GREEN BAY, Wis. – Money talks. And when it doesn’t, the silence is deafening.
In news that will dwarf any addition the Green Bay Packers will make in the first round of tonight’s NFL Draft, sources told ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter that quarterback Aaron Rodgers does not want to return to the team that he’s led for the last 13 seasons.
The genesis, of course, came almost exactly 12 months ago. With a chance to add a key piece to a roster that was coming off a surprise run to the NFC Championship Game, general manager Brian Gutekunst looked to the future by drafting quarterback Jordan Love rather than selecting a potential instant-impact player.
At that point, Rodgers knew his future was out of his control.
“What I can control is how I play and making that decision at some point a very hard one,” he said a few weeks after the draft. “You know, if I were to retire in the organization’s timetable, then it’s an easy decision. But if there comes a time where I feel like I can still play at a high level and my body feels great, you know, then there’s other guys that have gone on and played elsewhere.”
After a couple subpar seasons, Rodgers returned to an elite level last year. He led the NFL in passer rating and touchdown passes en route to winning his third MVP. In 16 regular-season games, he had a passer rating of at least 107 in 14. By revamping his style to mesh with coach Matt LaFleur’s system, Rodgers joined Steve Young as the only quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era and Young and Sammy Baugh as the only quarterbacks since at least 1940 to win the “Percentage Triple Crown” of touchdown percentage, interception percentage and completion percentage.
For all his brilliance, Rodgers’ future with the team was just as murky as it was the moment Love was selected. After the loss to Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game, Rodgers felt “gutted.” There was a realization, as unfathomable as it seemed, that he might have played his last game for the team that drafted him in 2005 and put its faith in him in 2008. There was no other way to construe his thanking of reporters.
“A lot of guys’ futures that are uncertain – myself included,” he said.
In the aftermath, LaFleur and Gutekunst said all the right things. But words are one thing. Action is quite another.
Having watched the Buccaneers build an instant championship team around Tom Brady, Rodgers wanted a similar commitment from the Packers this offseason.
With the team well over the salary cap, tending to Rodgers’ contract should have been a win-win. With a max restructure and the addition of a couple of void years, which the Packers added to other contracts this offseason, they could have created more than $16 million of badly needed cap relief. That would have been a big win for a team. That cap relief would have been done via converting base salary and a roster bonus into signing bonus, which would have pro-rated over the life of Rodgers’ contract. That would have given Rodgers security via the salary cap.
Remember, from the moment Love was drafted, the financially logical point of division would have been after the 2021 season. By releasing or trading Rodgers next offseason, they’d have to swallow $17.2 million of dead money on the salary cap in return for creating $22.6 million of cap space. At the same time, handing the offense to Love in 2022 would have given the team a full season to decide whether it should flip the switch on Love’s lucrative fifth-year option.
That max restructure would have forced the Packers to choke down $33.5 million of dead money on the 2022 salary cap. That’s an ungodly amount of money, all but guaranteeing Rodgers would remain with the Packers in 2021 and 2022.
That’s what Rodgers wanted. A commitment. A commitment to him and a commitment to building a championship roster. Instead, he got neither. Without Rodgers’ cap money, Gutekunst restructured everyone’s contract under the sun – Rodgers an obvious exception – and managed to re-sign running back Aaron Jones but not make any additions to the roster.
From Rodgers’ perspective, he’s being viewed as Plan B at quarterback – a bizarro outlook for a Hall of Famer coming off an MVP season. The way he sees it, the Packers are waiting to see how Love progresses this summer. If Love struggles through training camp and a preseason, it would be clear he’s not the worthy successor. If Love shows dramatic improvement, maybe he is the worthy successor. Either way, in Rodgers’ mind, the future is totally out of his control. Not even an MVP season could change that dynamic.
Whether he’s right or wrong is irrelevant, a topic for another conversation, another day. If Rodgers feels the team isn’t committed to him, we learned today that he’s no longer committed to the team. Before the championship game, he called his future a “beautiful mystery.” There’s nothing beautiful about where this relationship is headed.