Mailbag: What Can the Packers Do to Satisfy Aaron Rodgers?

Bringing in the superstar receiver everyone knows is on the trading block would be a good start. Plus, could the Dolphins make a play for Rodgers, how many games will the Jets win and how many MVPs are in Trevor Lawrence's future?
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Writing this week’s mailbag means taking a risk that a Julio Jones trade will go through and blow the whole thing up. So if this is outdated by the time you read it, I apologize …

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From Ryan Glasspiegel (@sportsrapport): Short of firing Brian Gutekunst, what could the Packers do now to satisfy Aaron Rodgers?

Ryan! I think the root of the issue with Rodgers is twofold—the communication around the selection of Jordan Love a year ago, and the lack of urgency in team-building this offseason. And it’d be hard for the team to change the way it does business now, given that it’s June.

That said, there is an opportunity there for the Packers now in the Falcons’ putting Julio Jones on the block, and that one would force Green Bay to really show Rodgers that it’s going all in on him and the short window he has left to win a title. That’s because the Packers have only $6.657 million in cap space, which isn’t nearly enough to fit in Jones. Which means Green Bay would be showing a willingness to go get an aging star like Jones and the capacity to mortgage the future to do it.

Now, it wouldn’t be that hard to clear space. In fact, I can do it right now. The Packers can unilaterally restructure Rodgers’s deal, converting $13.625 million of his $14.7 million base into a signing bonus, which would clear about $9.1 million in space. Then, extend Davante Adams, and get his $16.79 million base down to around $10 million, and now you’re at a little more than $20 million in pace to add Jones and sign first-round corner Eric Stokes.

Would it hurt down the line? Sure it would, especially since they already redid deals for David Bakhtiari, Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. And that they’ll eventually have to pay the piper is a real consideration. But really, the Packers can work through that and kick the can a couple of years down the road to put a better team on the field now. The upshot resulting, then, would be showing Rodgers they’re not more worried about what the team might look like around Jordan Love in 2024 than they are over what it looks like around him now.

(One real concern I would have that should be added here is staying in position to keep rising young players like Jaire Alexander and Elgton Jenkins.)

From Joey Zakrzewski (@joey_zakrzewski): If a team could convert some or all of Julio Jones’s salary in 2021 into a signing bonus to spread out the cap hit, then why can’t the Falcons do so as well?

Joey, Atlanta could do that in theory, yes. They’d take his $15.3 million base down to $1.075 million, by converting $14.225 into a signing bonus. From there, they’d save $9.48 million in cap space. And that’s great. He’s on the team. But they’d only be making the book-busting issue they already have with him worse.

If Atlanta hangs on to Jones as is, he’d carry a $23.05 million number in 2021, and cutting him after this year would carry a $15.5 million dead-money charge in ’22. If they work in the aforementioned simple restructure instead, then his cap number for ’21 is $13.57 million, but the dead money they’d have to deal with for cutting him (or trading him) after the ’21 season would be $24.98 million, a figure that’s 12% of next year’s cap ceiling. Again, that would be the charge for not having him on the team in ’22.

The reality here is the Falcons aren’t the Packers. I think Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot are going to do a good job, and can get the team competitive quickly, but this is a franchise that missed the playoffs the last three years, and has either stayed the same or gotten worse in each season since making it to the Super Bowl in February 2017. Which, to me, means that this isn’t the time to go all in on a 32-year-old star who doesn’t want to be there anymore in the first place.

What Smith and Fontenot are doing now with Jones? It’s honestly what’s best for everyone.

From KWC (@WestrayKnight): Are the Miami Dolphins a realistic destination for Aaron Rodgers? Would they try to entice him by acquiring Julio Jones for him too?

KWC, the Dolphins are interesting just in that they were among the first teams (along with the Patriots and Raiders) that I heard connected to Jones. But that was before the draft. I haven’t heard anything since then on Miami acquiring him, and with DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller and Preston Williams dotting the depth chart, and the team still very young across the board. I’m not sure the need for the Dolphins to extend themselves is there.

As for the quarterback question, I’m not going to rule anything out, though Deshaun Watson seems a more probable eventual target than Aaron Rodgers. The great thing about where Chris Grier and Brian Flores have Miami is that the roster’s chock-full of ascending players, has a 22-year-old quarterback and the brass has retained the ability to make a splash by continually keeping the war chest filled with draft capital (three first-round picks in the next two years).

Maybe Tua Tagovailoa’s on the verge of making the leap. Maybe he isn’t. Either way, the Dolphins have the flexibility to keep building around him or to replace him, and that’s a credit to how Grier and Flores have managed their assets.

From Shedrick Carter (@shedrickcarter2): What do you think Atlanta realistically gets for Julio Jones? I honestly think they probably get a young player still on a rookie deal and a second.

Shedrick, I’ve thought for a while the price would probably be a second-rounder, and in Monday morning’s column, we actually tried to bring a little context to why the Falcons haven’t been able to get a first. In short, it comes down to finances, injuries and age, and really age first and then how the other two factors relate to it.

The simple way to explain it is another team isn’t going to package a return for the Falcons as a career achievement award for Jones. The only responsible way for such a team to approach any trade, and especially one involving an aging player, is by looking forward, not looking back. Jones turned 32 in February, has managed foot and knee issues for years, missed seven games last year with a hamstring injury and has a lot of mileage on his legs.

That dynamic is why, of the 11 veterans traded for first-round picks over the last 40 months (and that number signifies a major uptick as blockbuster trades have become more common), one was 22 at the time of the deal, four were 24, two were 25, three were 26 and one was 27. And if you go back more than a decade to the start of the 2011 CBA, the oldest non-QB dealt for a first-rounder was Jimmy Graham, who was 28 at the time of his ’15 trade to Seattle.

In fact, the trade most analogous, to me, to the looming one for Jones would probably be another deal involving the Falcons—back in 2009, when they dealt for Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. The Chiefs sent Gonzalez to Atlanta at 33 years old for, you guessed it, a second-round pick.

So that should explain why the trade will likely come down in that neighborhood, and I’ll say that with the caveat that sometimes things getting competitive can drive the market up a little. I got a reminder of that from an exec the other day: “Teams love posturing before deadlines about what they won’t do, and then can’t control themselves [when the deadline comes].”

From Narendra Choudhary (@9527Narendra): Albert, is it true that the NFL's planning Germany games? Any chance we can get games in India?

Narenda, yes, the NFL’s long wanted to get back to Germany, but this is the closest it’s been to putting football there since disbanding NFL Europe. And frankly, it really does feel like the NFL is late in getting back. For the last three years of that league (2005 to ’07), five of the circuit’s six teams were hubbed in Germany, which reflects how much more successful it was there than in places like England and Spain.

In fact, in presenting a new International Series model at the owners’ meetings in March, the league office set a baseline of four games per year outside the U.S., with at least two in the U.K., one in Mexico and one in Germany (likely Munich or Berlin). The wheels are in motion to make it happen next year, provided conditions with the pandemic allow for it, and the idea of having the Germany game coincide with Oktoberfest has been broached. (If the higher-ups are reading, I officially volunteer my services to make that trip now.)

As for India, I think we’re a ways off. Canada and Brazil are next in line behind Germany, as it stands now. After that, I’d say if the league is looking to venture off the continent again, my guess would be China and Australia would be ahead of India. NFL chief strategy officer Chris Halpin explained it like this to me in early April: “We have really good activation in Australia. Our sports betting partnership, for example, works great. We’ve got great media partners also across Asia. So yeah, I’d say I’d say for Asia Pacific, it’s going to be media, digital engagement.”

And for the foreseeable future, it won’t be games. But the good news is, as Halpin said, the NFL’s going to try to find ways to make the game easier to find over there.

From AcTN (@JLforemanjrAcTN): Do you think the Bengals have a chance to actually be a playoff team again?

AcTN, I think a few things have to go right in Cincinnati to make the playoffs a realistic goal in Zac Taylor’s third year in charge. Among them …

• Joe Burrow’s comeback from reconstructive knee surgery has to keep moving as it has the last seven months, which would put him on pace to participate in camp and start Week 1.

• Tackle Riley Reiff’s going to have to come through for the Bengals at 32, and Jackson Carman’s transition from college left tackle to pro guard will have to be smooth.

• Coming off a year off, Ja’Marr Chase will need to be the No. 1 receiver he was at LSU, which the Bengals had missed with A.J. Green’s decline. (Good sign: Justin Jefferson’s rookie year showed the learning curve coming from Joe Brady’s offense in Baton Rouge is manageable.)

• The offseason trade outs at corner (Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton for William Jackson) and edge rusher (Trey Hendrickson for Carl Lawson) need to work out.

• And 2020 free-agent additions D.J. Reader, Trae Waynes and Vonn Bell need to ball out.

Now, as I see it, the idea of any one of those things happening is reasonable. All of them at once? Then the Bengals will really have something.

From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk): Is Mike Mayock on the hot seat in Las Vegas?

Tom, there were a ton of rumors about Mayock’s future with the Raiders before the draft, but I actually don’t think he’s done a bad job in his two years there. The roster has a good amount of ascending young players. The cap was a mess coming into this year, yes, but the Raiders were hardly alone in that spot. No one could’ve predicted what has hit us over the last 15 months.

All of that said, I do think everyone in Vegas has to be on alert this year with Jon Gruden’s fourth back with the Raiders. It’s rare that a coach makes it through four years without getting to the playoffs and is granted a fifth. In fact, there isn’t a head coach in the NFL right now other than Gruden who started his time with his team with three consecutive playoff-less seasons.

So it’d seem the time has to be now for Gruden. And if owner Mark Davis, who spent seven years trying to get Gruden out of the ESPN booth, is willing to let Gruden go after this year, then everyone else would need to watch their backs, too.

From Peter Paxhia (@PetePax): How many wins do the Jets have this upcoming year?

Peter, I think six or seven (which means 10 or 11 losses, I have to remind myself) should be a realistic target for a team that’s still in the midst of a roster overhaul. The offensive line should be as good as it’s been in a long time, with Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker as foundation pieces and the front seven looks to be much improved, too, with C.J. Mosley returning, Lawson coming in and Quinnen Williams growing.

That alone should serve to make the Jets competitive on a week-to-week basis.

The trouble is that there’ll be bumps with a rookie quarterback starting, the skill positions are still a work-in-progress and corner’s a bad place to have a weakness, even in Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme (which protects its corners more than most). And that, as I see it, probably means ups and downs early, with the hope that the team finishes strong and carries some momentum into what could be a big 2022 offseason for the franchise.

From RM (@BuckHusky): Have the Steelers actually done anything to address the O-line departures? Why does Ben Roethlisberger think things will improve?

RM, I’d be legitimately worried about the offensive line. Alejandro Villanueva and Maurkice Pouncey are gone, and the Steelers are really leaning on their farm system to replace those guys. I’d feel better about that if Mike Munchak were still around, but he’s been gone for two years now. I don’t think it’s an overreaction to say that one area—even with people focusing so much on the quarterback—could be what makes or breaks Pittsburgh’s season.

And that’s taking nothing away from what Roethlisberger said, because I did think his take on the new system Matt Canada’s installing was interesting. “You’ll see nothing that you’ve seen in the past,” he told the Pittsburgh media.

So where I believe they might lose a little along the line (and this is only if the falloff isn’t precipitous), maybe they’ll make it up with how the offense is designed and called, because I have believed for quite some time that the Steelers felt the loss of Todd Haley as offensive coordinator in a significant way over the last three years.

Jacksonville Jaguars Trevor Lawrence

From Gem stoneBeeYamzCall me hand #DTWD Leopard (@B_Yamz): How many All-Pros, MVPs and Super Bowls will Trevor Lawrence collect through his 20-year career?

Gem, I don’t think what puts Trevor Lawrence in a category with younger versions of John Elway, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck is his ceiling, though it’s really high. I think, it’s more his floor. The same way teams looked at Elway, Manning and Luck and said, at the very least, I’m going to have a top 10 quarterback, that’s the way I think you should look at Lawrence—that he’s going to be really good at baseline, with potential to be great.

And Luck’s star-crossed career gives us the opportunity to look at where the floor is, because so many things wound up going wrong for him in seven years in Indianapolis.

Despite all of it, the injuries, shaky offensive lines, changing play-callers and the organizational discord (then upheaval), Luck found a way to make the Pro Bowl in four of the five full seasons he played as a pro. And he was 20 games over .500 in 86 starts, making it to the playoffs as a rookie, then one round further the next two years, and getting the Colts to the postseason in, again, four of his five full seasons as a starter (he went 8–7 in the other year). Three of those four playoff/Pro Bowl years were his first with a new OC.

So that’s how I see Lawrence. At the very least, even if things don’t go right, I think he’s a Pro Bowl quarterback who’ll get the Jags in contention. And if Urban Meyer & Co. build it right around him? Look out.

From G (@ghalebalsaleh): Lost in the Aaron Rodgers trade rumors is what the heck is going on with Jordan Love. We never saw him last year. What do the Packers think about him in all of this?

G, it’s a good question—and I can tell you going into all this that the Packers didn’t think Jordan Love was ready to roll, making this year markedly different from 2008, when Green Bay stridently moved on from Brett Favre (and even in that year, they took two QBs in the draft, just in case). As I see it, Matt LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst have a loaded roster that’s in a championship window, one quarterback who can get them on that stage, another who’d struggle to, and that’s one reason why they’ve approached this the way they have.

Now, could Love break through in the coming months? Sure.

But this isn’t Rodgers in 2008, or Patrick Mahomes going into ’18. You heard during the ’20 draft that Love would probably need two years of development to be really ready. My sense is that’s holding true.

From Tyler Schmidt (@tyler_schmidt30): How have the Seahawks gone from back-to-back Super Bowl appearances to a team that was receiving trade calls for their star QB?

Tyler, this is simple—they’re receiving trade calls on their quarterback because their quarterback has sent signals that he wants out of there. It doesn’t take much decoding of Russell Wilson’s words to figure that out. And while it’s true that the Seahawks haven’t drafted like they did in the early days of coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, they have been to the playoffs eight of the last nine years, and five of six since last getting to the Super Bowl.

So the Seahawks aren’t broken. But it’s fair to say they aren’t where they were, either.