GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers’ name was in the news a lot during the offseason and yet the Green Bay Packers star didn’t have much to say at all, at least publicly.
He got his chance Wednesday and took full advantage, spending more than 32 minutes after the team’s first training camp practice giving his side of the story regarding the conflict between the organization and its franchise quarterback.
Rodgers offered plenty of insight during a news conference in which his tone was borderline somber at times. What he didn’t do was instill much confidence his time with the Packers is going to end well or even that this season will be as super as some had hoped.
Yes, for those of you who remember reading a far more positive spin being put on this Rodgers-Packers saga just one day earlier, I’m backpedaling like Jaire Alexander a bit here. I wrote Tuesday after news broke that Rodgers had showed up on time for training camp after all, despite concerns that he would be a no-show, how “the potential of all this drama carrying over into this season would be worrisome if it was anyone else in the middle of it.”
That was before Rodgers admitted a day later he considered retirement as an option this offseason. He got engaged, did a lot of traveling and, as he put it, “continued to find joy and happiness in things off the field.” It made him think about moving on with his life.
To be fair, Rodgers said in his next breath he discovered there’s still a competitive fire burning inside of him and that he still wants to play football.
Two questions immediately came to mind, and Rodgers addressed both of them.
The first: Does Rodgers really want to play for the Packers anymore, though? Or was he resigned to the fact his choices were return to Green Bay, a team that had zero desire to trade him at this time, or not play at all?
It’s clear Rodgers’ issues with the Packers’ front office — namely team president Mark Murphy, general manager Brian Gutekunst and executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball — are still lingering. Rodgers spelled out his concerns and process for addressing them during a 5½-minute answer regarding what this mess was all about, and he later admitted he doesn’t feel like much was resolved.
Still, he’s back and says he wants to be here.
“I do,” Rodgers said. “I love my teammates. I love the city. I love my coaches. It is a lot of fun to be back here and, like I said, I’m competitive and I realize the type of team that’s in place here. It’s a team that has a lot of talent on it. It’s been close the last couple years, so I’m definitely excited about this season.”
Maybe he is, or perhaps Rodgers is still trying to convince himself he’s excited. There was little excitement in his voice at any point during those 32-plus minutes in front of the media.
Another bothersome part of this retirement talk was the idea Rodgers can go from considering hanging up his cleats to being fully invested in the 2021 season. It seems like a giant step to take mentally and I asked Rodgers as much.
“There were some things I needed to do and conversations I needed to have to put myself in the right headspace to be able to come back and to be 100% in — which my teammates (and) the organization expects and I expect myself,” he said. “And I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t 100% all-in.”
That all-in phrase came up multiple times on Wednesday, with Gutekunst admitting that, while the team feels like it’s all-in every season, they’re really all-in for 2021 after reworking the contracts of several key veterans in order to re-sign running back Aaron Jones and some other free agents.
“We’ve pushed it to the limit about as far as we can push it,” Gutekunst said.
It would all be worth it if the Packers, with 20 of 22 preferred starters back from a team that finished as the NFC bridesmaid for the second consecutive season, finally get over the hump and win the franchise’s first Super Bowl title in over a decade.
That goal can only be reached if the team gets another magical season out of Rodgers.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him be here and go out there on that field and not be all-in,” Gutekunst said. “I’ve always been confident of that. He is a true competitor, he’s a true professional. When he steps between those white lines, I’ve really never seen anything other than that.”
Neither has wide receiver Davante Adams, who expects the reigning MVP to pick up where he left off in 2020.
“I see us seeing the same Aaron,” Adams said, “if not better.”
Let’s be clear: Rodgers’ return to the team is a good thing. Even a version of Rodgers with one foot out the door still gives the Packers a better chance to win games than Jordan Love in what essentially is a second rookie season for the team’s 2020 first-round pick.
But it’s hard to imagine this team being great unless its star plays to the level he did in 2020, this time against what appears to be a much more difficult schedule. One over-under released after the news broke that Rodgers was returning placed the Packers’ total at 10 wins in the new 17-game schedule, a step back for an organization coming off back-to-back 13-win campaigns.
Maybe Rodgers proves me and Las Vegas wrong and produces yet another season of greatness. But after keeping his lips mostly zipped since January — “I firmly believe that there is wisdom in silence,” he reiterated Wednesday — Rodgers finally decided it was time to talk and I didn’t love what I was hearing coming out of his mouth.
Best of the beat: Take a look back at 5 of Jim Polzin's favorite stories from his sports reporting career
I was helping out on the UW football beat late in the summer of 2010 when our Packers writer left for another job. Most of training camp was done, the season opener was a couple weeks away, and I had a 4-year-old and 7-month-old at home.
But who turns down the chance to cover the Packers? I had no idea at the time that the season would stretch into February, but a wild ride ended with Aaron Rodgers and Co. beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV. That night, including writing this game story, is a blur.
BO RYAN'S TOUGH LOVE
It was hard to choose a story from a magical stretch that included back-to-back trips to the Final Four for the UW men’s basketball program. I did plenty of stories on Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and others during that stretch, but this one on that group’s leader stood out because it gave some insight into Bo Ryan’s coaching style.
This story ruffled some feathers inside the program, though that wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to give readers a look at how Ryan went about getting the best out of his players.
I wrote a lot about Nigel Hayes over his four seasons with the Badgers because he was such a fascinating guy on and off the court. For one story his junior season, I spent a morning with him, talking over breakfast and sitting through one of his business classes.
This one was about his relationship with his stepfather, Albert Davis Sr. I don’t even remember what made me think of doing this story or how I pitched it to him, but I do remember sitting in folding chairs in a hallway at the Kohl Center and being amazed at how much he was willing to share. It turned out to be a fun story to tell.
HAPP'S HARD WORK
Ethan Happ’s name is all over the UW men’s basketball record book. He scored a lot of points, grabbed a lot of rebounds, dished out a lot of assists, made a lot of steals and blocked a lot of shots. He also missed a lot of free throws.
I got a ton of messages, either via email or social media, asking why Happ didn’t spend more time working on his shot. I knew his work ethic wasn’t the issue because I spent a lot of time waiting to interview him after practices as he worked on shooting with coaches or teammates or student-managers. Still, I had no idea just how much time he spent working on his shot away from practice until I began the process of reporting this story.
GARD ERA BEGINS
One moment I’ll never forget is when Bo Ryan walked into the Kohl Center media room late on the night of Dec. 15, 2015, and the person moderating his postgame news conference said Ryan would open with a statement.
Ryan never opened with a statement, always choosing to go straight to questions. In that split-second before Ryan started talking, I knew: He was retiring. And so began a crazy night and crazy week that included wrapping up Ryan’s time at UW and moving on to the Greg Gard era.
Fans certainly knew who Gard was at that point because he’d been Ryan’s longtime assistant. But I wanted to talk to as many people as I could for a thorough story on the guy taking over the program after his legendary mentor’s departure.
Contact Jim Polzin at email@example.com.