In my last column, I took a deep dive into the imbroglio currently going on between the reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers, and his long-time team, the Packers. I wrote from the unique perspective of knowing the parties involved and feeling some déjà vu from what we went through 15 years ago when I worked for the Packers—with Brett Favre then in the role that Aaron now finds himself in, while Aaron was playing Jordan Love’s current role. No one was happy about it—the players, fans, media, etc.—and I remember the care and attention required to manage that situation, one very similar to the current one in Green Bay.
Now three weeks after ESPN dropped the bombshell that “Rodgers wants out of Green Bay!” it is hard to know what may or may not be true, only that there is a problem between Aaron and the team. Former teammates of Aaron’s, including James Jones, John Kuhn, A.J. Hawk and others, have talked to Aaron and don’t read the situation nearly as dire as the hyperbolic reporting of a few weeks ago.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between.
One thing that I’m sure about is this: The Packers are dead set against trading Rodgers this year, for two obvious reasons. It would be 1) cap prohibitive, and 2) competitively damaging, as Love needs more tutelage. As for next year, that’s a different story.
As I’ve been saying, my strong sense is that the Packers’ “plan” is to have Aaron lead their team this year while keeping their plan of a transfer to Love, probably next season. The team’s carefully phrased desire to have Aaron “in 2021 and beyond” indicates to me that they want their MVP-level of play this year to garner maximum trade compensation before next year’s draft.
Aaron is, understandably, not down with that plan, and solutions based on the contract—making him the highest paid player in the league, adding guaranteed years, etc.—are not that simple. And, crucially, you only get to the contract part if the “other stuff” is worked out. As someone who managed an NFL cap for 10 years, I know the money can always be figured out. But this dispute has seemed personal: There is a fissure, a chasm, an enmity, a dislike between Rodgers and the front office. It is only when that part is resolved—if it can be—that the team can then work on the money part of the equation.
My Thought to Resolve Things
Here is a three-pronged idea that percolated in my head during my time hiking out West last week.
1. Rodgers ends whatever discontent he has with the team and returns to the Packers for the 2021 season, with a monetary adjustment to reflect his MVP-level of play.
2. The Packers move $10 million of Rodgers’s $25 million 2022 salary into a roster bonus due if he is on the team in the first days of the ’22 league year.
3. The Packers have to decide before the offseason whether to pay Rodgers that money (which would ensure his presence on the team in 2022) or to trade him and turn the team over to Love.
This would allow the Packers to stick to what has seemed to be their plan: to have Rodgers one more year before handing the team to Love. Or, if they decide to have another year of Rodgers, they would have to commit financially right away, as the Packers are not going to trade him after paying him $10 million (although stranger things have happened). The point of the roster bonus is to avoid going through another offseason like this one, to resolve whatever issues there are between him and the team, and to decide on the transfer of Love, right away.
The downside for the Packers? They would have to adjust the contract to less favorable terms, forcing a decision point. The downside for Rodgers? He would still be a seat-warmer for Love in 2021. Neither side would be completely happy with this deal, but it is a compromise that will serve both sides for the short term.
Listen, I am still very much a Packers fan and an Aaron Rodgers fan, as are my sons, and it would be tough to lose Aaron. But the die was cast a year ago by the team, as we cast it 16 years ago in selecting him to replace Brett. The selection of Love put an expiration date on the team and Aaron, an expiration date that I always sensed was 2022.
Aaron does not want the Packers to “use him” another year before discarding him for the younger option. But, in my opinion, he would allow that for this deal.
Schedule Release: RIP 16 games
The NFL schedule release, which I deem the “reading of the games” followed the NFL draft, which I deemed the “reading of the names.” NFL fans are starving for content in the longest offseason of all major sports, and this feeds the beast.
My overriding thought with this schedule release is that it is the first one ever to feature 17, not 16, games. It is an important reminder that the NFLPA gave away the precious inventory of an additional game in the 2020 CBA negotiations without, in my opinion, sufficient consideration in return. We have now officially left the NFL modern era of 16 games, and you can count on this: We will never go back. An 18-game season is next, perhaps in the next CBA when the current one expires in a decade.
As for the schedule itself, we heard a lot about Tom Brady’s returning to New England to face the Patriots, so much so that I wondered if he was going to bring his Buccaneer teammates along with him. And the Packers received the maximum number of prime-time games while the Broncos—rumored to be the most likely destination for Rodgers if he were not in Green Bay—received the minimum. I don’t know if the NFL talked to Rodgers’s agents, but I know they talked to the Packers (the league talks to all the teams in making the schedule) and from the information they received, they must expect Aaron back.
As for the league saying the Packers are still a major draw without Aaron? Well, a draw, yes. A major draw? No.
The Reality of Skipping Offseason Workouts: There Will Be Lawyers
I noted above my disappointment for NFL players in giving NFL owners another 6% of work product with a 17th game. Now, watching the NFLPA’s continued advocacy for players staying away in the offseason, I continue to think, If only the NFLPA prioritized fighting an (involuntary) 17th game as much as it prioritizes skipping (voluntary) offseason workouts, the CBA could look a lot differently.
With no adverse effects on quality of play from last year’s Zoom offseason, the union has been pushing for players to stay away this year even as COVID-19 vaccination rates soar. There are a couple of problems with this.
Players injured away from the facility may be placed on the NFI (non-football injury) list, releasing teams from the obligation of paying them for as long as they’re injured. This situation has been playing out in Denver: Tackle Ja’Wuan James suffered a serious injury away from the team facility and was subsequently released, with the Broncos’ keeping his $10 million salary for themselves. So many questions arise from this. Was James injured doing a workout that was prescribed by the Broncos’ strength and conditioning staff? What was James told by the NFLPA about potential consequences of staying away and getting hurt? His tweet at the union about being there for him “on the other side” suggests some communication. As per my Brandtism, there will be (player/union/team/league) lawyers.
The other problem with the union’s advice is that most players—players who are not established veterans or high draft picks—have tenuous job security.
Imagine being a young employee of a business and your boss says to you: “Hey, we’re going to be in here working this weekend; it’s totally voluntary, but if you can make it, great!” Translation: You better be here.
I instituted large workout bonuses when I was with the Packers as a financial bribe to get our better players to spend their offseasons in Green Bay. The rest of the offseason roster, some 60 or so players, would show up every day, workout bonus or not. They did not want to give us a potential reason to cut them; the numbers already dictated that their chances were slim.
Listen, I get what the NFLPA is trying to do here, continuing its longstanding priority to free players from coaches’ grasps in the offseason. Coaches are famous for pushing the envelope when they get time with players. But the NFL has one of the most cutthroat labor situations of any business; roughly 25% of the current labor force will be shed come September. Players know that, agents know that and teams know that. So many players, so few jobs.
The business of sports always wins.
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