What's next, Brett? No one knows how Favre-Packers drama will end
Here's the question in the Brett Favre saga as we wade through his request to be released and the Packers' denial and the firestorm it's created in Wisconsin: How will the endgame play out?
After the emotion of today and tomorrow, what about the next day? Are the Packers really serious about slapping Favre in the face and forcing him to back up a quarterback who's never started an NFL game ... or not play at all?
I think they are.
"What's next? I don't know. I wish I knew,'' Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson told me late Sunday afternoon from his office at Lambeau Field. "We're trying to do the right thing here, for Brett and for the franchise.''
"I know what you're saying now, that you won't release him,'' I said. "But could it become such a circus that you may have to let him go.''
"I don't foresee it,'' Thompson said. "We have no present intention to do so.''
We'll see. Letting Favre play for a non-threatening franchise like Tampa Bay, or perhaps Washington or Baltimore, still seems like the best option to me.
Favre has gone underground. My text messages for him and agent Bus Cook went unreturned Friday and Sunday, and he still has not come out publicly and said anything about his desire to return to football. Meanwhile, the Packers have spun their side of the story, making Thompson available to Wisconsin media Saturday and Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy to me on Sunday.
As a crowd of more than 100 Packer fans demonstrated in the Lambeau Field parking lot, demanding Favre's return as the starting quarterback (you can expect lots more of these wildcats rallies), Thompson implied the franchise was firm in its resolve to prevent Favre from making a deal with the team of his choice. Which we all know could be with one of the Pack's two biggest rivals -- Minnesota, a proven quarterback away from winning the NFC, or Chicago, if it ever came to its senses about actually respecting the importance of the quarterback position.
Thompson said he still has not had a conversation with an NFL team expressing its desire to trade for Favre. He said Favre's return to the Green Bay locker room "theoretically could be awkward. But football players usually figure out a way to make things work.''
Maybe. I don't know how you possibly could make this work -- one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, coming off one of his three or four best seasons ever, returning to the team to back up a guy who's never started an NFL game. It's absolutely absurd.
"Well,'' Thompson said, "we're going to cross this river, and this is what we have to do right now. We're in a unique situation, obviously. I don't know who's ever had to face a situation like this before.''
Then, Thompson paused.
"We don't have the answers. I wish someone would call me with the right answer,'' he said. "But I haven't heard from anyone. [Meaning his peers in front offices league-wide.] I think I'm a hot potato right now.''
There is no right answer. Every answer is fraught with a major problem. If Thompson brings back Favre as a starter, he risks losing Aaron Rodgers -- whose contract expires after the 2009 season -- and going back on the team's word that he was the team's unquestioned starter for the 2008 season. Would Rodgers sign a second contract with a team that went back on its word so late in the offseason?
If Thompson brings back Favre as a backup, he invites a never-ending media circus to town -- with Favre, in all likelihood, embittered and becoming a major distraction to the team's playoff hopes. If Thompson trades Favre, he risks Favre playing well while Rodgers struggles as a first-time starter against a tough schedule, with Packer fans making his life miserable with endless I-told-you-sos. Ditto if Thompson releases Favre.
Thompson, quite frankly, knows his name will be mud in Green Bay, eternally, if he makes the call that turns out to be wrong. But he also knows he can't make his decision based on that. He can't have rabbit ears. He can only do what is right for the franchise. He can't be emotional. And I don't think he will be.
I talked to one GM the other day who told me, "Ted's got no choice. If he doesn't take Favre back, he's an idiot.''
Oh really? And what if Favre plays one season, retires, and Rodgers tells the franchise to go fly a kite and that he's never signing another contract with them? What kind of an idiot would Thompson be then? The village idiot, I'd say.
I felt for Thompson and McCarthy in separate conversations Sunday. They don't teach you this stuff in NFL Executive School. As McCarthy told Favre when they spoke June 20, the quarterback has put the team in a pretty tough spot, saying he wants to return to the field now, after the team has gone through an emotional offseason installing Rodgers as Favre's successor.
Two things I wondered Sunday: How serious did the Packers think Favre was about returning in late March? And at what point did the Packers think they'd gotten to the point of no return with Rodgers, when it was too late for Favre to return as the starter?
On how close Favre was to returning in the spring: McCarthy says before he departed for the NFL meetings in Palm Beach on the last weekend of March, he had heard that the quarterback was interested in playing again. McCarthy called Favre, and Favre said he was seriously considering it. McCarthy said he talked with Thompson and they agreed they should take Favre back as a starter.
They got a member of the Packers Board of Directors to give them his private plane for the day, and planned to go to Favre's Hattiesburg home on the following Tuesday, from the league meetings, to iron out all the details of Favre's return. "I was just going into mass Saturday at 5 with my wife,'' McCarthy said, "and my cell phone rang. It was Brett. He said he and [his wife] Deanna talked about it, and he was going to stick to his original decision. I said, 'Are you sure?' ... And he said he was sure.''
On when the Packers drew the line in the sand and decided it was too late for Favre to supplant Rodgers as the starter: "I don't think there was a moment,'' Thompson said.
This is still the biggest question here. Did it simply evolve over time? When exactly is it too late for a great player to come back to a team that was an overtime drive from the Super Bowl? There's no question that it had to be sometime between April 1 and June 20 for the Packers. That June date is when Favre told McCarthy again he wanted to come back. "But when I asked [Brett] if he was 100 percent sure, he said, 'I can't say that,' '' McCarthy said. "I said, 'Are you 100 percent ready to commit yourself?' '' This is when McCarthy told Favre, in his recollection, that "To walk in the locker room now and pull the rug out from Aaron Rodgers would be pretty tough.''
So that's where we are this morning.
"This is a 16-year relationship, and now, clearly, we're having some bumps in the road,'' McCarthy said. "But nothing's changed about how I feel about Brett Favre and the respect I'll always have for him.''
That respect is going to be tested in the next two weeks. The Packers' first practice is two weeks from this morning. I don't expect Favre to be there. Where will he be? My money's on Tampa Bay at some time during training camp, but not at the start. We'll see. The human dynamic is difficult to predict, but there's no question Favre wants to play and the Packers are going to keep him from playing for a rival. Beyond that, it's a wide-open field.