The first day of coaching and executive availability at the scouting combine always provides a few worthwhile tidbits as we head into free agency.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst’s thoughts on getting an Aaron Rodgers deal done this offseason will slide under the radar amid cuts and retirements but could end up being the most significant development of the 2018 calendar year—far beyond whoever signs short-term free-agent deals this spring.
Why? Rodgers will not just be another quarterback set to fall in line with the current game of salary leapfrog a la Jimmy Garoppolo and, likely, Kirk Cousins. Rodgers can absolutely obliterate the market if he sees fit.
“When you have the best player in the NFL, it’s not going to be inexpensive,” Gutekunst said, via Pro Football Talk.
Since Rodgers signed his last contract in 2013, here is the percentage of the cap he’s taken up each year:
Compare that to Andrew Luck, who is taking up nearly 20% of the Colts’ cap this coming season, or Russell Wilson (14.3%), Cam Newton (13.56%), Eli Manning (13.8%), Derek Carr (14.87%). Ndamukong Suh takes up a larger percentage of the Dolphins’ cap than Rodgers does in Green Bay. Even the notoriously (wink-wink) “team friendly” deals signed by Tom Brady have him eclipsing 13% of the Patriots’ salary cap in 2018.
In that time, the Packers have not been able to consistently use the spare cash to aid Rodgers in getting back to the Super Bowl. It hampers the argument that a team needs a (relatively) low cap number from a quarterback in order to succeed, just as Garoppolo’s record-setting deal off seven career starts emboldens Rodgers’s case to ask for the equivalent of a blank check.
The smart move would be to further strengthen his bargaining position by waiting until the Cousins deal is done (theoretically, a raise over Garoppolo’s $27.5 million APY) and drop the hammer. What recourse does Green Bay have?
Here’s a look at some of the other news to emerge on Wednesday:
1. The releases and retirements are happening fast and furious: Muhammad Wilkerson was let go by the Jets a little less than two years after signing a five-year deal. Wilkerson’s tenure was peppered by moments of versatile brilliance and of pure immaturity. Sometimes, growing up a half an hour from the team’s facility can be a bit of a curse. It’s stunning to think that the Jets once boasted a defensive line of Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson—three first-round picks and arguably the best run-defending tackle in the NFL. Now? Only Williams remains.
THOUGHTS: Wilkerson will likely sign a short-term prove-it deal on the open market; his value to a 3-4 team can still be significant. The best advice may be to get him out of New Jersey and stick him with a head coach who can reign in Wilkerson’s freewheeling tendencies. Gruden himself said he was searching for some interior pass rushing help on the podium Wednesday. The Colts and Chiefs would also be interesting landing spots.
2. Speaking of the Jets, Matt Forte announced his retirement. We’ll have more on this in the coming days, but one stat echoed by ESPN’s Field Yates on Wednesday stands out: Since 2008, no player has had more yards from scrimmage. He finishes 33rd all time in rushing yards. His career ended with 75 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns, just ahead of Earl Campbell and Fred Taylor.
THOUGHTS: Forte went to the Jets a year after the Ryan Fitzmagic campaign of 2015. It’s always unfortunate when an end-of-career athlete picks the wrong contender to leap to. In a lot of ways, Forte’s career paralleled that of Frank Gore and they seem to have found similarly hard luck in getting back to the postseason.
3. Mike Glennon has been released by the Bears. This was looming the moment Chicago drafted Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 pick last year. Glennon earned about $18 million for his time in Chicago, which is indicative of both the state of quarterbacking in the NFL (teams will spend on potential) and the hollowness of NFL megadeals.
THOUGHTS: The move should get Chicago over the $60 million mark in cap space. With Trubisky entering his second year, the Bears now have a short window to load up on surrounding talent while the quarterback’s salary is still cheap (essentially the Eagles/Seahawks blueprint).
4. The veteran running back market is risky, but will also be stacked. Jonathan Stewart was let go by the Panthers after amassing 2,500 yards and 21 touchdowns over the last three seasons. Stewart now joins Carlos Hyde, Frank Gore, Darren Sproles, LeGarrette Blount and Alfred Morris among others on the open market.
THOUGHTS: Panthers GM Marty Hurney once strapped his team financially by committing too much to the running back position. He corrected that wrong the second time around.
5. The Broncos could be trading partners for Su’a Cravens. This news, first reported by NFL Network, emerges a day after a report that Washington was shopping their safety around. Cravens may not field much on the trade market, but if Elway wants to keep his defense stout while also clearing the decks for Kirk Cousins, these are the types of creative deals that must be made this spring.
THOUGHTS: In this case, a fresh start could be meaningful for someone like Cravens, who could have a difficult time remaining in Washington after what happened a year ago.
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