that final practice.
Rodgers’ on-the-record statements have been rare since news of his unhappiness with the team’s front office spilled into the public’s view shortly before the 2021 NFL draft began on April 29. Since then, Rodgers has only done two significant interviews, appearing on longtime anchor Kenny Mayne’s final SportsCenter broadcast on ESPN on May 24 and speaking to Anderson to promote The Match on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, team president/CEO Mark Murphy has maintained the Packers want Rodgers back for “2021 and beyond,” though Murphy has not said what constitutes “beyond.”
Murphy wrote in his monthly column on the team website of how “the situation with Aaron Rodgers has divided our fan base,” and last week, Murphy referred to Rodgers as a “complicated fella,” saying that was how the late Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who died in January, had referred to Rodgers. Whether Rodgers’ clothing selection for Tuesday’s interview was any sort of response to Murphy’s comment is hard to say.
What Rodgers’ intentions are moving forward are also unclear. The team has insisted it would not trade Rodgers, and if GM Brian Gutekunst holds firm, Rodgers will have to decide whether to report to training camp to begin his 14th season as the team’s starting quarterback, or sit out in hopes of forcing the Packers’ hand.
The idea that Rodgers, who has said he wants to play “5 to 7 more years,” will in fact take a holdout into the regular season, which kicks off Sept. 12 at New Orleans, is hard to fathom — and not just for fans.
“I can’t fathom (him) not being in Green Bay. That’s where my mind’s at,” LaFleur said at the end of the draft. “I don’t only love the player, but I love the person. I love working with him on a daily basis. I think we all do — from the players in that locker room to the coaching staff. Again, I don’t even want to let my mind go there.”
Setting an ‘example’
Earlier this offseason, someone pointed out to Jones he had become the “old man” in the running backs room, and the Pro Bowl halfback acknowledged he was taking that role seriously.
“I’m going to push them however I can and teach them the playbook and make sure they’re right so, whenever it’s their time to get on the field, they’re ready,” Jones said of the youngsters behind him on the depth chart.
On Tuesday, he put his attendance where his mouth was. While 35 of the 90 players on the roster, including fellow stars such as Rodgers, Adams, Alexander, Za’Darius and Preston Smith were absent from the voluntary practice, there was Jones, running with the No. 1 offense with second-year quarterback Jordan Love and going through drills with the other young running backs. Two of the younger backs, AJ Dillon and Dexter Williams, were among those who didn’t take part in practice.
“He doesn’t have to be here. He was here from Day 1, being that example, being that guy everybody was looking at,” rookie wide receiver Amari Rodgers said after practice. “Once he catches the ball, once he gets the ball, he’s finishing almost through the end zone. He’s just being that example the whole minicamp, that person that you look at it, like ‘OK, that’s the way I need to practice.’ So, he’s definitely been that guy that I’ve been looking at, trying to learn from as far as how to practice, how to push through when you’re maybe tired and stuff like that. Having a guy like that on your team is always great.“
Two league sources said the Packers and many of those veteran players reached agreements that would allow them to collect their offseason workout bonuses by taking part in the mandatory minicamp last week and by attending virtual pre-practice meetings with their teammates from wherever they are.
The absences left the Packers noticeably thin at some positions. For instance, with Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis and Jace Sternberger all not at practice, Dominique Dafney nursing a right knee injury and Josiah Deguara continuing his rehab from his torn ACL, only one tight end — Bronson Kaufusi — was practicing. … While the top five wide receivers didn’t take part in on-field work during the earlier OTAs, one of them — Equanimeous St. Brown — stuck around this week after taking part in minicamp. … Rookie center Josh Myers, a second-round pick from Ohio State, is acting like a savvy veteran, and not just while anchoring the No. 1 offensive line. Asked if he was disappointed that he wasn’t getting to play with Aaron Rodgers — at least not yet — Myers replied, “With me being a rookie in the situation that I’m in right now, I don’t want to say one thing or another,” Myers replied, “I’m just going to kind of let that situation be.”