GREEN BAY, Wis. Even Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy isn't quite sure how the Brett Favre unretirement saga will play out over the next few days. But he does know this much: Favre or no Favre, Aaron Rodgers is his starting quarterback.
In his season-opening news conference at Lambeau Field on Saturday, McCarthy strongly affirmed the team's commitment to Rodgers and reiterated that players and coaches spent the offseason planning to move forward after Favre retired in March.
"Aaron Rodgers is the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers," McCarthy said. "That's been stated over and over again. I hope we can finally understand that. That's where we are as an organization and as a head coach of the Green Bay Packers. I don't know how else to answer that question."
Packers players are scheduled to report to training camp today and will have their first practice Monday morning. McCarthy acknowledged the possibility that Favre could be there.
"Has he thought about it? I'm sure he has," McCarthy said. "Has he confirmed anything? Nothing has been confirmed."
Favre retired in March, but asked to be released from his contract earlier this month after his latest round of flip-flopping on his football future was met with lukewarm enthusiasm from McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson.
The Packers have no plans to release Favre, whose rights belong to them until his contract expires after the 2010 season. That would leave Favre free to sign with any team, including division rival Minnesota.
Favre could always just stay retired, but his next move might be to show up for camp or at least try to use the threat of showing up and creating a media circus to force a trade.
Tampa Bay and the New York Jets are emerging as potential trade partners for the Packers, although McCarthy didn't directly address the possibility of a trade Saturday.
McCarthy acknowledged that Favre's presence could become a distraction.
"It'll be a challenge, there's no doubt about it," McCarthy said. "But it's a new challenge and a new year. (It's) different than I personally have ever experienced, but it's something that I can promise you we'll have a plan for and will be dealt with directly."
McCarthy said he spoke with Favre at the Packers' Hall of Fame banquet at Lambeau a week ago and communicated with him via text message this week, but said he still doesn't know if Favre will really show up.
Favre first would have to file for reinstatement with the league and have his request approved by commissioner Roger Goodell. Then he'd have to pass a team physical.
And even if Favre does all that, he won't necessarily be running plays right away. McCarthy said Favre would more likely be limited to doing individual drills in practice, or working out with players who are rehabilitating injuries.
McCarthy said he wasn't concerned that Favre's presence could cause a rift in the locker room, even if some players want Favre back.
"I don't think it's a huge concern, because it will not be the first time the coach and any of the players will have a disagreement," McCarthy said. "We disagree quite often, but the most important part of disagreeing is having the ability to communicate."
Despite the mind-numbing nature of the ongoing Favre saga, McCarthy seemed fairly upbeat Saturday. At one point, he jokingly offered $50 to the first reporter who asked a question that didn't pertain to Favre.
But McCarthy did acknowledge that he was disappointed about how the situation has evolved.
"The way it's gone has been disappointing, I'll say that," McCarthy said. "So you can say that's a surprise."
That's the closest McCarthy and other Packers officials have come to publicly criticizing Favre in recent weeks, even after the quarterback lashed out at Thompson in an interview with Fox News.
"We've taken the high road through this whole process, for as difficult as it's been," McCarthy said. "And we've always operated in the best interest of the Packers and also with the utmost respect for Brett Favre."
But even given Favre's iffy commitment to football, doesn't he still give the Packers their best chance to win in 2008?
"As simple as a question as that sounds, it's obviously more complicated than that," McCarthy said.
Taking Favre back might seem like an easy answer, but doing so would undermine the message McCarthy and his assistants have been preaching to players for nearly five months.
"Moving forward as a football team is really the identity of the whole football team," McCarthy said. "Brett Favre's had an incredible career here. He's been the focal point of the Packers, the face of the Green Bay Packers."
Despite his background as a quarterbacks coach, McCarthy prefers to win with defense a philosophy that presumably works best with steady but unspectacular play from a quarterback.
"The football team has moved forward with the emphasis on defense," McCarthy said. "Because that's what I believe in."
Even with his firm commitment to Rodgers and the defense, McCarthy couldn't completely rule out the possibility of Favre starting another game for the Packers. But McCarthy's quote "You never say never" seemed more like an offhanded acknowledgment of the unpredictable nature of the game than a subtle hint that Favre could win his job back.
"If he reinstates, he'll be part of our roster," McCarthy said. "That's really as far as we can go."