GREEN BAY, Wis. – With the Green Bay Packers well over the salary cap to enter the offseason, an obvious solution would have been restructuring quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ contract.
In theory, it should have been a win-win proposition. The Packers could have created at least $13.6 million of critical breathing room to handle the COVID-reduced salary cap and possibly add players to a championship-caliber roster, while the “beautiful mystery” that was Rodgers’ future would have been solved to the quarterback’s liking.
Instead, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst skipped a simple roster bonus-to-signing bonus conversion. Then, he renegotiated several other contracts to get beneath the cap. With each contract that was redone, it seemingly became apparent that flexibility at the game’s most important position was to the team’s liking. In 2022, based on the play of Rodgers and the development of Jordan Love, the team could go in one direction or the other.
Sensing his fate was completely out of his hands, despite producing one of the great seasons in NFL history, Rodgers attempted to take control over his future.
“They kind of screwed themselves,” a high-ranking NFL team executive said. “You play with fire, you get burned. He’s smart enough to know they did kind of hedge and basically say, ‘If he’s not playing well this season, we’re going to move on.’ He’s really trying to call their bluff. To them, why should we guarantee beyond 2021? But look at the situation. Because they didn’t do that, understanding who they’re dealing with, now they’re in a situation where the dude might not show up.”
A restructured contract presumably would have kept the Packers out of the predicament they’re in now, with organized team activities starting next week and the reigning MVP unlikely to be on the practice field.
The executive would have given Rodgers the restructured deal. His reason, however, goes beyond conventional wisdom. Given the importance of the position, Rodgers would be tradeable at almost any price. So, if Love made such a big jump in play this summer that the organization felt confident it would keep winning with him replacing Rodgers in 2022, the Packers could have still made the move next offseason.
“Denver’s so desperate for a quarterback, they don’t care about paying him $30 million guaranteed a year because they need a quarterback,” he said. “A quarterback’s contract is never not tradable unless they’re awful, especially a guy like Aaron.”
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It would be costly cap-wise, to be sure, but the cache of draft picks could be used on a makeover of the roster.
That’s neither here nor there at this point, though. Rodgers’ deal wasn’t restructured and, because of it, the two sides appear to be at a standstill. Rodgers reportedly wants out of Green Bay while Gutekunst, coach Matt LaFleur and team President Mark Murphy have made it clear they want him in 2021 and “beyond.”
The executive, who has general manager aspirations, has thought through how he’d handle the crisis.
“If you get to the point where he’s like, ‘Listen, I’m not coming in regardless. I don’t care what you do. You guys can fire everyone. I just don’t want to be there. I’m not showing up.’ If it gets to that point that the guy doesn’t want to be there, I’m of the mind-set that if you don’t want to be there, OK, we’ll move on,” he said.
“It’s extremely different when you’re talking about your franchise quarterback. That’s what makes this unique. In any other case, if he really pushes, there’s a breaking point where, ‘If you don’t want to be a part of what we’re doing, maybe it just isn’t a good fit.’ The tough part for Gutey is, regardless of what Mark Murphy or any of the people he reports to says, I don’t know if he’ll ever truly have a commitment from the entire group. You need a fully committed organization to say, ‘We’re moving on from Aaron. These are the ramifications, short term and long term, and we’re willing to do this for the health of the organization.’ If he moves on, they’re going to suck – or definitely not be as good unless he quickly pivots and brings in a competent vet from somewhere else. If that’s the case, they’re not going to be good and he’s probably going to get fired. So, that’s what makes this a little tough to move on, which probably forces him to dig his heels in and make Aaron show up.”
Of course, Rodgers doesn’t have to show up. He could threaten to retire, in which case the Packers not only wouldn’t have their quarterback but they wouldn’t get a blockbuster batch of picks and/or players via a trade.
So, in the end, who will blink first?
“This is like the realest game of poker,” the executive said. “He’s all in and he’s trying to make you go all in. You’re either going to push all your chips in and say, ‘I’m all in’ and see if you call his bluff. Based on what I know, I would dig in and make him show up.”