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With an altered contract in the works and a bit more control of his future, Aaron Rodgers set to report to training camp
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GREEN BAY PACKERS | REPORTS SAY STALEMATE IS OVER

With an altered contract in the works and a bit more control of his future, Aaron Rodgers set to report to training camp

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GREEN BAY — It was May 15, 2020, and Aaron Rodgers was sitting in the parking lot of a Bed Bath & Beyond in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, talking about his football future and how one draft-day decision had significantly altered how he envisioned it.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback was conducting a conference call with reporters a little more than a week after his boss, general manager Brian Gutekunst, had traded up in the first round of the NFL draft to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love — a selection that, Rodgers knew, was a game-changer for his long-term standing with the team.

“As much as I feel confident in my abilities and what I can accomplish and what we can accomplish, there are some new factors that are out of my control,” Rodgers explained that afternoon. “And so, my sincere desire to start and finish with the same organization, just as it has with many other players over the years, may not be a reality at this point.

“And as much as I understand the organization’s future outlook and wanting to make sure they’re thinking about the team now and down the line — and I respect that — at the same time, I still believe in myself and have a strong desire to play into my 40s. And I’m just not sure how that all works together at this point.”

In that moment, Rodgers understood the implications. He was entering the first year of the four-year, $134 million extension he’d signed in August 2018, and now Gutekunst and the Packers were more likely to decide when his days in Titletown would end.

He responded by winning his third NFL MVP award with a masterful 2020 season, then set about taking back some of that control over his future by making his unhappiness with the team’s front office known — privately at first, at least until an ESPN report on April 29 made Rodgers’ dissatisfaction public.

On Monday, while Gutekunst and team president/CEO Mark Murphy were in the midst of the team’s annual shareholders meeting at Lambeau Field and with veteran players set to report for the start of training camp the next day, the Rodgers saga took an unexpected turn. According to multiple sources, following conversations over the weekend between Rodgers’ representatives and the team, the sides had made enough progress on an altered contract for Rodgers — one that would apparently give him a modicum of control back over his future — that the future Pro Football Hall of Famer was set to end his stalemate with the team and come to camp after missing all of the offseason program.

According to ESPN, the Packers and Rodgers were working toward a deal that would:

  • Void the final year (2023) of his contract and allow him to become a free agent with the team agreeing not to use its franchise or transition tags to keep him.
  • Require the Packers to review the Rodgers situation after this season, implying that if Rodgers remained disgruntled, the team would trade him — something the club steadfastly and repeatedly refused to do this offseason — or release him.
  • Create salary cap space for the Packers without cutting Rodgers’ compensation.
  • Make the team put mechanisms in place to address Rodgers’ concerns about the team’s decision-making process and culture.

As a result, Rodgers and the Packers might be having their own version of “The Last Dance,” one final season together like Michael Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls had — an NBA championship season that was chronicled in ESPN’s docuseries last year and was referenced in Rodgers’ and wide receiver Davante Adams’ Instagram posts late Friday night.

The altered deal still had not been finalized as of Monday evening, and Rodgers said in an iMessage he had not yet left California to come to Green Bay. He also described the process as having “a lot of moving pieces.” But clearly things had changed since as recently as Saturday when Rodgers had not been planning to report to camp.

Among those moving pieces, according to two league sources, was the possibility of the Packers reacquiring wide receiver Randall Cobb, one of Rodgers’ closest friends and confidantes who doesn’t appear to be in the Houston Texans’ plans moving forward. Cobb, signed by Houston’s previous front-office administration, became expendable Sunday when the Texans traded for ex-Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller, a slot receiver like Cobb.

Cobb left the Packers following the 2018 season when Gutekunst did not make him an offer in free agency. He spent one season with the Dallas Cowboys before getting a three-year, $27 million deal that is set to pay him an $8.25 million base salary in 2021. Rodgers was a groomsman in Cobb’s wedding and the two remain close.

The Packers, meanwhile, added Cobb’s protégé, Amari Rodgers, in this year’s draft, taking him with their third-round pick out of Clemson. Cobb played for Amari Rodgers’ father, Tee Martin, in college at Kentucky and has been mentoring the rookie since he was a junior high schooler.

Speaking during the shareholders meeting and before news of Rodgers’ possible return broke, both Gutekunst and Murphy had expressed optimism the standoff would be resolved and that Rodgers would quarterback the team again in 2021.

“We have been working tirelessly with Aaron and his representation to resolve the issues he has raised this offseason,” Gutekunst told the crowd of 4,000 in the stadium bowl and 8,000 more streaming online. “And we remain hopeful for a positive resolution.”

Added Murphy: “We want him back. We’re committed to him for 2021 and beyond. He is our leader, and we’re looking forward to winning another Super Bowl with him.”

In a news conference following the meeting, Murphy said he thought the issues between Rodgers and the organization had been “a pox on both houses, us and Aaron” but that he, Gutekunst, director of football operations Russ Ball and head coach Matt LaFleur were “doing whatever needs to get done.”

“We’ve been in constant communication, obviously (for) months, and I’m hopeful that we’ll have it all resolved,” Murphy said. “We’ve all been involved, and obviously he’s a very important player to the organization. We’re working through, and I’m hopeful. … hopefully he’ll be here on time and be ready to go.”

Asked if a new deal would give Rodgers greater control over his career, Murphy replied: “I’m not going to talk about specific details of contracts. We don’t do it for any player.” Murphy also wouldn’t say exactly what Rodgers had asked for from the organization, saying, “I’m not going to get into specific details.”

What Murphy was willing to talk about was how much Rodgers means to the organization and why it was important to keep him in the fold.

“I do think our fans are spoiled,” Murphy said, referring to the three decades of largely uninterrupted Hall of Fame-quality quarterbacking the franchise has gotten from Rodgers and Brett Favre since 1992. “I think there’s a lot of them that want it resolved. I don’t know if they’re against the Packers or against Aaron. They want to see it resolved.

“I know the people know how good a player Aaron is, but I do think sometimes in these situations it’s easy to forget what he’s done. I mentioned obviously the Super Bowl and the three MVPs, but Aaron’s played through a lot of things, a lot of injuries, and has really developed into a great leader as well.”

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

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During a news conference in which he was even-keeled and introspective but also unvarnished and brutally honest, Rodgers confessed he came back for two reasons: He found his competitive fire still burns within him, and he wanted to be back with those in the organization he loves — his teammates, including wide receiver Davante Adams and left tackle David Bakhtiari; his coaches, led by coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett; and the fans.

As he strode onto Ray Nitschke Field Thursday morning, Kelly did so incognito: He was wearing All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari’s No. 69 jersey, which led to more than a few double takes — given that Bakhtiari is on the physically unable to perform list and isn’t expected to return to action for awhile after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee last Dec. 31.

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