In Aaron Rodgers’s Return, Packers’ Championship Priorities Are Clear

“Everybody has an opinion, I understand it,” Rodgers said. “It’s a very polarizing issue for some individuals. But I’m just focusing on the support that I got and it was deep and wide and greatly, greatly appreciated.”

Rodgers conducted his postgame availability over video conference, though when asked why he opted to be interviewed at a remove, instead of in a room with reporters as he had done all season, he did not answer. For Rodgers, who tends to choose his words carefully, his silence seemed a not-so-subtle admission that he did not want to abide by the mask-wearing protocol required when unvaccinated players speak in person with reporters.

When asked directly in late August whether he was vaccinated against Covid-19, he first said, “yeah” — insinuating that he had been — before stating that he was “immunized.” It was a clever bit of misdirection, and it allowed him to escape the criticism that other quarterbacks, like the Colts’ Carson Wentz and the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, have absorbed. In an interview last week with McAfee, Rodgers acknowledged that his response had been disingenuous.

The Packers, though, knew all along that Rodgers was not vaccinated, and their permitting him to amble around their headquarters and conduct news conferences unmasked — a clear violation of the league’s Covid-19 protocols — reinforced an N.F.L. axiom: The better the player, the more an organization is willing to endure.

Rodgers’s talent conferred upon him certain privileges that lesser players, vaccinated or not, probably would not have enjoyed. The choice to enable Rodgers (and Lazard, who is also unvaccinated) cost the Packers a $300,000 fine for failing to enforce those protocols at football facilities or at a team Halloween party that Rodgers attended, unmasked. Both players were fined $14,650 last week.

Though protecting Rodgers was clearly in their best interest, the Packers’ benevolence could be perceived as a conscious move to avoid harshing his mellow after an inferno of an off-season. He and management seem synchronized, for now; Rodgers before the trade deadline lauded both his communication with General Manager Brian Gutekunst and the personnel moves that have shepherded Green Bay, with Arizona losing to Carolina on Sunday, atop the N.F.C.

Rodgers, through concessions the Packers agreed to with his contract, has the power to choose where he plays next season, and it likely won’t be in Green Bay. Four regular-season home games remain before the playoffs, each ushering Rodgers closer to a potential break after 17 seasons in green and gold. He walked off the field with gratitude Sunday. It is, always, easier to remember the good times.

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