GREEN BAY, Wis. – With veterans due to report to training camp in exactly one week, the plot has thickened between disgruntled quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
According to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter, the Packers offered Rodgers a two-year contract extension this offseason that would have tied him to Green Bay for five more seasons and made him the highest-paid player in the NFL.
Rodgers turned down the offer. As Schefter put it, that’s proof Rodgers’ stance is “not about the money.”
Since the extension would have been tacked onto his current deal, the two additional years would have had to been worth in excess of $45 million annually to make Rodgers the highest-paid player. Of course, as noted by Jason Fitzgerald from OverTheCap.com, the devil is always in the details. How much of that money would have been guaranteed – meaning it really would have tied Rodgers to Green Bay for the long haul – and how much of it would have been base salary that could have been neatly wiped off the books, no different than Rodgers' base salaries of $25 million in 2022 and 2023?
Rodgers has said little about the situation. During an interview on Kenny Mayne’s final SportsCenter, he said his problem was with team management.
“Look, it’s never been about picking Jordan,” Rodgers said, referencing last year’s first-round pick, quarterback Jordan Love. “I love Jordan; he’s a great kid. [We’ve had] a lot of fun to work together. I love the coaching staff, love my teammates, love the fan base in Green Bay. An incredible 16 years. It’s just about a philosophy and maybe forgetting that it is about the people that make the thing go. It’s about character, it’s about culture, it’s about doing things the right way.”
Rodgers’ future was put on the clock the moment general manager Brian Gutekunst moved up to take Love in the first round in 2020. At that point, the obvious point of departure between team and legendary quarterback would be between the 2021 and 2022 seasons. That’s when the Packers would reap major salary-cap savings – $22.65 million in 2022 and $25.5 million in 2023 – while getting Love the playing time necessary in 2022 for the team to make an informed decision on triggering a lucrative fifth-year option before the 2023 season.
Rodgers turned that thinking on its head by winning his third MVP with a turn-back-the-clock season for the ages. Rodgers led the NFL in completion percentage, touchdown percentage and interception percentage. The “Percentage Triple Crown” had been done only once in the Super Bowl era, when Steve Young did it in 1992. Prior to that, the last quarterback to do so was Sammy Baugh with Washington in 1940.
Despite his brilliance, Rodgers sensed his future was a “beautiful mystery.” During his postgame Zoom following a bitter loss to Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game, Rodgers discussed his “uncertain” future with the team. When he thanked reporters at the end of his media session, it seemed like an acknowledgment that he might have played his last game with the team that drafted him in 2005.
“A lot of this was put in motion last year, and the wrench was thrown into it when I won MVP and played the way I played last year,” Rodgers told Mayne. “This is just a spill-out of all that.”
Now the mystery – and it’s certainly not a beautiful one – is how this saga is going to end. Time is running short.
Veterans will report to training camp on July 27, with the first practice on July 28. At that point, Rodgers will be fined $50,000 per day. Those are mandatory fines from the NFL and can’t be simply swept under the rug to be forgotten. Rodgers bypassed one escape hatch when he chose not to opt out of the upcoming season. A couple days later, Proactive Sports Performance posted a photo of Rodgers working out with several other players.
So, clearly, Rodgers intends to play in 2021. Will it be in Green Bay? Rodgers could demand a trade, obviously, but the Packers don’t have to comply. Will the team give in to a trade-or-retire scenario? Will Rodgers give in and make the best of the upcoming season, knowing that he’ll get his wish in 2022? Or, as unlikely as it might seem, can the fences be mended to such an extent that Rodgers, unlike predecessor Brett Favre, can happily finish his career in Green Bay?
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