Green Bay Packers failed 'many times' to reach Aaron Rodgers this offseason before deciding to trade him

PHOENIX — After their initial talk this offseason, a conversation he thought went well, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst expected more to follow with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Packers were entering another transformational spring. Gutekunst had to decide whether to reload for another Super Bowl shot in 2023, or rebuild for the future. He intended open dialogue with his four-time MVP quarterback in the weeks and months to follow.

Then Gutekunst tried to reach Rodgers. When he couldn’t get in touch with his quarterback, Gutekunst tried again. And again. “Many times,” the general manager said Monday afternoon at the NFL owners meetings. Eventually, Gutekunst got the message.

Green Bay Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst meets with local media at the 2023 NFL Combine.
Green Bay Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst meets with local media at the 2023 NFL Combine.

He essentially was getting ghosted.

“Obviously, it was a disappointing season,” Gutekunst said. “You come out of the season, you have a lot of conversations not only with Aaron, but with the rest of the team, coaches and everybody. And then as you go through that process, you kind of get an idea of where you’re going to move to as a team, how you’re going to go forward. I think I was really looking forward to the conversations with Aaron to see how he’d fit into that. Those never transpired.

“So there came a time where we kind of had to make some decisions. So we went through his representatives to kind of talk to him about where we were going with our team. At that point, they informed us they would like to be traded to the Jets.”

The lack of communication led the Packers to this precipice of closing one of the most heralded eras in franchise history.

'It takes two to tango': Jets coach Robert Saleh calls potential Aaron Rodgers trade a 'process'

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Brian Gutekunst addresses Aaron Rodgers' propensity to air dirty laundry

Gutekunst left little wiggle room Monday. Jordan Love will be the Packers starting quarterback in 2023, barring an unfathomable change. Gutekunst said Rodgers’ desire to be traded was the biggest impetus for the team deciding to change quarterbacks for only the second time since 1992, when a young Brett Favre started three decades of Hall of Fame play at the game’s most important position.

It’s clear, listening to Gutekunst on Monday, the Packers also are ready to move on. The annual waffling from Rodgers, even a year after signing an extension that made him the NFL’s highest-paid player, took a toll like Favre’s noncommittal approach to his future did 15 years ago. The quarterback’s distance did not make the Packers grow fonder. Rodgers almost left the team in 2021 because, he said, Gutekunst wasn’t communicative enough. Less than two years later, it was Rodgers who stopped responding to calls and texts.

Rodgers’ inconsistencies could beleaguer any organization, and not just his career-worst 91.1 passer rating or constant throws into the dirt to open receivers last season. His consistent barrage of attacks in a public, quarterback-friendly forum called “The Pat McAfee Show” fractured the relationship Rodgers said he valued.

“Whenever a player may have issues,” Gutekunst said, “you prefer that they talk to you directly and not do it in the media. But that’s not necessarily the way he goes about it, and that’s OK.”

There’s also Rodgers’ advancing age and declining play as a first-round draft pick backup continued to develop over the past three years. No matter how many complications Rodgers presented off the field, the Packers would not be intrigued with the idea of moving onto Love if not for their confidence in the youngster.

Rodgers noted in December it would take “mutual desire on both sides” for him to rejoin the Packers this fall. He was no longer in sole control of his future. A week earlier, Love completed 6-of-9 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown replacing an injured Rodgers in Philadelphia. Gutekunst has said more than once this offseason Love needs a chance to play.

Now Love will be his starting quarterback.

“That’s the way it’s trending,” Gutekunst said, “and we’re excited about that. Jordan, he’s put in a lot of work. He’s gotten a lot better. A lot of really good conversations with him over this period of time.”

The question nobody can seem to answer is when that final pass, the one with a baton instead of a football, will be made.

No hints given as to what is holding up the trade

The Packers and Jets spent Monday trying to retain whatever trade leverage might exist. Jets coach Robert Saleh suggested it was unnecessary for Rodgers to join his team for its offseason program, which works out well for him, because Rodgers probably wouldn’t anyway. Jets general manager Joe Douglas told reporters he and Gutekunst “aren’t exactly where we need to be” for a trade but, no, Lamar Jackson isn’t an option.

Gutekunst made clear he isn’t requiring a first-round pick in a Rodgers trade. He also isn’t willing to hand over a quarterback the Jets desperately want for nothing in return. Gutekunst said he’s hopeful a trade will happen before this summer, but added he’s willing to wait “as long as it takes” to feel like his team isn’t getting fleeced.

“I think that’s not a necessity (to get a first-round pick),” Gutekunst said. “But at the same time, the value of the player – he’s a premier player – so getting premier picks back for (premier) players is important.”

Gutekunst prefers a trade to be done as soon as possible. There is no insistence on waiting until after June 1, when Rodgers’ cap hit would be softer in 2023. That it’s come to this, another separation from a franchise icon eerily similar to 15 years ago, won’t be a joyful moment.

In a perfect world, Hall of Fame quarterbacks finish their careers playing for one team. It’s rarely happened in the NFL, from Peyton Manning to Tom Brady, Joe Montana to Favre. Now Rodgers is poised to join that list, leaving the question of what might have happened with a little communication.

“After the season,” Gutekunst said, “we had a good conversation and we were going to have some follow-up conversations. And our inability to reach him or for him to respond in any way, I think at that point, I had to do my job and kind of reach out and understand that a trade could be possible, and see who was interested.”

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Packers failed 'many times' to reach Aaron Rodgers this offseason