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Thursday June 24th, 2021 1:59PM

Packers planning for long-term future that includes Rodgers

By The Associated Press
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Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur say they expect Aaron Rodgers to remain their team’s starting quarterback in 2021 and beyond.

Gutekunst and LaFleur made those comments Monday during season-ending Zoom sessions with reporters. After the Packers’ 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship game, Rodgers had said, “there’s a lot of guys’ futures that are uncertain, myself included.”

“We’re really excited not only for next year, but the years to come,” Gutekunst said.

When asked specifically whether that meant keeping Rodgers beyond the 2021 season, Gutekunst said, “Absolutely.” Rodgers has three years remaining on a four-year, $134 million contract extension he signed in August 2018.

“Obviously he’s under contract, and he’s playing at an extremely high level,” Gutekunst said. “What we’re trying to do as an organization and what we’re trying to accomplish, we can’t do without Aaron Rodgers right now. He’s such a part of what we’ve done. He’s such a part of what we’re doing right now and certainly in the future.”

Rodgers’ long-term future has been a topic of league-wide speculation ever since the Packers traded up four picks to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with the 26th overall selection in the 2020 draft. Rodgers has said on multiple occasions that the Love selection complicated his own hopes of playing his entire career with Green Bay.

The subject came up again when Rodgers discussed his future after the NFC championship game. The two-time MVP clarified his remarks two days later on SiriusXM Radio’s “The Pat McAfee Show” by saying that “I don’t think there’s any reason why I wouldn’t be back” but adding that “there’s not many absolutes, as you guys know, in this business.”

Gutekunst said Monday he views Love “as a very talented prospect that we’re really excited about developing.” Gutekunst noted the Packers have a history of giving young quarterbacks time to develop.

Rodgers, a first-round pick in 2005, backed up Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre for three seasons before taking over as the starter. Gutekunst cited the examples of Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks, who also backed up Favre at Green Bay before starting multiple seasons elsewhere.

“I’m really excited about the limited development that Jordan has been able to do in the short period of time that we’ve had him. ... There were some unforeseen challenges as far as offseason and no preseason games and things like that,” Gutekunst said. “So we’re excited to continue down that road and get him in some preseason games, at the same time while we’re competing for championships with Aaron.”

Rodgers, 37, had one of the best seasons of his stellar career to earn All-Pro honors. He set franchise single-season records for completion percentage (.707) and touchdown passes (48) while throwing only five interceptions. He had five touchdown passes, one touchdown run and one interception in two playoff games.

“You’re talking about the guy that’s going to win the MVP of the league,” LaFleur said. “We’re not in this position without him. I couldn’t be happier with just not only his performance but how he led our football team, all the little things he does within that locker room to ensure that everybody is locked in, focused and ready to go. Absolutely he will be here for a long time.”

LaFleur also said Monday he is promoting Maurice Drayton, who worked as assistant special teams coach this past season, to take over as special teams coach. The Packers announced Friday that special teams coach Shawn Mennenga was fired and that Mike Pettine wouldn’t return as defensive coordinator.

During his Zoom session, LaFleur also discussed two notable plays from the NFC championship game.

LaFleur blamed himself for miscommunication that contributed to Tom Brady’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller with 1 second left in the first half. LaFleur had said after the game that “it was man coverage, definitely not the right call for the situation.”

“That was just a flat-out miscommunication and ultimately, any time something like that occurs, that 100% falls squarely on my shoulders,” LaFleur said. “I’ve got to make sure that I’m crystal clear with our communication and those mistakes cannot happen, especially when the stakes are so big.”

LaFleur also was criticized for attempting a field goal when the Packers had fourth-and-goal from the 8 while trailing 31-23 with just over two minutes left. Mason Crosby’s 26-yard field goal cut the lead to 31-26, but the Packers never got the ball back.

“If I had to do it again, if it’s fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line, we’re kicking a field goal,” LaFleur said. “If it’s fourth-and-goal from the 5, I think we have a different discussion. You’ve got to play the percentages.”

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Follow Steve Megargee at https://twitter.com/stevemegargee

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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