GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers was present and accounted for when Green Bay Packers players reported to training camp Wednesday morning.
While the two-time NFL MVP not showing up wasn’t necessarily something the Packers were worried about, the fact that he and the team have yet to reach an accord on a contract extension at least made it theoretically possible that the quarterback could have not reported on time to make a statement.
After all, several other high-profile players around the NFL didn’t show up at their training camps as scheduled this week — Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald — because they’re looking for new contracts.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said during his 10 a.m. season-opening news conference that he’d yet to see Rodgers, but a club official confirmed that the quarterback was in attendance.
“I have no reason to think he wouldn’t be here,” McCarthy said.
The 34-year-old Rodgers has two years remaining on the five-year, $110 million extension he signed in April 2013. He missed seven games in the middle of last season with the broken right collarbone, which led directly to the Packers missing the postseason and finishing below .500 for the first time since 2008, Rodgers’ first year as the starter. His absence underscored how vital he is to the team’s success.
In an interview with NBC Sports’ Peter King earlier this month, Rodgers acknowledged that he feels it’s worth having “a conversation” about his next contract having a “non-traditional” structure, which could include an opt-out clause — something NFL teams have never given a player in the past.
“I just think there’s ways to do contracts where you can still be competitive so the team is happy about it, but have some more freedom,” Rodgers told King.
And, while reiterating that he wants to spend his entire career in Green Bay, Rodgers quickly added, “I realize no one is above the team. They can trade Brett Favre, (release) Jordy Nelson. They can not re-sign a Charles Woodson or Julius Peppers. They make decisions that are in the best interest of the team. It could be me at some point. You have to be humble enough to realize that, and I do.”
Speaking at the annual NFL Meetings in Florida in March, team president/CEO Mark Murphy had said he was “very optimistic that we’ll get a deal done” with Rodgers before the offseason was over. Last week, Murphy said that he was “not going to speculate” when asked if he thought a deal would get done soon.
“I think we both want the same thing. Those things have a way of working themselves out. I’m confident we’ll get something done,” Murphy said. “Obviously, he’s an important player. He wants to be here and want him to be here. When both sides have a common interest, you get deals done.”
Asked Wednesday if Rodgers not having a new deal had an effect on the football operation, McCarthy replied, “I clearly understand and respect Aaron’s place in our organization, but business affairs are what they are. This isn’t the place to speak on them. They’re very personal for everyone that goes through it. I have confidence in the organization, and obviously I have confidence in Aaron. So we’ll just stay the course.”
• McCarthy said he did not watch Rodgers’ appearance during the Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week,” during which Rodgers swam with sharks and actually stiff-armed one with his throwing arm.
“I didn’t see it … How did it go?” McCarthy asked. Told Rodgers survived, McCarthy chuckled. “That’s great. That’s good.”
From the infirmary
ESPN reported that right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) and outside linebacker Nick Perry (ankle) would open camp on the physically unable to perform list after failing their physicals Wednesday.
McCarthy wouldn’t say whether Bulaga – or anyone else for that matter –would start on the PUP, but Bulaga’s situation was hardly a surprise after he tore the ACL in his right knee in November. It’s the third time the 29-year-old Bulaga has entered camp following a season-ending injury, having torn his left ACL in 2013 during Family Night and having suffered a major hip injury midway through the 2012 season.
Bulaga said earlier this offseason that he has no doubt he’ll be ready for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against Chicago, but starting camp on the PUP list means the in-season PUP list, which would cause Bulaga to miss the first six weeks of the season, remains in play.
Perry, meanwhile, missed all of the offseason program following ankle surgery and has battled injuries throughout his career. A league source said Perry should be cleared to practice at some point during camp, however, and that there is no major concern about his availability.
“We have a couple of guys physically (being evaluated),” McCarthy said. “We’ll go through that. With the later (morning) practice we’ll have another press conference and have more information on the health of our team (then).”
Both players count against the team’s 90-man roster.
Clark, Madison no-shows
Wide receiver Michael Clark, a former college basketball player who was a pleasant training-camp surprise a year ago, and offensive lineman Cole Madison, the team’s fifth-round pick from Washington State, were each placed on the reserve/did not report list, the team announced.
Madison was attending to a personal matter and is still expected to report, a source said. But Clark, who caught Rodgers’ eye early in camp last year and was on the practice squad before a late-season call-up to the 53-man roster, has decided to abandon his pursuit of a football career and retire, a source said.
Clark played 75 snaps in the Packers’ final two regular-season games and caught four passes for 41 yards. While the team did select three wide receivers in the middle rounds during the NFL Draft, Clark appeared to be an ascending player with a chance at joining the receiver rotation this season. During minicamp, he gave no indication he was contemplating retirement.
“Being that I’m accustomed now (to the NFL), I’ve been around this environment, you can definitely tell the difference from the first year to the second year,” Clark said.
“It’s a lot more calm, there’s more composure, because I’ve been in this position before. I’m trying to start up where I left off.”
On a pitch count
As he did with Favre toward the end of his career, McCarthy began closely monitoring Rodgers’ training-camp throws several years ago. Even though Rodgers has stated repeatedly that he intends to play into his 40s, he’s at an age where the Packers do want to make sure they’re not taxing his throwing arm too much in practice – even though he’s fully healed from last year’s collarbone injury.
“(We’re) very cognizant as far as how many times he throws the football,” McCarthy said, adding that while “I haven’t seen him yet, I’m sure he’s in great shape. I thought he was in great shape when he left here. Physically, he just needs to (stay the course). The interactive, cognitive training is what will be his focus.”
‘Wait-and-see’ approach on anthem
McCarthy didn’t seem all that concerned about how his team will handle itself during the playing of the national anthem this season. The NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed to work together on a resolution on players protesting social injustice during the anthem after the league’s new policy – that players could stay in the locker room during “The Star-Spangled Banner” if they wanted to, but could be fined or suspended by their teams if they knelt during the anthem while out on the field – was roundly criticized.
Last year, after three players – tight end Martellus Bennett, cornerback Kevin King and tight end Lance Kendricks – sat for the anthem before the Packers’ game against Cincinnati last September, and thereafter most players stood with their arms interlocked during the anthem in a show of what Rodgers called “unity.”
“Obviously what’s being discussed right now between the NFL and the NFLPA, I mean everybody is on a wait-and-see what the conclusion is there,” McCarthy said. “But we have a process of training camp, and when we’re getting ready to play our first game against Tennessee on (Aug. 9), we’ll talk about the pregame on that Tuesday. So I see that part falling in line.”
For the first time since two-a-day practices were forbidden by the league’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement with the players, the Packers’ 15 open practices are all midday affairs. No early morning starts, no nighttime sessions. Why? McCarthy said it was better “physiologically” and “cognitively” for the players to be on the regular-season schedule ASAP. “Training camp comes down to two phases: You have your installation phase, and then you have your preseason phase where we usually shift into an in-season schedule,” McCarthy said. “We just felt it was best that we get right into the in-season schedule.” … Mother Nature didn’t cooperate for the Packers’ first prime-time shareholders meeting. A line of thunderstorms set to move through the area shortly after the 7 p.m. start time forced the team to clear the Lambeau Field bowl, sending shareholders to the concourse or the atrium to watch the first prime-time meeting on closed-circuit TV. Murphy,Brian Gutekunst and others spoke from the team’s media auditorium, and the move scuttled plans for two DC-3 planes to do a flyover above the stadium as part of the team’s 100th season celebration. The Packers became the first NFL team to fly to a road game when they flew two DC-3s to New York for a game against the Giants in 1940. “Being inside wasn’t what I was expecting,” Gutekunst said of his first meeting. Like his predecessor, Ted Thompson, general manager Brian Gutekunst offered little insight into the team’s roster. He said the team continues to “strive for excellence. This franchise deserves that.”