How far will Aaron Rodgers’ holdout go?
Rodgers did not attend Green Bay’s three-day minicamp this week, which means the three-time MVP is considered a holdout. This will cost Rodgers less than $100,000 in fines unless the Packers waive those costs.
Now, the next date to watch is July 27. That’s when the Packers open mandatory training camp ahead of the 2021 NFL season. If Rodgers still is holding out at that point, then the rift with Green Bay president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst might reach a tipping point. It would be the most notable holdout since Emmitt Smith with the Cowboys in 1993.
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This is different, however. Rodgers is a quarterback. The last quarterback to sit out a full season was Kelly Stouffer, who could not agree to a contract with the Cardinals after being selected in the first round in 1987. Again, though, this isn’t the same situation.
But there are parallels with the rift former No. 1 pick Carson Palmer had with the Bengals in 2011. Palmer was eventually traded to Oakland during the season, but not until after a messy divorce with the Bengals. And yes, Rodgers’ agent Dave Dunn was also Palmer’s agent.
Will Rodgers and the Packers come to the same conclusion? Perhaps. But there are major differences between the two holdouts, and those need to be addressed.
State of the franchise
The Bengals finished 4-12 in Palmer’s seventh season in 2010, and he finished with 3,970 yards, 26 TDs and 20 interceptions. “Palmer had a meeting with Bengals owner Mike Brown to request for a separation from the team, coupled with a threat to retire if that demand was not met,” Cincinnati.com reported in January 2011.
A decade later, Rodgers addressed his future after the Packers lost the second of back-to-back NFC championship games to Tampa Bay on Jan. 19, 2020. He called his situation with the Packers a “beautiful mystery,” which continued the ongoing speculation about his future in Green Bay despite a 26-6 regular-season record with Matt LaFleur as head coach.
Is this different? Yes and no. Green Bay is a Super Bowl-caliber team, and Rodgers has kept them in the hunt for 16 seasons. Palmer and the Bengals were an up-and-down team that did not advance past the AFC Wild Card round. But clearly the issues that led to the discontent of both quarterbacks didn’t happen overnight.
The next quarterback
Palmer’s demands led Cincinnati to draft Andy Dalton with the No. 35 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Dalton led TCU to a 13-0 record that included a Mountain West Conference championship and a Rose Bowl victory against Wisconsin the previous season. He served as an insurance policy of sorts in case Palmer would not return.
The Packers already created their problem by trading up to draft Jordan Love with the No. 26 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Love also played in the Mountain West Conference at Utah State. He led the Aggies to an 11-2 record in 2018, but that record dipped to 7-6 with a new coaching staff the following season. Green Bay drafted Love instead of adding another more immediate piece to a returning NFC championship team.
Is this different? Yes. Cincinnati made the move as a reaction to Palmer’s discontent. Green Bay created the discontent by trading up to add a quarterback to a roster that was ready-made to contend for a Super Bowl. That opened the door for criticism that hasn’t stopped since.
According to Cincinnati.com, reports that Palmer said he would never step foot in Paul Brown Stadium surfaced in March. Bengals owner Mike Brown publicly said after the NFL lockout that offseason that Palmer would not be traded. Brown doubled down at training camp in July, telling reporters, “I wish him well and he has retired. That is his choice.” Brown followed through on that, and the team placed Palmer on the “did not report” list ahead of the 2011 season.
Rodgers has not directly said he would not play for the Packers in 2021, but ESPN insider Adam Schefter’s report that the quarterback is disgruntled and wants out overshadowed the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft on April 29. Murphy and Gutekunst have repeatedly expressed that Rodgers will not be traded ahead of the 2021 season, but the situation is starting to resemble Brett Favre’s exit from Green Bay in 2008. Favre was traded to the Jets that season.
Now, the question becomes whether Rodgers reports for training camp in July. That will be the focus over the next six weeks.
Is this different? The situations are similar, even if Rodgers hasn’t publicly asked for a trade. Both quarterbacks play for old-school ownership, and Green Bay could follow the same path as Cincinnati if there isn’t a fence-mending with Rodgers.
The regular season
The Bengals opened the 2011 season with a 4-2 record through the bye week with Dalton at quarterback, and that prompted Brown to trade Palmer to the Raiders on Oct. 18, 2011. Cincinnati went on to a 9-7 record and reached the AFC Wild Card round.
This is the potential next step for the Packers if Rodgers’ holdout stretches into the season. Love would be the potential Week 1 starter against New Orleans despite not taking a snap in 2020. That’s a risky move considering that most of the Packers’ roster from those past two NFC championship runs remains on board. If Rodgers’ holdout drags on through training camp, it will get more attention than the circus with Favre in 2008.
Is this different? The worst-case scenario for the Packers could be catastrophic. The franchise would watch back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks leave in unceremonious fashion, and Rodgers’ situation already has divided the fan base in a similar way. Because Palmer had not played well in 2020, it was easier for Cincinnati fans to turn toward Dalton. Love would face way more pressure in Green Bay if he is the starter, which isn’t a sure thing at this point given the lack of experience.
Dalton had a 70-61-2 record in nine seasons with the Bengals, and he led the franchise to five playoff appearances. Cincinnati did not win any of those games, and the franchise moved on last season by drafting Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick. Palmer had a 44-37-1 record in seven seasons with Oakland and Arizona after leaving Cincinnati, and his lone postseason victory for his career came against the Packers in 2016.
The Packers would be banking on yet another stroke of luck. Rodgers’ first season was bumpy as a starter, but he turned out to be a more efficient Favre. That’s led to a 12-9 postseason record and a Super Bowl 45 victory. Love would be tasked with living up to impossible expectations, but the same will be true of whoever takes the snaps after Rodgers leaves Green Bay, which looks like it will happen even if it’s not during the 2020 season.
Is this different? The parallels with the Palmer situation are there, especially if Rodgers holds out, but the stakes are much higher in Green Bay. The Packers’ situation remains TBD, and July will be very interesting if Rodgers does not show up.