GREEN BAY, Wis. – When the Green Bay Packers visit the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, it’s not just a highly anticipated early-season matchup between NFC Super Bowl contenders and a rematch of the 2019 conference championship game and another game pitting a coaching mentor against his protégé.
It’s also a game between the team Aaron Rodgers currently plays for and one that tried to pry him away during the offseason (8:20 p.m., ET, NBC).
If there’s tension between Packers coach Matt LaFleur and his former boss, Kyle Shanahan, LaFleur wouldn’t let on when asked Wednesday about the state of their relationship. But, as ESPN reported during the offseason, the Packers believed the 49ers and possibly other teams violated NFL tampering rules by contacting Rodgers to gauge whether he'd be interested in playing for them if they tried to make a trade.
“Kyle’s a great friend of mine. ... I haven’t talked to him in a while, [but] it’s just part of the business [and] you start kind of getting into your own routine,” LaFleur said. “But yeah, absolutely, I hold no ill will toward him.”
LaFleur and Shanahan were on the same offensive coaching staffs with the Texans (2008-09), Washington (2010-13) and the Falcons (2015-16), and LaFleur brought the Shanahan-style offense to Green Bay when he was hired as Packers coach in 2019.
“It is what it is,” LaFleur said of the 49ers' dalliance with Rodgers. “Like, I understand. He’s trying to do whatever he thinks he needs to do for his football team. He’s got a responsibility to everybody in that organization, and if there’s an opportunity, I don’t hold that against him. So that will have no effect on our relationship.”
The 49ers inquired about Rodgers on the eve of this year’s draft as word of his unhappiness with the Packers’ organization began to circulate around the NFL. The Rams, coached by another one of LaFleur’s mentors, Sean McVay, also reportedly called about Rodgers, although Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst denied that.
“We heard it like everyone else," 49ers general manager John Lynch said this offseason on Cris Collinsworth’s podcast. "There had been a lot of murmurs for a long time, like, ‘Hey, Aaron’s not happy.' We’re human beings, we watch SportsCenter, we do those things. Something’s going on here."
At that point, Lynch said he called Rodgers’ agent, David Dunn – who also represents Lynch. Dunn told him to call the Packers. Lynch said he told Shanahan to inquire with LaFleur about their chances of trading for Rodgers. Lynch said LaFleur told Shanahan, “No chance.”
Rodgers gave a hearty chuckle on Wednesday when asked whether he ever thought – or hoped – during the offseason that he’d be playing for the 49ers this season.
“There were points where I thought anything was possible, definitely,” Rodgers said. “But not a strong possibility.”
Sunday night’s game at Levi's Stadium is the fourth meeting between the 49ers and Packers during LaFleur’s tenure in Green Bay. The 49ers beat them twice in 2019, including a 37-20 blowout in the NFC Championship Game. The Packers won last year on the road, but Rodgers still has a losing career record (5-6) against the 49ers. They are one of only five teams he has a losing record against; the Buccaneers, Cardinals, Bengals and Colts are the others.
What’s more, the Packers are a 3.5-point underdog, according to Caesars Sportsbook, and Rodgers is 0-5 as an underdog against the 49ers in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
It could be even more difficult for Rodgers if left tackle Elgton Jenkins doesn’t play against the 49ers’ highly regarded defensive front. Jenkins missed practice Wednesday with what LaFleur called an ankle injury suffered in Monday night’s win over the Detroit Lions, and LaFleur said the Packers will need the rest of the week to determine whether Jenkins can play Sunday night.
Jenkins, their All-Pro left guard, is filling in at left tackle for All-Pro David Bakhtiari, who is on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from ACL surgery. If Jenkins can’t play, the Packers would be down to their No. 3 left tackle. That could be either Dennis Kelly or Yosh Nijman off the bench; or right tackle Billy Turner and then using Kelly or Nijman on the right side.