The only winner in the Aaron Rodgers vs. Packers fight are fans clamoring for a soap opera in 2021 NFL season

·NFL columnist
·6-min read

Given that football is such a game of measurement in the offseason, it’s no surprise that when Aaron Rodgers walked through a Lambeau Field door Tuesday, everyone rushed to tally the scoreboard. And depending on who was doing the counting, both sides seemed to claim victory.

Rodgers got some of the control he wanted …

The Packers' timeline with him hasn’t changed …

The team relented …

The star quarterback caved …

Without question, there is plenty to chew on now that Rodgers is finally back on Green Bay soil and the Packers can proceed into training camp with a full roster. But declaring a legitimate victor in this offseason standoff is like declaring the next Super Bowl winner in July: It’s simply premature. Much like the 2021 season that we’re so eager to divide into predictable boxes, too much remains undone to have any idea what we’re looking at. The variables coming ahead are unknowable. And history will take its time to decide where the wins and losses should be counted.

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 09:  Randall Cobb #18 and Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers meet before the game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 09: Randall Cobb #18 and Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers meet before the game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Here's what Packers, Aaron Rodgers 'won' 

We have no idea who really won the back-and-forth between Rodgers and the Packers because the entire fight is predicated on what happens after the 2021 season. Maybe Rodgers bides his time and forces a trade next offseason and the Packers fulfill their promise to work with him. Maybe the coming months become a hive of communication and mutual respect between the quarterback and the Packers' front office, leading both sides to commit again for the long term. Maybe the Packers fall flat on their faces this season and Rodgers struggles to maintain his MVP form, leaving everyone to wonder what all the fuss was about these past few months.

However it shakes out, seemingly everyone has an argument over who muscled the victory in this stalemate. The fact is there’s really only one winner: A 2021 season that now promises the drama of watching Rodgers and the Packers' brass go through the football version of relationship counseling. The past few months were a trial separation forced by the quarterback, and now the two sides are back together for what can accurately be declared as a last-ditch effort to make each other happy.

This negotiated truce in Green Bay will be the NFL’s most-watched soap opera throughout this season. It'll be measured through every win, loss, facial expression, soundbite, roster move, salary-cap maneuver and everything else.

Basically, we’ve taken "What is Aaron doing?" and pushed it back a few months into "What will Aaron do?"

Surely, that’s not what these two sides had in mind when they were in the teeth of this negotiation. No, it was clear that Rodgers wanted some kind of permanent resolution when he started this, not just a pause in the rift and promises of revisiting it again next offseason. And the Packers certainly didn’t want to alter Rodgers’ contract in a way that gives him more power to eventually force his way out, which is precisely what Rodgers walked away with.

Those two facts — that both sides ended up grudgingly surrendering something this week — should showcase why declaring a winner or loser now is pure speculation.

If Rodgers won, what exactly were his big gains? Reuniting with Randall Cobb? A promise that the Packers will listen to trade offers in seven months if Rodgers wants out? An end to his contract after the 2022 season? Until we know how (or if) Rodgers is going to use his power to get out of town in a few months, it’s fair to argue that all of these negotiating “wins” were surrendered by the Packers without much howling. Other than going out and working a trade for Cobb, the current timeline for Rodgers’ exit doesn’t seem all that different than the one Green Bay appeared to have in the works anyway. If that’s a “loss,” it’s marginal at best.

And it’s not like the Packers whomped their quarterback, either. Especially when the franchise could have offered him absolutely nothing, fined him $50,000 a day and waited to see how strong his resolve was over the next month. All while Rodgers’ presumed replacement, Jordan Love, got critical preseason work with the first-team offense. Instead of going that route, the Packers gave up a few morsels of contract control while arranging a trade for a player Rodgers wanted back on the roster, two things the front office did not have in the plans this offseason. And lest we forget, the Green Bay front office will now also be under pressure to change the way it relates to Rodgers in the future (which is also not the kind of thing Packers brass had on the offseason agenda).

So much rides on Packers 2021 season 

The point is both sides had to give something up to make this season together happen. Nobody definitively won. If either had, it would have taken the form of Rodgers being traded or the front office getting him back into the building without surrendering anything. Neither of those scenarios happened, so we’re now left with the unavoidable awkwardness of 2021. And you can bet the tricky nature of this ongoing relationship will be a direct reflection of how well the team is functioning next season. If the NFL has taught us anything, it’s that drama often fades away in the shimmer of success — but it festers and grows under a shroud of failure.

The key for the Packers now is to figure out how to make this last-ditch effort work. It's to show Rodgers that meaningful change is achievable at the highest reaches of the franchise, all while hoping that winning and a rebooted relationship will open the door for the MVP quarterback to finish his career in Green Bay. 

As for Rodgers, the big questions will largely orbit on whether he’s looking at 2021 as a pit stop on the way to another NFL team. Would making a Super Bowl change his mind? Is winning and a newfound fealty from the front office enough to change his perception of management?

These are big questions that still hang in the air between a franchise and its foundational quarterback. They cloud the picture when we try to sort who really came out ahead this week. But there’s still a 2021 schedule to be played, and Rodgers and the Packers will be doing it together – on a therapy couch and in front of an audience that will be watching and dissecting every moment.

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