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Dougherty: No change to Aaron Rodgers' contract leaves more questions about his 'uncertain' future

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GREEN BAY - If it doesn't raise a red flag, it’s at least yellow.

By all indications, the Green Bay Packers did not convert Aaron Rodgers’ $6.8 million roster bonus into a signing bonus for salary-cap relief by Friday’s deadline.

Something is going on here, as the NFL Network's Michael Silver, a Rodgers friend in the national media, confirmed Monday while reporting that the sides are still working on restructuring Rodgers' contract.

The Packers, after all, need all the cap space they can get – another $9 million to $10 million just to cover built-in costs, and that’s not even counting any veteran free agents they might want to add in the coming weeks. So why not take the extra cap room from the bonus conversion while it’s there?

The Packers are going to have to do something with Rodgers’ contract for cap relief regardless. So why the wait? Why pass up easy cap savings that are gone now?

Is it because they’re still working through the details that will give Rodgers certainty he’ll be their quarterback in 2022? Or are they hedging their bets and keeping as much of his money as possible off future caps because they might want to turn to Jordan Love as early as 2022?

For that matter, does Rodgers even want to come back to the Packers this year without some assurance about ’22 or beyond?

As of now, nothing appears any more certain than in the days immediately after Rodgers' spoke of his "uncertain" future in the wake of the Packers' loss to Tampa Bay in the NFC championship game.

It very much leaves open the question of how precarious the relationship is between the Packers’ front office and future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback.

"If your attitude is, we’re all-in on Aaron Rodgers and trying to make it happen while he’s here, that restructure should have already been done," Silver said. "If you are trying to split the difference and 'Well, we’ll get some cap relief, but if we do want to go to Jordan Love after this season, (a lesser restructure) won’t hurt us that badly.'"

It's also worth remembering this is not a one-way street. Rodgers is under contract through 2023, yes, but that doesn’t mean the Packers are in full control. If we’ve learned anything in the last year or two, it’s that elite quarterbacks are becoming more like NBA superstars in not just recognizing their immense power but being willing to exercise it to get out from a team when they want out.

“He is not exactly the most predictable guy, especially as of late, and he’s getting more and more comfortable speaking his mind and being cryptic and creating buzz around himself," said a representative from a large player agency who has a client on the Packers. "So you never know.

“He might be looking at it as, this is my opportunity to go play someplace where they’re going to gear it up, like Tom Brady did basically, and compete for a title or two and then shut it down. But (the Packers) were Tom Brady away from being in the Super Bowl this year. It doesn’t guarantee anything, and it’s not like that team isn’t built for a title run. They just didn’t get it done.”

If this comes down to providing Rodgers financial assurance he’ll be back in ’22, as Silver suggests, I don’t know why the Packers wouldn’t do it.

That doesn’t mean giving Rodgers a raise. If general manager Brian Gutekunst and team President Mark Murphy are opposed to a raise, they have good reason. In 2018 they signed Rodgers to a contract extension that gave him a market-setting new-money average of $33.5 million a year. Don’t look at his 2021 salary of $23.2 million and think Rodgers is grossly underpaid. He received $66.9 million in first-year pay back in ’18. That was part of the deal too, and he took the big money in hand knowing that within a year or two other quarterbacks, including inferior ones, were going to sign for higher averages. He shouldn’t be looking for a raise with three years left on his deal and in the pandemic NFL financial climate.

But if he wants some of his ’22 pay in ’21, why wouldn’t Gutekunst and Murphy be OK with that? Rodgers was league MVP last season at age 37, and with how well quarterbacks are protected by today’s rules, there’s no reason to think he’s facing a big performance cliff anytime soon. If he’s looking for an extra $5 million or so this year, taken off his salary in ’22, it’s hard to see why Gutekunst and Murphy would balk.

Or, they could just guarantee some of his ’22 pay. The Packers have never done future guarantees, but they can justify the precedent as a quarterback-only thing. Either way, is there really good reason to think Rodgers won’t be, by far, the Packers’ best chance to win a Super Bowl in not just ’21 but ’22 too?

If Rodgers wants assurances beyond ’22, that’s a different matter. For all we know he still might have five good years left in him, but he is old enough the Packers shouldn’t take it more than two years at a time.

I don’t doubt for a second Rodgers can be difficult to work with, and yes, he carries a grudge. Gutekunst and Murphy surely know Rodgers wants them feeling the same heat now he did when they drafted Love. His “uncertain” future comment in January was proof he’s not letting go of the Love pick anytime soon.

But that’s not reason enough to rush Love onto the field. Even the scouts who loved Love before last year’s draft considered him a bigger project than most first-round quarterbacks. Going through last season without OTAs and preseason games, and as the Packers’ No. 3, only slowed his growth. And for all Gutekunst and Murphy know at this point, Love might never be good enough anyway.

The Packers are working on a restructure with Rodgers’ contract, as Silver reported Monday. There’s no viable way to get under their cap without it. 

But the way the restructure turns out will tell all. If there’s nothing that shows the team and quarterback have committed to each other beyond this year, we’ll know something really is up.

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