Are Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers nearing a divorce? That depends on who you ask, but the presumptive 2020 NFL MVP reportedly wants a new contract, if not an entire change of scenery, after a second straight NFC Championship loss. Rodgers has downplayed speculation about his post-game comments, which indicated his future in Green Bay was “uncertain,” and team leadership has insisted the perennial Pro Bowler will be back in 2021. But ever since the team spent a first-round draft pick on his likely successor last April, the writing has been on the wall, and coming from Rodgers’ mouth: A change, at some point, will come.
Can it happen this offseason? It sure can, regardless of what the Packers say. Green Bay would save $5.5 million by trading the legendary signal-caller early in 2021, and as Over The Cap reports, it could save as much as $22 million by trading him after June 1, not to mention an additional $22.6M in 2022 and $28.3M in 2023. That is a lot of dough, especially considering Rodgers’ big deal — and reported desires for a new deal — would seemingly prohibit Green Bay from making a quick switch to Jordan Love.
Where could Rodgers end up, if he actually forces Green Bay’s hand? Here are five of the most likely landing spots:
John Elway just spent a year giving Drew Lock all kinds of new toys, and he’s at times seemed genuinely committed to letting the former second-rounder grow into Denver’s unquestioned leader. Retaining both coach Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur could be taken as another vote of confidence in Lock’s upside.
But Lock stumbled pretty badly throughout 2020 (when he wasn’t injured or on the COVID list), while the rival Kansas City Chiefs roll on and the Los Angeles Chargers showcased a superior hot, young QB. Is it crazy to suggest Elway might be tempted to return to the veteran QB well, not only because it worked with Peyton Manning and because Rodgers would represent a similar gamble, but because Lock never cost Denver a premium price? Green Bay, meanwhile, would keep Rodgers out of the NFC, and Rodgers himself would get Colorado weather.
Derek Carr has managed to endure years of speculation about Jon Gruden’s desire for a new QB, and yet he wasn’t entrenched enough to prevent the team from adding Marcus Mariota as a potential replacement-in-waiting in 2020. Mike Mayock has already praised him for his subsequent performance, but Rodgers is a different breed. And the Raiders can cut Carr and save almost $20 million, almost instantly putting them back under the projected 2021 cap.
Edgar Bennett, who serves on Gruden’s offensive staff, spent 2015-17 as the Packers’ offensive coordinator, and in his first two years at the helm, Rodgers threw 71 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions. Gruden’s track record of QB development — or lack thereof — speaks even more volumes: We talk every year about he and the Raiders potentially eyeing a top rookie signal-caller, but Gruden simply doesn’t draft QBs, and if he does, he doesn’t draft them high. The guy likes vets. And if there’s one vet he could surely convince Mayock to pursue, it’s prime-time darling Rodgers. Talk about jump-starting a new NFL market!
After striking gold on two homegrown prospects in Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, the Colts don’t strike us as a team that wants to be in the business of relying on recycled big names beyond Philip Rivers in 2020. But Rivers is already gone, and Indy isn’t within striking distance of a top QB prospect in the draft. It’s also hard to think fourth-rounder Jacob Eason would stop Chris Ballard from thinking long and hard about a QB of Rodgers’ caliber, were the longtime Packers star on the market.
Built to win now, the Colts are desperate for more of a sure, franchise QB in 2021, two years removed from Luck’s abrupt retirement. And if Frank Reich’s interest was piqued by a reunion with Rivers, well, it’s a safe bet he’d embrace a team-up with Rodgers, who he once declared the Steph Curry of the NFL. (Rodgers at 37 will be on an entirely different level than Rivers at 38.) Few passers would not only sell tickets but get them closer to the promised land.
The Pats have seemingly been content to proceed with uncertainty at QB in the wake of Tom Brady’s departure, and it’s very possible Bill Belichick believes his team will be in position to draft a true successor in 2021. But let’s not kid ourselves: If Rodgers were available, Belichick would have to make a call. He’s got more than enough cap space to play with.
Longtime Packers personnel executive Eliot Wolf, who was in Green Bay when the Pack drafted Rodgers and when Rodgers won both MVP and a Super Bowl, now resides in New England’s front office. And whatever you have to say about the Patriots’ offensive system, does anyone really think Robert Kraft and the entire leadership team wouldn’t jump at the chance to put one over on the rest of the league and go from touting Tom Brady to Aaron Rodgers in a matter of a few years? Instantly, they’d win back title-favorite support. Rodgers would get a chance to pick up the mantle of a dynasty. And the rest of the football world would swimmingly go back to rooting against the Patriots.
Niners management tepidly says they believe in Jimmy Garoppolo, who’s just a year removed from starting in the Super Bowl. But they didn’t believe in him enough to not in 2020, and this offseason they’ve doubled down on the possibility of pursuing an upgrade. San Francisco can straight-up cut Jimmy G and instantly save more than $24 million, with only a $2.8M dead cap hit, and that’s assuming they can’t find a taker on the trade market. In other words, if Kyle Shanahan wants a new, flashy QB, John Lynch can make it happen, and it won’t wreck the team’s finances.
Better yet, Rodgers and San Francisco are darn near a match made in heaven. The staff connections aren’t overt, but Rodgers, remember, grew up less than three hours from the city. He’s a California boy, through and through, and was a Niners fan growing up. Heck, the man thought he was going No. 1 to the 49ers during his infamous 2005 draft-day slide. Not only would the storylines be magnificent — San Francisco finally embracing their true franchise QB, more than a decade later — but the on-field fit would make sense. Rodgers would easily be Shanahan’s most talented arm, and you’d have to think the run game and defense will still be built up enough to take pressure off No. 12 for more Super Bowl runs.