GREEN BAY, Wis. — There are four major players in the Aaron Rodgers contract situation with the Green Bay Packers: Rodgers himself (represented by agent David Dunn), general manager Brian Gutekunst, coach Matt LaFleur and team president Mark Murphy.
None of them have said much of late.
Rodgers’ future was thrown into question nearly a year ago, when Gutekunst traded up to pick quarterback Jordan Love in the first round. Since then, Rodgers won his third career NFL MVP and got the Packers back to the NFC Championship Game. Shortly thereafter, Rodgers wondered aloud that his future in Green Bay was uncertain. The team then restructured the contracts of six veteran players to gain salary-cap relief but surprisingly haven’t touched Rodgers’ deal, meaning it could move on after this season and save up to $25 million in cap space.
Rodgers reiterated nothing has changed from his perspective. He’s under contract through 2023 with no adjustments agreed upon to financially ensure he’s not entering a lame-duck year, and Dunn has not returned messages.
Murphy recently declined to answer three questions about why the Packers haven’t given Rodgers that assurance.
Gutekunst and LaFleur both made verbal commitments to Rodgers shortly after the season.
Until something changes, that’s about all anyone is going to get from those directly involved.
To get some clarity on what each party might be thinking, ESPN contacted an agent, a high-ranking scout, a veteran assistant coach and a front-office executive and gave them anonymity so they could share their unvarnished opinions on what each party might be thinking and what course of action they might take.
The agent’s take
“If I was Aaron’s agent, I mean, he has more leverage than anybody else in the country. But what can you do in this situation? That’s the thing. It’s really hard to say without knowing what conversations have occurred. Because what I’ve also heard is Aaron is stubborn, and who knows that they’re not offering up a palatable situation that is a middle ground and he’s saying ‘F— that — I’m not budging and do it the way I want to do it or not.’
“I’m going to assume that some sort of middle ground has been attempted by the Packers, and I’m going to assume right now that Aaron is not listening to it. So if I’m Aaron’s agent, if I have to cater to my guy, and I have to find a way to communicate to my guy and I have to find a way to make the whole situation palatable for him in his own perception because his ego is such that if you don’t make it that, then there’s nothing ever going to happen.
“I don’t know who’s really calling shots there, whether it’s (chief contract negotiator) Russ (Ball), Gutey, Murphy, whoever. But it’s screwing the Packers in a lot of ways right now because there’s just no cap space. They’ve called me about one of my players and said ‘Hey, this is where we are now, and until we get something big done — hint, hint — we don’t have any space.’ It’s kind of like a lose-lose situation right now. That’s what [is] surprising to me is, you’d think there would be a middle-ground situation to get something done.
“But here’s the other thing. I don’t know why he’s so worried about it. He’s the best player in the league. So what, they drafted Jordan Love? Who cares? But here’s the thing with players: They just want to be shown how much they’re loved and don’t want any sort of sign that they’re not the man. Look, I get it from Aaron’s perspective. But the team has to have a backup, and it might as well be a young guy and maybe he never plays.”
The personnel perspective
“I would’ve redone his contract, got some more money under the cap and went out and bought a receiver. I get why you might not need to extend it, because he’s got three years left and he’ll be 40 by then, but I might adjust it and give him some more money just so that he’s the highest-paid quarterback again. You can move money around. But I’m not going to give him five years. I would add more money to the final two years, and then I would go sign another legitimate receiver.
“They need somebody that can take the pressure off Davante [Adams] and make plays as well. [Marquez] Valdes-Scantling is fine if he’s your [No. 3] or 4 or 5 [receiver]. If he’s your fifth receiver, then you’ve got great depth. [Allen] Lazard is a good possession guy, but when they get into the big games, those guys can’t make enough plays. And they’re successful because of Aaron. Davante is successful with or without Aaron.
Dan Orlovsky and Domonique Foxworth discuss whether the Packers’ draft moves will determine if Aaron Rodgers stays in Green Bay.
“But, yeah, I’d commit to Aaron — why wouldn’t you? He’s still playing at a high level. What am I going to do, go with Jordan Love next year? He’s signed through 2023, right? You know Aaron’s got a chip on his shoulder, so he’s not going easy. He’s going to play as well as he did last year again, and if he does that, I’m keeping him. I’m keeping him as long as he’s playing at a high level.
“When Brett [Favre] was there, he had a quarterback who was comparable to Brett. And some might say Aaron was even the better quarterback. But that’s not it in this case.”
The coach’s call
“If I’m Matt LaFleur, I make sure Aaron knows I’m in his corner, and based on the way Aaron has reacted to the coaching change the last two years, I’d say he’s done a good job of that. A couple years ago, everyone around the league wondered if Aaron was even coachable anymore and look what he’s done. He embraced the change. Now, what choice did he have? But he embraced it, and people there say his leadership has been just as good as his play — off the charts.
“So even if LaFleur liked Love and sees the same stuff Gutey saw coming out, he’s smart enough to know that he needs Rodgers. Gutey might get another shot at it without Rodgers, but will the coaches? If they fail after Rodgers, they’re gone and Gutey’s picking another quarterback.
“So, look, I don’t know Matt at all, but he’s obviously done something right, and if I’m him, I keep telling Rodgers, ‘I’ve got nothing to do with what they’re doing upstairs. I’m here to win with you.’ Isn’t that basically what he said after the season?”
“The first thing I’m doing is not adding any outside stressors to this deal. I’m not sure why [Murphy] didn’t answer the questions the other day when you guys brought it up. That no-comment thing didn’t do anyone any good. It didn’t help Aaron, and it didn’t help the Packers.
“Now, hey, I get it, things are run different there without an owner. It’s a different setup and a different structure than the other 31 places in the league. Nobody else can really put themselves in [Murphy’s] shoes because he’s in such a weird spot. He has to act as the owner, but it’s not his team. It’s not his money.
“If it’s Jerry Jones up there or Bob Kraft up there, he just says, ‘This is a bunch of bulls— and Aaron is our guy and we’re going to work on making sure of that.’ Even if it’s B.S., just say it. You know how this business is, people B.S. all the time, and if someone calls you out on it down the road, who the heck cares? It’s liar’s poker. That’s what the NFL is, really.
“But Murphy probably doesn’t want to make it seem like he’s meddling in football, so he goes the no-comment route. But that didn’t help. Like I said, if I’m up there and we’re taking heat for not doing anything, I’m going to assure my people that Aaron’s the guy and we’re working on it — even if we’re not.”
Ja’Wuan James considering grievance to recoup potential lost 2021 salary, source says
Former Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James is strongly considering filing a grievance through the NFL Players Association for lost wages after he tore his Achilles tendon away from the team facility, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Saturday.
James, who was released Friday with a post-June 1 designation, could seek more than $10 million in salary for the 2021 season that the Broncos appear likely to void after they designated him with a non-football injury.
The injury has already been a flashpoint between the NFL and the NFLPA over the “non-football injury” designation, which means teams are not required to pay players their full base salaries if they were injured outside of team facilities.
The day after James was injured earlier this month, he was specifically named in a memo from the NFL’s management council to team executives and head coaches. In that memo it was outlined under the “Non-Football Injuries” designation that teams like the Broncos would have “no contractual obligation” to pay players like James who were injured away from the team facilities.
The memo also outlined why a player’s salary would be paid if the injury had been suffered during a workout at a team’s complex. The memo also said: “Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train at a non-NFL location.”
The NFLPA responded two days later in an email to players that said: “It was gutless to use a player’s serious injury as a scare tactic to get you to come running back to these workouts.” Free-agent safety and NFLPA executive board member Michael Thomas also told ESPN’s Dan Graziano this week that “all the players are watching” how James’ situation plays out.
The 28-year-old James suffered his season-ending injury earlier this month. On Friday, he posted on social media that his “surgery went well,” adding: “Appreciate everyone reaching out. Always remaining positive & striving to be better than yesterday.”
Broncos wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, whom Denver was trying to trade in recent days, also suffered a torn knee ligament in a workout away from the team’s complex, according to ESPN and multiple reports.
ESPN’s Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.
Saints rookie Nolan Cooney overcame cancer, then learned to punt with help from YouTube
METAIRIE, La. — It was Nolan Cooney‘s passion for sports that motivated him most when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs during his junior year of high school.
The New Orleans Saints‘ rookie punter was a three-sport standout at East Greenwich High in Rhode Island. He said he wasn’t scared when he got the diagnosis and trusted his doctors, but the only information he researched was stories of athletes like cyclist Lance Armstrong and third baseman Mike Lowell, both of whom successfully underwent treatment for testicular cancer. Cooney was thrilled when he got the chance to speak with Armstrong on the phone, and when New England Patriots cancer survivor Joe Andruzzi came to visit and let him wear his Super Bowl rings.
And sure enough, Cooney reached his goal of returning to the basketball court in time for the playoffs — just days after he finished his two months of chemotherapy treatments. The scene was triumphant, with the crowd chanting his name in the stands.
“We didn’t have to lift his spirits,” Cooney’s parents, Joseph and Janice, agreed while discussing the positive outlook their son has maintained. “Our spirits were lifted by him.”
But nobody in the family ever dreamed that Cooney might become a NFL punter seven years later, signing with the Saints as an undrafted rookie out of Syracuse.
Because, well, Cooney had never punted before.
The three sports he played at the time were basketball, baseball and soccer.
“People say everything happens for a reason,” said Cooney, whose dad suggested he visit a local punting and kicking camp during those months of draining chemo treatments.
“Who knows what would’ve happened if I hadn’t really stumbled upon this during what would seem for a lot of people to be a tougher time [in my life]?” Cooney said. “But maybe it was the greatest thing to ever happen.”
— Nick Coit (@NCoitABC6) December 5, 2020
Cooney (6-foot-3, 202 pounds) always had a strong leg from his years as a soccer goalie, and he had a natural spin on his kicks that made him good at punting the ball when he messed around in the yard. But there was a local rule that prevented him from playing both soccer and football in the fall, and he chose soccer.
When Cooney got healthy, he started teaching himself how to punt by watching YouTube videos — as if his story isn’t remarkable enough.
“You can learn a lot from studying film of other punters,” Cooney explained, “and hopefully they’re willing to speak to things that work well for them.”
Cooney attended his first camp in the summer before his senior year of high school, where the instructors told him he showed real promise as a punter (and less as a place-kicker). Then he continued to attend camps, even though he went back to playing soccer in the fall.
Cooney had opportunities to play college baseball as a catcher at smaller schools. But he wanted to pursue punting, so he signed up for a postgraduate year at Bridgton Academy in Maine to actually play on a football team for the first time in 2015.
“He’s a special kid,” said Trevor Coston, a former NFL safety who served as a coach and counselor at Bridgton and became Cooney’s personal assistant when they would shovel snow off the field in the mornings to work on his punting and send tapes out to colleges.
“He’d be up there shoveling the pathway before I’d get there,” Coston said. “It wasn’t like a lot of schools were opening doors. He just kept knocking. And a person like him, if you know him, his story, his background, betting on himself with everything he’s gone through, it was pretty easy that he was gonna make it once he had the chance to show anyone what he was gonna do.”
Cooney was especially persistent with Syracuse, which was the only FBS school that wound up offering him a walk-on opportunity.
Not only was Syracuse his mom’s alma mater, but Cooney had also met former Syracuse and current New York Giants punter Riley Dixon at a camp. And he credited Dixon with passing on his information to some of the coaches and administrators. They sent him an email inviting him to walk on about three weeks before practices started in 2016.
“He basically was like an unrecruited walk-on that kind of just showed up at our door,” said former Syracuse special-teams coach Justin Lustig, who is now at Vanderbilt. “This kid’s unbelievable. One of my favorites I’ve ever coached. [His makeup] is just through the roof, man. Like every category. I haven’t been around a guy that works harder than Nolan.”
Lustig said Cooney started out fourth on the depth chart as a redshirt freshman and gradually worked his way up behind current Atlanta Falcons punter Sterling Hofrichter, while also serving as a holder. When Hofrichter got drafted in 2020, Syracuse offered Cooney a scholarship for his senior year. And he became a third-team All-ACC punter, averaging a school-record 44.8 yards per kick.
Cooney led all FBS punters in total punts (74) and yards (3,314), with 24 downed inside the 20 and only three touchbacks.
He also started a podcast last year featuring a variety of guests who talk about overcoming obstacles. The name of the podcast, fittingly for a punter and cancer survivor, is “Power Through.”
In New Orleans, Cooney will compete with Blake Gillikin, last year’s undrafted rookie, to replace longtime standout Thomas Morstead, who was released in a wave of salary-cap cuts this offseason.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Janice said of her son’s unlikely path to the NFL. “If only they let him play soccer and football, we might have known this a little earlier.”
Meanwhile, the rule that prevented players in East Greenwich from participating in both sports has since been changed. Joseph said some school officials referred to the switch as “the Nolan Cooney rule.”
Dolphins salivating at the speed Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller will bring – Miami Dolphins Blog
MIAMI — Brian Flores is eager to see opposing defensive coordinators sweat when they see the Miami Dolphins‘ offense in 2021.
Speed is the top skill set that makes defenses stress, and the Dolphins coach had a mischievous smirk when asked about the conflict his new dynamic playmakers — first-round pick Jaylen Waddle and free-agent signee William Fuller V — will create.
No Dolphins position group improved more than wide receiver this offseason, and it’s clear quarterback Tua Tagovailoa now has enough players to flourish as he enters an important Year 2. Honestly, none of Miami’s rebuild will matter as much if Tagovailoa doesn’t make the next step.
What makes the Dolphins’ additions of Waddle and Fuller so dangerous are the possibilities they provide to open up opportunities for the rest of the offense as well as themselves.
“If you’ve got guys who can run on the perimeter, if you load the box, there’s more opportunity for one-on-one matchups and opportunities downfield. Defenses have to make that decision when you have those types of players on the field,” Flores said. “If you don’t load the box and you play for those big plays, then there’s less people in the box and less people to block, and I think it really becomes kind of a numbers/math game.”
“When you have guys on the perimeter and guys who demand some attention — that kind of attention — then there could be more space. … It’s a chess game and obviously the run game and how you attack the run game, that’s part of it.”
That is Flores’ answer, by the way, to oft-asked questions about at the Dolphins’ failure to draft or sign a top-tier running back. He believes added playmaker speed at wide receiver and continued offensive line development will help the running game just as much, if not more than any upgrade in the backfield. The “chess game’ theory makes sense as it’s unlikely teams will put seven or eight men in the box to stop Myles Gaskin and the other backs, much like they did in 2020.
Speed changes everything. Fuller and Waddle might prove to be the NFL’s fastest starting receiver duo.
Fuller, previously with the Houston Texans, had the fourth fastest max speed time (21.56 mph) among wide receivers last season, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He was also one of 13 players who were timed with a max speed of more than 21.5 mph. Fuller, a first-round pick by the Texans in 2016, ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, tied for the ninth fastest official time among active NFL players.
And, guess what? Waddle might be even faster. The former Alabama wideout didn’t run the 40-yard dash this offseason as he recovered from a fractured ankle, but NFL teams received data that Waddle had the fastest GPS time of all college football players last season. Waddle was recorded running a 4.37 40-yard dash at a high school camp and videos circulated last offseason of him running neck-and-neck with Las Vegas Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III, who ran a 4.27 40 at the 2020 combine. When asked earlier this year, Waddle said he normally runs in the high 4.2s or low 4.3s.
One can only hope for a race this summer to officially decide the Dolphins’ fastest player.
Miami’s speedy duo hasn’t been on the field together yet, but their games seem to play off each other well. Fuller has established himself as one of the NFL’s best deep-ball wide receivers, challenging defenses vertically while Waddle’s best asset might be how explosive he is with the ball in his hands after the catch, threatening defenses horizontally and vertically.
The Dolphins have had their eyes on Waddle for the past couple of years. His skill set features a rare combination of elite speed, run-after-catch and return ability. That’s why he was the Dolphins’ pick at No. 6 overall in the 2021 NFL draft. Pre-draft comparisons to Kansas City Chiefs star wide receiver Tyreek Hill give the Dolphins something to dream about once Waddle hits his stride.
“I get a lot of comparisons to Tyreek, just because of my small size and being able to be a runner,” Waddle said. “But I want to be my own player and try to play the game that I play and try to do my own style and not try to emulate someone else’s style. I’m going to try to be the player that I always have and try to make plays for the team.”
If Waddle plays his style and Fuller his, this Dolphins’ offense in 2021 will force defenses into those exact tough chess decisions Flores keeps envisioning.
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