IT WAS after 11 last Saturday night at Brett Favre's sprawling home west of Hattiesburg, Miss., and he and his wife, Deanna, were still following the same line of conversation that had started before dinner four hours earlier. So many thoughts. So many options. Except two: The Packers would not give Favre his old job back, and they would not release him to freely sign with another team. ¶ It is not easy for legends with the gas-tank needle on 1/8 to stay retired. Nor is it easy for a player who spent 16 seasons in Green Bay, at the center of football's most close-knit community, to accept a trade to an unfamiliar locale in New Jersey or Florida.
Tortured is too strong a word to describe what Favre, leaning against the polished marble counter in his spacious kitchen, and his wife, sitting, often shaking her head, were going through on Saturday night. But agonized isn't far off.
"I don't know what I'll do," said a weary Favre, running a hand over his customary six-day stubble. "It's strange to think I'll never play for the Packers again. Does it hurt? Hurt's not quite it. To see those fans I love cheer for another quarterback.... That's the way it goes, but it'll be hard. Maybe the situation I want to play in hasn't presented itself yet. I don't know. Maybe I won't play. If I don't, I've had 17 great years [in the NFL], loved every minute of it and loved playing in Green Bay...."
"You're a football player," said Deanna, who doesn't say much but when she speaks is usually spot-on. "You need to play football."
He knows that. Over the past few weeks Favre, who announced his retirement on March 4 and who turns 39 in October, has made it more and more apparent that he was not ready to spend 10 hours a day edging and trimming and planting on his 465 acres, but would rather play in the NFL again this season. But for which team and when? These were the overriding questions.
As the Packers took the practice field in Green Bay on Monday, beginning their first training camp without Favre under center since 1992, only one thing was clear: The most popular player in franchise history was no longer welcome at Lambeau Field—unless it was for his jersey-retirement ceremony. And because Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson won't give Favre his outright release, the two men entered into an ugly pas de deux that could be the riskiest gambit of their careers. Thompson was determined to trade Favre to a team outside the NFC North and to get adequate compensation. Favre was determined to fight for his freedom. "Tell Ted to release me," he reiterated to a reporter in a text message on Sunday night.
In the meantime, a few blocks south of Lambeau on Sunday, two teenage boys walked down the street wearing BRING BACK BRETT T-shirts. And plastered across a billboard on Route 41, halfway between Appleton and Green Bay, was the sign BRINGBACKBRETT.COM.
AS FAVRE'S football future hung in the balance last weekend, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that other NFL stars had already been on the move and were opening training camp with new teams. Franchise defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and Kris Jenkins were dispatched to the Bills and the Jets, respectively, in the off-season, each traded for two draft picks. The 2007 NFL Man of the Year, defensive end Jason Taylor, was dealt from the Dolphins to the Redskins on July 20 for second- and sixth-round draft picks. A day later the Giants sent flamboyant tight end Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans for second- and fifth-round picks.
Now Favre was on the block. Why the sudden burst of trades in an NFL previously averse to them? The biggest reason is the recent lack of marquee free agents. In each of the last two years the 32 teams have entered the off-season with a total of more than $600 million in cap money to spend; if a team has an important player it wants to keep, the tendency now is to slightly overpay and keep him off the market. Second, teams in the win-now mode that have significant holes to fill are choosing to trade for veterans rather than develop young talent. Cleveland general manager Phil Savage, for instance, wanted to fix a defensive line that allowed 4.5 yards per rushing attempt last year. With no surefire run-stuffers on the open market, Savage gave up a handful of picks to acquire 653 pounds of defensive line help in Shaun Rogers (from the Lions) and Corey Williams (Packers).
"When you see all these really good players being dealt, you start to think, What's going on here?" says New Orleans G.M. Mickey Loomis. "What it is, is teams with cap money that have to solve problems."