What a week for the Green Bay Packers.
By this point, even the most casual sports fans have heard the myriad reports between the Green Bay Packers and MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers; that there is a massive rift between the two parties, and Rodgers does not want to play football for the Packers this season.
It’s hard to make sense of the conflicting reports–and who leaked them. Peter Schrager said Tuesday on the Pat McAfee Show that he doesn’t believe Rodgers or the team brass leaked the news. The cause is hard to lock down as well. Reports early in the week implied Jake Kumerow’s release following Rodgers’ comments praising the folk hero wide receiver was the final straw.
Others point to a slew of players Rodgers was close with being released by Brian Gutekunst, including Jordy Nelson, Clay Matthews, and Randall Cobb. Some cite the perceived lack of offensive weapons, an extremely flimsy argument. Rodgers’ contract and the Packers’ lack of commitment to Rodgers in the long term is another aspect. Even in the Mike McCarthy days, Rodgers felt slighted when his QB coach Alex Van Pelt wasn’t retained.
Of course, the Jordan Love pick sticks out like a sore thumb; it’s hard to feel motivated when your replacement is sitting right there, according to former Packers exec Andrew Brandt, who has seen this movie before with Brett Favre.
Regardless of the reasons and regardless of the source, it’s clear a problem exists between the Packers and their star quarterback. Throughout the cornucopia of articles and new information, one fact is abundantly clear: there is a communication issue between both parties.
Following the first night of the 2021 NFL draft, Gutekunst clearly stated communication between him and Rodgers could have been better when the Packers selected Jordan Love on that fateful day in 2020.
The Packers were always open to taking a quarterback; they did heavy research into Drew Lock the year before. So the decision wasn’t totally out of nowhere. Rumors state that Gutekunst wanted a wide receiver, but the board didn’t fall that way, so he made the move for Love. And so began a new era in Packer history.
Ted Thompson was a legendary general manager and scout, but he wasn’t known as a communicator. Gutekunst is much more personable towards the media, but he too is a scout at heart. Being a skilled scout doesn’t always prepare a GM for the human element of running a team. Ultimately, both general managers made the moves that they believed set their team up for future success while alienating a Hall of Fame quarterback in the process.
Was Gutekunst obligated to discuss the Love pick with Rodgers? Rodgers is the face of the franchise, but many point out that he is ultimately an employee. Should Rodgers have greater input in personnel decisions? Rodgers was forced to see many of his favorite teammates released. Usually, it’s better to let a player walk a year early than a year too late. But should Rodgers have at least been informed? And in 2021, a year after drafting Rodgers’ replacement and having him respond with the best season of his career, is it not fair that Rodgers would like to know his place within the organization?
Organizational communication theories have split opinions. In Max Weber’s Classic Organizational Theory of Fixed Structures, organizations are best suited to a clear division of specialized labor. The communication structure should be hierarchical and be a classic top-down, bureaucratic approach.
Under this theory, Rodgers is an employee, and Gutekunst makes roster decisions. While these decisions may affect Rodgers, ultimately he is a cog in the machine, if the most important one.
Yet Weber’s philosophy heavily discounts the human element. Andrew Brandt’s previously cited article exemplifies this best: relationships are what matter most in this business. Stanley Deetz’s Managerialism Theory features a more modern and humanistic approach to organizational communication. Under this model, organizations must understand ‘office politics’ and be willing to give a voice to all power centers.
Applying this model, Packer management must acknowledge the importance of Aaron Rodgers to the franchise and give him input, or at least a head’s up. Rodgers may be an employee, but he’s the superstar keeping the ship righted.
Giving a player a say in roster management is a dangerous precedence. But at the very least it’s worth giving the most important player in your franchise information that will affect him. Let him know his opinion is valued and that his role is valued. Rodgers is a man who places insurmountable value on interpersonal relationships. Regardless of which direction fans and the media want to place blame, it is adamantly clear that communication needed to be better between the franchise and Rodgers.
And as pointed out by CheeseheadTV founder Aaron Nagler, one person in the building that should have known better and should have acted better is team president and CEO Mark Murphy. Not only had Murphy seen this sort of breakdown in the past with Brett Favre, but his new siloed approach to team leadership was supposed to prevent things like this from happening. By placing himself at the top of the organizational structure, it is his duty to keep all the cogs of the organization working together and in the same direction, including Aaron Rodgers.
Blaming “communication” can often feel like a cop-out answer when things break down, but, ultimately, relationships matter. No matter how well Rodgers plays, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t want to actually play. Is it too late to mend the relation? AJ Hawk, a close friend of Rodgers, believes “never say never.” Relations can be mended, and many of the things Rodgers reportedly would like can be fixed and acknowledged. Rodgers is one to hold a grudge, but the Green Bay Packers remain his best chance to get another Super Bowl before he retires.
Again, those of us outside the building don’t have the details, and Rodgers himself is playing mum. But there is an issue. Gutekunst, Murphy, and LaFleur have all confirmed this. And clearly, there is a pattern of communication breakdowns between Rodgers and the team, regardless of the specific issues behind them.
Ideally both sides can come to an understanding. If not, the Packers brass will have a lot to think about.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.