Aaron Rodgers to the 49ers… it’s a concept that has come to fruition one too many times. The first infamously happening in 2005 when San Francisco decided to pass up on the then Berkeley quarterback in favor of Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick.
Nearly 16 years to the day, Rodgers to the 49ers looked more real than ever before. It was a rainy Thursday in Cleveland Ohio when ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the internet with a report stating that Rodgers is unhappy with the Packers and had told some he doesn’t want to return to the team.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio followed up that report up with Rodgers’ trade list which included the San Francisco 49ers, Las Vegas Raiders, and Denver Broncos. The 49ers reportedly called the Packers to inquire about a trade for Rodgers but were told the reigning 3x NFL MVP was not available. But there was an interesting development in this as Florio double-downed on the buzz around the 49ers citing an “unimpeachable source.”
Rodgers reportedly wanted the Packers to take the 49ers’ offer. Rodgers was convinced he was going to be a 49er and things clearly went another way which led to the beginning of what would be a never-ending offseason filled with storylines documenting the quarterback’s disgruntled towards the team.
The 49ers who had the No. 3 pick were clearly ready to take a quarterback with that pick, but with the buzz of Rodgers being available, it would’ve been foolish for head coach Kyle Shanahan to check in with his friend which happens to be Packers head coach Matt LaFleur.
“The exact truth is I don’t want to wake up the next day on Friday and see Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks in this league, traded without doing any due diligence on it,” Shanahan said while appearing on The Rich Eisen Show after the draft. “So, I just called Matt and asked him if there’s anything to it. And Matt told me I’d be wasting my time if we had [general manager John] Lynch call.”
…and that was that. The 49ers went ahead and selected North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick as Rodgers eventually decided to return to Green Bay for a 14th season as the starting quarterback.
However, days before Rodgers makes his 13th career start against San Francisco in Week 3 of the 2021 season, reports have begun buzzing that the offseason drama around the reigning MVP caused tension between Shanahan and LaFleur, including their mutual friends/coaching colleagues.
Mike Silver of NFL Network reported details of the tension, which boiled over ahead of the 2021 NFL draft.
The report detailed an awkward encounter Shanahan had with Jets head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur (younger brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur) both of whom were under Shanahan’s coaching staff with the 49ers.
Minutes before the start of the 2021 draft, 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel was having a FaceTime conversation in his office with Saleh and Mike LaFleur, who were together in Florham Park, New Jersey. McDaniel’s office door was open, and some other 49er coaches walked into the room with playful banter being exchanged by both sides.
Shortly after, Shanahan entered McDaniel’s office and chimed in on the conversation. Keep in mind the Rodgers’ news had broken just hours before this and reports were out that the 49ers had inquired (most likely a call between Shanahan and Matt LaFleur) about acquiring the longtime Packers’ quarterback.
The Jets, who had the No. 2 pick, were widely expected to draft BYU QB Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick. Shanahan who was picking at No. 3 joked to Saleh and (Mike) LaFleur: “I hope you guys don’t take a different QB and cross us up. We haven’t looked hard enough at Wilson.”
Mike LaFleur replied “what do you mean? You’ve already got your quarterback… Aaron Rodgers.” Shanahan tried to brush it off as a joke, saying, “Hey, tell your brother (Matt) to call me back. He hasn’t returned my calls.” Mike LaFleur came to his brother’s defense saying “can you blame him?”
At this point, according to several people familiar with the call, Shanahan got visibly upset and hastily left the room. Shanahan likely called it as he saw it. He had merely done due diligence on behalf of the 49ers, however, it was clear to everyone else that Matt LaFleur viewed it differently.
To put the cherry on top, the fact that Rodgers and Niners GM John Lynch share an agent, David Dunn, contributed to the idea that there had been a coordinated effort to get Rodgers to San Francisco… something that likely didn’t sit well with Matt LaFleur.
Several months later tensions seem to have cooled down a bit between the two head coaches.
“Kyle’s a great friend of mine,” Matt LaFleur told reporters Wednesday. “Absolutely, I hold no ill will toward him.”
“I understand, he’s trying to do whatever he thinks he needs to do for his football team,” LaFleur added. “He’s got a responsibility to everybody in that organization, and if there’s an opportunity, I don’t hold that against him. So, yeah, that will have no effect on our relationship.”
Meanwhile, Rodgers who seemed to be the centerpiece of this strain downplayed how close he thought he was to be a 49er this offseason…
The two teams will clash on Sunday Night Football as Shanahan’s 49ers make their home debut this season. Although Rodgers will not be quarterbacking the 49ers, Shanahan has had his fair share of recent success against the 3x MVP and LaFleur.
Meanwhile, another storyline begins to brew within the 49ers as Jimmy Garoppolo has stated that he may seek advice from Rodgers about handling his uncertain future in San Francisco especially after the team drafted Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick…