Last dance in Titletown

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Maybe Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams were on to something.

Maybe, years from now, ESPN will make a documentary about one of the NFL’s most storied franchises pushing two Hall-of-Famers out of town while the team’s championship window was still open.

Maybe Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst will go down in history as the NFL’s Jerry Krause, a personnel man who tried to prove himself to the world but only confirmed he was beyond his depth.

Maybe the Green Bay Packers will wander the wilderness of mediocrity after spending 30 years under the stewardship of two Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks.

Time will give us those answers. The answer Packers fans have been seeking since April, however, came by way of ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter. Through a series of tweets, and an article that followed, Schefter confirmed Rodgers’ return to Titletown, just in time for the start of training camp.

As is always the case with Aaron Rodgers, the 37-year-old quarterback’s return is not all that simple. Gutekunst and Packers CEO Mark Murphy reportedly made a number of concessions to bring Rodgers back to the team. The important part of those concessions — the really, ridiculously relevant part — is the team agreeing to review Rodgers’ situation at the conclusion of the upcoming season.

In other words, Gutekunst and Murphy get to do this dance again next offseason. Green Bay’s decision-makers will have no control the second time around, as Rodgers can simply say the team has not done enough to keep him. Per the terms of the reported concessions, Gutekunst and Murphy must acquiesce and let Rodgers force his way out of town.

That puts Gutekunst in one hell of a bind. If no team is willing to pay the price to acquire Rodgers — ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio reported the asking price would be three first-round picks and a second-rounder — Gutekunst has to let Rodgers walk without so much as a bag of footballs in return.

Sure, the team would save more than $22 million by cutting Rodgers before June 1, but there is no way Gutekunst could sell cap savings to the legions of Packers fans who would be (rightly) furious over Gutekunst’s outright failure to handle the Rodgers situation properly.

Handling Aaron Rodgers is a full-time job in an of itself, but Gutekunst will be working overtime because Davante Adams is entering the final year of his contract.

Adams and the Packers had been in contract talks throughout the offseason, with negotiations heating up as training camp loomed. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport broke news Friday indicating both sides were no longer discussing terms of a new contract and would not resume doing so. Reports over the weekend indicated talks broke down after the Packers made it clear they would not be interested in making Adams the highest-paid receiver in football.

Whether Adams is the NFL’s best receiver or not is irrelevant. Adams is clearly an elite player at the position and Gutekunst must be willing to make him the richest pass-catcher in professional football history. It is simply the price of doing business in the modern NFL.

Shortly after breaking news on Rodgers’ return, Schefter reported that Adams would be interested in resuming contract talks with the Packers, a feeling shared by the team. Gutekunst must have breathed a massive sigh of relief.

Though the words you have read thus far point the finger at Gutekunst, Rodgers’ hands are just as dirty. This is a 37-year-old man who spent the last six months acting like an infant. Rodgers has posted vague messages on social media and smirked while providing non-answers in public appearances this offseason. Rodgers is one of the most intelligent football players on the planet yet feigns ignorance in the interest of keeping the spotlight on himself and the “beautiful mystery” of his NFL future. It is embarrassing behavior for a professional and should earn Rodgers the same scorn his predecessor, Brett Favre, received in 2008 when Favre held up the team over his own future.

Rodgers will get exactly what he wants: More attention. The 2021 Green Bay Packers season will be played under a microscope viewed through the lens of the team’s long-time quarterback. Every machination will be dissected over and over. The distractions facing head coach Matt LaFleur and the rest of his team will be innumerable.

This behavior will be acceptable in Rodgers’ eyes because the team who paid him more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the last 16 years somehow did him wrong. While Rodgers is plying his trade in Denver or Las Vegas, LaFleur will be left picking up the pieces scattered about during the 2021 season.

Players are not paid to make personnel decisions, a point somehow lost on Rodgers. No player is bigger than the team, as much as Rodgers would like to think otherwise. Favre learned that first-hand when he was shipped to the Jets shortly before the 2008 season.

Like most spoiled children, Rodgers will not learn his lesson. Rodgers will learn nothing because his behavior over the last six months will eventually earn him exactly what he wanted.

Gutekunst is going to lose Rodgers regardless. For the sake of the team’s future, he must work to get the best return possible when Rodgers inevitably leaves next winter. Gutekunst must also do everything possible to sign Adams to a long-term contract before the 2021 season begins or be faced with absolute disaster.

Letting Rodgers bend him over a barrel while also letting one of the league’s best wide receivers hit free agency, in his prime, would be an ignominy Gutekunst simply could not survive. Murphy would have no choice but to send Gutekunst out the doors of 1265 Lombardi Avenue right behind Rodgers and Adams.

Packers fans under 40 will struggle to remember the thin days before Brett Favre came to town and the Packers became the perennial contender they have been since 1992. Everyone who backs the Pack must prepare for a future with an unproven quarterback and a hated rival with a stellar young signal-caller of their own.

The end of Green Bay’s unprecedented run of elite quarterbacks is imminent. Gutekunst better hope he does not allow the best Packers receiver since Don Hutson to walk out the door as well.

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