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Rodgers' rift with Packers looms large

May 3, 2021 at 2:03 a.m.

It is difficult for an occurrence within the league to upstage the NFL Draft, an event built on mountains of hype from those on the outside and tireless work from those on the inside. This year, it happened. The revelation that reigning MVP, future Hall of Famer and franchise icon Aaron Rodgers told the Green Bay Packers he wants to play elsewhere was an earthquake, and the tremors will last for months.

Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst and President Mark Murphy vowed over the weekend that the Packers will not trade Rodgers. On Saturday, writing on the Packers' website, Murphy acknowledged the quarterback's disillusionment and said the Packers are working to placate him -- and have been since the end of the season.

"This is an issue that we have been working on for several months," Murphy wrote. "Brian Gutekunst, [Coach] Matt LaFleur and I have flown out on a number of occasions to meet with Aaron. We are very much aware of Aaron's concerns and have been working with him (and his agent Dave Dunn) to resolve them. We remain committed to Aaron in 2021 and beyond."

Rodgers has not spoken about the issue publicly, and he declined to comment when NBC approached him at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, telling announcer Mike Tirico that he was "disappointed" that the news came out when it did. But every sign and report indicates that something would have to change for Rodgers to play for the Packers again. One year after Tom Brady left the New England Patriots in free agency, Rodgers may force his way out of Green Bay.

Rodgers's situation will hover over the league for months, perhaps into the season. He could hold out and threaten to retire -- or even actually retire -- once training camp starts. The staredown will shape the season. Will Rodgers and the Packers smooth out things enough for the MVP to return to a team that has gone to the NFC Championship game two years in a row? Will the Packers cave, decide that they cannot let Rodgers sulk without getting something in return and trade him?

What comes next is impossible to predict, which makes Rodgers's scenario in line with the original headline event of the weekend. Every team will wait and see whether it solidified its future or put its decision-makers' jobs in jeopardy. Here is what to know.

The NFL becomes more of a passing league every year. It's obvious that passing rules in the NFL, but the draft often reveals how extreme the importance of throwing the ball is. This year, the first six players drafted were quarterbacks or pass catchers. Of the first 11 picks, 10 were quarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends or cornerbacks -- players who throw the ball, catch the ball or defend players who catch the ball.

Quarterbacks came off the board early like never before -- the first three picks and five in the top 15, plus another three quarterbacks in a four-pick span at the end of the second round and the start of the third. Passing is not just a disproportionate part of the game. It's almost the entire game.

The top quarterbacks went to soft landing spots. By definition, a high-first-round quarterback almost always must transcend his situation to succeed. The teams picking high enough to draft them landed at the top of the draft because of barren rosters. They're counted on to be saviors, not caretakers.

This year's first-rounders are unusual in that regard. All five quarterbacks landed in situations that are far from bleak. It's easy to be optimistic on draft weekend, but none of them seem likely to be held back by the franchise around them.

Teams positioned themselves for next year's draft. Trades flew in the second round -- of the first 11 picks, seven selections were made after a swap. Most of those deals involved a team receiving a pick next year.

The reason? Next year's draft promises to be deeper, especially in later rounds, as players who didn't play or otherwise failed to land on the NFL's radar for coronavirus-related reasons -- especially small-school players -- stayed in school when they might have normally been in this year's draft. Teams also expect to have more information on players next year, with medical testing and the rest of the pre-draft process presumably closer to normal.

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