In January, the Packers learned the hard way that a team with a great running game will beat a team with an all-time great quarterback in a single-elimination setting. So instead of using their first three picks to bolster the run defense or to give their all-time great quarterback more help in the passing game, Green Bay’s approach is, essentially, “If you can’t beat ’em, copy ’em.”
The commitment to bolstering the run game, evident in rounds two and three of the draft, has left Aaron Rodgers with no immediate assistance when it comes to either helping him do his job better or giving him a chance to do his job at all. When dealing with their brilliant, cerebral, and strategic Cal quarterback, the Packers surely are smart enough to know what they’re doing. But what they’re doing is, essentially, standing under a nest of hornets with a stick and repeatedly poking.
Tackle David Bakhtiari provided a warning as to what was coming after Thursday night’s selection of quarterback Jordan Love via the 30th overall pick and the fourth-round pick used to jump up a few spots.
“Let me tell y’all something right now: Look out!” Bakhtiari said during the NFL’s Draft-A-Thon live stream. “Aaron is about to be on fire.”
Bakhtiari explained that the anger would become motivation for Rodgers.
“He’s already great when he is just chill,” Bakhtiari said. “But when I’ve seen him when he gets riled up. . . . Woooo! Getting my hair raised up right now, thinking about this.”
That was before rounds two and three, when the Packers made a long-term investment not in passing the ball but running it. And with no fourth-round pick (thanks to the Love trade), the Packers are left with a fifth-rounder, three sixth-rounders, and two seventh-round selections. And, as a result, Rodgers may be even more upset after Friday night than he was after Thursday night.
Again, that’s possibly precisely what the Packers want. They knew how to get Brett Favre to retire in 2008 (i.e., ask him for a firm decision in February, when they knew he’d be inclined to walk away), and they know (or at least believe they know) how to get Rodgers to be the one to ask for a divorce.
So when will it all come to a head? Every team has a clear-cut starting quarterback and/or a rookie to groom for the job in 2020. But several teams certainly would consider tearing up their current plans if they could land Aaron Rodgers now. The Patriots, obviously. The Raiders, definitely. Washington, most likely. The Jets, Chargers, Dolphins, and Jaguars, possibly.
Other teams would be left to think about what may have been if they’d only known there was a chance to try to shake Rodgers free from the land of beef and cheese. The Colts surely would have preferred Rodgers to Philip Rivers. The 49ers, who considered signing Tom Brady and throwing Jimmy Garoppolo overboard, surely would have done more than consider Rodgers. The Buccaneers would have been better off with Rodgers over Brady. The Saints may have been a little more willing to nudge Drew Brees into a broadcast booth.
But a trade for Rodgers would not be easy to accomplish, from a cap standpoint. Trading Rodgers now would trigger a $45.9 million cap charge. However, waiting until after June 1 (which isn’t very far off, especially with no offseason program) would result in only $14.352 million hitting the cap in 2020. The remaining $31.548 million would land on the salary cap in 2021.
As the cap pushes past $200 million, that’s a lot of dead money to carry in 2021. If/when the cap shrinks next year due to the pandemic, that becomes an even bigger pill to swallow.
The more likely reality is that the Packers will try to hold it all together with Rodgers for another two seasons. Come 2022, the cap hit would be only $17.204 million. The bigger question is whether they’ll be able to keep Rodgers from agitating for a trade, privately or publicly, before the end of the 2021 season. If so, the Packers may learn that there are worse things than taking a major cap charge.