Throughout 2021, Packer fans and the national media (sports and social) have rampantly speculated about Aaron Rodgers’ future in Green Bay. One person, though, had things all figured out long ago.
Of course, over the past season Aaron wore out his welcome with a good portion of Packer Nation, both with his preseason statements and attitudes, and now with his sub-standard postseason play. But even if he hadn’t, Green Bay’s finances foretell what is going to happen. We hear endlessly that the Packers are about $50 million over the salary cap for 2022. It’s should be easy to grasp how serious a crisis the team is in.
I believe Green Bay’s current cap space is -$38.4M; a number that is only exceeded by the Saints (-$71.6M). To get under the cap, Green Bay will probably be required to part ways with at least five of its top ten players. There is, however, one way to lessen the blow: by parting ways with the guys who have the greatest cap hits.
The Pack has seven players whose cap hit in 2022 is over $10 million: Rodgers ($46.4M), Za’Darius Smith ($27.7M), Davante Adams (25.9M), David Bakhtiari ($22.8M), Preston Smith ($21M), Kenny Clark ($20.9M), and Adrian Amos ($12M). Rodgers in fact has the league’s largest cap hit amount.
Other notable cap hits are: Randall Cobb ($9.5M), Aaron Jones ($8.95M), and Billy turner ($8.9M). Cobb’s inflated number makes it certain that he’ll either be let go or agree to a contract restructuring. Za’Darius Smith has all but announced his belief is that he won’t be with the team for the 2022 season.
Making matters even more challenging, the Packers have two recently-acquired players who are about to become free agents, and whose market value has suddenly skyrocketed: All-Pro Da’Vondre Campbell and game changer Rasul Douglas. Too bad they weren’t signed to multi-year deals.
As one can easily see, there’s but one way for the Packers to avoid wholesale decimation of the roster: letting Rodgers, Adams, and Za’Darius go.
Enter the GM
Brian Gutekunst was hired as Packers’ general manager on January 8, 2018. One year to the day after getting the job, he hired a new head coach. Just a couple months after that, he acquired the Smiths, Adrian Amos, and Bily Turner. Then in April, he astounded everyone by drafting quarterback Jordan Love in the first round. This was all part of a calculated plan.
Though Gutey couldn’t have foreseen that Rodgers would become the league’s MVP rather than continue his slow slide into mediocrity, it doesn’t matter. All signs indicate that the Packers are going to stick with the GM’s strategy, and switch starting QBs from Rodgers to Love for the 2022 season.
Even Rodgers has indicated that he’ll rapidly make his plans known after the season has ended. While it is Rodgers decision whether or not to retire, the rest of the options concerning his future are up to Gutekunst. That’s right, Gutekunst’s master plan, which I believe was to develop Love for three years and then make the quarterback switch, as was done with Rodgers, is right back on track.
Remember when the Packers agreed to have Aaron’s contractual obligations end after 2022 instead of 2023? I think that was just window dressing – Gutey never intended to have Love’s development program last for more than three years – his days as a backup will soon be over.
There’s lots of available money out there for Rodgers to get whatever he monetarily wants. Three teams (Dolphins, Chargers, Jaguars) are sitting at +$60M cap space. Teams that might be pretty solid, except at QB, include the Broncos, Colts, Seahawks (if Wilson leaves), and perhaps the Jets – all of whom have salary cap space of over $40M. Much speculation prior to the 2021 season was that Denver would be a good fit – it turns out that they went 7-10 with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm in 2021. Denver has just been back in the news again as the most likely landing spot for Aaron in 2022.
By trading Rodgers, the Packers should be able to get a slew of high draft picks. I just hope that his performance against the Niners hasn’t unduly damaged his trade value.
If Rodgers, Adams and Za’Darius depart, that pretty much solves the salary cap crisis. Someone else should be able to compute how close these three moves would come to erasing the team’s cap deficit. That’s a big blow to the roster, but it would leave the rest of the team largely intact – and Green Bay would still retain a good many All-Pro or Pro Bowl level players. The shelf won’t be bare for QB Love.
Gutekunst has never envisioned that Jordan Love will lead the team to the playoffs immediately. It took Rodgers five years with the team, and two years as a starter to have a winning season – and three years as a starter (sixth year with the team) before he and his mates won a playoff game. We should soon find out how well Love’s training has come.
Fans need to be realistic in their expectations. We just saw Trevor Lawrence, the top draft pick in 2021, finish his first year as the Jaguar’s starter in all 17 games. He completed less than 60 percent of his throws, averaged only 6.0 yards per pass attempt, threw for 12 TDs and 17 interceptions, and had a passer rating of 71.9. The Jaguars won just three games with a collegiate superstar under center. I’m betting that Love will have a lot better year than that.
Fans might be skeptical of how Gutey’s plan is going to play out, but they shouldn’t be dismissive of his strategy. Gutekunst is a smart and wily guy. The same is true of Russ Ball, who is the Packers’ salary cap guru. These guys truly did go all-in this past season, which was just what most fans were asking for. I think they put a hell of a team in place, despite the group’s failure to execute in the playoffs, I’m going to place some faith in, and show some patience for, the talented guys that reside in the Packers’ front office.
Nor should we wave good-bye to the 2021 Packers without acknowledging the unfortunate injury situation that beset the team at playoff time. We all thought “the cavalry was back” for the playoffs. Instead Jaire played all of eight snaps; Za’Darius was good for only 19 of 54; Mercilus got only 12; Bakhtiari and Marquez Valdes-Scantling didn’t even suit up. And Randall Cobb might as well not bothered to.
I can’t see Rodgers ending his pro career by retiring on such a sour note – he loves the game, and the limelight. Though his worth to another team just got devalued a mite, there will be no shortage of teams salivating at a chance to acquire a twice-consecutive (?) MVP quarterback. How often does such an opportunity come up? Despite the one bad game, there is little evidence that age (38) has begun to erode Aaron’s passing skills.
In sum, keeping Rodgers in Green Bay would result in stripping the team’s roster of most of its stars. Rodgers has already said he doesn’t want to play on a team on the rebuild, which is what the Packers will have to do if Rodgers is retained.
The decision isn’t about the controversies that have swirled around Rodgers this season, and it’s not about his record of uninspired play in postseasons. It’s all about the finances! Rodgers departing Green Bay at this time is a WIN-WIN!