GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur signed off from his final Zoom Q&A session of the season with reporters Monday afternoon with a promise.
“We’ll get back at this thing,” the Green Bay Packers coach said into the camera, “and you’ll see a better version of us next year.”
And with that in mind, LaFleur said earlier in the nearly 45-minute session, the Packers want their likely soon-to-be four-time NFL MVP and future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, back running that better version of themselves next year — despite his disappointing performance in Green Bay’s 13-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional playoffs on Saturday night at Lambeau Field.
While LaFleur had already made his desire to bring the 38-year-old Rodgers back very clear in the immediate aftermath of the game, he said Monday that he, general manager Brian Gutekunst, team president/CEO Mark Murphy and vice president of football operations/chief contract negotiator Russ Ball are all in agreement on wanting Rodgers to return for an 18th season with the team and 15th season as the starting quarterback.
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“Every conversation that I’ve been involved in with Gutey and Russ and Mark, we’re all on the same page there,” LaFleur said. “There’s no debate.”
That would mean that it’s up to Rodgers, who has one year left on his existing contract but at an untenable salary cap number of $46.8 million, to decide whether he wants to return to the only NFL team he’s ever known, have the Packers trade him to another team, or call it a career.
If he does want to stay in Green Bay, he and the Packers will have to agree on an extension that would presumably tie him to the organization for several years, not just 2022. If he wants to play elsewhere, the Packers, Rodgers and his potential new team would have to facilitate such a move.
“I’m going to take some time and have conversations with the folks around here and then take some time away and make a decision — obviously before free agency (opens on March 16),” Rodgers said after Saturday night’s game, in which he completed 20 of 29 passes for 225 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions (91.9 rating) while absorbing five sacks.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish here. Thankful — deeply thankful — for so many years here in the organization and all the incredible teammates and coaches that I’ve had over the years. That’s part of the legacy, I think — the friendships, and the memories on and off the field. But I don’t know. I’m still super competitive, still know I can play at a high level, so it’s going to be a tough decision. I have a lot of things to weigh in the coming weeks.”
Asked if the way the season ended, with yet another loss short of a return trip to the Super Bowl, will affect his thinking, Rodgers replied, “Of course it does. But there’s obviously a lot of decisions to be made. There’s a lot of players whose futures are up in the air, so definitely will be interesting to see which way some of those decisions will go. But I’ll have the conversations with Brian in the next week or so, and get a little bit more clarity. And (I’ll) think about my own future and how much longer I want to keep doing this.”
Rodgers evaded a question about whether his decision essentially comes down to determining if he wants to play in Green Bay or elsewhere, replying, “I don’t think it’s fair to anybody or myself to really go down those paths at this point. It’s disappointing, sad, and fresh. So I’ll have conversations in the next week or so and start to contemplate after that.”
Rodgers also made it very clear that he does not “want to be part of a rebuild,” and despite having a host of key players headed for free agency and some high-priced veterans likely to be released because of the team’s challenging salary cap situation, LaFleur said he does not believe the Packers are in rebuilding mode.
“There’s no plan for a rebuild. You get this close, obviously win a lot of football games. We know in order for there not to be that, he’s got to be a part of this thing,” LaFleur said. “I don’t think that’s anybody’s intention.”
Asked if he had any role in convincing Rodgers to return, LaFleur replied, “Well, if there’s anything I can do, I’ll make sure that I do that. But ultimately, he’s got to go through his process and come to what he feels is the best decision for himself.”
At least publicly, LaFleur absolved Rodgers of most of the responsibility for the team’s loss to the 49ers, even though his passer rating was 20 points lower than his regular-season performance (111.9). That 91.9 rating was also the seventh-lowest postseason rating of his career as a starter, and of those other six games, the Packers won only once: The 2010 NFC Championship Game at Chicago.
In addition, Rodgers failed to throw a touchdown pass for only the second time in 21 playoff starts, and by his own admission should have gone elsewhere with passes on multiple occasions, including on the Packers’ final offensive play, an incomplete wing-and-a-prayer downfield heave to Davante Adams into double coverage.
LaFleur instead pointed to Rodgers being under pressure on most of his 34 dropbacks behind an offensive line that LaFleur and the Packers offensive coaches juggled after five-time All-Pro David Bakhtiari was inactive because of ongoing issues with his surgically repaired left knee.
“Unfortunately, we all hold him to such a high, high standard,” LaFleur said. “Like we’ve said many times, the quarterback will get too much blame when it doesn’t go right and a lot of times too much credit. But ultimately, this is a team game and I think that the game we played the other night is the epitome of (how) it takes all three phases.
“I thought we did a lot of great things on defense,” LaFleur said. “Obviously having the big blunders on special teams and then, on offense, we definitely did not play up to our standard. But it wasn’t one person. It was a collective effort by everybody.”
And that includes LaFleur, who certainly took more blame himself than he cast on anyone else.
“We’ve got to keep searching for whatever it is to help us get over the hump, because obviously we haven’t found it yet,” said LaFleur, who is 39-10 in three regular seasons as coach but whose teams have lost twice in the NFC Championship Game and also been eliminated short of a Super Bowl berth the past two years despite having the NFC’s No. 1 seed. “My commitment to this organization, to the players, our coaches, our fans, everybody is, we are going to be relentless in that pursuit.
“We’ve got to lean on each other and try to as a group collectively come up with ways to help us get over the hump. Because whatever we’ve done for the last three years hasn’t gotten us there.”
LaFleur said he did meet with Rodgers for “quite some time” on Monday but that the conversation was a bigger-picture discussion and not specifically about the game.
“What we talked about, I’m definitely going to keep between him and myself. But we’re hopeful he’ll be back next year, obviously,” LaFleur said. “This guy has done so much for such a long period of time for this organization, for this city, for this team.
“Certainly we would love for him to be a Packer and be a Packer to the day he decides to retire.”
Asked if Rodgers would be accommodated if he decides he wants to be traded, LaFleur replied, “I haven’t even been part of any of those discussions, nor have I — like I said last year — allowed my mind to get to that point. I just want to do everything our power to try to get him back here, make sure he’s comfortable with the direction of our football team, and confident that we can continue to have success here.
“Obviously, at the end of this thing, only one team’s happy. And until we’re holding that Lombardi Trophy, we’re never going to feel great about where we’re at.”