No one would be considering the possibility today that Aaron Rodgers has played his final game in a yellow helmet with a G on each side if he hadn’t veered unprompted into a discussion about his uncertain future after Sunday’s season-ending loss to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Rodgers’ comments were sufficiently striking to cause multiple reporters who have covered the team for a long time to sense something ominous in his words.
It’s easy to dismiss the notion that the Packers would want to move on from Rodgers. They surely didn’t trade up to pick quarterback Jordan Love with the idea of swapping out Rodgers for Love after one season, especially when Rodgers had one of the most brilliant seasons of his career. But what the team wants is one thing; what Rodgers wants is another.
Some in the media are quick to dismiss the notion of Rodgers wanting out, or of Rodgers getting out. Why is that? Are they stuck in an outdated way of thinking about football players and their ability to shape their own destinies? Some in the media simply may not want to be bothered with spending time and effort working on a story that has a good chance of going nowhere, especially if Rodgers decides after taking some time to think things through that he’s all in for another year in Green Bay, and maybe more.
Regardless, Rodgers dropped this possible turd in the offseason punch bowl, not anyone else. It’s up to the rest of us to figure out whether it’s the real thing or a Baby Ruth.
Five days ago, Rodgers described his future as a “beautiful mystery.” The context of those comments suggested that he was acknowledging the possibility that the Packers would choose to make a change, a proposition that seemed at the time and still seems even now to be preposterous. But his comments from Sunday subtly flipped the perspective from franchise to franchise quarterback.
For that reason, his words cannot be ignored.
Still, plenty of fans and too many in the media will plug their ears and rattle off “not listening” over and over again, even though the evidence is currently hiding in plain sight. Some will cherry pick specific aspects of salary-cap concerns in order to shout down the possibility of the Packers trading Rodgers if Rodgers decides, after taking time to think things through, that he’d like to keep playing for a team other than the one that devoted a first-round pick and a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft to his eventual replacement.
As to the cap hit, the chorus of naysayers already are saying that it would cost the Packers more than $31 million to trade Rodgers. First, trading Rodgers costs the Packers nothing; the team would simply take a cap charge from unallocated bonus payments. In Rodgers’ case, past bonus payments already will count for $14.352 million in his 2021 cap number. Trading him before June 1 (more on that in a second) would accelerate $17.204 million into 2021, bumping the total cap charge to $31.556 million.
That’s a lot, to be sure. But Rodgers, with $22.35 million in 2021 compensation, already has a cap number of $37.572 million. Thus, trading him before June 1 (more on that in a second) would actually create a net cap savings of $6.016 million.
Jordan Love, the man drafted in April ostensibly to replace Rodgers, has a cap number of $2.814 million in 2021.
The fact most overlooked by the THIRTY-ONE MILLION CAP HIT! crowd is this: The Packers could keep the cap charge at $14.352 million for 2021 by trading Rodgers after June 1.
Here’s where the naysayers would say that the Packers and Rodgers’ new team would never wait that long to do the deal. But why not? If the Packers would choose to carry $37.572 million under Rodgers’ name from March 17 until June 2 in order to ultimately save $23.22 million in 2021 cap space, a June 2 trade becomes extremely viable. And with the ongoing pandemic likely making the on-field offseason program a nullity for a second straight year, why wouldn’t a team that wants Rodgers agree to do a tentative trade in, for example, March but then agree to delay the execution of the deal until June 2?
Nothing would prevent that. The practice of teams striking tentative trades before the start of the league year has become routine. Reaching a deal with the express understanding that it would become finalized on June 2 would be no different.
And if, in the interim, if Rodgers gets a playbook and participates in Zoom sessions and informally works out with his future teammates, who’s going to complain about that?
None of this is a prediction about what will happen. It’s an effort to understand what could happen, if Rodgers decides after taking some time to think it through that he’s going to walk before the Packers make him run.
He had a front row seat for the team’s effort in early 2008 to get Brett Favre to retire at a time on the calendar when, if pressed for a clear answer, Favre would opt to move on. Rodgers witnessed what happened when Favre decided as football season approached that he wanted to keep playing. Rodgers undoubtedly took mental if not actual notes on how he would choose to navigate his own final days in Green Bay, once he gets the sense that the team is plotting a future without him.
Last April, the Packers made it clear that they are plotting a future without him. Rodgers can either sit back and let their plan play out unchallenged, or he can force the issue.
Again, none of this would be currently relevant if Rodgers hadn’t said what he said on Sunday. Some will say he was speaking extemporaneously or emotionally. Others will say that he’s smart enough to have envisioned the possibility of losing, and adept enough with his brain and his vocal cords to craft a precise message that was delivered not accidentally but intentionally.
So no matter what happens in 2021, it would be stupid and/or naive to watch Rodgers’ press conference from Sunday and to conclude, “He’s just upset about the game. He’ll feel better in a few days.”