Aaron Rodgers will determine the future of the NFL in coming days
With the franchise-tag deadline serving as a de facto timetable for Aaron Rodgers' decision, the QB can shift the balance of the NFL well before the start of the new league year.
Just one day remains before the franchise-tag deadline, a pivotal moment for the Green Bay Packers. Not only must the team decide whether to use the tag on superstar receiver Davante Adams by that point, but it also expects to receive a decision from four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers on his plans for 2022. Before long, everyone will know whether the Packers will attempt another Super Bowl run next season or begin the arduous process of rebooting their identity.
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If Aaron Rodgers opts to leave Green Bay, where do you expect the Packers to trade him and what do you expect them to get in return?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: For a variety of reasons, the Packers would nix every team in the NFC. They can accept if Aaron Rodgers opts not to play for them again, but that doesn't mean they'll willingly put him in a position to impede them — or even face off against them — immediately after receiving his decision. Green Bay took the same approach with Brett Favre in 2008, ultimately not sending him to his preferred destination (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and instead traded him to the AFC's New York Jets.
With NFC teams out of the running for Rodgers, the Packers would turn to the other conference, of which many clubs might make offers but only a few could realistically intrigue the Packers. Those without first-round picks and/or a field-tilting player on a rookie contract available for trade shouldn't even bother contacting Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst.
Speculation on the compensation package has largely focused on the number of first-round picks, but that approach ignores that not all firsts present great value. It stands to reason that any team acquiring Rodgers would immediately become a playoff favorite if not a Super Bowl front-runner. Accordingly, any future first-rounder will likely fall in the 20s. That gives the Packers added incentive to require at least one top pick to come in 2022 with significant weight given to picks in the top half of the round.
With that in mind, several of the clubs rumored to have offers ready for Rodgers don't appear likely to land the four-time MVP. The Tennessee Titans, who don't come on the clock until pick No. 26 and already dealt away their 2022 second-rounder, lack the assets to outbid the competition. The Pittsburgh Steelers don't fare much better with their earliest selection coming at No. 20. The Indianapolis Colts might have made some sense had they not traded their first-round pick for Carson Wentz last offseason, yet another way in which that mistake has cost them.
All of which leaves the Denver Broncos as the most viable suitor for Rodgers should he request a trade. They can offer the No. 9 overall pick and an early second-rounder from the upcoming draft — far exceeded the aforementioned AFC teams — along with future premium selections and a promising player. Cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. would certainly intrigue the Packers, but a starting receiver such as Jerry Jeudy would also move the needle in Green Bay, especially with Davante Adams a potential trade piece following a hypothetical Rodgers departure.
As for the total trade package, the Broncos might not ultimately have to send three first-rounders as many have suggested if Rodgers pushes the Packers into a bilateral monopoly. The signal-caller can effectively veto any trade, and his ties to new Denver head coach Nathaniel Hackett could create a Colorado-or-bust situation.
Still, even in that scenario, Green Bay could expect a return of at least the Broncos' 2022 and 2023 first-rounders, a second-rounder this year, and either Surtain or Jeudy. Such a package wouldn't make the Packers a contender overnight, but it would give them the ammunition to build around Jordan Love or replace him with a different quarterback if he doesn't develop.
Peter Bukowski: Denver always felt like the most likely landing spot both from Rodgers’ likely preference to play with an exciting group of skill players, and the Broncos’ willingness to take a big swing at quarterback. They were the rumored team around the draft last year when the Rodgers drama first broke publicly and they’ve been the lone team consistently mentioned as a suitor for Rodgers.
Though there’s been some reporting around what it might take or what the Broncos might be willing to offer, I would expect three premium picks (which that’s three firsts or two firsts and a second this year) and a young player like Jerry Jeudy to be the package.
Green Bay would likely enjoy a top-10 pick, plus another top-50 pick in this class to buttress Jordan Love so he can be best evaluated, plus Jeudy provides some insurance if Davante Adams doesn’t end up a Packer for the long-term.
The expectation around the league is Davante Adams will not hit the open market this spring, but how does his status affect the future of Aaron Rodgers?
JBH: At one point in time, Adams' future didn't seem to hinge on that of his quarterback. The Packers and the All-Pro wide receiver discussed a contract extension last offseason throughout the standoff with Rodgers, a sign that Adams felt comfortable staying in Green Bay even without certainty under center. Those talks ultimately fell apart, creating the current predicament.
At this stage, Adams probably views himself and Rodgers as a package deal, at least as it pertains to the Packers. Whether the team feels the same way remains unclear. The front office can, of course, use the franchise tag on Adams and force him to play in Green Bay or nowhere regardless of what Rodgers decides.
But that dynamic could work to the Packers' advantage. If they ensure Adams remains in Green Bay for 2022 one way or another, the case for Rodgers to stay grows stronger. The quarterbacks never played with a wideout as dominant as Adams, and he has no guarantee that he can develop a similar level of chemistry with anyone on a different receiving corps. If the reigning MVP wants to keep playing, doing so with Adams makes the most sense.
All of which makes Adams seem like the linchpin to keeping Rodgers. If the Packers have a plan to clear out the necessary cap space for the franchise tag — and it appears they do — they offer the best situation to Rodgers.
PB: Aaron Rodgers himself said he believed both the team and Adams would likely prefer a long-term deal. He framed it as speculation, but he’s had conversations with the team about their plans. Rodgers knows what Green Bay intends to do with his WR1. And we can reasonably assume that superstar receiver has mentioned his intentions to QB1.
It’s possible Adams could sign a long-term deal without any assurances Rodgers will be in town. He was reportedly close last summer to doing that very thing without knowing Rodgers’ future. Then again, it’s possible Rodgers and Adams view each other as a packaged deal and they’d want to be dealt together to wherever Rodgers wants to go next, the clunky mechanics of such a deal notwithstanding.
From the reverse angle, it’s easy to imagine an extension for Adams as the clincher for Rodgers. He’d know the best receiver in the league will be with the team for as long as he wanted to keep playing, offering him some measure of continuity as well as keeping a friend of his in the fold. What’s more, Rodgers could view a franchise tag as insulting to Adams in the same way he viewed a lack of clarity on his future insulting last offseason. That could re-open a fissure between him and the front office.
The ideal scenario is they’re both back and their futures feel inextricably linked. The real question is how tenuous does the Rodgers relationship become if the Packers can’t iron out a long-term deal with Adams, or more complicated, if Rodgers is waiting for Adams while Adams is waiting for Rodgers.
After Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, which player — pending free agent, extension candidate, or otherwise — should be the Packers' top priority?
JBH: While much of the attention has understandably gone to De'Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas given their proximity to the free-agent market, the Packers should prioritize Jaire Alexander. The superstar cornerback has just the fifth-year option remaining on his rookie contract before potentially hitting the open market himself, a scenario Green Bay must avoid.
The Packers defense performed admirably during the 13 games Alexander missed this past season, but that shouldn't diminish his value to the team's long-term future. Few defenders can tilt the field as significantly as he does and, at only 25, he has a long runway.
Green Bay has already opened extension talks with Alexander and could conceivably ink a new deal before the start of free agency. Doing so could lower the corner's 2022 cap number from its current position of roughly $13.3 million, a tactic that would help carve out room for Adams and others to return.
PB: Preston Smith. The obvious answer, and the one ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler suggested would be the Packers’ answer, is De’Vondre Campbell fresh off his All-Pro campaign in 2021. But Campbell’s spectacular season didn’t elevate the defense to new heights. They were basically the same as they were last season. When did they play their best game? When they had Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander on the field.
Having a good edge player opposite ascending superstar Rashan Gary is simply more valuable than having a very good stack linebacker. With Z expected to be a cap casualty, the Packers don’t have anyone else worth mentioning to play opposite Gary. They need a quality player to keep both Gary and guys like Kenny Clark fresh so they don’t bear the entire weight of the pass-rushing burden.
Campbell is the better player, but having a reliable down-to-down edge player is more valuable to the Packers.
PB: This isn’t my shot. It’s Ron Demovsky’s. His takedown of Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk is my parting shot presented without comment. The thread is just *chef’s kiss*