Keep Rodgers out of ros­ter de­ci­sions

Packer Plus - - News - Pack­ers Tom Sil­ver­stein Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – WIS.

Green Bay — Un­til he wins a Su­per Bowl, Green Bay Pack­ers gen­eral man­ager Brian Gutekunst will be a punch­ing bag, ab­sorb­ing shots from ev­ery di­rec­tion for ev­ery per­ceived mis­step he takes.

Should the Pack­ers win it all un­der his guid­ance, the hon­ey­moon pe­riod will last be­tween the Su­per Bowl’s final sec­ond tick­ing off and the start of free agency — if he’s lucky — and then the abuse will re­sume.

But for what­ever crit­i­cism Gutekunst de­serves in his first three months on the job, he de­serves a ton of credit for mak­ing de­ci­sions he knows won’t nec­es­sar­ily be pop­u­lar with his fran­chise quar­ter­back.

In that short pe­riod, he cut re­ceiver Jordy Nel­son, chose not to re-sign tight end Richard Rodgers and added only one of­fen­sive piece: tight end Jimmy Graham. Just as coach Mike McCarthy didn’t con­sult Rodgers when he hired quar­ter­backs coach Frank Cignetti to re­place Alex Van Pelt, Gutekunst didn’t dial up Rodgers and ask if it was OK to cut Nel­son or sign Graham.

As Rodgers cor­rectly noted in an April 5 in­ter­view on Mil­wau­kee ra­dio sta­tion WHQG-FM (102.9), “I think it’s pretty clear that play­ers play and coaches coach and per­son­nel peo­ple make their de­ci­sions. That’s the way they want it.”

Yes, not only is it the way they want it, it’s also the way it should be.

Whether Rodgers was tak­ing one of his patented veiled shots at Gutekunst — wel­come to the club, one could imag­ine McCarthy say­ing — or just stat­ing the facts, his com­ment, com­ing on the heels of the Van Pelt re­marks he made on ra­dio row dur­ing Su­per Bowl week, sound pouty.

If Rodgers is truly up­set about not re­tain­ing Van Pelt or let­ting Nel­son go, he should state so pub­licly and move on. He’s en­ti­tled to his opin­ion and no one would cru­cify him for be­ing hon­est.

Drop­ping hints or us­ing sur­ro­gates to re­lay feel­ings isn’t the way to go.

The Nel­son move ob­vi­ously both­ered him. Gutekunst didn’t make much of an ef­fort to keep Nel­son even at a re­duced salary. He just de­cided to move on, the same way the Pack­ers moved on from Charles Wood­son, Greg Jen­nings, James Jones, T.J. Lang, Josh Sit­ton and many more.

Rodgers just hap­pened to have a spe­cial on-field re­la­tion­ship with Nel­son that he’s go­ing to miss. He worked end­lessly to de­velop that chem­istry, and his phys­i­cal as­sess­ment of Nel­son prob­a­bly doesn’t jibe with Gutekunst’s.

“It’s a tough part of the busi­ness when you get close to guys and spend a lot of time with them,” Rodgers ac­knowl­edged in the ra­dio in­ter­view.

Rodgers doesn’t have to agree with the di­rec­tion the or­ga­ni­za­tion is go­ing, but he de­serves no con­sid­er­a­tion when it comes to build­ing the team. Gutekunst could be job­less in a cou­ple of years, so he has no time to make sen­ti­men­tal de­ci­sions.

(He cer­tainly won’t be mak­ing a sen­ti­men­tal de­ci­sion when he makes Rodgers the high­est-paid player in the NFL some­time this off­sea­son.)

Rodgers should know how this works.

In his sec­ond year in the NFL, he was wit­ness to the mission then-gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son and McCarthy went on to wrest con­trol of the team away from Brett Favre. Un­der Mike Sher­man, Favre was be­ing treated like a lord and the two new­com­ers needed to es­tab­lish their au­thor­ity.

Thomp­son came in and made sev­eral tough de­ci­sions in ’05, in­clud­ing let­ting guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera walk. Then, af­ter a 4-12 sea­son, Thomp­son en­dured an off-sea­son of in­de­ci­sion from Favre, who even­tu­ally ad­mit­ted he was wait­ing to see what the Pack­ers did in free agency be­fore de­cid­ing whether to come back.

“I want to feel like we can com­pete for the Su­per Bowl and not just say that to say that be­cause peo­ple want to hear that,” Favre said at his char­ity golf tour­na­ment dur­ing the off-sea­son. “I don’t want the coaches to say that, I don’t want to say that (I was re­turn­ing for an­other sea­son) un­less we re­ally can get to the Su­per Bowl or com­pete for it. That’s re­ally my stance right now.”

Thomp­son did very lit­tle and Favre wound up com­mit­ting to an­other year right around draft time. A short time later, Thomp­son added Wood­son at a bar­gain rate and within two years, Favre was an eye­lash away from play­ing in Su­per Bowl XLII.

Gutekunst isn’t in the same boat as Thomp­son. He doesn’t need to put Rodgers in his place. But he does have to re­make a ros­ter that man­aged just seven vic­to­ries last sea­son. If he thinks Nel­son can’t run any­more and Richard Rodgers isn’t go­ing to help win Su­per Bowls and he has re­place­ments for safety Morgan Bur­nett, then he needs to make the ap­pro­pri­ate moves. They are the ones he’s paid to make. To put things in per­spec­tive, think about the ros­ter losses New England Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady has had to put up with over the years.

Brady’s in­tro­duc­tion to the my-wayor-the-high­way modus operandi came in ’03 when coach Bill Belichick cut safety Lawyer Mil­loy at the end of train­ing camp. Brady was un­happy, but it was just the start of things to come.

Brady was re­ported to be “mad as hell” when Belichick shipped his fa­vorite re­ceiver, Deion Branch, to Seat­tle in 2006. He again re­port­edly wasn’t happy when Belichick re­fused to re-sign re­ceiver Wes Welker in 2013. And in 2014, mul­ti­ple re­ports said Brady was “up­set” over Belichick trad­ing six-time Pro Bowl guard Lo­gan Mank­ins to Tampa Bay.

“It’s re­ally tough be­cause there is never job se­cu­rity and it’s not ac­tu­ally based on your per­for­mance, ei­ther,” Brady said af­ter the Mank­ins trade. “You can play at a Pro Bowl level and you could show up ev­ery day on time and never com­plain and be a cap­tain and a leader.

“It is not about if it will hap­pen. It is just when it will hap­pen to each player.”

Brady isn’t the only one who has gone through this, ei­ther.

Ask New Or­leans quar­ter­back Drew Brees how he felt when the Saints de­cided to trade Graham to the Seat­tle Sea­hawks. Graham was com­ing off a sea­son in which he caught 85 passes for 889 yards and 10 touch­downs.

It sure doesn’t seem like Brees was con­sulted about it. He said at the time, “I think it shocked all of us.”

“Jimmy was like a brother to me,” Brees added. “He was close to so many guys on the team.”

Do you think Saints coach Sean Pay­ton didn’t know that? He did and he made the move any­way.

It would be fool­ish to think that ev­ery de­ci­sion Gutekunst makes is the right one. Or that Rodgers might not be right in think­ing Nel­son has an­other good year or two in him. But there’s a rea­son NFL greats such as Joe Mon­tana, Jerry Rice, Reg­gie White, Pey­ton Man­ning and maybe some­day, Brady or Rodgers, fin­ish up their ca­reers some­where other than where they made their mark.

Gen­eral man­agers like Gutekunst must de­cide when a player’s time is up or whether he is weigh­ing down the salary cap. They should con­tinue mak­ing those de­ci­sions re­gard­less of what their quar­ter­backs think.

GETTY IMAGES

New Pack­ers gen­eral man­ager Brian Gutenkunst ap­pears to be keep­ing quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers (above) from in­flu­enc­ing any of the team’s re­cent per­son­nel moves.

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