Dougherty: Packers fared well by waiting, but so did Aaron Rodgers
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers did well for themselves to wait out Aaron Rodgers.
The dramatic offseason has ended with a truce. Rodgers is back for the start of training camp, and immediately the team’s odds for winning the Super Bowl jumped back up to a tie for fourth-best in the NFL (14-to-1, according to SportsBetting.ag).
But I’m not in the camp that Rodgers got nothing from his agreement with the team this week. If ESPN’s report is correct – no reason to think it isn’t – shaving one year off his contract and prohibiting the Packers from using the franchise tag on him in 2023 is, in practical terms, a concession the Packers will either extend his contract or trade him next offseason. So Rodgers will still get his chance to force his way out, though he’ll have to wait a year.
Sure, on paper the Packers will still control him for 2022. But are they really going to bring him back for that season, then let him walk in free agency in ’23? If they did, they’d get only a third-round compensatory draft pick in return. Whereas, if they trade him next offseason, they’ll get a much better return, probably something in the neighborhood of a couple of first-round draft picks.
If I’m GM Brian Gutekunst and CEO Mark Murphy, it’s an easy call. Play this season out, then either sign Rodgers to a contract extension or trade him for the most you can get. Right now, based on everything Rodgers’ camp leaked in the offseason, it seems a given he’ll have no interest in extending his career with the Packers. So if you had to bet, bet on a trade. But who knows what might happen in the next six months? That’s a lifetime in the NFL. Things could change.
Rodgers also has an implicit veto on a trade to a team he doesn’t want to play for. Any club trading for him will insist on a contract extension before making a deal – who’s going to give up what it would take for in effect a one-year contract? If Rodgers refuses an extension, then the team won’t make the trade.
So while the Packers came out ahead in this – Rodgers is playing for them and has motivation to play well to enhance his value to other teams next year – it’s not like this is a complete win for the team. I never subscribed to the theory that when Gutekunst drafted Jordan Love last year, there was a firm plan in place to replace Rodgers after two years.
I saw the Love pick as a hedge against a former MVP starter who was hitting his later 30s, hadn’t played up to his previous level for three seasons, and had suffered two significant injuries (broken collarbones) in recent years. Gutekunst was on the Packers’ staff to see first-hand (i.e., the drafting of Rodgers in ’05) the value in protecting a team at the game’s most important position.
Was there a chance the Packers would move on to Love after two seasons? Of course. But I saw it as more fluid than that. If Rodgers was playing well and keeping them in the Super Bowl hunt, why would they move on? If it came to it, they could always trade Love after two or three years. And the bust rate for quarterbacks is high even in the first round. What if they decided Love wasn’t good enough anyway?
If you gave Gutekunst the option right now of moving on to Love in ’22 or keeping Rodgers for three or four more years, he’d take the latter, wouldn’t he? In fact, one source has confirmed to me the offseason reports that the Packers offered Rodgers a contract they’d hoped would do just that, and he turned it down.
Now, maybe drafting Love is the kind of hedge teams no longer can make in the NFL. What Gutekunst saw as prudent, Rodgers saw as betrayal. Maybe quarterback empowerment makes it too disruptive a move.
Regardless, now that there’s détente, what I wonder most about is the report that the Packers are trying to trade for Randall Cobb to appease Rodgers. This one makes little sense to me and if true is a case in point on the dangers of giving even a smart, elite, experienced player such as Rodgers much of a voice in personnel.
No doubt Cobb was an excellent receiver for the Packers and will be a no-brainer for the team’s Hall of Fame after he retires. Among other things, he was the kind of guy you wanted on your team because he’s damn tough.
But he’s also a small receiver (5-10¼, 195 pounds) who turns 31 next month and is no longer the dynamic player of his prime. He has missed 14 games because of injuries the last three seasons. Gutekunst was right to move on from him when he did in 2019 – better a year early than a year late, as they say.
On top of that, Cobb’s $8.25 million salary is guaranteed. Even if Houston paid a big chunk of that as part of a trade, bringing back Cobb would still be a step backward for the Packers. They spent a third-round draft pick on Amari Rodgers to play the slot and have to get him on the field. Allen Lazard (25 years old) and Devin Funchess (27) are younger and bigger than Cobb. And even with Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s catching issues he’s still a deep threat defenses have to honor as a complement to Davante Adams.
If the Packers have some season-ending injuries at receiver, then maybe trading for Cobb should be in play. But at the start of camp? That just doesn’t make sense.
So here we are, and after all the tumult of the offseason, Gutekunst and Murphy got what they most wanted: Rodgers is their quarterback in 2021. Their team should contend for the Super Bowl.
But Rodgers probably also got his out from Green Bay, though a year delayed, if he still really wants it in 2022.
And over the next 6½ months, we’ll find out whether an uncommonly rocky offseason really matters for what happens on the field.