By all appearances, the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers have set up shop on the other side of a thick line in the sand, and no one is budging. Unless the two sides reach a compromise (if there was a compromise to be had, it arguably would have already happened), someone will have to blink.
Will it be Rodgers? Based on the world-class grudges he has held in the past, that’s highly unlikely.
Will it be the Packers? There has been no indication that they’ll give in, which obviously could be aimed at maximizing whatever someone else offers for him.
There’s another angle worth considering, and it traces to the fact that the Packers don’t have a traditional owner. If the team had an owner who couldn’t be fired, the owner could/would survive making a mistake in the handling of Rodgers. CEO Mark Murphy is the closest thing the team has to an owner, and he risks eventual accountability based on the manner in which the Rodgers saga unfolds.
The options for the Packers, if Rodgers remains dug in, are to trade him or to let him sit, regardless of the package offered to Green Bay. The choice thus becomes to take the best offer and let Rodgers play elsewhere, or to invite him to retire.
From Murphy’s perspective, only one of those two options opens the door to an alternate reality that possibly gets him fired. If he trades Rodgers and he goes to Denver and wins a Super Bowl or two, that makes the Packers and Murphy looks bad. The Packers and Murphy would end up looking even worse if Rodgers, after two or three years with a team like the Broncos, finagles his way back to the Vikings, Bears, or Lions.
Murphy already has seen this movie. Fortunately for him, it ended without Brett Favre winning a Super Bowl.
This time around, the dynamics are different. The Packers had moved on from Favre. He showed up unannounced to training camp, and the Packers had to decide whether to pay him $12 million to back up Rodgers, to cut him (and let him go straight to Minnesota), or to trade him. The Packers, in contrast, haven’t moved on from Rodgers. Even if Jordan Love becomes the starter to start the 2021 season, they’d immediately pivot back to Rodgers if/when he shows up.
Although they could get much more for Rodgers than the third-round pick they received from the Jets for Favre, they also can get a lot from Rodgers. If he retires, he’ll owe $23 million in unearned signing bonus money. Also, he’d give up the $6.8 million roster bonus he earned earlier this year, and he’d lose his $14.7 million salary for 2021. Throw in the $500,000 workout bonus he’ll forfeit this year, that’s a grand total of $45 million in cash and cap space.
So on one hand, the Packers can trade Rodgers, saving only an extra $14.7 million and getting picks or players for him. On the other hand, they can tell him, “You play for us or you play for no one,” collecting nearly $30 million in cash from Rodgers and freeing up that same amount in cap space.
Here’s the most important factor: If Rodgers retires, Murphy never can be proven wrong. There will be no possible Rodgers Super Bowl win with another team because there will be no other team. And while the Packers also won’t have the draft picks they would have gotten for Rodgers, those potential picks never become names and faces to which Packers fans can point and say, “Wow, that guy would have really helped us.”
Besides, the Packers easily can explain to potentially confused and disgruntled fans and shareholders that the front office created $30 million in cash and cap space by playing hardball with Rodgers. Indeed, if they trade him, whatever they get will be offset by the lost opportunity to capture $30 million in cash and cap space.
That’s why the Packers (and specifically Murphy) should be predisposed to calling Rodgers’ bluff and daring him to retire. If he does, there’s no worst-case scenario to worry about. If he doesn’t, Murphy will spend the next couple of years watching and waiting for an ultra-motivated Rodgers to match and/or to exceed his career output of Super Bowl championships with a new team — while also dreading the possibility that he then would cap his career with a return to the NFC North.
Frankly, it seems like a no-brainer for Murphy. The best message to Rodgers is show up or retire, and if you choose the latter please make the check for 29 million, 800 thousand, and 00/100 dollars payable to Green Bay Packers, Inc.