GREEN BAY — Back on Jan. 25, Mark Murphy was more than willing to talk about Aaron Rodgers’ future with the Green Bay Packers.
On Tuesday, that was not the case. And the Packers president/CEO’s I’m-not-going-to-comment responses to direct questions about the team not restructuring the reigning NFL MVP’s contract — to lower his NFL-high $37.5 million salary cap number and to create salary cap space for a team that by Murphy’s own admission is in a tight spot cap-wise — did nothing to diffuse any concerns fans might have about another future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback and the franchise possibly heading toward another less-than-amicable separation.
Speaking in a Zoom call with selected reporters after the NFL announced earlier in the day the 2021 schedule would include a 17th game — in the Packers’ case, against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium — Murphy refused to comment in response to questions about Rodgers’ contract, the team’s apparent unwillingness to commit to him beyond the 2021 season or whether there might be issues between the three-time NFL MVP and the organization.
Asked directly why the Packers didn’t alter Rodgers’ contract to push money into future cap years and create some much-needed salary cap space, Murphy replied: “I can’t really get into specific players. We’ve been able to create room with others.”
While leaving Rodgers’ contract as is, with him having been paid a $6.8 million roster bonus earlier this month and set to earn a $14.7 million base salary in 2021, the Packers restructured a host of other players’ deals to create cap room, including those of left tackle David Bakhtiari, right tackle Billy Turner, edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, outside linebacker Preston Smith, safety Adrian Amos and kicker Mason Crosby. Wide receiver Devin Funchess also accepted a pay cut as part of a restructured contract.
The Packers could have created extra cap space by converting most of that base salary and all of Rodgers’ roster bonus into a signing bonus, the cap charges of which would then be spread over future years.
Rodgers is under contract through the end of the 2023 season after signing a four-year, $134 million extension in August 2018, when he had two years left on his existing deal, but the Packers could move on from him after the 2021 season and actually save roughly $22 million in cap room in 2022.
Asked why the Packers wouldn’t want to ensure Rodgers is their quarterback beyond 2021 by reworking his deal, Murphy replied: “I’m not going to get into specifics. Good try, though.”
Later in the Zoom call, Murphy was reminded about the ugly summer of 2008, when the Packers transitioned from Brett Favre, who had announced his retirement in March and then unretired in July, to Rodgers, the team’s 2005 first-round pick.
By not altering Rodgers’ contract — something the Packers can still do, as far as converting his salary into signing bonus, even though the roster bonus has been paid and is on the books for 2021 — it gives the impression general manager Brian Gutekunst doesn’t want to touch Rodgers’ contract so the team can move on from Rodgers and to 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love after this season without pushing cap charges into the future.
Asked if he’s concerned there might be issues brewing between Rodgers and the organization after having lived through the Favre saga in 2008, Murphy responded, “I’m not going to get into any individual player, any issues along those lines.”
All this stood in stark contrast to what Murphy had said on Jan. 25, the day after the team’s NFC Championship Game loss to the eventual Super Bowl LV champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Appearing on WNFL radio in Green Bay, Murphy was asked about Rodgers’ comment after the game that a number of his teammates were facing uncertain futures before adding, “Myself included.” Multiple sources said later Rodgers was seeking assurances he was not going to be a lame-duck quarterback in 2021.
Asked that night by radio host Mark Daniels about Rodgers’ remark, Murphy replied: “There’s no way in heck Aaron is not going to be on the Packers. He’s going to be the MVP of the league, might have had his best year ever, he’s our unquestioned leader, and we’re not idiots.”
A little more than a week later, Gutekunst spoke with reporters and fielded a host of questions about Rodgers. The first was what he needed to do to assure Rodgers he’d be the team’s quarterback beyond 2021.
“I don’t think I have to a lot of assuring him because I think obviously his play speaks for itself,” Gutekunst said. “I will say this: We’re really excited not only for next year but the years to come. He’s playing at such a high level that he always has and I think this year was a special team. It didn’t finish like we wanted to finish, but I think everybody’s purely motivated to get back and I think, like I said, I don’t think there’s anything that we have to do. He’s our quarterback, and he’s our leader.”
Later, Gutekunst added: “I’m not going to get into contract specifics, but what I will say is, I think every player is different and different players merit different things. There’s no doubt about that. (Rodgers) is an exceptionally big part of what we’re doing and what we’re trying to do in the future, so as we attack this salary cap that we’re going to have to attack this season, there’s a lot of players (whose) contractual situations we’re going to have to address.
“I think that he is arguably the best player that I’ve ever seen or been around. The chances he gives us week in and week out are significant, so he’s going to be part of our future and we look forward to all the runs we’re going to try to make here over the next few years.”
Lewis, Lancaster signings official
Gutekunst announced Tuesday the team has re-signed both veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis and defensive end Tyler Lancaster.
The 36-year-old Lewis has spent the past three seasons in Green Bay after playing 12 seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who selected him out of UCLA in the first round of the 2006 draft. He reached the Pro Bowl with Jacksonville in 2010 and is one of only seven tight ends in NFL history to play in at least 200 regular-season games and catch at least 400 passes.
Lewis caught 10 passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns while starting 15 games last season and operating primarily as the Packers' blocking tight end. He started both playoff games and had three catches for 28 yards. He was on the field for just over 40% of the Packers' snaps on offense.
Lancaster, 26, has made 18 starts over the past three seasons since signing with the Packers as an undrafted free agent out of Northwestern in 2018. He played 15 games with three starts last season and was on the field for just over 34% of the Packers' defensive plays.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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"We're not closing the door for anything...but yeah it definitley feels weird. Looks like all signs are pointing towards snapping the ball somewhere else next year."— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) February 25, 2021
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