Every Christmas needs a holiday heist story and this one is a bit of a doozy. Imagine, if you can, the Green Bay Packers being forced to release quarterback Aaron Rodgers because of a violation of the injured reserve rules.
Here’s the backstory: Rodgers missed seven games after having surgery to repair a broken right collarbone suffered Oct. 15. He was officially activated Dec. 16, although it was widely known that the break had not fully healed in such a short time. He played the following weekend against Carolina, although his timing and performance were off in a loss in which he threw three interceptions (the first time that has happened to him in a game since 2009) in addition to three touchdowns. The following day, the Packers were eliminated from the playoffs, and on Dec. 18 the team shut him down for the final two games.
Although Rodgers took a beating (12 hits) in the loss to the Panthers, Coach Mike McCarthy said only that the quarterback was “sore” multiple times and, when asked if Rodgers would need another procedure, said that he is in “rest and recovery mode.” No new injury was announced and McCarthy added, “he has a distinct rehab plan as he moves forward.” On Saturday night, NBC’s Michele Tafoya reported that Rodgers, who needed two metal plates and 13 screws to repair his displaced fracture, had told her that the plan is for him to have another scan “after the season” and to resume workouts in a month.
The NFL typically doesn’t discuss how it tries to keep 32 teams happy and referred questions to the Packers. “I don’t see any issue with Aaron Rodgers going on IR,” Coach Mike McCarthy said. “… we followed the guidelines and procedures to put a player on IR.”
If all that seems mysterious, it’s nothing new, as the status of Rodgers’s healing collarbone has been cloaked in drama and mystery. His original departure from the short-term IR involved multiple consultations about the extent of healing with doctors across the country (his surgery was performed in California) and team executives and, of course, Rodgers himself was lobbying hard to return. Finally, he was medically cleared to play at something less than 100 percent. As Schefter points out, though, not having medical clearance and being placed on injured reserve are two different things.
If the Packers had not been eliminated, would Rodgers have remained active? It’s a good question, and because NFL teams are always taking their gripes to the league office, it’s worth throwing the challenge flag on the move, even if there’s not much chance that the league would force one of its most popular teams to release one of its best and most popular players.
Besides, every team that is out of playoff contention has an IR list of players who could play if a berth were on the line. As Andrew Brandt, the Packers’ former vice president of player finance and general counsel, points out: “Good luck with that. Players with hangnails are put on IR this time of year.”
There’s another reason that this is all much ado about very little. The NFL has to approve these moves and it clearly did so when the Packers submitted the move last week. So, if anything, expect a tweak to the IR rules in the offseason, not a Rodgers relocation.
But, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, try this on: Rodgers, if released, would go on waivers. There, the Cleveland Browns would have the first claim of the 31 other teams and their new general manager, John Dorsey, happened to be the Packers’ director of football operations when they drafted . . . Aaron Rodgers.
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