Draft week arrives as Aaron Rodgers trade talks linger
Though all parties still expect Aaron Rodgers to head to New York for the 2023 season, the Packers and Jets have yet to reach an agreement even with the draft just days away.
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Draft week has arrived, but the Green Bay Packers remain in trade purgatory. As of this writing, they have yet to complete the much discussed Aaron Rodgers trade. Those talks could linger into Thursday and perhaps beyond as the New York Jets attempt to limit the compensation.
Today's edition of The Leap tackles the ongoing Rodgers saga but also looks at the other team-building opportunities the Packers have this week.
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Ian Rapoport reported that the Jets and Packers have "recently re-engaged" trade discussions for Aaron Rodgers. Will Green Bay ultimately land the 13th overall pick for Rodgers?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: I don't see it. While the Packers can and, I expect, will receive value commensurate with a first-round pick and more, the Jets do not seem interested in parting with pick No. 13. Their extra draft capital -- the 42nd pick acquired from the Cleveland Browns for Elijah Moore and a third-rounder back in March -- could play a role in the deal, but that seems like the highest current-year pick realistically available to Green Bay as part of this exchange.
And as a result, that probably means the Aaron Rodgers trade doesn't go down until after Day 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft has officially begun. Green Bay has no reason to accept a trade package that doesn't include the 13th pick before New York comes on the clock on the off chance that Jets owner Woody Johnson gets anxious and forces his general manager's hand.
All of this makes the next (hopefully final) stage of the saga feel anticlimactic from the Packers' perspective.
Peter Bukowski: Let me expand on the last point about waiting until the Jets are on the clock at 13. If I’m the Jets and the Packers are pushing that 2024 first without conditions and suddenly New York’s pick comes up with all their favorite tackles off the board, wouldn’t it be appealing for both sides to make the deal for 13 and call it good?
The Packers get premium draft capital right now while the Jets don’t have to worry about an Aaron Rodgers injury that would boost the value of that future pick (whether it’s a first or second).
As weird as it is to say, Brian Gutekunst may prefer the 2nd this year and the future first package for this very reason, but also because this draft lacks meat at the top. Unless a player like Jaxon Smith-Njigba is there at 13 and the Jets either don’t love him or think they can get better value keeping both their picks in the second (because the draft stinks at the top), the prudent play for the Packers may be to hold firm on getting the future first.
Last April, the Packers signed Sammy Watkins to bolster their new-look receiving corps. What late-period, low-cost free agent(s) could the team feasibly add prior to the 2023 NFL Draft?
JBH: Sammy Watkins made sense as a late-period signing because he offered a bridge to the soon-to-be-drafted rookie wideouts while costing little against the salary cap. This year, the Packers could use an affordable veteran pass rusher to fill in while Rashan Gary recovers from last season's torn ACL.
The free-agent pool still has some notable names at the position, but not all check the boxes. Jadeveon Clowney offers Gary's size and can produce splash plays here and there, but he hasn't signed for less than $8 million in average annual value since his rookie contract. Yannick Ngakoue and Frank Clark remain unsigned, but they probably won't take enough of a discount either to make sense for Green Bay.
That still leaves a few useful pass rushers, however. Melvin Ingram has spent the past few seasons as a mercenary and could comfortably slide into the Packers' books with or without the use of void years. Leonard Floyd has reached a similar point in his career and would likely benefit from only serving as a primary edge defender for part of the season. He also has familiarity with Joe Barry from their time together on the Los Angeles Rams.
PB: My answer to this is the same as it was a few weeks ago: John Johnson III. The safety room for the Packers is in shambles. Darnell Savage will resume his spot there, after moving to nickel corner last year and we don’t know what the plan is beyond that. Rudy Ford returns, but he’s not proven to be a starting-caliber safety. Both Savage and Ford hit the bench last year, with Savage only returning to play safety because Joe Barry benched Ford.
The technical football term for that is “major yikes.”
Johnson III isn’t what he once was in L.A., but guess what? He was that guy for the Rams with Joe Barry on that defensive coaching staff. That familiarity could cut down the adjustment time and allow Barry to maximize what Johnson III can be for the Packers defense. He’d also be cheap as the safety market evaporated in free agency in recent years except for the very top players.
In 2022, the Packers surprised many by drafting Quay Walker, an off-ball linebacker, with the 22nd overall pick. What position and/or player could Green Bay tab in the first round this year that would engender the same reaction?
JBH: Assuming the Packers don't trade down from their current draft spot, a surprising but plausible choice would involve a tight end. Though that position does merit first-round consideration, rarely does one justify a top-15 pick. Kyle Pitts, selected No. 4 overall two years ago, had otherworldly athletic traits and a quality résumé at a blue-chip program. Georgia's Brock Bowers will presumably declare after the upcoming college season and garner top-10 projections.
None of the tight ends in this class enter the NFL with comparable pedigrees to those names. A few could go on Day 1 -- Notre Dame's Michael Mayer, Utah's Dalton Kincaid, and Georgia's Darnell Washington each rank among the top-32 prospects on NFL Mock Draft Database's consensus big board -- but the Packers taking one at pick No. 15 seems exorbitant. At the same time, all three have taken official pre-draft visits to Green Bay, suggesting interest.
If the Packers trade back and take a tight end, they can defend the process. Picking one of the prospects at the position in this class with their current first-round pick, while not totally unrealistic, would certainly count as a Quay Walker-esque choice.
PB: This is easy: Bijan Robinson. It would be different because the consensus view — though, importantly to me, not my view — Robinson stands as a top-5 player in this class overall. The Packers would be getting a truly blue-chip talent even if he plays at a non-premium position. Walker did not carry that sort of cachet into the pre-draft process.
Still, a group of fans would absolutely love the pick because it’s a hard-nosed thing to do, old-school football, etc., and that’ll show those nerds. Some of them will even know it’s unwise to take running backs so early just like they knew that was true at linebacker, and they’d still like it.
My reaction would be nearly identical to the Walker pick: It would be a big miss, not just from an opportunity cost standpoint of taking a more valuable position, but also of not taking just a flat-out better player. Robinson isn’t even RB1 in this draft for me, so taking him at No. 15 would be a Joel Embiid-level reach and I’d just have to hope he wasn’t also an Embiid-level flop.
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