There had to be a breaking point. An incident, a discussion, a loss, a moment that condemned the football marriage of Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy.
Anyone could see that the Packers quarterback and the head coach were heading for divorce long before the inconceivable 20-17 defeat to the humble cardinals in December, which finally managed to fire McCarthy. The looks of death and Rodgers' challenge had been constant for years by then.
But, how far do you have to go to find the beginning of the end?
It was the third week of the 2017 season, when the cameras caught Rodgers barking "Call stupid, king!" in your coach?
Or beyond, to the NFC Championship Game on January 18, 2015, when McCarthy trained with the ferocity of a sloth, asking for field goals from the 1-yard line twice in the first half and then running three times in a row with five minutes. Do you let your field marshal get angry and effectively sacrifice a Super Bowl season?
Or even before, until 2013, when Rodgers and McCarthy seemed to be close to throwing hay halfway in a Cincinnati loss?
Those who observed this relationship from the beginning say that we must move forward.
Go back to the honeymoon. Even when the Packers went 15-1 in 2011, with Rodgers as the most valuable player in the league. Even when they won their last Super Bowl title, in the 2010 season, with Rodgers as Super Bowl MVP. Even then, Rodgers was already furious with his coach.
So keep going. All the way until when these two were reunited for the first time. At the beginning of 2006.
The worst kept secret at 1265 Lombardi Avenue was that Rodgers seemed to hate his coach from the moment McCarthy was hired.
Nobody holds a grudge in any sport like Rodgers. When it comes to Rodgers, grudges do not disappear merrily. They stick They grow. They refuel
No, Rodgers would not forget that McCarthy had helped perpetuate his four and a half hour wait in the green room of the NFL draft the year before. Your shame televised nationally. McCarthy, then 49ers offensive coordinator, chose Alex Smith No. 1 overall. No Rodgers.
No, Rodgers would not take it as a funny accident.
"Aaron always had a chip on his shoulder with Mike," says Ryan Grant, the start of the Packers from 2007 to 2012. "The guy who ended up becoming your coach happened to you when he had the chance. Aaron was upset because Mike got it, and Mike actually said verbally that Alex Smith was a better quarterback. "
Another longtime teammate agrees: "That was a big cancer in the locker room, it was not a secret."
Throughout all the winning seasons, it might have been easy for informal observers to overlook this cancer. Confuse success with happiness and harmony and badume that life was good between the two.
But even in the best of cases, when the confetti had yet to be glued to his clothes, a person near Rodgers remembers that he used to call to let off steam and that McCarthy had no idea what he was doing. I would say that McCarthy often called the wrong move. That used the wrong staff. That they were executing plays that worked one out of every 50 times in practice. That McCarthy was a buffoon he was constantly rescuing.
"Mike has a low IQ, and that used to always bother Aaron," says this source. "I would say Mike has one of the lowest IQs, if not the lowest IQ, of any coach he has ever had."
Add a man from the staff that worked for the Packers at the time: "He will not respect you if he thinks he's smarter than you."
And then, as time progressed and the team stabilized, the façade disappeared. The cracks in the founding of this arranged marriage became impossible to ignore.
"You start arguing, you start losing, when money is bad, you argue," says DuJuan Harris, a Packers running from 2012 to 2014. "You start to hate how someone breathes in. You start to hate how someone chews their food."
Then, poof, it's over.
Leaving behind what you bequeath? It's not that the Packers have been an epic failure in the last decade. McCarthy has a street that bears his name in the shadow of Lambeau Field. Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer. The two reached the playoffs together for eight years in a row. But this should have been a reign similar to the Patriots. History. A former teammate says he believes the Rodgers should have won a minimum of six Super Bowl rings under McCarthy and that the 2011 team should be remembered as the '72 Dolphins.
In contrast, a safe fire dynasty never was.
In contrast, Rodgers hopes to get back up at age 35, McCarthy is unemployed and everyone else is left asking a question: What the hell happened
Bleacher Report spoke with dozens of players, coaches and staff who shared time in Green Bay with Rodgers and McCarthy in search of an answer.
Virtually all of them agree that in this era of Packers football they lack rings. Many rings And of course, there is guilt to spread. Some mention former general manager Ted Thompson, literally falling asleep at meetings at the end of his term. Some cite the innate ability of the defense to self-destruct every January.
But at the center of it all are the two Packers that lasted the longest.
McCarthy and Rodgers.
Where Jermichael Finley, a tight end of the Packers from 2008 to 2013, sees a self-titled quarterback and a bad leader, Grant thinks it's an idiot for someone to complain about such a transcendent talent. Where Greg Jennings, a receiver of the Packers from 2006 to 2012, sees Rodgers as a source of ultrasensitive toxicity, others criticize McCarthy for wasting a gift from the gods of soccer.
A former Packers scout puts him in both. He describes Rodgers as an arrogant quarterback who can blame everyone but himself, one who "is not as smart as he thinks he is", but kindly notes that McCarthy basically gave up his team.
No one is sure where Rodgers and the Packers will go from here. How long will this upcoming marriage last with new head coach Matt LaFleur?
But a former teammate, lamenting this colossal what would happen if, makes a point clear in the past.
"If you were to write a headline," he says, "that would be right there: How Egos knocked down the Packers."
In its heyday, the Rodgers-McCarthy Packers offense had a feeling of absolute certainty.
Coaches tried to build opponents, and players laughed inside. "We would literally say: 'You can not stop us,'" says Grant.
There was no doubt.
The moves were simple and worked like a clock. McCarthy identified and planned the game for endless mismatches. The defenders could not double team Jennings. The linebackers could not protect Finley. Jordy Nelson was in an unbreakable mental block with Rodgers in shots in the back. James Jones harbaded the corners. Randall Cobb was added to the shame of riches. And the play area against Rodgers was like the gaming zone against the Golden State Warriors: a death sentence.
The icing on Rodgers was the growing freedom to change the plays in the line of scrimmage and an increasing propensity to half the play to wait, wait, wait for something bigger to develop on the field.
McCarthy could live with that, of course. The Packers were winning. So much.
Eric Gay / Associated Press
However, when Green Bay's talent ran out, that freedom became a problem.
Think of humanity's endless debate about artificial intelligence, says Grant. "When you put a quarterback in a position and you talk about how cerebral he is and give him flexibility to make some changes, guess what? … You develop AI, because he has the ability to run without you. It's running, without you, it's like, "Wait a minute!" But, at the same time, if you can not stay ahead, he'll think and say: "Making the decision is the best decision".
And so, Grant adds: "You live and die for their greatness."
The problem for McCarthy was that as the talent ran out, he could not innovate. His plan faded and he did not adapt. As one staff man put it, McCarthy "got his juice." He believed that his system, not the absurd amount of talent of the Packers, was the basis of offensive success. But raw novices can not get away one-on-one like, say, Jennings or Nelson or Jones.
The tension with Rodgers over the call to the game became part of the DNA of the offensive. Rodgers felt that the system was tasteless, so he played more and more Superman.
Many believe that Rodgers, the quarterback with the best career pbader rating (103.1) in NFL history, was 100 percent justified in voiding his coach's play calls, and that the Packers would have deteriorated more hastily if he had not put on that layer. Team staff says that the Packers' pbading offense was essentially "Get open" and they basically traveled the same routes for seven straight years, to the point where the division's rivals "constantly" called plays before and then jumped .
It is no wonder that the once-lethal route was extinguished.
Where were the route combinations? The movement? The bad direction? "It's like, & # 39; Friend, you have to adapt! The league changes!", Says the staff. "You have to be humble enough to follow him in. If you can not adapt, you die, he definitely did not adapt, you can not run backwards in the shoulders, I do not care who you are, things got so past."
Rodgers had no choice but to take control, and each year, he took more.
That ridiculous release to Jared Cook in the playoffs in 2017? Elaborated in the huddle. Rodgers told a naked guard to retire with him, that he would attack a defender and throw himself to the left. "That's what you're dealing with," says a former Packers coach. "A guy who will do that, could ruin a play Mike called … [but] You also have to give him credit for the good. "
That disconnection led to tension. A system that seemed so unstoppable before became insipid, archaic. The games became strange competitions of who could be called the best play, and the Rodgers, who were full of resentment, felt increasingly able to excel despite McCarthy, the man who dared to think that Alex Smith was better that he.
McCarthy, on the other hand, seemed to be more and more controlled, which led many to sympathize with Rodgers.
The view was strange at first.
Approximately once a week, a meeting began and McCarthy was MIA. The players were not quite sure where he was, while, for example, a coach badistant would run the team's final preparation on the Saturday before a match. Finally, word spread that McCarthy, the one who plays the plays on game day, was in his office receiving a mbadage during those meetings.
One player had the same mbadage therapist, and she let it go that McCarthy would take her up a back stair to her office while the rest of the team prepared for that week's opponent.
"That's when the guys said:" What the hell? ", Says a long-time Packer. "Everyone was like," Really? Wow? "
Rodgers, in particular, was not excited.
It's not that there was no logic for everything. As the years progressed, McCarthy tried to take a more similar approach to a CEO with the team. He would routinely deny outside interview opportunities for attendees if they were under contract, so this was his way of giving them more responsibility, to prepare them for an eventual promotion elsewhere. The above problems are common among all football coaches. And although McCarthy probably was not getting a mbadage every time he let an badistant conduct a meeting, optics were bad. When backing up, he was distant and lost the respect of the players.
"If you're not part of the meetings and then you're trying to get angry over the execution, nobody's really going to respect you," says a former member of the McCarthy-Rodgers era headquarters. "They'll look at you like:" Where have you been all week? "It sounded like he was really just relaxing.
Put yourself in Rodgers shoes, in the shoes of a player who eats, sleeps, breathes sports. As some sources say, "How do you think he felt?" Of course he would take control.
Rodgers may not be a Tom Brady-like wardrobe, but for a former offensive teammate, he remains "by far the best quarterback in terms of skills in NFL history." And it was McCarthy who handled that, provided leadership and made the life of his quarterback as stress free as possible. Do everything in your power to make that talent shine.
"His number one job, and Mike always lost this point, is to handle Aaron," says the former teammate. "That's your pilot, that's your engine, Aaron is your engine for the whole team, if you want or do not want to, you have to make sure that guy is happy, at the end of the day, and it does not sound like a fun job, He is happy, you are winning.
"Your job is not to go out and throw and catch pbades, your job is to manage people."
And if Rodgers is not Brady as a leader, McCarthy never handled himself like Bill Belichick. While Belichick despises the spotlight and "takes off" in every possible way, this player says that McCarthy falls in love with himself as a quarterback guru. The coach often boasted players about his time with Joe Montana … in Kansas City.
"He tried to bill himself as this field marshal," says the player. "It was like, 'Buddy, I just want to let you know, Joe Montana did a lot more before he was in Kansas City'."
McCarthy felt that he was the one who created this monster of offense. A staff member adds, "That was McCarthy's big mistake, I wanted to be the guy, I wanted to be the reason, and it was not that good."
It did not help that McCarthy also rotated his badistants between positions annually. I wanted them to gain more experience, but as Grant points out, this did not necessarily help the players. Many times, they felt as if they knew more about their position than their own coach.
Many agree that McCarthy could have been saved if he had swallowed his pride and hired an offensive mind to challenge Rodgers. A ray of hope arose in Alex Van Pelt, who coached runners in 2012 and 2013, before moving on to quarterbacks in 2014. However, team sources say that McCarthy felt threatened by Van Pelt, who was made close to Rodgers. The Packers chose not to retain Van Pelt when his contract expired after the 2017 season, which did not sit well with Rodgers.
That cuts that deeper rancor.
And the rest of the team? There were mixed opinions about McCarthy.
Some interpreted their laissez-faire style differently. It was refreshing From substitutes like Jayrone Elliott ("I have nothing more than respect for him") to starters like Grant ("Mike is a great coach, I'm surprised he's not training at the moment"), he is described again and again as the coach of a player. But even a defensive starter who starts a conversation praising McCarthy soon admits that the culture he instilled created a soft team.
When Thompson hired McCarthy, he called him "Pittsburgh male." And yet, the coach rarely matched his non-bull rhetoric at press conferences with non-bull action. A staff man calls him "a hard fake guy". McCarthy rarely fined or banked or sent messages to players and paid the price almost every season, never more than in the game, the moment, which will define him in the eyes of many Packers fans. Multiple team sources say McCarthy should have cut short-handed inept tight end Brandon Bostick months before the game for the NFC title in 2015. Instead, he was on the field for a late kick attempt alongside the NFC. Seahawks, and instead of blocking his man, he was captured. The ball bounced off his helmet, and Green Bay collapsed.
Elaine Thompson / Associated Press
The Packers also rarely hit the training field, and the defensive players were angered "every day" by the little interest that McCarthy showed in them. He was never close to his exercises, says the ex-incumbent, and it was always defending Running to the offensive side of the field for team drills.
"What men did in defense did not matter," he says. "This is an offensive-minded team, and our quarterback is expected to get us out of trouble, as defenders, we always used to talk about it, it's like, we hit his bad today at camp. finally towards us? Respect us? "
The answer was a resounding "No", and this player says that the result was a "soft mentality" that constantly raised his ugly head.
When Rodgers missed seven games in 2013 and nine games in 2017, the player remembers his teammates who resigned.
"That's when the real coaching, the true identity, the real character came from everyone," he says. "I saw that the boys give up when we do not have a star marshal, I see that the boys are not going to give everything when they have their backs against the wall."
Even when they accumulated a 19-7 lead in the NFC title game in 2015, even as they bruised and bloodied the NFL's most physical team for 56 minutes, it was only a matter of time before its softness was exposed. inside. McCarthy collapsed, the defense gave way, and it was not by accident.
"That game by the Seahawks defined our team right there," he says. "We did not have finalists."
Moments after the 28-22 loss, Rodgers showed his frustrations. Criticized the lack of aggressiveness of the team. But he did not explode directly in McCarthy, as all the interviewees saw. Calm tension defined this relationship. A player who heard about McCarthy's mbadages even wonders out loud if Rodgers started that rumor and tried to spread it to anyone who listened. It was not possible to contact Rodgers or McCarthy to comment on this story, but no one to whom B / R spoke recalled a disdainful and exaggerated confrontation between the two when such a reckoning was needed.
If Rodgers has a problem, he rarely decides to address it directly.
One person, who used to be close to the field marshal, but has since been excluded from his life, describes Rodgers as "adverse to the conflict" forever. As pbadive-aggressive to the extreme. As someone who prefers to put the problems in the deepest, very inside of him and pretend that there is no problem instead of communicating those problems and strengthen relationships like this with his coach.
Rodgers usually chose mid-game temper tantrums instead of constructive conversation.
"I guarantee he never, maybe once or twice, but almost never, I never dealt with any of those things with Mike," says this person. "Which means that all he did was infect him and poison him."
So Fester, he did it. And fester. And fester.
So, no, McCarthy is not the only one to blame.
It was 2012 and the Packers received the 49ers when, halfway through the time, cornerback Carlos Rogers, playfully, asked Jennings why he ran so many short routes.
"You know how it is," Jennings told him. "Contract year".
It was then that Rodgers intervened to say, for Jennings, "You should look for it at the end of the year."
Jennings returned to the group without words.
"I do not think he's aware of what he said and the impact he had," says Jennings. "If the shoe had been on the other foot and I said, 'Hey, man, I should go play with your quarterback,' that would have offended him so much, but when it comes out of his mouth, and all he knows that there are jokes behind him: that he says that and simply acts as if everything is the same, he just was not. "
The next day, Jennings told his position coach, Edgar Bennett, that he knew this was his last year in Green Bay. "That was my head space," he admits.
He had been Rodgers' No. 1 receiver for four straight seasons, racking up 4,619 yards and 34 touchdowns since 2008-11. He was on the receiving end of the iconic Rodgers Super Bowl needle thread. He had opened his family's door to Rodgers for Thanksgiving, for any day he wanted, because he knew that his field marshal was alone in a new city.
Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press
And now Rodgers did not want him around? Jennings felt betrayed.
That season kept moving forward. The Packers misdiagnosed Jennings' sports hernia as a groin injury. When he entered free agency, Rodgers made no effort to convince him to stay. No calls There are no texts. Not a conversation Goodbye.
Before bombarding your Twitter account with blasphemies, understand that Jennings is aware of herself. He recognizes that there will be steam coming out of the ears of the Packers fans. Any ex-Packer who does anything but praise Rodgers in all its extent is quickly embarrbaded en mbade. He gets that. But Jennings insists that he is simply telling the truth, and in this case, the truth "provokes."
He is not the only one, either.
Maybe Rodgers' ability to throw a football on a rope from any angle every Sunday masked McCarthy's failures. But a faction of people who have spent time around Rodgers and the Packers believe they should look beyond the statistics and the highlights, and understand that Rodgers is also responsible for the Packers' downfall to mediocrity.
Then list the reasons why.
He is self-titled.
The moment Rodgers signed his new contract, one that could win him up to $ 180 million, Finley knew a storm was coming. Because Finley, Rodgers' No. 1 tight end for four and a half years, remembers the right that his QB had even as a first-year starter "when he broke up as f-k."
"You gave a man $ 200 million," says Finley. "He's the general manager, it's the organization, he's the quarterback, and he's the head coach, he already has a sense of right, and then you give him $ 200 million, making him one of the highest paid in history. It comes with the territory, man, I think Rodgers, man to man, needs to take a little more blame. "
He will throw you into the doghouse.
A former Packers scout says the Rodgers can be brutally tough on young players. Sometimes, it is necessary. Other times? Not that much.
The scout points to Jeff Janis, a seventh-round driver from 2014 with a weird size (6 & # 39; 3 ", 220 pounds) and speed (4.42 in the 40) that quickly became a fan favorite, and in Rodgers' favorite bad son was enough to alarm the scout, even though he was not a tall player like Janis either.
"Janis came into the doghouse very fast, and never let him out," he says. "He did not even give the child a chance, and the hard part is that Janis is actually a good person. dog the. Other people did what Aaron did. They used to dog Janis. "
What does this dog house look like? Easy. Rodgers can not do anything wrong. "He's not wrong, it's always the receiver's fault."
He is too sensitive.
That word comes up constantly when you ask for Rodgers. Where to start? "The sensitive is sensitive," Jennings begins. You listen to what you want to hear. Perceive what you want to perceive. Nothing else matters.
To illustrate, he points out his own broken relationship with the field marshal, because he trusts that he has done everything possible to repair it, while Rodgers has not, he points out, "in any sense of the imagination."
Covering a Packers game as a member of the media, Jennings tried to get Rodgers' attention, but the quarterback refused to acknowledge it. Jennings spoke with McCarthy. He spoke to the coaches. He spoke with as many as he could to establish a man-to-man conversation, with no cameras around, and never heard an answer. It's not that I was surprised.
This is the same field marshal who scolded him for daring to talk to Brett Favre when Favre was a Viking. Jennings still remembers an outraged Rodgers who told him after that game of 2009, "Why do you have to do that?" as if he were accusing Jennings of choosing sides.
"Can not I have a relationship with him because you have a problem with him?" Says Jennings. "That's mean, that's not what I am."
So there was Jennings, a Viking in 2013. He could say that the Packers receivers were scared just to say hello, since Rodgers was probably badyzing all his movements from afar. For him, that is sad. It should not be like that. See the relationship that Brady has cultivated with Julian Edelman, with all his receivers, and says: "Everyone wants that." Those two spend time together outside the field, and deal with what matters in the field. Brady builds lifelong ties, and that can be the difference between division titles and Super Bowls.
Between Brady's legacy and Rodgers' legacy.
Meanwhile, Jennings 'old friendships with Nelson and Randall Cobb, two of Rodgers' closest allies, have failed. There is no chance in hell that the "Perfect Pack" group appears on the cover of Illustrated Sports In 2011 I would do it again.
In the world of Rodgers, as an old friend says: "When you're outside, you're out." He eliminates everything he perceives as negative. Famous, that included the sudden cut of his family and close friends in 2014. He made a comment in December about celebrating his birthday with his "friends", but sources close to the family say that made many believe they had reconciled . They have not done it, and those who were cut off still can not understand why.
"I do not know how someone changes completely," says one of them. "All that flip? For no reason? I can not even understand how someone does that."
Some around the Packers wonder if this family absence is affecting Rodgers, if holding a grudge has a negative effect on his psyche. A former Packers staff member describes him as someone who is "really interested in his feelings," who is "not as sensitive." real "There are bad guys in the NFL, he says, and Rodgers is not one of them. different, he says. Not in the way that Brady is, he does not submerge when winning. Only different. "
It's as if Rodgers could not hear millions of people calling him a Hall of Famer.
As if Rodgers was still the boy with the pointy hair that falls freely on the day of the draft.
Every fragment of the negative press, every slight perception of a teammate, a coach, whoever, "bothers him to the bottom", says this source, "It hurts … It's like, & # 39; Friend. Aaron Rodgers. Relax. People are trying to crown you as the best of all, and you've just won a Super Bowl. It is so ingrained in your mind that they are all against me"That he just can not get over that."
The chip on Rodgers' shoulder was always more of a rock, from the zero division that offers the McCarthy 49ers who choose Smith over him to his own fans who boo him during the "Family Night" when Brett Favre tried to return. As he got older, Rodgers needed a new source of fuel, and that fuel became his own coach.
In a twisted way, that attitude is also a gift from Rodgers. Cabreando teammates. Challenging your coach. Burning bridges for life. All of these can be inconvenient side effects for the killer you see on Sundays.
Grant discards anything that his former teammates say: "Friend, get out of here," because for him the chip is not a bad thing.
Hostility is also a weapon.
"With Aaron, his chip on his shoulder and his sensitivity is what really makes him great," says Grant. "It's part of what motivates him and who he is, so you can not hit him, just because you like it in one direction does not mean you're going to like it in all directions."
Mike Roemer / Associated Press
Another long-time member of the Packers' headquarters agrees, claiming that any frustration Rodgers felt with Janis, with anyone, is likely because that player does not work like Rodgers does. Think of Jordan, Kobe, any legend. All are demanding to the point that their peers despise them. Ask the Magic Johnson teammates what they thought of him, says the source. "They said:" This guy was a jerk! "
With stardom you realize that all eyes are on you to fulfill.
Jordan hugged him. Kobe, too.
That's where Jennings and Finley see a marked difference in Rodgers. He is not responsible. "He's not a born leader," says Finley.
Now the pressure on Rodgers is increasing as never before, adds Jennings, "like it or not."
"Not so much with his game, because we know his game is second to none," says Jennings. "Pero, ¿cómo puede fomentar las relaciones y coexistir con un entrenador en jefe, un jugador que juega, que va a poner más en su plato para mejorar el equipo? No tanto para el mejoramiento de usted, estadísticamente, con todos sus números. Recibirá sus elogios. Pero ahora, vamos a pedirle que suprima su ego ".
Agrega Finley, "A-Rod quiere lo suyo. Él quiere comer. Se preocupa por sus patios, sus terminaciones. Va a tener dificultades. Es como un adicto. Le dices a un adicto que cambie sus maneras cuando él Estuvo estancado en sus caminos durante tanto tiempo. Creo que va a ser muy difícil. Pensé que sería capaz de salir adelante, pero, dale a un hombre más dinero, hay más actitud, más diva. -ness … "
Su voz se desvanece.
Nada ha cambiado. McCarthy no pudo hacer nada al respecto, y tal vez nadie puede.
No es que McCarthy no lo intentara.
Las fuentes dicen que McCarthy le dio la bienvenida a Rodgers a su casa y una vez incluso le recomendó que tomara el teléfono para llamar a su madre. Pero Rodgers no era un fanático de la narración de McCarthy, prefería atenerse a las X y las O. Y siguiendo el consejo de la familia, Rodgers le dijo a McCarthy en tantas palabras que se ocupara de sus propios asuntos. McCarthy exigió más de Rodgers "como hombre", dice un ex amigo, "y Aaron no quería escucharlo. No quiere que le digan que está equivocado".
Todo siguió creciendo, los problemas nunca desaparecieron y, por alguna razón, nadie intervino.
El frente frío de la complacencia se extendió por el noreste de Wisconsin cada vez que los Packers no se acercaban a otro Trofeo Lombardi.
Después de que los Gigantes sorprendieron a esos 15-1 Packers.
Después de Colin Kaepernick zapping su defensa (dos veces).
Después de la debacle de Seattle.
Después de una derrota en el juego del título de la NFC en Atlanta.
Cada vez, el gerente general que supervisó el equipo desde 2005 hasta 2017 no hizo … nada. O cerca de la nada. Eso es lo que los que golpean la mesa tanto por Rodgers como por McCarthy acentúan. Señalan a Ted Thompson metiendo la cabeza en la arena cada temporada baja. Al ignorar la tensión en la construcción entre los dos hombres, se reunió para dirigir su franquicia. Y a cómo su renuencia obstinada a firmar veteranos, a pesar del aumento del tope salarial, hizo la vida más difícil para ambos.
Como lo expresó un jugador, Thompson asumió que el sistema de los Packers era automático y que solo podía conectar novatos baratos.
En el proceso, los Packers perdieron a los líderes que Rodgers y McCarthy nunca fueron, nunca serían y nunca encontraron reemplazos.
Se retiraron los retorcidos guardias Josh Sitton (un Empacador de 2008 a 2015) y T.J. Lang (2009-2016). Ambos nunca tuvieron miedo de decir lo que pensaban. Se acabó el fullback John Kuhn (2007-2015), a quien varios jugadores citan como un líder vocal importante. Atrás quedaron todos esos receptores. Se retiraron el tackle defensivo Ryan Pickett (2006-2013) y el respaldo defensivo Charles Woodson (2006-2012). Desapareció el tackle defensivo B.J. Raji (2009-2015), quien según un jugador sostuvo all the world Responsable de la defensa. Thompson le pagó menos a Raji, y en lugar de eso decidió pagar grandes sumas de dinero al tacle defensivo Mike Daniels. Mientras que Daniels ha estado empeñado en destruir la etiqueta "suave" de Green Bay, un compañero de equipo dice que los "chicos" están apagados por su "liderazgo hipócrita".
Thompson quería que los Packers se mantuvieran jóvenes. En el proceso, destruyó al equipo de su corazón y alma.
Se puso tan mal, dice un jugador, que los jugadores ofensivos y defensivos casi nunca se quedan fuera del campo. La camaradería recibió un disparo.
"Los muchachos realmente comenzaron a sentir que 'no me pueden pagar aquí'", dice un jugador. "¿Cómo dejas que ciertos tipos caminen que se probaron a sí mismos?"
El éxodo del liderazgo empujó a Rodgers más y más a un papel inadecuado. Nunca tuvo que preocuparse por hablar en 2010 o en 2011. Jugó al fútbol. Eso es lo que él prefiere. Multiple sources say Rodgers misses those days, with one adding he's become worn down and bitter about everyone's expectations of the type of leader he should be. In other words, as a former Packers scout puts it, Rodgers "is Brett Favre 2.0. He used to say, 'Oh, I'll never be like that guy.' And he literally is."
Back in Grant's day, the Packers were armed with legit leaders at every position.
Those teams self-policed. McCarthy never had to intervene. Rodgers never had to speak up.
"The reason we did well was because we weren't looking for Aaron to be a phenomenal leader," Grant says. "He needed to be a phenomenal quarterback, because we were leaders. We handled our own position, and we weren't looking for someone else to be that guy, to be that leader. … It was, 'We've got this s–t.' When things got out of hand, we were like, 'What's wrong with y'all?' I don't know what this looks like now."
Chances are, Rodgers would be less apt to defy a coach with more vets in the room.
Players his age, who've seen it all, wouldn't put up with his antics.
"There's no one there to hold him accountable," Jennings says.
How Thompson failed to grasp this dynamic baffles people in the organization, although they also believe someone above Thompson should've stepped in because the GM's health was deteriorating. One personnel man recalls Thompson moving "really slow," with slurred speech, falling asleep during film sessions. "I'm like, 'This is the GM?'" Thompson was dealing with obvious physical issues, and Mark Murphy, the team president since 2007, didn't step in.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson and president Mark Murphy at training camp in 2015.Morry Gash/Associated Press
Thompson kept on serving as the team's preeminent judge, jury and executioner.
Until, finally, he didn't.
After the 2017 season, Murphy replaced Thompson with Brian Gutekunst as GM.
In December, Murphy fired McCarthy.
There's no official "owner" in Green Bay—no one with a Jerry Jones-like heavy hand—but a decade after standing by Thompson, McCarthy and Rodgers when Favre tried to take his job back, Murphy is now wielding his power as de facto owner.
Only Rodgers is left now.
And Murphy made it clear that whatever happened last season cannot fly again.
At its best, the Lambeau mystique during the Rodgers-McCarthy era looked like this: Rodgers fakes a handoff, Rodgers boots, Rodgers chucks it 60 yards to a wide-open receiver, beers are spilled, "Bang the drum" roars, Rodgers does a little skip with a defiant uppercut of a fist pump.
When the Lambeau Field mystique evaporates, when the Packers offense inches closer and closer to collapse, it erodes to this: McCarthy sends play in. Rodgers does not approve. Rodgers calls own play in the huddle and/or tells a receiver to change his route. Exasperated sighs and snarls are exchanged all around. Nobody in their right mind is thinking, "They can't stop us."
The Packers finish 6-9-1.
The Packers suffer back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1990 and 1991.
Whoever's fault it was, it got ugly in 2018. Real ugly.
After signing the richest contract in NFL history, Rodgers took more liberties than ever before the snap. A talent drain and McCarthy's stubbornness were undoubtedly major issues. But Rodgers also showed virtually zero trust in his three rookie receivers, J'Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. No. 1 wideout Davante Adams was targeted 169 times, one shy of Julio Jones' NFL high.
Rodgers had the leverage, and McCarthy knew it.
Maybe Rodgers had no choice but to railroad a rotting offense. Maybe Rodgers should have respected authority—after all, this offense helped him earn all that money.
Either way, he freelanced more than ever. One source with close ties to the team estimates Rodgers changed about a third of the plays McCarthy called. "An alarming amount. That is embarrbading. And they don't work!'" Realizing early on that his days in Green Bay were numbered, McCarthy would not rip Rodgers publicly. Not even as fans lambasted him for failing to feed dangerous running back Aaron Jones—while Rodgers simultaneously audibled out of runs.
That tendency to audible out of runs is just about the only issue Grant ever had with Rodgers as a teammate. That wasn't a problem in 2011. It was in 2018.
Life sure wasn't fun for those rookie receivers, either. On-the-fly route changes put them in a no-win situation. They didn't know whether to listen to their coaches or Rodgers.
A source close to the team says St. Brown became frustrated because as much as he wanted to follow McCarthy’s play design, he also heard rumors of Rodgers freezing out teammates if they didn't do exactly what he demanded. So he listened to Rodgers. On one play in New England, Rodgers told St. Brown to run a post route when the play called for a flag. St. Brown ran the post, and pressure forced Rodgers to throw the ball away toward the flag—leading his position coach to grill him on what he was thinking.
St. Brown told him he was "improvising" so he didn't upset Rodgers.
Knowing what was up, McCarthy told him to stick with the routes called.
"That's when it went off the rails," the source close to the team says. "This s–t was terrible. He f–ked McCarthy over. Aaron undermined him."
The A.I. was operating on its own. Nobody was going to rein this in.
"Of course, it comes to a head, and what does he want to do?" says a source who was once close to Rodgers. "He wants to cut him out of his life, just like he cut his family out."
Rodgers refused to take scheduled throws underneath, instead waiting for a deep shot that rarely materialized. The lack of experience did not help. These rookies simply did not have the thousands of reps Rodgers once had with Nelson and company, so he couldn't make subtle audibles play after play with them. In one red-zone drill in practice, St. Brown didn't pick up on a signal, and Rodgers lost it. No, he wasn't exactly giving these rookies a chance to grow, either. A source close to one of the team's skill-position starters says Rodgers was the one "sinking the ship" with zero interest in developing Valdes-Scantling, St. Brown or Moore.
The slightest mistake faded them out of his peripheral vision and sent him back to zeroing in on Adams.
"If they don't make plays, you can't just not go to them again," this source says. "You have to keep building trust in them."
Instead, he chose not to throw the ball to rookies open in one-on-one coverage. It's likely no coincidence Valdes-Scantling faded out of the offense down the stretch. He ran the routes as they were called from the sideline, and his targets declined. Rodgers would look his way, then pat, pat, pat the ball for something else to develop. Why? A source close to the team says Valdes-Scantling told him Rodgers just didn't like him. That he wasn't doing exactly what Rodgers asked him to do, so the quarterback started to freeze him out.
"Can you imagine Mike McCarthy trying to coach through all this s–t?" that source asks.
Paul Sancya/Associated Press
McCarthy had lost all control of the machine, basically conceded defeat and was fired.
The knee injury Rodgers suffered in Week 1 did not help. Jennings acknowledges that. But even if the expiration date on McCarthy's offense had pbaded, he believes this kind of insubordination cannot be ignored. He even hints at a tinge of strategy to Rodgers' cavalier ways.
"When something gets stale, you're not as motivated," Jennings says. "You're not as invested. Because even though you want to perform well, you're still out to prove, 'I told you so.' There's a fine line of saying, 'Was he purposely doing things?' or, 'Was it just McCarthy?' Because it had been so successful before, it's hard to just say it was all McCarthy and none of Aaron. …
"Is it enough for him to say, 'You know what, I'm going to have a record-breaking year that's eventually going to keep McCarthy for another year.' Is he willing to do that? I don't think so.
"Just because change happens doesn't mean the problem still doesn't exist."
Grant blames neither Rodgers or McCarthy but admits so many seasons with the same coach can turn that coach's voice into "white noise." Change was needed. The marriage was years beyond repair. From afar, Finley barely recognized the coach he loved Green Bay, the one who'd invite him into his office and snipe, "It's time to catch the f–king ball!" Finley loved that authenticity. His best games came after talks like that.
And last season, to him, McCarthy looked "fed up and washed up. Just tired, period."
For years, Rodgers built up a justifiable benefit of the doubt. Two MVPs, a Super Bowl title and ridiculous Hail Marys tend to make all of this drama, all of these headaches, worth it.
Now, it appears that benefit has been squashed. By Murphy.
Right before the Packers announced LaFleur as their new head coach, the source close to the team says Murphy called Rodgers to tell him who they were going with. He didn't ask for permission—he told him who the choice was. There was a brief pause on the other end of the phone before Rodgers eventually spoke. Murphy made it clear that Rodgers would need to accept coaching. "Don't be the problem," he told him. "Don't be the problem."
Whoever's to blame, Murphy does not want drama engulfing his team again.
The source close to the team says the president is "tired of the diva stuff."
Over the years, Rodgers has preferred to surround himself with "Yes men," multiple sources say. That's why many thought Murphy would hire a "Yes man" to be the next head coach. To keep the peace. One former personnel man in Green Bay insists Murphy should've gotten Rodgers' input and approval because, in his view, Rodgers is the one who makes the Packers relevant. Instead, Murphy made it clear to Rodgers that the organization was behind LaFleur.
The Packers' brbad did not feel the need to get Rodgers' approval on whomever it hired. Murphy wanted a young coach who'd challenge the entire team, not just the quarterback.
Excitement's in the Lambeau air again. Gutekunst inked a trio of defensive starters in a matter of 24 hours: edge-rusher Za'Darius Smith, safety Adrian Amos and linebacker Preston Smith. He's the anti-Ted, determined to toughen up this soft defense. LaFleur is bound to be more creative than McCarthy. New offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is a Type A who'll push Rodgers. Luke Getsy, the new quarterbacks coach, is a straight shooter who's been in Green Bay before.
Only one question remains.
Will Aaron Rodgers be the problem?
Nobody outside of the state of Wisconsin is shedding a tear for the Packers. This is still a franchise that's enjoyed nothing but Hall of Fame quarterbacks since 1992. Pull up the highlights of Rodgers and McCarthy celebrating, not the ones of Rodgers and McCarthy fighting, Harris implores.
The ex-Packers back surely speaks for millions in saying this generation of Packers fans is spoiled.
Then he offers a warning.
"The Packers went through their terrible time of losing before," Harris says. "History can repeat itself."
There's some concern it could, some concern the Packers are becoming too corporate. One former team personnel man describes Ed Policy, the team's chief operating officer, as a quiet "puppet master" angling for more football power. He adds Policy "has way more clout than people think” and that everyone in power got drunk off the team's success over the years.
The business of the franchise has expanded tremendously with the new "Titletown District" across the street from Lambeau booming. Some in-house worry the business side of things could infiltrate actual football decisions. Even Grant heard it's not as family-friendly as it used to be in Green Bay.
Right now, Murphy's in charge, and he cares deeply about the product on the field.
Rodgers' game might reach a new stratosphere with LaFleur. The optimists see a coach who'll insert this combination of gifts—muzzleloader right arm, Houdini-like escapability, a QB Grand Maester intellectually—into an X's-and-O's equation that'll now spit out an endless stream of MVPs and Super Bowls as it should have all along.
After dismissing anything Jennings and Finley say—"F–k those guys"—one former coach says Rodgers has matured and dismisses the idea that he'd blow off anyone who can't match his IQ. He says Rodgers simply wants a coach "who isn't going to bulls–t him" and expects Getsy, who was in Green Bay from 2014 to 2017 and spent last year at Mississippi State, to be precisely that.
And isn't last season what McCarthy and the Packers basically signed up for from the jump? To him, you can't have it both ways.
"You give a guy a green light to do whatever he wants and then criticize him for it. Which one do you want?" the coach says. "Do you want him to be creative, or do you want him to be exactly what you tell him?"
Mike Roemer/Associated Press
This fine line will be central to anything LaFleur implements on offense. That's why Grant is more interested in what the offense looks like schematically than any wins and losses in 2019. This is a cerebral game now more than ever, and he knows Rodgers is frustrated that time is running out. Grant expects change to rejuvenate the quarterback.
And yet some do expect the 35-year-old player to railroad the 39-year-old first-time head coach.
"He already had a sense of entitlement, then you give him $200 million," Finley repeats. "Then you give him a young head coach. I think in Aaron Rodgers' heart, that's what he always wanted. He wanted to take control."
The challenge for LaFleur will be to strike a balance between showing confidence in himself and being a Tom Coughlin-like drill sergeant who Rodgers would tune out. Something like a "really, really hard cheerleader," one ex-personnel man in Green Bay says, chuckling, as though he's skeptical such a coach exists.
If LaFleur does strike that tricky balance and revitalizes Rodgers, Jennings thinks his old QB can enter the GOAT/Brady stratosphere. He's just not sure how willing Rodgers is when the quarterback's first public comments about the hire, at the NFL Honors, started off with the words, "A lot of change, in life in general, it's tough at first." That's all he needed to hear. To Jennings, that quote practically guaranteed how this will go down.
"I know how Aaron operates," Jennings says. "For him to make that statement, it already lets me know he's going to make it hard on a young Matt LaFleur."
To him, Rodgers doesn't need to sacrifice too much. It's as simple as what Brady did in the AFC title game, handing the ball off to backs 47 times to keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. LaFleur has already hinted at wanting to run the ball more.
Newfound humility would help the quarterback with five fewer rings.
"Now it's, OK, are you willing to swallow all the sense of entitlement? All your pride?" Jennings says. "You don't even have to swallow all of it. But are you willing to suppress most of it and say, 'You know what, whatever it takes, I'm willing to do'?"
With McCarthy gone, all eyes, all pressure, all scrutiny, will be directed toward Rodgers. It's on him to make that sacrifice, to work with others. After all, he brought the magic to Lambeau before.
He can do it again.
Even Jennings acknowledges that reality.
"Just as much as he is a part of the problem," Jennings says, "he's a big part of the solution."
Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.