The Green Bay Packers front office is notorious for playing pretty much everything close to the vest, which is why it was something of a rarity when general manager Brian Gutekunst held a press conference on Monday, December 5.
The primary topics of discussion were the futures of quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love. The former signed a $150 million extension last offseason, while Green Bay must make a decision by next May on extending the latter for a fifth-year at considerable cost.
And, of course, Rodgers’ comments on Sunday about his plans to return to Green Bay in 2023, in which he said there must exist “mutual interest on both sides,” only made the line of inquiry directed toward Gutekunst more pertinent.
Reporters asked the GM directly if the Packers want Rodgers back next season.
“Well, certainly that’s an offseason-type kind of decision. But surely, yeah,” Gutekunst said. “I mean, we want all our guys back. We made a big commitment to him this offseason, so that was obviously something that was really important to us. But like we’ve talked about in the past, this is something we’ll sit down with him after the season and it will be something we do together and move forward that way.”
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Gutekunst’s response on whether the Packers have a desire to retain Rodgers was a familiar toeing of the company line, employed wherever and whenever the quarterback has been concerned over the last several years.
The Packers owe Rodgers more than $58 million in bonus money in 2023, which makes it unlikely he would walk away. The only scenario in which Rodgers doesn’t earn that money is if he chooses retirement during the offseason.
With the ascension of wide receiver Christian Watson into one of the NFL’s most exciting and dynamic playmakers over the last month, the chances of Rodgers retiring seem even slimmer. However, if Green Bay doesn’t make a commitment to improving the offensive roster, the QB could push for a trade. It’s something he’s done before and his value remains high, potentially as high as two-first round picks. However, the contract he signed during the offseason would seriously complicate such a move because of the dead money involved.
Gutekunst insisted that he and Rodgers had not discussed any of those issues or possibilities, even though the quarterback has sometimes engaged in vague conversation about them with the media over the course of this season — as he did on Sunday.
“We don’t talk about those things during the season very often,” Gutekunst said. “Certainly, that’ll be something we get to.”
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Gutekunst was also asked directly about the team’s plans to play Love this season, particularly if they are eliminated from playoff contention. At 5-8, the Packers remain in the hunt for an NFC Wildcard berth.
“I think, obviously, if we get to that point, we’ll kind of look at those things. But I think … even if we’re eliminated from the playoffs, which it wouldn’t be ideal, I said we’re going to still go out to win the game, and I think that’s really important,” Gutekunst said. “There’s a bunch of guys in that locker room that deserve that, so we’re going to go out to win the game and we’re going to make the decisions that are in the best interests of us going and winning the game.”
Head coach Matt LaFleur has assured the fan base that Rodgers will remain the starter as long as the postseason is in play, and potentially beyond. Green Bay entered its bye week Monday, which will afford the quarterback time to rest the broken thumb on his throwing hand and the sore rib cage he’s been navigating since the team’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles nine days ago.
Green Bay returns to action on December 19 with a home game against the Los Angeles Rams, who will run out a skeleton crew on offense. As such, it is unlikely the Packers will be officially eliminated from playoff contention before their Christmas Day road game against the Miami Dolphins.
If Green Bay is eliminated at that point, two games against the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions would remain on the schedule for Love to get some run. The long-held assumption is that the Packers need to get Love that playing time so they can decide whether to pick up his fifth-year option, a choice that is likely going to come down somewhere in the $20 million range.
However, Gutekunst said Monday that the Packers don’t need to see Love start those games to make the call on his extension, implying that the decision has already been made to keep the backup through at least the 2024 campaign.
“I think that it would be really good for him — the growth that you need to go through, seeing things for the first time, making those mistakes that you need to make,” Gutekunst said. “But I think from our end of it, we’ve seen what we need to see.”