Aaron Rodgers is still the Packers’ quarterback.
For now, anyway. Did Green Bay do enough with its first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to squash a predraft social media storm involving the three-time NFL MVP? That’s the big question after the Packers selected Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes with the 29th pick of the first round Thursday night.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday that Rodgers’ desire to part ways with the franchise after 16 seasons is real, and several factors are at work. Rodgers and the Packers are at odds over whether the veteran’s contract should be extended or restructured. Green Bay is in a salary-cap crunch. There is a “Last Dance” feel after back-to-back NFC championship failures with coach Matt LaFleur.
And, of course, there is Jordan Love — the first-round quarterback the Packers traded up to get in 2020.
The stage was set for a potential draft-day shocker that would have made Brett Favre to the Jets seem like a second-rate sitcom.
Did Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst delay the drama? The Packers reportedly turned down an offer from the 49ers, who selected quarterback Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick. Two other suitors did not take a quarterback.
The Broncos, who had the No. 9 pick, passed on Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones to grab Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. The Raiders drafted Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, and Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden has gushed about Rodgers dating to his days in the “Monday Night Football” booth. Rodgers would fill both franchises’ need for a QB.
Was the Packers’ first-day response enough? Stokes is not a splashy pick but he addresses an area of need that surfaced in the NFC championship game loss to the Buccaneers. The Packers needed an upgrade at cornerback opposite Jaire Alexander despite them re-signing Kevin King. Stokes is an athletic player who ran a 4.25 40-yard dash at his pro day.
But he isn’t a receiver. The Ravens drafted Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman at No. 27 and Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore is still on the board heading into Day 2. The Stokes pick checks a box and is nowhere near as nuclear as the Love pick, but it still was a tepid decision that doesn’t answer a burning question.
Will Rodgers really leave Green Bay before the season starts? That response won’t be determined by the draft.
The Broncos and Raiders are still worth watching, given Rodgers’ Bay Area roots, and the Seahawks are also worth monitoring. A blockbuster swap involving Russell Wilson would be more logical than grabbing a fistful of future picks from another trade partner.
The uncertainty with Rodgers is anything but a “beautiful mystery.” It’s increasingly likely that he will not end his career in Green Bay, and the timetable for his departure has been pushed up to an uncomfortable point. The lack of free-agent activity this offseason, the contract stalemate and the public disconnect between Rodgers and the Packers have made the situation ugly. The deadline for a move appears to be the end of the 2021 season, especially if Green Bay does not reach the Super Bowl.
Drafting Stokes is not going to change that sentiment, but honestly, which player would have? Bateman? Moore? No, the damage from the Love pick is done. Remember when Mike McCarthy said, “The train has left the station” in 2008?
It feels that way again with Rodgers.
That feeling isn’t going away anytime soon, either.
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