The arrival of the offseason brings another crucial period for the Green Bay Packers.
The most important piece of the entire operation in Green Bay is Aaron Rodgers, the quarterbacking linchpin of the Packers. Without him, Green Bay can't confidently expect to contend at the same level of the last two seasons, campaigns in which Rodgers has won consecutive AP NFL Most Valuable Player awards.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst is well aware of this fact and is not interested in moving Rodgers for a hefty return. He also understands how the rest of the franchise depends on Rodgers' decision between returning, requesting to head elsewhere or riding off into the sunset a four-time MVP, but just one-time Super Bowl champion.
"Obviously everything around here centers around the quarterback. That's kind of how we do things," Gutekunst said Wednesday. "It's a big piece. It's a domino that has to fall before we go down other avenues. So it's important as we go through this and the puzzle pieces that we got to make fit. That's the first one to go. … There's some timing elements to things. We've had really good conversations with Aaron and everybody throughout the process."
Almost as important to the Packers' roster construction going forward is the future of Rodgers' favorite target, receiver Davante Adams, who is headed toward free agency if Gutekunst can't strike a new deal with the superstar pass-catcher. Green Bay has the franchise tag available at its disposal, but it's nothing more than a last-ditch option to prevent Adams from hitting free agency, where he'd undoubtedly field lucrative offers.
The Packers wouldn't do themselves any favors by tagging Adams and using an option that players dislike, as it prevents them from both cashing in and receiving long-term security. Using the tag on Adams likely wouldn't make Rodgers the happiest camper, either.
"It's not something we'd like to do -- not like to do that if we don't have to -- we'd certainly like to come up with a long-term deal that works for both sides," Gutekunst said of using the tag on Adams. "Again, it's a hypothetical that a lot of things have to happen before we get to that point."
There's a chance Rodgers stays and Adams leaves, especially when considering Green Bay's current cap situation. A restructure of defensive tackle Kenny Clark's contract moved the Packers from $42.7 million over the projected $208.2 million cap to slightly under $32 million, leaving Gutekunst with plenty of work still to do to put the Packers in a position to both pay Rodgers and find a way to retain Adams. It's a tall task, no doubt, but not impossible.
Gutekunst acknowledged it's possible Adams leaves in free agency and Rodgers sticks around, but added "everything's open at this point."
The Packers' hands are essentially tied until Rodgers makes a definitive decision on his future, one the quarterback said after the 2021 season would arrive fairly quickly. Unlike last offseason -- a period in which Rodgers held firm in his displeasure with the front office before mending fences and receiving additional input on organizational decisions -- lines of communication with Rodgers appear to be open. That doesn't mean either side is in a rush, though.
"No deadlines. We're working together," Gutekunst said. "I think the conversations after the season were very impactful. … Again, there are some timing things that will come into play where we will have to make decisions down the road. But Aaron's well aware of that. Like I said, the communication's been very good."
Gutekunst, however, said he did not communicate any agreement to trade Rodgers if the QB still wanted out after the 2021 campaign, as has been reported. In an interview with Packers beat writers on Wednesday that followed his initial news conference, Gutekunst said the communication with Rodgers was that things would be worked out, but a willingness to trade him was not specified.
"That was not something I told him," said Gutekunst, via ESPN's Rob Demovsky. "Again, I think the whole conversation with Aaron last season before he came back was that, regardless, at the end of this past season, that we would sit down as a group and we would work it out one way or another."
Former Packers assistant Tom Clements is back with the team after spending 2019 and 2020 in Arizona, a move many saw as one intended to work it out with Rodgers. Gutekunst said it wasn't about appeasement as much as it was a product of clear communication.
"I wouldn't characterize it like that," Gutekunst said. "I think it's an example of how Aaron is part of the conversation of things that do affect his job, though."
With the restructure of Clark's contract (which included tacking on void years to spread out his cap hit), Green Bay is now following in the footsteps of the New Orleans Saints when it comes to keeping expensive, key players on the team and paying the corresponding bill in the future. This is how franchises are now operating when they have elite quarterbacks, but don't have the advantage of plenty of time left.
To no one's surprise, the Saints are currently in the worst cap situation in the league at over $76 million over the cap. Green Bay might find itself in a similar situation in the future, but if the Packers can keep Rodgers and Adams, finally get over the hump and win a Super Bowl, it will have been worth the trouble.
"Our football team is in a position right now to compete for championships. That's what the main goal is about right now, and it always has been," Gutekunst said. "But when the pandemic hit, if we were going to continue to be that way, we were going to have to do some different things. ... We've always been about championships here, that's all that matters, Super Bowls. And when the pandemic hit, obviously with our team, to be able to keep it together, we were going to have to do things differently. So, we've adjusted."