One of the most surprising stories of the first slow week of the NFL offseason came courtesy of the 2021 opt-out rules. The agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association gives Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers the ability to sit out all of the coming season, with zero financial obligations to the team for not playing this year.
His $11.5 million in signing bonus allocation for this year would not be subject to forfeiture. His $6.8 million roster bonus, earned in March, most likely would still be paid out weekly during the regular season — putting him in a much better position than many of the players who are actually playing. Then, after the season, he’d presumably be traded.
The problem, as one source with knowledge of the dynamics explained it, is this: With a deadline of July 2 and with the decision irrevocable, Rodgers won’t be ready to give up on playing this year in just five days.
So what of the fact that, if he eventually chooses to stay away, he potentially loses $18.3 million, a number that bumps to $20.3 million when factoring in the daily fines for skipping training camp? As the source explained it, there’s confidence that Rodgers will be able to avoid playing without ever having to pay back any money to the Packers.
Although the training-camp fines are not waivable, the Packers wouldn’t be able to easily remove those amounts from his game checks, if he never gets another one. And while the $6.8 million roster bonus payments will be due to Rodgers on a weekly basis, they won’t pay that money if he’s not there.
Ultimately, the question is whether the Packers would get the $11.5 million signing bonus allocation and/or the $2 million in fines. Again, there’s confidence that Rodgers never will be forced to write a check back to the Packers.
One potential strategy comes from the possibility of a retirement due to a football injury. The thinking is that a pre-camp retirement would extinguish all rights that the Packers would have to any type of fine or forfeiture, and that it would even still leave the team on the hook for the $6.8 million roster bonus. As the source put it, it would be very easy for a 16-year veteran who has had multiple surgeries to retire citing an accumulation of wear and tear from playing the game. Then, come 2022, he could just unretire, explaining that the year off has left him feeling rejuvenated, healthy, etc.
All that said, Rodgers has done nothing to set up a potential “I’m just too banged up” excuse. It would be easy for him to pepper that mindset through his scant media appearances. The closest he’s come to doing that happened during the interview for the upcoming golf match with Tom Brady, Phil Mickelson, and Bryson DeChambeau, when Rodgers joked with Mickelson that the quarterback wants to intimidate the golfer with impressive calf muscles, but that one of Rodgers’ calf muscles no longer looks so impressive after the injuries to it.
Then there’s this simple fact: None of this is about the money for Rodgers. If he doesn’t want to play, he’s not going to play. If that comes with a seven- or eight-figure expense, so be it.
Bottom line? The thinking is that the opt out deadline comes too quickly, and that it’s consequences are too permanent, for Rodgers to go that route in 2021. Thus, the beautiful mystery will continue until late July at the earliest, when Rodgers does or doesn’t show up for training camp — and when he possibly retires for a season before unretiring in after it.