On Favre, Packers Can't Have It Both Ways

Coach Mike McCarthy, left, and GM Ted Thompson are engaged in a difficult tug-of-war with their former starting quarterback.
Coach Mike McCarthy, left, and GM Ted Thompson are engaged in a difficult tug-of-war with their former starting quarterback. (By Morry Gash -- Associated Press)
By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Please don't shed any tears for the Green Bay Packers. Don't fall for this nonsense they're spinning that Brett Favre is threatening to make their lives so unbearably miserable by ending his brief retirement.

Don't believe for a minute that the Packers will be better off without Favre, that Favre is now a villainous figure, unfairly poaching what rightfully belongs to new quarterback Aaron Rodgers, or that the team needs days or perhaps even weeks to figure out what in the world to do.

Don't buy any of what the Green Bay executives and coaches are selling, because there's no dilemma at all for the Packers.

Since the Packers have made it clear, both publicly and to Favre in direct conversation, that they no longer want him as their starter, there's a simple solution here: trade him or cut him. It doesn't matter that anybody in his right mind knows Favre, even at 38 years old, is 100 times better than Rodgers. If Coach Mike McCarthy and his staff want Rodgers, fine. Start him. Play him until his arm falls off. The Packers' GM, Ted Thompson, and McCarthy have been telling people it's Rodgers's time to play, that they promised him the job in March and it would be unfair to him now to yank the rug from under him, blah, blah, blah.

Fine, if Rodgers is as much your guy as you claim publicly, then dump Favre.

If you don't want Favre, if you think he's washed up and ready to be bronzed, then why would you care if he winds up with the Vikings or Bears? If you don't want Favre, why would you care who he plays for in the limited time he has left?

Because the Packers want it both ways, like every NFL team in history. Thompson thinks being an NFL team executive gives him the inalienable right to be able to tell players what to do for the rest of their natural lives. "I don't want you to play for me, but I'll do my best to prevent you from playing for anybody else." That's the NFL way.

And because the NFL is the unchallenged sports/entertainment leader in America, most of the general public -- even in Wisconsin -- most folks in the media and most fans nationally think the poor Packers are somehow being put upon. This is yet another case of the NFL flexing its unequalled sense of entitlement and arrogance.

Thompson, who comes off looking like a sniveling twit in staking out his position, reportedly told Favre he would perhaps be fired if Favre showed up at Packers training camp. (That alone should be enough to make Favre fire up the jet and get up to Wisconsin.)

Don't get me wrong, Favre isn't an innocent in all this. I've had Favre fatigue for some time when it comes to "will he or won't he?"

Favre has been disingenuously hinting at retirement for what, three or four years? This past March wasn't the first time the Packers' brass had talks with Favre about his plans for the next season. They put up with the back and forth because even after his bad seasons, Favre was the best quarterback the Packers have ever had. He nearly got the Packers to the Super Bowl in February, remember. Presuming they settle this dispute before feelings become permanently hurt, a statue of Favre surely will be erected in front of Lambeau Field someday.

So, it's not like the Packers pressured Favre to retire. Had he said in March he wanted to still play, chances are he'd be in training camp now, instead of officially asking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to reinstate him with the Packers, as Favre did in writing yesterday. It was Favre, remember, who held the teary news conference to announce his farewell. It was Favre who said his wife and kids wanted him to call it quits after all these years. So, it was totally understandable that the Packers, having invested a first-round draft pick in Rodgers four years ago, wanted to get Rodgers ready to start the post-Favre era.

So they started that process and they don't want to turn their back on Rodgers. Good. Keep him atop the depth chart. Stand by your man. You told him he's your guy. Prove it. Keep your word. Stick with him. Tell Favre to get lost and trade him. Get a second-round pick in next year's draft, somebody who can help Rodgers be great, a young lineman or a receiver. Do whatever you have to do to assist the quarterback you believe is your best bet to win.

But don't tell me that in doing that you need to control what Favre does next. If you want Favre, put him in a uniform and tell Rodgers the two of them will compete for a job. If you don't want Favre, let him go. If the Packers choose to try and play both ends, then one can only hope the circus surrounding the team brings the whole season crashing down. Usually when an NFL team squirms it's a good thing, because it's usually brought on by its own greed or need to exert total control.

Because NFL teams are so powerful, especially in a tiny place like Green Bay, and because they're so able and smart about manipulating public opinion, they'll probably get away with successfully painting Favre as the bad guy in this episode. And if Favre thinks the Packers will ultimately cut him and thereby grant him the freedom to cut a deal with any team (the Vikings and/or Bears included), the bet here is he'll be wrong.

Who knows where this is going next. Here's hoping Favre shows up for training camp sometime this week and heads to his locker. What are the Packers going to do, have guards block his path to the dressing room?

The best way for Favre to get what he wants is to be as confrontational as the Packers, to get right in their faces and say with both actions and words, "I'm here. Play me, trade me, or suffer the consequences."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company