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Missing Minicamp Is an Unforced Error For Aaron Rodgers

Missing Minicamp Is an Unforced Error For Aaron Rodgers

Save this for posterity when Aaron Rodgers intellectualizes his absence from mandatory minicamp and paints criticism of his ill-timed no-show as big media thumping its chest and fulfilling some hidden agenda. Will it ring as hollow as I imagine? 

While I shouldn’t have been so naive—I long believed Rodgers would change his stripes in New York in an effort to both backhand the Green Bay Packers and set himself up for a cushy post-career gig hosting game shows or calling football games—color me surprised that Rodgers has decided to opt out of a mandatory practice for a reason that his own team deems unexcused

Think about how wild this is for one second: New York Jets coach Robert Saleh, while staring down another minicamp holdout by the team’s biggest offseason acquisition, Haason Reddick, and a general house of emotional cards that needs to be sorted out before the most anticipated season in modern franchise history, dared not to totally cover up for the mercurial quarterback of his football team. Saleh could have easily protected Rodgers and attempted to bury the story but instead, via a series of (to me) carefully chosen words, deemed the absence as “important to him.” He did compliment Rodgers’s communication and mention the fact that Rodgers has been at the facility “the entire time” this offseason, but Leadership 101 demands we disguise bad news sandwiched between a pair of niceties. 

That line (again, emphasis mine) seems to underline the modern Rodgers legacy, which the Jets knew when walking into this fraught partnership but hoped would change when it became clear just how beholden the franchise was to the quarterback. When Rodgers is in the building, he adds such a refreshing air of respectability and professionalism that helps fumigate the team’s recent past almost instantaneously. He has said in the past that the Jets know what to expect of him in a locker room, which is absolutely true and almost universally positive. Players gravitate to him. The offense hums. All makes sense with the world. But skipping out on mandatory practices—the first day of them!—counterbalances all those benefits and heaves into the fold a disproportionate chaos that undermines all of the good he came there to do. A rational person can argue that the “chaos” is media generated, which is out of an individual’s control, but there are unforced errors in the realm of public perception and ones that look to be self-inflicted. A rational person can, and will, also argue that Rodgers has been doing this for 18 years and that a handful of practices in June will not make him markedly better or worse. Or that perhaps coming to camp feeling rested and fulfilled is more important. But, we should all agree that a lot of the costume designing that takes place around a winning franchise centers on this idea of extracting the absolute most from every opportunity. Whether it is play acting or not, one person in particular needs to appear totally obsessed more than anyone else. 

Rodgers was clear at his opening press conference in 2023 that he did not come to New York to be the savior, even if all of his subsequent words, promises and actions have put him on that pedestal. It would seem, from a distance at least, that Rodgers pines to have life both ways, including free speech and the sharing of various staccato-style conspiracy theories with no public consequences. Total silence, either locked away in a facility designed for such a thing or, apparently, in a home he lives in sans reliable cell service, without any misunderstanding as it pertains to the very public life he chose or his intentions that he did not state. And, dating back to his time with the Packers, a successful franchise without committing fully to the complete set of scheduled workouts. It wasn’t long ago that photos of him enjoying a Hawaiian vacation surfaced during Packers voluntary workouts.

On its face, skipping June practices or opting out of voluntary workouts are not wholly detrimental. Indeed, I know veterans who are tired of the ragged jet-setting they are required to do, putting their lives on hold each summer and truncating their offseason between these seemingly meaningless practices. I also, it should be noted, do not care about the content of Rodgers’s podcasted or tweeted opinions, so don’t misrepresent this take as an uppercut against his political stances or other hot takes. 

The problem is that coming to New York made Rodgers the savior whether he liked it or not, and, because of that, he will be held to a standard that juxtaposes his freewheeling lifestyle. Again, no judgements here, but it’s impossible to square the idea of his having an opinion on how the team operates as it pertains to personnel matters or media leaks or, his words, “anything in this building that we’re doing individually or collectively that has nothing to do with real winning,” and his surfacing in many highly public ways engaging in practices that have nothing to do with real winning. He has tried to explain this away, each time digging himself further into a pit of denial.

Andrew Luck retired from the NFL due, in part, to the sheer force of responsibility that comes with the position. Many of the best who have ever done it describe it like method acting. It has to be an entire devotion at all times. While I’ve often decried this brand of martyrdom and believe it to be detrimental to one’s overall health, there’s no obscuring the fact that this is what we’ve come to expect from our NFL quarterbacks. This is certainly what the Jets have come to expect from Rodgers, having mortgaged much of their future on the idea that he will perform at top level this season, at age 40, having just come off a torn Achilles that he suffered four plays into the previous year. 

In some, that would create a kind of feverish urgency. In Rodgers, it seems to have created more of what we have already seen and known. He feels it is enough. The Jets have no choice but to accept that it will be what it will be. However, prying open the possibility of not being “all in,” being absent when work is taking place, abdicating, even if momentarily, the throne of the all-knowing and powerful veteran, has its consequences whether we see it publicly or not.  

Rodgers always seems to explain it away, but it will be hard to believe him when the offense struggles and we wonder what could have been with a little more time on the field together. 

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