GREEN BAY, Wis. >> An offseason of change for the Green Bay Packers has been met with occasional displeasure by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
At the Super Bowl, Rodgers called it “interesting” that the Packers replaced quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt “without consulting me.” Also that week, he spoke of the possibility he might have to finish his career elsewhere, like predecessor Brett Favre.
In the wake of the Packers’ decision to release his close friend Jordy Nelson on March 13, Rodgers added “it’s pretty clear that players play and coaches coach and personnel people make decisions (and) that’s the way they want it.”
Rodgers took a more measured tone with reporters today at Lambeau Field. On the first day of Green Bay’s offseason program, Yahoo! Sports reported that sources close to Rodgers say the quarterback had grown “frustrated” by the team making such big moves without consulting him, and that the lack of input could factor into negotiations toward a contract extension.
“I know my role, and that’s to play quarterback the best that I can,” Rodgers said. “The team is going to try to put the right guys in place, the right coaches in place, the right players in place. You just have to trust the process. This process works, and it has worked for (coach) Mike (McCarthy) for a number of years. Obviously, that’s why he’s still here in his 13th season. We’ve had a lot of success here, and you’ve got to trust the process.”
The release of Nelson was especially hard on Rodgers. Nelson was a second-round draft pick in 2008, the same year Rodgers ascended into the starting role. They connected on 65 touchdown passes, the most by a quarterback-receiver duo in franchise history. Their on-field connection was born from an off-the-field bond.
“This is a professional environment, but as humans we have personal connections to people,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, he was one of my closest friends in the locker room for a number of years. We played together for a long time and talked about really finishing his career here and together. The disappointment is when you get close to your teammates, and they’re not here anymore — and especially when they’re not here, they’re playing somewhere else. But the organization is making decisions that they feel like are in best interest for our team and you’ve got to trust the process.”
Part of that process was replacing offensive and defensive coordinators and making rare splashes into free agency by adding tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.
Rodgers and Graham have known each other for years, but will be learning a revamped offense together.
“It’s all about these days right here, especially when we start catching and running routes,” Graham said. “It’s about making sure I’ve got the offense down so he has a lot of confidence in me, and he knows that I know what’s going on and that we’re kind of in the same steps. And then from there, you basically try not to drop anything ever. And then he’ll start liking you.”
While Graham and Rodgers try to build chemistry, the team and Rodgers will try to hammer out a contract extension. General manager Brian Gutekunst and Packers President Mark Murphy have said it’s a priority to extend Rodgers’ deal set to expire after the 2019 season. With Kirk Cousins (Minnesota), Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco), Drew Brees (New Orleans) and Alex Smith (Washington) signing big contracts in the offseason, Rodgers has fallen to ninth among quarterbacks with an average salary of $22 million.
Rodgers said “it’s never been about” becoming the highest-paid player in the league. He wouldn’t say whether he and agent David Dunn would push for a fully guaranteed contract like Cousins signed with the Vikings. Rather, Rodgers said the key will be structuring the deal that works for both parties under the constraints of the salary cap.
“I’m under contract for the next two years,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, we’d like to lock something in at some point. The team has made it public knowledge that they’d love to do that. I’ve said I’d love to finish my career here. There’s more than mutual interest on both sides.”