But now that the team has opened minicamp and preparation for the 2022 season has begun, the four-time NFL MVP has been a bit freer with his assessment of the offensive weapons the front office has placed at his disposal.
Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette took to Twitter on Tuesday, June 7, where he shared Rodgers’ comments on Sammy Watkins, the Packers’ newest free agent wide receiver signing who joined the team in April.
“Aaron Rodgers was pleased #Packers signed Sammy Watkins,” Wood wrote. “He even Facetimed the veteran WR when Watkins signed his contract. ‘I think it’s important you get guys who have a lot to play for, and I think Sammy has an opportunity to continue and travel down a new path.'”
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Rodgers Challenging Watkins With Public Comments
Rodgers’ conveyance of pleasure at Green Bay’s signing of Watson was a display of optimism and a willingness to collaborate with both his new teammate and the franchise’s vision for its future. But the quarterback’s praise of his new pass catcher fell far short of effusive.
Over the course of his eight-year career, Watkins has played with the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens before landing in Green Bay — all of which are noteworthy NFL franchises with recent track records of success. Watkins output, however, has been inconsistent at best.
The wide receiver has appeared in 99 regular season games during his NFL tenure, starting 91 of those. Watkins has amassed more than 5,000 receiving yards and 34 TDs during that time, per Pro Football Reference, but he has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in a season only once. He has averaged just over 400 yards during his last two campaigns and has found the end zone only three times combined.
Watkins was a member of the Chiefs 2020 Super Bowl Championship team, but even despite that Rodgers described the wideout as someone with “a lot to play for.” In other words, a player who still has something to prove. Rodgers then talked about Watkins traveling a “new path,” which is an implication that there was an issue, or some deficiency, with the road Watkins was traversing previous to his arrival in Green Bay.
It would be unfair to characterize the totality of Rodgers’ words as a blatant criticism of Watkins, but they are no doubt a challenge to the wide receiver. That Rodgers felt the need to challenge him at all speaks to a lack of full faith and confidence in Watkins on the part of his new quarterback.
Packers Lack Top-End Talent, Significant Investment in Wide Receiver Group
Rodgers’ response to his team’s approach to the wide receiver position this offseason has actually been rather tame, all things considered.
At most, Green Bay will pay Watkins $4 million in 2022. Allen Lazard, the only Packers player not currently in camp, has yet to sign a second-round tender that would pay him essentially the same amount.
The other two wideouts likely to see the most field time in 2022 are rookie Christian Watson, drafted early in the second round, and veteran Randall Cobb. It is not exactly a star-studded cast, to say the least, particularly when considering Rodgers is the two-time reigning MVP and now in his late 30s.
Green Bay has spent a considerable amount of money this offseason and while much of that went to Rodgers, cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas also cashed in, as did linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. One player the team chose not to pay was wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who ended with the Chiefs via free agency.
The Packers then used their two first-round picks, one of which they acquired as part of the trade that shipped All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, to draft for the defense — a common first-round trend in Green Bay for several years now. Rodgers admitted that the choice to move on from Adams surprised him.
“It was a little surprising with [Adams]. Obviously, when I made my decision, I was still thinking he was going to come back,” Rodgers said on the April 28 edition of The Pat McAfee Show. “I was very honest with him about my plans and my future and where I saw my career going as far as how many years I want to play.”
“But I felt like he was going to be back,” Rodgers continued. “Didn’t obviously turn out that way, but I have so much love for [Adams] and appreciate the time we spent together and definitely wish him the best with Derek [Carr] in Vegas. But that’s a big hole to fill.”
To this point, the Packers have fallen far short of filling it. Free agents like Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones remain available, while a trade for a top-end receiver isn’t out of the question with three months yet until the start of the regular season.
But if Green Bay can’t find a true No. 1 target for Rodgers, it will be imperative that players like Watkins step up in ways they haven’t in the past. Looking at the situation through that lens, Rodgers’ comments challenging his new teammate make all the sense in the world.