When Aaron Rodgers steps onto the field Week 1 at New Orleans, he’ll officially become the longest-tenured player in Green Bay Packers history.
Seventeen years — 14 as the starting quarterback — is a long time. That’s longer than Brett Favre’s career with the Packers, longer than Peyton Manning’s time with the Indianapolis Colts, and longer than John Elway played for the Denver Broncos.
An offseason of unease nearly stripped Rodgers and the Packers of this historic achievement. And after Rodgers finally aired his grievances last Wednesday, it’s difficult to envision this relationship extending to an 18th year.
In his unforgettable press conference, Rodgers touched on everything from the Packers’ (lack of) effort to retain some veteran players, to his perception that the organization won’t commit to him past the coming season, to his consideration of hanging up the cleats for good.
While Rodgers’ transparency, whether you agree with his points or not, is appreciated, he made one thing plainly clear: He still does not maintain complete control over where he plays after 2021.
On Thursday, Adam Schefter reported that Rodgers and the Packers had agreed to a restructured contract. Rodgers’ previous deal tied him to the Packers through 2023, with a potential out after 2021 that would’ve cost the team about $17 million in dead cap.
The new deal voids 2023. It also opens up about $10 million in salary for 2021. But his cap hit explodes to over $46 million for 2022. Should the Packers cut or trade Rodgers before June 1, 2022, they’ll accept a dead cap hit of $26 million.
That’s a lot of numbers at play, but one way or another, Rodgers is going to be an expensive asset after 2021.
It’s been said ad nauseam that the restructured deal sets up 2021 as Rodgers’ final year with the Packers.
Are we so sure? Pump the brakes.
It’s been well documented that the Packers look to be in cap hell next season, and that’s without factoring in a new deal for All-Pro receiver Davante Adams. Would the Packers be better off trading (or cutting, though that’s unlikely) Rodgers and accepting that $26 million in dead cap (but $19 million in savings), or extending Rodgers to lower that 2022 cap hit?
The latter would obviously require Rodgers’ consent and there’s no telling if the Packers will improve in the areas where he expressed concern. But the answer there should be obvious.
Jordan Love also needs to have a strong preseason for the Packers to give any thought to him as a future starter. It’d be career suicide for general manager Brian Gutekunst to move on from Rodgers if Love isn’t 100% ready to assume the mantle.
Drafting a first-round quarterback is a bold move, especially with a future Hall of Famer on the roster. If you take Gutekunst at his word, the Packers aren’t necessarily set on Love as the heir apparent. Gutekunst described the circumstances around drafting Love to Albert Breer in this week’s MMQB column. While the Packers obviously did their homework and liked Love as a prospect, as Gutekunst said, that was not a situation where the Packers specifically sought out a quarterback.
Rodgers needs to hold up his end of the bargain, too. It’s difficult to envision him replicating his 2020 season, but if he’s 90% as good, the Packers would be foolish to willingly part ways. If Rodgers returns to his 2018 and 2019 form, however, there’ll be greater incentive to move on to Love.
Imagine this: It’s February 2022, and the Packers have just captured their fifth Super Bowl title. By virtue of his position and performance, Rodgers is named MVP.
That doesn’t seem so outlandish, does it? Green Bay has one of the best rosters in the NFL and plays in a top-heavy NFC. While cap issues will persist, can the organization really lay claim to being Titletown if every effort isn’t made to keep a championship roster intact?
That’d be a good problem to have, but no general manager wants a reputation stained by tearing down a Super Bowl winner.
There’s a lot of time between now and next February, when presumably there’d been an idea of what Rodgers’ future holds.
The upcoming 2021 season promises to be a memorable dance, but let’s not assume it’ll be the last.