If Aaron Rodgers is indeed traded in the wake of his unhappiness with the Green Bay Packers coming to light Thursday in the hours leading up to the NFL Draft — something multiple league sources said Thursday night that the Packers are unwilling to do — it will be one of the most franchise-defining trades in the Packers’ history.
To be sure, there were history-altering trades before the Packers’ renaissance began in 1992 when the team hired Ron Wolf to be its general manager and rebuild the moribund franchise that had wandered in the NFL wilderness for the better part of two decades following the Vince Lombardi Era glory years of the 1960s.
Among them was the 1974 trade for what turned out to be a washed-up John Hadl — the trade that was dubbed “The Lawrence Welk Trade” because the Packers gave up a one, a two, and a three … twice. That's right, they traded their first-, second- and third-round picks in both 1975 and 1976 to the Los Angeles Rams for Hadl, who was well past his prime.
But since Wolf, who would go on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, took over the football operation, there have been five defining trades that have shaped the franchise over the past three decades:
5. Packers trade CB Fred Vinson and 6th-round pick to Seattle for RB Ahman Green and 5th-round pickUpdated
Ahman Green (above), a former third-round pick from Nebraska, had fallen out of favor with Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren because of his frequent fumbling. Holmgren, the former Green Bay head coach who’d led the 1996 Packers to the Super Bowl XXXI title, had the dual role of coach and general manager and decided to move Green to his old team. It proved to be a colossal mistake.
Fred Vinson, a 1999 second-round draft pick from Vanderbilt, suffered a torn ACL in his knee while playing basketball during training camp that summer and missed the entire 2000 season. He never played a snap for the Seahawks and his NFL career consisted of the 14 tackles, two interceptions and one sack he’d had for the Packers in 1999.
Green, meanwhile, would go on to become the Packers’ all-time rushing leader with 8,322 career yards while scoring 68 career touchdowns. In his first seven seasons in Green Bay, Green would crack the 1,000-yard barrier six times, including a single-season record 1,883 rushing yards in 2003. He returned to the Packers in 2009 after injuries struck the Packers and gained 160 more yards — enough to give him the franchise career record.
“I knew once given the chance I could do the things I'm doing here now in Green Bay,” Green told the State Journal in 2003. “In Seattle, me worrying about the (playing) time I wasn't getting playing out there probably would have hurt me more than anything. I'm a patient guy, so I knew my opportunity would come with Seattle or whatever team that I got dealt to. Just give me a shot, I'll show you what I can do.”
4. Packers trade up in 2009 NFL Draft to select USC linebacker Clay MatthewsUpdated
Having already taken nose tackle B.J. Raji at No. 9, general manager Ted Thompson had become enamored with Clay Matthews (above) during USC’s pro day and still needed an edge rusher for new defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme. So, despite a track record of almost exclusively trading back in his first four drafts as GM, Thompson went up and got Matthews, moving up 15 spots from No. 41 to No. 26 to take the third-generation NFL player.
Thompson gave up the Packers’ second-round pick (No. 41), and two third-round picks (Nos. 73 and 83) to move up and take Matthews, who went on to become the franchise’s all-time sack leader and deliver one of the pivotal plays of the team’s Super Bowl XLV victory: Forcing a fumble by Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall.
Matthews ended his Packers career in 2018, when he was not re-signed after his contract expired. He finished with 83.5 career sacks in a Packers uniform and was chosen for the Pro Bowl six times.
“I came here in 2009 and next year will be 2019,” Matthews told the State Journal late in the 2018 season. “Obviously, everybody would love to finish out their career in one place and I’m no different. I would love to stay here but it has to make sense. That’s the part of free agency, with a new coaching staff, you’ve got to see the fit. There’s a worth that you feel about yourself. Everything has to come together.”
3. Packers trade 4th-rounder to move up 4 spots in 2020 first round to select Utah State QB Jordan LoveUpdated
The drama that unfolded Thursday afternoon when news broke of Aaron Rodgers not wanting to play for the Packers again all traces back to general manager Brian Gutekunst’s decision to trade up in last year’s first round and take Jordan Love — 15 years to the day after the Packers had taken Rodgers with the 24th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft after Rodgers, once viewed as the likely No. 1 overall pick, fell down the draft board and into the Packers’ lap.
The comparison of Love succeeding Rodgers the way Rodgers succeeded Brett Favre was prevalent in the days after the draft, but in reality, Rodgers’ position at age 36 and Favre’s position in 2005 at age 35 could not have been more different. Favre had talked repeatedly about retiring in the years leading up to Rodgers’ selection; Rodgers had been saying he wanted to play into his 40s. Rodgers was a potential No. 1 overall pick who fell to the Packers; Love was the fourth quarterback taken in last year’s first round and Gutekunst traded up to get him.
Nevertheless, a few weeks after the pick, Rodgers vowed not to take out any disappointment he felt about the pick on Love. But it was the beginning of Rodgers’ unhappiness with Gutekunst, which spilled into public view Thursday.
“I think it was more the surprise of the pick, based on my own feelings of wanting to play into my 40s, and really the realization that it does change the controllables a little bit,” Rodgers said at the time. “Because as much as I feel confident in my abilities and what I can accomplish and what we can accomplish, there are some new factors that are out of my control. And so my sincere desire to start and finish with the same organization, just as it has with many other players over the years, may not be a reality at this point.
“And as much as I understand the organization’s future outlook and wanting to make sure they’re thinking about the team now and down the line — and I respect that — at the same time, I still believe in myself and have a strong desire to play into my 40s. And I’m just not sure how that all works together at this point.”
2. Packers trade QB Brett Favre to New York Jets for a conditional pick in 2009 draftUpdated
After retiring in March 2008 following an NFC Championship Game loss to the New York Giants to end his 16th season in Green Bay, Brett Favre returned to Green Bay during training camp, claiming he wanted his old job back. Whether that was true or not given the rival Minnesota Vikings’ attempts to woo him to join their team — the Packers later accused the Vikings of tampering with Favre, although the NFL did not find enough evidence of that to punish the team — it created a circus throughout the early weeks of camp.
That circus included fans shouting profanities at Rodgers, organizing petitions to try to force the team to keep Favre, and a divided fan base whose loyalty was split between the legendary Favre and the up-and-coming Rodgers, who’d flashed his talent in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys during the previous season after Favre suffered an elbow injury. The ugliness reached its nadir during Family Night, when Rodgers was loudly booed by fans in attendance as Favre, who the team would not allow to enter the locker room, watched it all unfold from a Lambeau Field suite.
In the end, Thompson traded Favre to the Jets, trying to keep him away from NFC rivals by dealing him to the AFC. Favre, of course, then engineered his way out of the Big Apple with another faux retirement and played two more seasons with the Vikings, almost leading their 2009 squad to the Super Bowl before a heartbreaking interception led to an overtime NFC Championship Game loss to New Orleans.
Through it all, Thompson stuck to his belief in Rodgers, who rewarded that faith with the Super Bowl XLV title.
“This is in many ways sad that this is where it came to. At the end of the day though, I think all parties involved felt like it was the best solution to a very difficult situation,” Thompson said the day after the trade went through. "Hopefully we can do things going forward that maybe people will not remember that.
“When the trade papers actually came and I was going to sign it, which would be my job, I almost wanted someone else to sign it.”
1. Ron Wolf trades first-round pick to Falcons for Atlanta’s third-string QB — Brett Lorenzo FavreUpdated
The Packers and Ron Wolf pinned their turnaround hopes on a guy who threw five passes — two of which were intercepted — as a rookie and overslept for the team picture after a night of carousing. And it worked out brilliantly.
But the team president at the time, Bob Harlan, wasn’t so sure. He accompanied Wolf to a Packers-Falcons game in Atlanta late in the 1991 season, four days after he’d hired Wolf as GM.
"So I'm up in the press box in Atlanta, about an hour and a half before the ballgame, just sitting there," Harlan recalled in 2019. "Ron comes up, puts his briefcase in the chair next to me and says, ‘I'm going down to the field to look at Atlanta's backup quarterback. If his arm is still as strong as it was in college,' he said, ‘we're going to go after him.' Just like that. So Ron goes downstairs, and 45 minutes later he comes back and says, ‘I'm going to trade for Brett Favre. Are you OK with that?' I said, Sure.'”
Harlan paused, and smiled. "I didn't know who Brett Favre was."
That wouldn’t last long. After the trade, Favre took over as the Packers’ starter following Don Majkowski’s ankle injury in September 1992. The Packers missed the playoffs that year, but they were in the postseason in 1993, 1994 and 1995 before breaking through in 1996 and winning Super Bowl XXI. Favre would go on to win three consecutive NFL MVP awards (1995, 1996, 1997) and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
“The great thing about Atlanta is, it got me to Green Bay. That one lost year was one of the greatest years of my career because it got me to Green Bay. And the rest is history,” Favre told the State Journal several years ago. “It was a perfect fit. Mike Holmgren was the perfect head coach, ‘Mooch’ (Steve Mariucci) was the perfect quarterbacks coach for me. I mean, it just all fell into place. I think I related to the fans there more than I would have anywhere else. It could not have happened any better.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.