Maybe it’s a good thing Aaron Rodgers met with the Dalai Lama this week in Dharamsala, India. That meant that he was miles and miles away from the Sturm und Drang kicked up by his comments on a recent radio show, all the better for his level of inner peace.
Judging from social media, the angst over his level of happiness in Green Bay has centered on the departure of two friends off the field and collaborators on it, which in turn has raised concerns about an anticipated contract extension that hasn’t yet materialized.
But as Rodgers said once, “R-E-L-A-X,” or at least don’t panic just yet. Certainly the veteran quarterback wasn’t pleased with the release of wide receiver Jordy Nelson, a favorite target and friend, or with the loss of Alex Van Pelt, the team’s quarterbacks coach. Nelson went on to sign with the Oakland Raiders; Van Pelt was in the final year of his contract last season, and was hoping to become an offensive coordinator. That didn’t happen, possibly in part because of the struggles of backup Brett Hundley after Rodgers broke his collarbone last fall. Van Pelt is now the quarterbacks coach for Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.
For the two-time NFL MVP, it might seem as if this offseason was an endless replay of Christmas morning, with nothing but coal in his stocking.
“I think it’s pretty clear that players play and coaches coach and personnel people make their decisions,” Rodgers said of the moves in an interview last week with 102.9 FM’s “Bob & Brian” show during a radiothon fundraiser for Midwest Athletes against Childhood Cancer, one of Rodgers’s pet charities. “That’s the way they want it.”
To many, that sounded as if he were a little frustrated with the situation Green Bay, but it is also reality. Nelson, who was cut March 9, had one year remaining on a four-year, $39 million contract extension. He said in an interview with ESPN Wisconsin’s Wilde & Tausch during the NFL’s annual meetings that he was “hurt” by the Packers’ “unwillingness” to work out a deal; the team offered him only a little more than a 10-year veteran’s minimum.
Before Rodgers broke his collarbone on Oct. 15, Nelson had caught 20 passes for 240 yards and a league
With General Manager Brian Gutekunst taking over for Ted Thompson, it was clear the roster was going to be revamped, but feelings were hurt nonetheless.
“Not fun. I think both of us wanted to end our careers [together],” Nelson said in the interview, speaking of Rodgers. “He always gave me a hard time when I tore my ACL [in 2015] that I owed him an extra year because I missed one with him. So I told him after he broke his collarbone that he owed me an extra year now. But it’s tough. All the calls are tough.”
Rodgers made his feelings known immediately, posting on Instagram: “Hard to find the right words today to express what 87 means to me. No teammate exemplified what it means to be a Packer quite like him. From living in GB full time, his incredible contributions to the city, state, and region, to his consistent, reliable play on the field. Definitely a sad day and the toughest part of this business. There will never be another quite like white lightning. #leader#brother #friend #baller #loyal #champion #legacy #intact #stillcanplayball #backshoulder #1stSBTD”
He and Nelson hold the franchise record for a quarterback-receiver combination with 65 touchdowns. Rodgers said last week that “it’s the tough part of the business when you get close to guys and spend a lot of time with them and play with them a long time and [you’re] not able to finish up with them. Jordy and I had a really good feel for each other and obviously made a lot of plays over the years.”
The Packers also let tight end Richard Rodgers depart, and he signed with the Eagles this month.
“Seeing Richard sign away, that’s a bummer,” the quarterback said. “Rich is a great player; [I] loved playing with him. Obviously he was a part of a couple of great moments in Packers history and moments in my career as well with the touchdown catch against Dallas in the playoffs in ’14 and obviously the Hail Mary [pass in 2015] against Detroit. He was a big part of what we did, and a really underrated part of our success, I think.”
Does that sound like a disgruntled employee, or merely one who understands the business and is resigned to losing friends during a roster revamp before his 14th season? Coach Mike McCarthy has said Rodgers was in the initial meetings in which offseason decisions were discussed, but the quarterback called some of the coaching changes “a little strange” during a Super Bowl week interview. Pressed for specifics during an interview on ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo” show, Rodgers explained: “Well, my quarterback coach didn’t get retained. I thought that was an interesting change, really without consulting me. There’s a close connection between quarterback and quarterback coach, and that was an interesting decision.”
Joe Philbin, with whom Rodgers and the Packers had great success before he left to coach the Dolphins, was brought back as the team’s offensive coordinator. The team also signed tight end Jimmy Graham. Both moves pleased Rodgers, who said, “I love Joe.” As for Graham, “I’ve been a fan of Jimmy for a long time,” Rodgers said. “We got to know each other at the Pro Bowl in ’13 after the season. Actually talked about how fun it would be to play together at some point. So, it’s great having him in.”
Now, about that contract extension.
Rodgers has two years left on a $110 million deal that was once the NFL’s largest, but has since been overtaken by the contracts of a number of quarterbacks. The market appeared set last month when Kirk Cousins signed a three-year, $84 million deal with Minnesota. But if Rodgers is determined to get (and keep) the league’s biggest contract, it makes perfect sense to allow talks, which have already begun, to unfold over time.
In the interim, the Packers will begin their offseason workout program Monday, and Rodgers says he is healthy and excited to get going. The offseason headlines about his relationship with Danica Patrick and his meet-and-greet with the Dalai Lama will recede. Soon enough, we’ll know just how much all of this potential angst matters.
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