Rodgers still wandering in the darkness (literally)
As of the time of writing, Aaron Rodgers has not resurfaced following his planned "darkness retreat." Until he does, the Packers won't know what their future holds.
To the best of anyone's knowledge, Aaron Rodgers has not yet emerged from his multi-day "darkness retreat." Even if he has, no word has surfaced as to whether he plans to continue his NFL career. That means that until further notice, the Green Bay Packers also find themselves wandering in the darkness in a certain sense.
But while the franchise waits for Rodgers to get back on the grid, the rest of the NFL continues to move. Today's edition of The Leap examines how other developments can impact the four-time MVP quarterback as well as the Packers.
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Which Derek Carr landing spot would most materially affect the Packers should Aaron Rodgers request a trade?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: If Derek Carr lands with the New York Jets, perhaps the most aggressive potential suitor for Aaron Rodgers leaves the market.
The notion of the Jets making a run at Rodgers has persisted for over a month. The franchise had a roster worthy of contention this past season but had to battle through the inconsistencies of Zach Wilson, Mike White, Joe Flacco, and something called a Chris Streveler. By any objective measure, Rodgers would provide a sizable improvement over anyone New York started under center in 2022, perhaps providing the best quarterback play since Brett Favre, another former Packers signal-caller, suited up for the team in 2008.
In the estimation of most, Carr's ceiling can't touch what Rodgers could provide even at this stage of his career. However, the 31-year-old Carr appears to have a considerably longer runway and could hold down the position for the foreseeable future. By contrast, Rodgers hasn't even committed to playing this year let alone beyond 2023. Add in the fact that Green Bay will require compensation to trade Rodgers while Carr won't even affect the comp-pick formula and one can see how the Jets could prefer the latter route.
Should that occur, the Packers wouldn't have a ton of obvious alternatives should Rodgers ask for a trade. The Las Vegas Raiders, Carr's former home, would presumably have interest, but they don't seem as motivated to land Rodgers regardless of the price like the reportedly "desperate" Jets. Sure, the Raiders could throw in Darren Waller, a tight end Green Bay has attempted to acquire on multiple occasions. But the draft capital probably would fall short of what New York would surrender.
Other suitors could emerge, but that doesn't guarantee a better offer than what the Jets seemed poised to make. Even if one does, Rodgers has the leverage to quash any move he doesn't like.
So, if the Packers and Rodgers don't extend their relationship into next season, the team better hope the Jets don't find a match with another quarterback.
Peter Bukowski: I’m not sure this is the right question to be asking. I want to know if the Carr market impacts the Aaron Rodgers market at all. In terms of optionality, certain teams considering one will consider the other, but the order matters. Presumably, those teams, wanting one of these players, would prefer the better one. That’s Rodgers. Why would a team sign Carr before it knew for sure it had no chance to get the better player?
Carr is available right now. He’s making visits, but if the New York Jets or New Orleans Saints want to make him an offer, why would they do it before they get a chance to be in the mix for the objectively better veteran quarterback?
I’m starting to think this will actually happen the opposite of the way I most often hear it presented: Carr signs with Team X, clearing the decks for Teams Y, Z, and A.
Doesn’t it make more sense the other way around? Carr is, after all, the consolation prize. He’s the player the team convinces itself is a good choice precisely because they couldn’t land Rodgers. No NFL team fancies itself the ugliest person at the bar. They want to believe all the hottest, more desirable people want them right up until it’s last call and they’re deciding if they’d rather go home with Baker Mayfield or go it alone until late April.
How does the identity of the Packers' 2023 QB impact how you expect the team to approach the offseason?
JBH: To a certain degree, I don't expect the Packers' approach to change much regardless of which quarterback starts in 2023. During Brian Gutekunst's season-closing press conference, the general manager stated his plans to retain multiple top-end, highly paid veterans via restructured contracts. That revelation came coupled with Gutekunst's uncertainty about whether Rodgers would return and Jordan Love's readiness suggests that the front office will construct the roster in a mostly similar way no matter which signal-caller plays.
That comes with a caveat, however. If Rodgers returns, the Packers will actually have more cap space in 2023 than if they trade him. That could actually crack the door open for a veteran addition to the roster, perhaps a veteran wideout to bolster the receiving corps or a pass rusher to help account for the possibility Rashan Gary opens the season on the physically unable to perform list.
But, for the most part, the Packers will build the team the same way this offseason.
PB: The Packers made it clear they care about winning no matter what when Gutekunst refused to commit to playing Jordan Love or developmental players in the second half of the 2022 season. “Winning culture,” might come off as nebulous and football speak-y but … it worked to a point.
Green Bay gave itself the chance to get into the playoffs in a Week 18 game against the Lions. They lost, but they played de facto playoff games for over a month and stayed focused, never quitting on the coaching staff or the season. I have to believe there’s value in that.
All of that leads me to believe the Packers wouldn’t change that much about how they’d approach a Jordan Love offseason versus an Aaron Rodgers offseason because presumably if they’re ready to make the move to Love as Tom Silverstein’s report hinted over the weekend, it’s because they believe Love can be good right now.
That means making moves to make the team better for 2023. But if Rodgers is the quarterback, it affords more flexibility to add players who might not otherwise fit on a Love timeline. DeAndre Hopkins for example fits better on a Rodgers team, whereas Brandin Cooks or Tee Higgins make more sense with Love. Either way, the team gets better, but the “how” always matters in both the long and short view.
Aaron Jones and the Packers re-worked his contract, saving more than $11 million on the 2023 cap using void years. This marks the third year in a row the team has pushed money down the line in this fashion. Is this practice the last vestige of a one-time problem (the COVID revenue shortages) or a new way of doing business?
JBH: To answer this question, one must understand how void years came into vogue the past few years. For the Packers in particular, Multiple factors came into play, and not just for the Packers.
While some clubs used void years liberally prior to the pandemic -- the New Orleans Saints in particular -- the practice became commonplace for virtually the entire league after the salary cap shrunk entering the 2021 season. Considering that teams anticipated the typical year-over-year growth and ended up with a regression instead, the net difference in the budget proved even greater than it might seem at first blush.
That shortfall would have forced the Packers to make adjustments to their approach, but the need became greater once the front office signed Rodgers to an extension. The team entered win-now mode which, given the quarterback's age, meant leveraging future cap health in order to create more flexibility to add and retain talent in the short run.
But while the salary cap fell and created issues for Green Bay and nearly every other franchise, the situation has already begun to change and will continue to do so over the next few years. The cap jumped significantly for 2023 and the NFLPA expects another, larger jump a year from now. That additional space will help the Packers absorb some of the cap pain they've pushed down the line.
The other factor concerns Rodgers. As long as he remains with the franchise, the front office will look to maximize the club's chances to compete for a title. Once he leaves, that approach will shift. That doesn't mean the end of restructuring and the occasional addition of void years, but those events will occur far less frequently.
All of which underscores the short-term nature of this approach. Even if Rodgers stays in Green Bay for two more years, the tactics won't continue in this fashion after that. Combined with the impending cap increases, the Packers will ultimately go back to their "pay as you go" business model.
PB: The answer is yes and no. Brian Gutekunst has, on multiple occasions, pointed to COVID as the original inciting factor for having to use contract accounting tricks and void years with dead money the team knew it would eat when the contract was signed. When those revenues fell, their impact on the cap was unavoidable. They were also not singular in their impact.
Once a contract was signed, in particular a multiyear deal, their impact on the cap runs multiple seasons. For example, a deal signed in 2021 had to account for a budget shortfall and therefore minimize the Year 1 money while pushing money in the future. This has tack-on effects moving forward even though revenues are once again moving in the right direction.
At the same time, the Packers have found ways to maintain a quality roster while not lighting future cap flexibility on fire with void years and dead money. Even if Gutekunst isn’t quite as different from Ted Thompson in his free agency approach as the 2019 spring once suggested, his approach in concert with Russ Ball looks very different at the moment.
Whether that changes with the quarterback and/or how competitive the team is will tell us the true answer to this question. I’d argue there’s a better balance than the Packers had struck in the Thompson era to use moving forward, not merely throwing away seasons with players (like T.J. Lang or Josh Sitton), but it’s also important to realize moving on a year early is better than a year late.
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