Everything you need to know about a possible deal involving Aaron Rodgers is provided here.
When addressing the media on Tuesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst was noncommittal regarding quarterback Aaron Rodgers returning for the 2023 season. He stated that until he speaks with Rodgers, all alternatives are on the table.
“We want what’s best for the Green Bay Packers, and we want what’s best for Aaron,” Gutekunst said. “So, we’ll get to that once those conversations happen.”
Gutekunst disclosed that since a season-ending meeting about two months ago, his only connection with Rodgers has been a few text exchanges.
Rodgers went on a four-day nighttime retreat last week to consider if he wants to retire, return to the Packers, or seek a trade. During an interview on the Marcus Aubrey Podcast, he reaffirmed that he would not hold the Packers, hostage, by delaying his decision. Ideally, the Packers will know Rodgers’ plans before free agency opens on March 15.
Retirement, according to conventional thinking, is the least likely option because Rodgers would be foregoing a fully guaranteed $59.465 million. If he were in the same Hall of Fame class as Tom Brady, who recently retired, he would be overshadowed.
The contract Rodgers
Rodgers became the NFL’s first player to earn $50 million per year when he elected to stay with the Packers rather than try to force a trade last March. The contract is usually estimated to be worth $150.815 million over three years, with two extra below-market years (2025 and 2026) included.
With Rodgers, the Packers adopted one of the NFL’s most complicated deal structures. The transaction features the uncommon double-option bonus structure.
Rodgers’ starting pay in 2023 is a fully guaranteed $59.465 million. A $58.3 million payment is necessary to exercise a $20.9 million option for Rodgers’ 2025 contract year, which reduces his 2023 basic salary to a fully guaranteed $1.165 million. Rodgers will be paid $59.515 million in 2023. This option can be exercised from the first day of the 2023 league year (March 15) until a day before Green Bay’s first 2023 regular season game in September.
The assumption is that option years will be picked up in terms of the wage caps. Options bonuses are prorated over the duration of a contract, including option years, beginning in the league year in which the option is exercised. This means that the $58.3 million option bonus is prorated based on the salary ceiling of $14.575 million per year from 2023 to 2026.
Rodgers is banking on Green Bay’s salary cap of $31,623,570 in 2023. His cap figure includes $8.16 million in proration from his fully guaranteed $40.8 million 2022 roster bonus, $14.575 million in option bonus proration, a $1.165 million basic salary reduction, a $50,000 workout bonus, and $7,673,570 in pre-existing-bonus-proration-from-previous-Packers-contracts.
The contract’s second option period expires in 2024. Rodgers signed for a basic salary of $49.25 million in 2024, which was guaranteed for injury. This $49.25 million becomes completely guaranteed on February 16, 2024, the fifth day of the 2024 waiver season (five days after Super Bowl LVIII). A $47 million payment is necessary to exercise a $15.05 million option for Rodgers’ 2026 contract year, which reduces his 2024 basic salary to a fully guaranteed $2.25 million. The window for exercising this option is from the start of the 2024 league year to the day before Green Bay’s first regular season game in 2024.
Because options are expected to be exercised, the $47 million is currently prorated on the cap at $15,666,666, $15,666,668, and $15,666,668 for 2024, 2025, and 2026. Rodgers’ cap numbers for 2024, 2025, and 2026 are $40,701,666, $59,301,666, and $53,451,668, respectively.
The best time for the Packers to move Rodgers in terms of salary cap is after June 1. By waiting until June 2, the bonus proration from Rodgers’ contract years 2024-2026 would not be accelerated onto Green Bay’s 2023 salary cap. It would be a cap charge in 2024.
The Packers would gain $15.79 million in cap space as a result. The bonus proration linked to Rodgers’ 2023 contract year would result in $15,833,570 in dead money, which is a salary cap charge for a player who is no longer on a team’s roster. The incentive proration from 2024 to 2026 would result in $24.48 million in dead money in 2024.
The acquiring team will want a trade to happen as soon as possible so Rodgers can get acclimated to a new offense and create chemistry with his wide receivers. Trades for a starting quarterback are common before the NFL draft, which takes place April 27-29 this year.
Green Bay’s salary cap charges for Rodgers will rise by $8.69 million if he is traded before the draft. There would be $40,313,570 in dead money, which would be made up of $32.640 million in roster bonus proration and the $7,673,570 in 2023 bonus proration that existed before to Rodgers’ new contract. Beginning in 2025, he would be removed from Green Bay’s roster.
Trade compensation for an older quarterback
Since the current NFL free agency system was adopted in 1993, just a few starting quarterbacks beyond the age of 35 have been moved.
The most obvious parallel is to Brett Favre, who was Green Bay’s starting quarterback before Rodgers. In August 2008, the Packers traded Favre, who was 38 at the time, to the Jets for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2009. The Packers received a third-round pick in 2009 because Favre’s offensive playtime during the 2008 season exceeded 50%; 70% or more playtime with the Jets making the playoffs would have resulted in a second-round pick instead. Green Bay might have gotten a first-round pick if Favre played 80% of the time and the Jets won the Super Bowl.
There was also a poison pill. If Favre was later dealt to the Vikings (an NFC North opponent), the Jets would have had to send the Packers three first-round draft picks. Favre was only with the Jets for one season. Following his second retirement, following the 2008 season, the Jets abandoned his rights by releasing him. This paved the way for Favre to reconsider and play his final two NFL seasons with the Vikings.
Joe Montana is the most accomplished elder quarterback to be moved. In April 1993, the 49ers traded Montana, safety David Whitmore, and a 1994 third round pick to the Chiefs in exchange for a 1993 first round pick (18th overall). Montana backed up Steve Young in 1992 after missing the entire 1991 season due to an elbow ailment.
In the transaction, the 49ers initially requested first, second, and third round picks. Montana left the Chiefs after two seasons.
Warren Moon, 37, was traded from the Oilers (now Titans) to the Vikings in April 1994 for a fourth-round pick in 1994 and a third-round pick in 1995. The Hall of Famer was a Vikings player for three seasons.
Matt Ryan is the most recent older quarterback data point. Last March, the Colts acquired Ryan from the Falcons in exchange for a 2022 third-round pick. After 14 years in Atlanta, Ryan thought a fresh start was in order after the Falcons failed to replace him in their pursuit of Deshaun Watson. Because of his dismal play last season, the Colts are anticipated to release Ryan before the start of the 2023 league year on March 15.
Rodgers’ market value
Rodgers, 39, is making his career a year-to-year commitment, and his contract complicates a trade. These two criteria, as well as Rodgers’ age, will have a bearing on the trade compensation.
According to NBC Sports’ Peter King, the Packers will seek two first-round picks in exchange for Rodgers in a deal. To get that kind of return or more, the Packers definitely needed to trade Rodgers last year, when he was coming off back-to-back NFL MVP honors.
Rodgers had a disappointing 2022 season. His 12 interceptions were his most since becoming a starter in 2008. Rodgers threw 13 interceptions during the 2019 and 2021 seasons. His passer rating of 91.1 was the lowest of his career. Rodgers’ 217.4 passing yards per game were a lifetime low as well.
There were several mitigating circumstances. Rodgers missed much of the season due to a fractured thumb on his throwing hand, and he also had a rib ailment near the end. Rookie wide receivers had growing pains as they adjusted to the loss of Davante Adams, his favorite target, in a trade to the Raiders.
Regardless, Rodgers’ trade value should be higher than that of the other older quarterbacks. Rodgers is definitely better than some of his 2022 statistics show, but he’s not quite the player he was in his last two MVP seasons.
If Rodgers is sold in a timely manner, the low end of his trade value should be a 2023 second round selection. The high end would be a 2023 first-round pick with a conditional 2024 second-round pick that may become a first-round pick based on Rodgers’ or the team’s performance in 2023 and whether he commits to playing in 2024.
Before parting with major assets to get Rodgers, a team should seek assurances from him that he will play at least two seasons. Otherwise, for $59.515 million, he’s merely a very costly one-year rental.
Gutekunst’s comments to the media on backup quarterback Jordan Love raised some eyebrows.
“We’re excited about him,” Gutekunst added. “I believe I’ve told a lot of people that he needs to play. That is the next step in his development. He must participate. Jordan has done an excellent job of working hard, so he is accomplishing everything we want.
Potential suitors may see Gutekunst’s comments as Green Bay being content to move on from Rodgers and not pushing the hardest deal in trade. It’s also not shocking that Green Bay would like to trade Rodgers to an AFC team. Reducing the amount of trade partners may also have an impact on what Green Bay can acquire in exchange for him. Although Rodgers’ contract does not have a no-trade clause, the Packers will not trade him to a team he does not want to be with.
As a general manager, I’d be willing to part with a 2023 second-round pick and a conditional 2024 second-round pick for Rodgers. If Rodgers plays at least 80% of offensive snaps during the regular season and the team wins a wild card playoff game or advances to the divisional playoff round, the 2024 pick may become a first-round pick. In exchange, I would like the Packers to give me a conditional 2025 second round pick that will be nullified if Rodgers returns for a second season in 2024.
The consequences of the salary cap for the acquiring team
Regardless matter when a deal occurs, the Packers will not exercise their 2023 option. Choosing to exercise the option before making a trade would add $59.465 million to Green Bay’s dead money, bringing the total to $99,778,570.
The acquiring team would assume the rest of Rodgers’ contract, including the opportunity to execute the 2023 and 2024 option years. Rodgers would technically be under contract until 2026, but just for two years worth $108.815 million unless the two below-market wages in 2025 and 2026 are altered.
Rodgers would have a $15.79 million cap hit in 2023, which would include the $14.575 million option proration bonus, his $1.165 million annual salary, plus a $50,000 workout bonus. Rodgers’ cap numbers for 2024, 2025, and 2026 would be $32,541,666, $51,141,166, and $45,291,668.
Rodgers’ 2023 cap charge would almost certainly be exercised because failing to do so would result in a $59.515 million cap hit. With the exception of the Bears and Falcons, a $59.515 million cap figure for Rodgers is not conceivable for NFL teams.
If Rodgers retired in 2024, the acquiring team would have to deal with $43.725 million in dead money related to the 2024 through 2026 proration of the $58.3 million option bonus. Because of the $47 million 2024 option bonus payout, Rodgers’ dead money rises to $60,483,334 when he retires in 2025. The $60,483,334 would be made up of $29.15 million in bonus proration for 2025 and 2026 from the first option and $31,333,334 from the second option for 2025 and 2026 bonus proration.
Green Bay’s best chance of getting a king’s ransom for Rodgers would be a quarterback-needy team with a playoff-ready defense that believes he is the missing piece to a championship contender. The Jets are the finest fit for this role. The hiring of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett should make the Jets an appealing option for Rodgers. Hackett served as Rodgers’ offensive coordinator in Green Bay for three years (2019-2021) before taking over as head coach of the Broncos in January 2022. Owner Woody Johnson’s intervention may be the perfect storm for the Packers to obtain the Jets’ 2023 first-round pick (13th overall), a conditional 2024 second-round pick that could become a first-round pick, additional draft money, and/or a couple of players.