GREEN BAY, Wis. —The Packers aren’t about to let Brett Favre become a free agent. And while he’s now free to return to Green Bay for another season, there’s no guarantee he’ll be the Packers’ starting quarterback if he does.
In an interview with The Associated Press Saturday, Packers general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy said they don’t plan to grant Favre the release he is seeking from his contract and are committed to Aaron Rodgers as their starter.
“We’ve communicated that to Brett, that we have since moved forward,” Thompson said Saturday, in his first public comments since Favre requested to be released this week. “At the same time, we’ve never said that there couldn’t be some role that he might play here. But I would understand his point that he would want to play.”
And if Favre wanted to play for the Packers, he had the chance when he told them a few weeks after his tearful goodbye news conference that he was having second thoughts. With Thompson and McCarthy preparing to board a private plane to fly to Mississippi and seal the deal on a comeback, all Favre had to do was say yes.
“Ted always wanted Brett back,” McCarthy said. “We always wanted Brett back.”
A message left by the AP with Favre’s agent, Bus Cook, was not immediately returned.
Favre, who led the Packers to a Super Bowl title after the 1996 season, held a tearful news conference to announce his retirement March 6. Favre has made high drama out of his waffling over retirement in the past several offseasons, but it seemed to be for real this time.
Until Favre told Packers offensive line coach James Campen a few weeks later that he was having second thoughts. Campen is a friend of Favre’s who McCarthy said has been miscast as an official intermediary between Favre and the team in some media reports.
After several telephone discussions with Favre led them to believe he wanted to return, Thompson and McCarthy were preparing to go to Mississippi when Favre suddenly called McCarthy.
“He said he appreciated all the planning we were going to do,” McCarthy said. “But he felt that at this point, he had reached a point of closure, to use his words, and he was going to stick with his initial decision.”
Even after Favre’s near-comeback in March, McCarthy and Thompson said they regularly communicated with Favre. Thompson even went to Mississippi to visit Favre in May, and didn’t get the sense Favre was having serious thoughts about playing again as the two had lunch on his back porch.
“He mentioned several things where you could tell there’s always indecisiveness,” Thompson said. “He’s wondering if he made the right decision. I think that’s normal.”
But the tone changed dramatically in June, when Campen said he was getting worried about Favre. McCarthy said he had a phone conversation with Favre on June 20, and the quarterback sent a clear message: “Give me my helmet or give me my release.”
Even then, McCarthy said when he asked Favre if he was ready to make a 100 percent commitment to football—an issue Favre had brought up in his retirement news conference—the answer still was no.
“That always seemed to be the one thing that he had to come to grips with,” McCarthy said.
Next came a text message exchange between Thompson and Favre on July 4. At the time, Thompson didn’t think it was a big deal that he wrote Favre back saying he was traveling and asked if they could talk Monday.
But then Thompson began getting texts from Cook. Sensing rising tension, Thompson and McCarthy agreed to a conference call with Favre and Cook on Tuesday.
Only then, McCarthy said, did Favre say he was 100 percent committed to playing. McCarthy said he doesn’t question Favre’s commitment to football, but said Favre often brought up the issue himself.
“The way he plays the game illustrates the guy is committed,” McCarthy said. “(But) those are his words. That was always his final hurdle that he said he had to get over.”
The hurdle was apparently cleared weeks before the start of training camp.
“Was it convincing? I’d say yes,” McCarthy said. “But that was the first time, July 8, that I’d ever heard him say (he was committed). And he continually, from (June) 21 to July 8, told James Campen that he was not going to play. So that’s a pretty important piece of the puzzle.”
Cook then sent the Packers a letter officially asking for Favre to be released, which would allow him to sign with any NFL team.
With Favre not being offered a defined role with the Packers if he returns at this point, and the team not inclined to release Favre so he could sign with a division rival, a trade may be the best resolution.
Thompson and McCarthy declined to discuss that possibility, and Thompson said he had not received any inquiries from other teams as of Saturday morning.
Where does that leave the Packers and their beloved three-time MVP?
In a pretty big mess.
“Quite frankly, it’s a little gut-wrenching as an organization to go through it, and certainly for Mike and myself,” Thompson said. “This stuff hurts a lot of people. I mean, it hurts. I’m not talking about physically hurting, but the sensitivity. We understand where the fans are coming from. This is a hot-button issue that surpasses anything I’ve ever gone through.”