Reporter NFC North
Another year, another offseason in limbo for the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. After the Packers failed to make the postseason for the first time under head coach Matt LaFleur, and a season in which Rodgers threw the second most interceptions of his career, this may be the most legitimate transactional talk has been of Rodgers at one time.
First, we must consider the liabilities of the Packers. They are projected to be $14.46 million over the salary cap for 2023, according to Spotrac. They will have to make some cuts regardless of what happens with their current quarterback. While it’s probably the last thing he or Green Bay fans want to face, running back Aaron Jones could be first on the exit list.
A release or trade before June 1 would save the Packers $10.4 million. If they waited until after June 1, those savings would increase to $16 million. That’s a pretty big incentive considering they already have AJ Dillon on the roster.
But the undoubted elephant in the room is Rodgers’ salary for 2023, when he’s due $59,515,000. And while $58.3 million is structured as an option bonus, which drops his cap hit to $31.6 million when exercised, according to NFL Network , it’s still a big chunk to put toward a player, especially when a potential successor is waiting in the wings and still on his rookie contract.
“I don’t think there’s a scenario where he would come back and that would be the number,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “Things should definitely change.”
But wait Let’s back it up. Rodgers hasn’t even committed to playing football next year.
He said on the Pat McAfee Show on Tuesday that he has not yet decided whether he will retire.
“It’s been a lot of fun dreaming about retiring as a Packer, because there’s something really special about it,” the 18-year NFL veteran said. “But if the competitive hole still needs to be filled and it’s time to move on, I hope everyone looks at it with great gratitude.”
While Rodgers seems relaxed, the Packers must scramble to figure out the best way forward. As it currently stands, Green Bay has limited options right away, even if Rodgers tells them tomorrow that he intends to play football next year. They can’t release him. The dead blow would be catastrophic.
But they could change it.
In fact, ESPN has reported that the Packers are actively exploring that option within the AFC.
Green Bay has two ways to go. A trade before June 1st would result in a total hit of over $40 million. It actually adds $8.69 million to the previous total. However, the incentive there is that it would get the Packers out of the massive contract now instead of later when the cap hit continues to increase, and would allow them to get an immediate return on any capital projects acquired. They would be trading for picks they could use this year.
Now, if they trade Rodgers after June 1, the Packers would save a considerable amount of cap space and could reduce their cap hit as well as spread it out over the next two years. Rodgers’ contract would only carry $15.83 million in cap space through 2023 and save the organization $15.79 million this year with the caveat that $24.48 million of cap space would come in 2024. It seems like the best option until you consider that 2023 would be over, and any draft capital acquired would have a delayed return. You’d put any asset acquisitions through 2024, which could be the final year of Jordan Love’s contract if they pick up his fifth-year option.
Herein lies another decision. Let’s say the Packers trade Rodgers after June 1, riding on Love without picking up his fifth-year option, which could be worth more than $20 million through 2024, as they get a feel for whether he can be their QB of the future. If he is, maybe they could still hit that $20 million per year price tag on a long-term deal before he hits free agency. If they don’t trade, they could have multiple first-round picks to devote to their franchise QB in 2024.
“The Packers have had this interesting take on personnel based on the guesswork outside the building that it’s better to move on a year before a guy is done than a year later,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “Is that the mindset for them deep down? Now, as an organization, they’re not going to say anything about it, and why would you? There’s not much to gain. Often, unfortunately sometimes, as Mark mentioned Murphy. last year, in a situation where there need not be sides, there may be sides that have been drawn.”
Aaron Rodgers-Packers trade a ‘real possibility’
Could Aaron Rodgers be on the market? According to Ian Rapoport, there is a “real possibility” the Green Bay Packers QB will be traded this offseason. Colin Cowherd looks at some potential destinations.
Rodgers is right. There are no sides here. Even if they move on from Rodgers, Green Bay is still acting in what they believe is the best interest of the franchise. Letting Rodgers go is business and those decisions are reality, not personal.
That’s all assuming they also find a willing partner in a Rodgers trade. This situation has turned into something that seems more reminiscent of the contracts on the other side of pro football. In the English Premier League, for example, players’ rights are purchased separately from their actual wages. It means teams often pay each other huge sums of money just for the right to trade superstar players. They then have to meet that player’s salary demands.
Bring it home to the Rodgers situation and the buyout isn’t necessarily cash, but now the draft or player equity. Teams will have to give up a trade to acquire Rodgers in the first place. They’ll then have to honor his fully guaranteed salary, though it appears Rodgers is amenable to those aforementioned “shifts” to make him more palatable.
Would teams really be willing to do that for the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer at this stage in his career?
The way one NFL coach put it to me was simply, “Absolutely.”
Elite, and perhaps most importantly, proven quarterback talent is hard to come by. It always has been. Rodgers believes he can still play at an MVP level. He still wants to compete for championships. He’s just waiting for the “right situation,” as he said a couple of weeks ago.
The New York Jets could be just that situation, as Rodgers would follow in the footsteps of Brett Favre, his predecessor in Green Bay. General Manager Joe Douglas is known for being aggressive. He could afford to pay a hefty trade price, and he’d probably be willing too, given the disaster the position has been for the Jets as of late. Right now, Spotrac projects New York to be $2.67 million over the cap for 2023. They can’t save money on disgruntled quarterback Zach Wilson unless they find a willing trade partner after June 1st. But the $2 million can be easily shaved off. Coming up with the other $29 million for Rodgers’ cap hit would be another story.
There is another vacancy in New York that might also interest Rodgers. They fired their offensive coordinator this offseason (the brother of Rodgers’ current coach, by the way) and are rumored to be considering Nathaniel Hackett. No, it didn’t work out for Hackett in Denver as head coach, but he would reunite with Rodgers after an offseason. After all, Hackett was Rodgers’ OC for his two recent MVP wins. Could this be Douglas’ way of wooing Rodgers even more?
More than that, would Green Bay find a deal worth it?
“I am open to any honest and direct conversation and yes [the Packers] I felt it was in the best interest of the team to move forward, so be it,” Rodgers said. “I wouldn’t be offended by that. That wouldn’t make me feel like a victim. I would have no animosity towards the team. I love the team. I love the organization. I love the city. I love the region… I really love what’s going on in Green Bay. And I’d love to be done with it. I would. And it might have ended there. Who knows? But when I talk about my future I don’t talk in cryptic terms. I’m pretty direct about how I feel and I’m taking my time in my decision. And I’m not egotistical, in a sense, to think that I should be able to play wherever I want for as long as I want. This has two sides.”
If this sounds a bit contradictory, that’s because it is. It’s hard to argue against it and then declare that they exist. You can’t say ‘who knows?’ while you say you’re not being cryptic. Rodgers holds a gigantic piece of the puzzle for the Packers. They can’t do anything until they know if he’s going to play football next year.
So the question isn’t whether Green Bay can realistically move on from Aaron Rodgers. That’s when Aaron Rodgers will leave them.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, adding the title of Super Bowl champion (and boat parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
FOX Sports Top Stories:
Get more from the National Football League Follow your favorites for information on games, news and more