Speculation Swirls on Favre and Packers
Wednesday, July 16, 2008; Page E03
But with Favre ready to halt his four-month retirement and the Packers saying that they're committed to Aaron Rodgers as Favre's replacement as starting quarterback, many people in and around the league are becoming increasingly convinced that the likely resolution to the standoff is a trade that would leave Favre following in the footsteps of Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath and Joe Montana and ending his football-throwing days in a uniform that won't look right on him.
"The Packers have said they would bring him back but not as the starter," former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said. "That's ridiculous. That's so unfair to Aaron Rodgers. It has to be a trade. . . . Everybody has drawn their lines in the sand. A deal's got to be made before training camp."
When Favre tearfully announced his retirement at a news conference in March after 16 seasons with the Packers and 17 in the NFL, the ending wasn't quite storybook. His final pass in the NFC title game had been intercepted and the Packers had lost in overtime to the New York Giants to finish a step shy of reaching the Super Bowl. But it had been pretty good. Favre had been one of the league's most valuable players last season on the heels of two seasons in which he'd looked old and ineffective, and he was walking away with his legacy intact as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the sport's history and a beloved Packers legend.
But Favre left room to wonder when he said that day that he knew he still could play, and within weeks he reportedly was ready to change his mind. Packers General Manager Ted Thompson and Coach Mike McCarthy reportedly were willing to welcome back Favre as their starter when he first expressed private reservations about his decision in late March, but then Favre backed off and opted to remain in retirement.
The Packers spent the offseason readying Rodgers to take over as the starter, and aren't willing to change course even with Favre saying he is fully committed to a comeback. Favre, who turns 39 in October, said during a televised interview with Fox News that he's fine with the Packers' decision to move on with Rodgers but he, in turn, should be permitted to move on to another team of his choosing.
How did it get to this point? The disconnect between Favre and the Packers' current management team may go back to instances in which Thompson, as mentioned by Favre in his TV interview, ignored Favre's suggestion to consider Steve Mariucci as a coaching candidate before McCarthy was hired and failed to acquire wide receiver Randy Moss as urged by Favre in each of the past two offseasons. But the rift may be simpler than that. Favre now says he feels unwanted in Green Bay, and one person in the league who spoke to Favre's agent, Bus Cook, early in the offseason said he was told by Cook that there was no communication between the organization and Favre in the weeks that immediately followed the Packers' playoff loss.
"If McCarthy had just called him and said, 'You're our guy and we'd love to have you back,' they wouldn't have had any of this," said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. "He feels like he was tossed aside."
Sentiment about which side is in the right seems divided, however.
"It's a mess," Theismann said. "I don't necessarily think there is a right or a wrong. I think the Green Bay Packers have done everything they can. They were told they had to move forward without Brett Favre, and then he changes his mind. What are they supposed to do, stop everything because he wants to change his mind? From Brett's side, he's doing something he feels like he can do and wants to do. But Brett has put the Packers in a very bad situation.
"He is the single most entertaining player on the field to ever play the position. I call him 'Everyman' off the field because every person out there can relate to the personal challenges he's been through. But no matter how this thing shakes out, I don't think it has served Brett very well."
Favre's problem at this point is that he remains under contract to the Packers, albeit for a hefty salary of $12 million. They don't have to release him if they don't want to. They're unlikely to cut him loose because that would leave him free to sign with a quarterback-needy division rival such as the Chicago Bears or Minnesota Vikings.
What the Packers can't do, though, is force Favre to remain retired if he wants to play. NFL rules prohibit that and such an attempt would produce a grievance by the players' union.
"If you have a player under contract, you have to either play him, or trade or release him," said Richard Berthelsen, the general counsel of the NFL Players Association. "The club can't have it both ways -- not put him on the roster, and not allow him to go play for someone else. But I don't expect the club to try to do that in this case."
The Packers have proceeded carefully, even if they apparently would prefer Favre to remain at home in Mississippi. Thompson and McCarthy have said they would bring back Favre in some role, seemingly meaning as Rodgers's backup. But other general managers say they believe the Packers are carefully considering their trade options.
Unitas played one season in San Diego at the end of his career after 17 seasons with the Baltimore Colts. Namath spent one season with the Los Angeles Rams after 12 with the New York Jets. Montana finished with two years with the Kansas City Chiefs after 14 with the San Francisco 49ers.
The script could be similar for Favre, and the guesswork in and around the league is that the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be possible trade suitors. In Tampa, Favre would join a team that reached the playoffs last season. He would play in a familiar offensive system and he would be coached by former Packers assistant Jon Gruden. Those factors might be attractive to Favre, a key consideration because he simply could choose to remain in retirement if the Packers attempt to send him somewhere he doesn't want to play.
"Green Bay would be stupid to trade him within the division," Theismann said. "The best scenario for my money is Tampa Bay. Jon loves to have as many quarterbacks as he can get. If you're gonna trade for Brett Favre, you need him to play right now and Jon runs a pure form of the West Coast offense like Mike McCarthy did."