Matt LaFleur isn’t letting himself even think about coaching a team that won’t have Aaron Rodgers as its quarterback.
Speaking for the first time since the story broke Thursday that Rodgers has told the only franchise he’s ever known that he doesn’t want to play for them anymore, LaFleur sounded like someone that couldn’t believe he was even having to talk about the possibility.
“I can’t fathom him not being in Green Bay. That’s where my mind is at,” LaFleur said Saturday as the NFL Draft wrapped up. “I don’t only love the player but I love the person. I love working with him on a daily basis. I think we all do, from the players in that locker room to the coaching staff. I don’t even want to let my mind go there.”
LaFleur and the rest of the Packers organization obviously wants Rodgers to return this fall. General manager Brian Gutekunst has said multiple times that he believes Rodgers is their quarterback for the foreseeable future, while team president/CEO Mark Murphy said Saturday they see Rodgers as their quarterback for 2021 and beyond. The problem, obviously, is Rodgers, at least right now, does not.
“I can’t even take my brain to that spot right now,” LaFleur said of not having Rodgers. “I just want to do everything in my power to ensure that that doesn’t happen.”
Though he didn’t go on camera Saturday to talk football during his trip to the Kentucky Derby this weekend, Rodgers did speak with NBC’s Mike Tirico, who relayed the contents of that conversation on-air.
“I can tell you I’d characterize Aaron as disappointed that news has come out about this rift with the Packers,” Tirico said. “He expressed a couple of times how much he loves Green Bay, loves the fans, loves the franchise. There is a chasm between management and the reigning NFL MVP.”
That last part is clear and the situation seems to be escalating by the day. Saturday’s development was a story from Yahoo Sports that said Rodgers won’t return unless Gutekunst is no longer in charge.
“Aaron hasn’t said anything like that to me and certainly hasn’t said anything publicly, so I think it’s kind of unfair to put that on him,” Gutekunst said when asked about the story. “Listen, you certainly don’t like to hear those things, but at the same time it’s kind of part of the gig in the National Football League. But nothing has been communicated directly to me.”
Rodgers’ issues, which have been detailed countless times, started with the pick of quarterback Jordan Love last April and continued this offseason after the Packers reportedly wanted to simply restructure Rodgers’ contract instead of giving him a long-term extension. When the team tried to rectify that initial error by offering the extension he turned it down.
The timing of blow up could not have been worse for the Packers. Coming of two-straight trips to the NFC title game, they appear capable of taking the next step and getting back to the Super Bowl. However, that is if Rodgers is running the offense. If forced to play without him, it seems very unrealistic they can accomplish that.
“There’s been a lot of work over two years from everybody involved in this thing, from the personnel department to the coaching staff, to all the support staff around the building, to our players,” LaFleur said of his first two seasons in Green Bay. “Certainly when you feel like you have a great team on the cusp — we’ve been on the cusp two year — I know that’s not what we want. We want to hoist that Lombardi Trophy and certainly you don’t want to take any steps backwards.”
LaFleur, Gutekunst and Murphy have all made trips to the West Coast to visit with Rodgers this offseason. Though those trips appear to have been futile, all three are still fully invested in making sure the face of the franchise hasn’t played his last game with the team.
“I’ll always remain hopeful and optimistic,” LaFleur said. “Certainly we’ll always welcome him back with open arms. He knows exactly how, not only myself. but our staff and our players feel about him. Like said before, I just can’t imagine him not being in a Green Bay Packer uniform.”