Aaron Rodgers transcript: Everything he said about return to Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- After staying mostly silent in the offseason about his rift with the Green Bay Packers, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had an in-depth session with the media on Wednesday in his first news conference since reporting to camp.

Rodgers, who returned to the team after holding out of offseason activities, spoke with the media for 32 minutes, covering a variety of topics such as considering retirement, his desire to have more of a voice within the organization and more.

Here is the complete transcript from Rodgers' interaction with the media (questions have been edited for clarity):

What was this all about for you?

Rodgers: That’s kind of a loaded question. I think there was a lot of things that transpired. This wasn’t just a draft-day thing. It started with a conversation in February, after the season ended. I just expressed my desire to be more involved in conversations directly affecting my job. Also, I wanted to help the organization maybe learn from some of the mistakes in the past, in my opinion, about the way some of the outgoing veterans were treated, and just the fact that we didn’t retain a number of players that I felt like were core players to our foundation, our locker room, high-character guys. I’m talking about Charles Woodson, Jordy Nelson, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, James Jones, John Kuhn, Brett Goode, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, guys who were exceptional players for us but great locker room guys, high-character guys, many of them whom weren’t offered a contract at all or were extremely lowballed or were in my opinion not given the respect on the way out that guys of their status and stature and high character deserved. It kind of progressed from there into a commitment for the 2021 season and beyond. That really wasn’t given at any time. So for me, I had to assess the situation, not necessarily wanting to be a lame-duck quarterback, especially after an MVP season, which I think you can understand. And then the other part, in February, was wanting to be a part of conversations involving free agents, which has never happened in my career. I’ve trained with a number of NFL guys most of my career in the offseasons.

My agency Athletes First has sent a number of high draft picks over the years. I’ve tried to pass along information. It hasn’t really been used, shall we say, so I wanted to offer my services as a recruiter. I think we can all understand Green Bay isn’t a huge vacation destination. People come here to play with me, to play with our team, and know they can win a championship here. The fact I haven’t been used in those discussions is something I wanted to change moving forward. And I felt like based on my years, the way I can still play, that that should be a natural part of the conversation. As that progressed from that point, nothing really changed on that front, so we got into March and the conversation changed, as I felt like if you can’t commit to me past 2021 and I’m not part of your recruiting process in free agency, if I’m not a part of the future, then instead of letting me be a lame-duck quarterback, if you want to make a change and move forward, then go ahead and do it. That obviously didn’t happen. Like I said, it wasn’t a draft pick thing. There were conversations for a number of months leading up to that. Post the draft, I think what basically happened is they said, we’ll give you some money now. Let’s see if we can throw some money at you. I said from the start it wasn’t about the money. Obviously I didn’t show up for the offseason program or minicamp. To me, it was bigger than this.

It was about trying to be a resource for the organization that I care about and love so much. So when the money came at me, the other part is, the backstory to that is there’s a part of me that did think there would be conversations about an extension based on my cap number, this season and next season. It seemed natural based on the way I played to at least have a conversation about it. There wasn’t a conversation, not until into May. And that to me seemed like an analogy you guys would understand: You guys have a fantastic year at work, you write some great stories, you go to your boss and say I just had an incredible year, I think I deserve a pay raise or some security and the boss says, "Ahh, let’s see how it goes." A couple of months down the line, you get another job opportunity, go back to your boss and say, "Hey, I’ve got this amazing job." "No, no, no, we love you. We do want you to stick around. We do care about you." It’s just not the same feeling, you know? So I said it wasn’t about the money. The way that felt kind of just [inaudible] beyond that. Nothing really changed throughout the summer. There were obviously some developments in the last week or so, but I was really working on myself and my own mental state throughout the summer and at various points decided if I wanted to even keep playing, but the fire still burns and I wanted to be on the football team. We’ve got some things figured out in the last few days.

Does the Cobb move show that it's a step in the right direction from the organization's part?

Rodgers: Well, look. I’m really excited Randall’s coming back. He’s obviously a dear friend and a guy I still believe in that can really play. He falls into that category that I mentioned earlier, of guys who left here who were high-character guys. It’s the desire, that I’ve talked about before, to finish as a Packer, that has always been really important to me, and it’s important to those guys as well. The guys that I mentioned, I talked to a majority of them this offseason, because I wanted to hear their experience and how they felt leaving the team — and the way it went down. So I had all the information. And I think there’s a sadness underneath it all. Obviously there’s a sadness when your career ends, but a sadness that things went down the way they went down for a team that they cared about and loved and put their bodies on the line for for so many years. So to get Randall back is really special. It’s something that I talked about back in February, wanting to bring in a true slot receiver, I thought would make our offense more dynamic. I think Randall’s a dynamic player — he has been when he’s been healthy.

Did you seriously consider retirement and at what point did you change your mind and decide to come back?

Rodgers: Yeah, that was definitely something I thought about. I talked about how important being a full-timer was for a long time. This was the first time to spend the offseason away without a COVID year or a lockout year, and I enjoyed it. I really did. I took time working on myself and trying to better myself in a number of areas where I could improve based on my own patterns and conditioning. And it was a lot of growth in that process. In that process, I continued to find joy and happiness on things off the field. However, there’s still a big competitive hole in my body that I need to fill, and as I got back into my workouts I just realized that I know I can still play and I want to still play, and as long as feel I can give 100% to the team, then I should still play.

Will you be a Packer next year and what will it take for you to be able to stay here?

Rodgers: Yeah, I really don’t know. I think things in that direction haven’t really changed at all. I think I’m just going to focus on this year. There’s a lot of moving pieces besides myself, expiring contracts from a number of guys, so there’s going to be a lot of tough decisions at the end of the year. I’m just going to enjoy this year and then revisit that conversation at the end of the season.

Do you hope to finish your career as a Packer, as you’ve said previously?

Rodgers: I did, but as you recall I said last year that there’s some things that might be out of my hands at this point. And based on them drafting my replacement [Jordan Love] last year, I think that kind of put things in motion. Based on the way the season went last year, there was nothing last season that made me confident that I’d be back after ’21 and maybe even not after 2020. I thought we’d be progressing with those conversations, maybe a great commitment, during the offseason when it happened. But that’s why I just have to focus on this season. I love this team, I love the organization, the fans, and the opportunity to play on Lambeau Field has been a dream come true. To be in my 17th season is special. I don’t take that for granted. I’m not a victim here at all, I just want to reiterate that. I’ve been paid a ton of money by this organization. I’m so thankful to be a starter here for my 14th season, not many guys have the opportunity to do that. So I don’t feel like anything has been done to me here. It’s a business. It’s an incredible opportunity to play this game. But it’s a tough business, too, though. I totally get that point and that’s not lost at all. That’s why I’m just going to enjoy this season like I did last year and then make the decision at the end of the season.

In 2018, you said you wanted to form a partnership -- is that accurate? Because six months later you said they called you on a golf course and said Matt LaFleur was hired. Is that the kind of thing you were talking about?

Rodgers: Yeah, well I wouldn't call that a partnership, that part of it. I wasn't involved in those conversations at all. I talked to Matt after the deal had already been in place to hire him as the coach. I wasn't part of that conversation. Let's just make that completely clear. I do love Matt and we've had a blast together and I'm glad he's here. But it's decisions like that that have happened over and over and over again that make me realize that the organization looks at me and my job as just to play. In my opinion, based on what I've accomplished in this league, the way I care about my teammates, the way I show up in the locker room, the way I lead, the way I conduct myself in the community, you should tie myself to a little bit more input. The rules are the same for most people, but every now and then there's some outliers, guys who've been in the organization for 17 years and won a few MVPs, where they can be in conversations at a different higher level.

I'm not asking for anything that other great quarterbacks across the last few decades have not gotten, the opportunity to just be in conversation. So if you're gonna cut a guy, who, based on a meritocracy, was our second-best receiver in training camp last year for the majority of camp, maybe run it by me, see what I feel. I might be able to change your mind. But at least to be in the conversation makes you feel like you're important, you're respected. And that's what I tried to convey in February and for the first couple months, but no, it hasn't been that. That's just the way they do it. I don't necessarily agree with it, but objectively, there's been a lot of success here over the last 30 years. I just wanted to be a little bit more involved and I understand that's not the way it went.

Did they give you any assurances of this?

Rodgers: I'm not sure. At this point, I can only say one of the things was to be involved in free agency. Look, I mean, I just talked to Preston Smith, why he came here and why he actually took a pay cut to re-sign. He knows that we've got an opportunity to win a championship when I'm playing and it's a sentiment that's echoed by other players across the league who hit me up that I'm friends with. They wanna come or get traded or come to Green Bay, they wanna be a part of an opportunity to win a championship, and that's why I just wanted to make myself available to have those conversations, to be maybe someone that tips it over the edge if you're trying to sign a specific guy. So that wasn't a part of [inaudible].

How would they secure you beyond 2021 financially?

Rodgers: I think there's ways of doing that through signing bonuses and stuff that can lessen the load for sure. But there wasn't a commitment past 2021. There was conversation about, that I know you guys were all talking about, about moving salary around through a restructure to open up some cap space for sure. Obviously with the salary cap going down from the 190s to 182, I think everybody's contract who had a contract basically got restructured in some way. It was more just the approach to not mention anything past 2021 made me feel like I wasn't in the future plans, which again, I get it, it's a business and I'm not a victim here. I've made a ton of money here and I've been really fortunate to play a long time and to play here. At the same time, I'm still competitive and I still feel like I can play. I proved it last year, so I feel like making a commitment past the 2021 season was not a big deal and there are ways to do that. That wasn't necessarily accomplished and so that's why we're here.

Do you want to be here right now?

Rodgers: I do, I do. I love my teammates. I love the city. I love my coaches. It is a lot of fun to be back here and like I said, I'm competitive and I realize the type of team that's in place here. It's a team that has a lot of talent on it. It's been close the last couple years, so I'm definitely excited about this season. I've had a lot of great conversations over, I'd say, the last two weeks with various teammates past and present and that's definitely refueled the fire to go out and lead and perform at my best. I felt really good today after a long hiatus, just being back out there and feeling like the rhythm and the timing and the accuracy was where I wanted to be. I feel really good about being back. It's fun to see a lot of the guys. To walk in the locker room, it's strange after so many months, but it was fun to see the guys, to see the old guys, the trainers, the equipment staff, Andy Gruber, I just gave him a hug. I hadn't seen him. He wasn't here all last year, so there's a lot of fun things about being back and I understand the opportunity that's here.

What is your relationship with [GM Brian Gutekunst] and did you ask for him to be removed?

Rodgers: No, and I would say it's professional at this point.

How did you go from wanting to retire to coming back in a week? Was it Cobb?

Rodgers: Yeah, I mean that definitely was important to me, but again I think it was some conversations with some former teammates that I had. A lot of those guys that I mentioned are retired and talking to them about retired life and picking their brains about what it looks like was good for me. I also wanted to see how my body responded after some of the intense training over the last couple months, and I felt really good.

Anything that stood out in those conversations with the Packers?

Rodgers: No, I'm not gonna share that.

Do you get to decide where you’re going to play next year?

Rodgers: No. That’s not what I’ve been told or understand.

What’s the biggest misconception about the process?

Rodgers: That the media loves to make up stories when there’s not enough content to put out there. Look, I realize there were times that I could have said something, but I firmly believe that there is wisdom in silence, and also I love this city and this organization and I didn’t want to get in a pissing match with a team that’s employed me for 16 years and paid me a lot of money. I feel like handling things behind closed doors was not the right way to do it. There were some leaks, for sure. I can promise you I didn’t have a part in any of those. My representation has assured me the same thing. I don’t know what benefit would be given to me by releasing any details about a restructured contract for me, but leaking stuff on draft day, I don’t understand the motivation behind that. But look, I believe the right way to do it was to have conversations with those people, both in person, Zoom, on the phone, behind closed doors, as they say. I didn’t want to get into an argument in public with a team I really care about.

How different was it not being at OTAs?

Rodgers: It was great. Look, like I said, I think it’s important that we work on our mental state. As you’ve seen with Simone Biles, I think there needs to be more conversation around that. We as athletes are often put on a pedestal that we’re beyond any mental hindrances or clutter, and the only time that mental health often gets talked about is when it’s in the context of depression. I didn’t have any depression, but I have a ton of respect for those who speak out in those situations. For me, it was just about clearing any of the clutter. That’s what I tried to do this offseason by adjusting some habits and spending some time with my loved ones, traveling as safely and as often as I possibly could and then making sure I was ready to go if I came back.

Why do you want to be involved in these personnel decisions? In some of the cases you’ve mentioned, you would have been wrong.

Rodgers: I respect the question and I think there’s a lot of hypotheticals based on different things. I understand that I’m here because Ted Thompson took a shot on me, but also you can’t compare the two situations when you look at the last years of [Brett] Favre’s career here and compare them to mine, especially not the 2005, it was a different situation. When it comes to personnel stuff, it’s not all personnel stuff that I’m talking about. I just want to be involved in conversations that affect my ability to do my job, and it’s not all personnel, but I think I have a unique perspective being in the locker room and having been the starting quarterback here for 13 years and being here for 16 years. There’s not many people who’ve been in a position of influence longer than I have in this building. It gives me a unique perspective to shed light on how things work together. One of the most important things is chemistry and cohesion in an organization, and I think I can offer an interesting perspective. It’s not where I need to have final say on anything. I’ve never asked for that. I just want to be in the conversation.

I’m interested in how they look at certain players and if they value character, if they value chemistry, if they value what they bring to the locker room and I think, yeah, some of those guys might not have had great seasons other places, but it’s different when a Jordy Nelson has got me throwing him the ball, it’s different when Randall Cobb’s got me throwing the ball, it’s maybe a different motivation when some of these guys go elsewhere. It’s different to move to a new team. Yeah, some of those decisions would have been different, but maybe bringing back a JP for $3 million and a one-year deal when he really desperately wanted to retire as a Packer might have been a good thing to do. Maybe letting Jordy play another season here, who knows what would have happened, him mentoring Te and allowing him to take the mantel of the No. 1 receiver and how the locker room could see that humility and be inspired by it. I think that’s often not given enough credence, is how important that is, veterans leading by example, by their attitude, how they conduct themselves and how they show the younger guys how to be a professional.

To me, that’s worth something. It might not be worth $9 million a year, which Jordy was scheduled to make that season, but he was willing to take a pay cut – way down – and I think it would have been worth it to keep guys like that. Or Charles Woodson. Charles wanted to take a pay cut as well to stick around and he obviously still played at a high level when he left. He made a Pro Bowl in Oakland, and not to mention, 70% Charles Woodson is an incredible player for us, just what he brings from a leadership standpoint, professionalism, toughness. Being able to be a part of conversations like that, I feel like I have a unique perspective.

What changes do you hope to inflict?

Rodgers: I mean, I wouldn't say "inflict." I don't know if that’s the right word I'd want to use. Inspire. Like I said, I do have a unique perspective on things and I’ve been around a long time, and as I’ve talked to some other older players around the league, I think this is how it goes. You know, you get a little bit older, you see some of the dysfunction in organizations and you either move on or try and help foster some change and that’s all I wanted to do because I love this organization and I love being a Packer and I’ve enjoyed my time here. But I can be used as a pseudo-consultant because I know this place. I know this building. I know the people that work here. I know what helps it go, and when you’re a quarterback you hear a lot of, a lot of s---. You hear it from what’s going on around the building and it gives you the ability to see kind of things as they are and to help foster a culture of inclusion and cohesion and connectedness that helps you win. Because as I said, it’s the people that win championships. It’s the coaches, it's the players that win championships. And the organization, everybody in the organization benefits from that and we all win together. But it’s the people that get it done, and I just want to be a part of [inaudible].

If you can see that change, do you want to finish your career as a Packer?

Rodgers: Yeah, that’s a tough question to ask, to answer. It’s a good question. I’m definitely not closing the door on anything. I’m always optimistic in the ability to change. I would never want anybody to give up on me, and I feel like I’ve made a lot of changes over the years to try and improve myself both as a person, as a teammate, as a player, and I’m always going to be optimistic in change being possible. But you know, Darren Perry said a quote one time that has always stuck with me and he said, “You can’t motivate people, but you can inspire people.” And true motivation ultimately comes from within. So people have to be willing to make those changes.

From considering retirement to all-in seems like a big jump.

Rodgers: Yeah, I don’t want to overblow it. I definitely took my mind to that scenario and sat with those feelings and what it would feel like and what that would look like, all the while working out. As you saw on Dave’s Instagram, like I was obviously still working out at Pro Active and getting ready to play. But there were things I needed to do and conversations I needed to have to put myself in the right headspace to be able to come back here and to be 100% in, which my teammates, the organization expects and I expect of myself. And I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t 100% all-in.

What does it mean to be the Packers’ QB?

Rodgers: It’s still an honor. It’s still something I’m very proud of. You know I did see something about Favrey and Bart playing 16 [years] here, and this is obviously No. 17. So there’s something special about that. I’ve been here a long time, seen a lot of change in personnel and people in the building and the fields and the Hall of Fame, Pro Shop and cafeteria twice, weight room, you know. It’s been fun to be a part of a change. A lot of times like at Cal you move on and then everything gets better. It’s been fun to see the facilities and everything get better and be able to be the quarterback here and see the south and north end zones the way they got built up and adding 8,000 fans to Lambeau. It’s been fun to be a part of all the growth and those things. Yeah, this has always been a special thing for me to be the quarterback, and I’m really thankful to be back here as a 14th season as the starter.

There will be a perception now that every time a roster decision is made, people will question how much input you will have. How do you prevent that from being a distraction?

Rodgers I don't see that as a distraction because I don’t expect to be a part of those discussions. So, I’m happy that Randall Cobb is here. That’s definitely something I was hoping would happen, but I don’t see that being a distraction.

How do you prevent it from being an "us vs. them" mentality with the front office and just go about your business and accomplish your goal?

Rodgers: Well, I think, as I’ve seen over the last 16 years, there’s different things that motivate guys. I think expiring contract is definitely one of them. I think you’ve seen it many, many times over the years, guys come into a contract year and they show up a little bit different. Body a little bit different, focus a little bit different. So, I’m not worried about those guys, you know, who have contracts that run out, guys like MVS and obviously Davante and [tight end Robert Tonyan]and some of those guys that have in the last year of their deal. I know they’ll be motivated. It’s just, it’s about this staff and the players getting ready to be ready for a season here I think in 47 days or so, playing a game. So this is what training camp’s all about and we’ll get after it the best we can.