The Packers won't trade Rodgers, nor should they
The Packers don't seem interested in trading Aaron Rodgers, and for good reason. The potential reward of retaining the four-time MVP outweighs the risks.
Editor's note: At the time of this writing, Aaron Rodgers' future with the Green Bay Packers and perhaps the NFL remains in question officially. Last week, The Leap co-founder Peter Bukowski made the case for trading the four-time MVP quarterback should he decide against retirement. This story serves as a companion piece that offers a different perspective.
For the third consecutive offseason, the future of Aaron Rodgers hangs over the Green Bay Packers.
The 39-year-old quarterback faced similar uncertainty following his 2020 MVP campaign, calling his future "a beautiful mystery" before ultimately returning for another year. Ambiguity about his status returned in 2022 until Rodgers signed an extension that he declared would "definitely" allow him to retire with the Packers.
Now, with a disappointing 8-9 campaign barely in the rear-view mirror, questions abound as to whether the four-time MVP will return for the 2023 season in a Packers uniform.
Though a loud segment of fans wants to see the page turned on the Rodgers era, that time has not yet arrived, at least in the eyes of the Packers organization. Head coach Matt LaFleur expressed his desire for Rodgers to return on multiple occasions and, during his season-closing press conference, general manager Brian Gutekunst shared similar sentiments.
"We made a really big commitment to him last offseason. As we did that, it certainly wasn't for just this year," Gutekunst said when asked if Rodgers or the team would ultimately determine the quarterback's future. "He's gonna take his time, and the communication will be pretty constant as we move forward."
Unless Rodgers decides to hang up the cleats in the coming months, the Packers appear ready to welcome him back for the upcoming season. That might rankle those who believe the future first-ballot Hall of Famer has reached his sell-by date, but that argument seems misguided. Rather, running it back with Rodgers under center represents the best path forward for the team.
The Rodgers-Packers union
Any discussion of retaining or moving Rodgers pivots on whether or not the quarterback actually wants to continue playing in 2023. As of yet, Rodgers hasn't provided a definitive answer on that front. However, he has strongly signaled that he doesn't intend to retire.
"Do I still think I can play? Of course. Of course," Rodgers said Tuesday on The Pat McAfee Show. "Can I play at a high level? Yeah. The highest. I think I can win MVP again in the right situation. Right situation, is that Green Bay or is that somewhere else? I'm not sure, but I don't think you should shut down any opportunity. Like I said during the season, that's got to be both sides actually wanting to work together moving forward, and I think there's more conversations to be had."
Rodgers also said that he has no interest in taking part in a rebuild while also wondering aloud whether the Packers would "re-sign certain guys that are glue guys in the locker room," most likely a nod toward established veterans David Bakhtiari, Randall Cobb, Mason Crosby, Aaron Jones, Allen Lazard, and Marcedes Lewis. Though the futures for those veterans hang in the balance to varying degrees, Gutekunst expressed his desire to see the biggest of those names return next season.
"Certainly, we expect to have him back," Gutekunst said about Jones, who in 2022 set a new career high with 1,121 rushing yards and finished one catch behind the team leader in receptions. "He's a dynamic player. It's amazing. I think this is, what, Year 7? Maybe Year 8? Whatever it is, for a guy his size to bring it every day, he rarely misses a practice, rarely misses a rep, the way he leads our team, just his consistency is amazing."
Gutekunst came out in a similarly strong fashion for his All-Pro left tackle.
"I would hope so," Gutekunst said when asked if Bakhtiari would return as the Packers' starting left tackle in 2023. "We're hopeful that he's kind of cleared some of those injury hurdles he's had the last few years ... I think he got into a really good rhythm in learning (how he needs to) practice to get to the games. And I'm hopeful that as we get beyond this season, that rhythm will serve him well."
To make the salary-cap numbers work, the Packers will have to restructure contracts for Jones, Bakhtiari, and others, a fact Gutekunst acknowledged. That the team would openly discuss adjusting deals in that fashion would seem to answer Rodgers' concerns about avoiding a rebuild, at least in part.
Rodgers' supporting cast
Gutekunst also explained why the Packers' 2022 campaign wouldn't necessarily prove indicative of how the team would perform next season, particularly as it pertains to the receiving corps. During the offseason, Green Bay traded All-Pro wideout Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders following a multiyear contract dispute, ultimately replacing him with over-the-hill veteran Sammy Watkins and rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs.
"We certainly had some injuries there. We knew that was going to be a challenge," Gutekunst said. "I thought our defense earlier was going to be at a level that would give us some time for those guys to catch up. Certainly, Christian's injuries early just set him back and it took him a while to get rolling. Once he got rolling, I think we were a different team. I think teams played us differently once he was going. But when you lose a Hall of Famer like Davante, there's going to be some time before you can get back to that level."
Rodgers has previously expressed optimism for Watson's progression in particular. Following the Packers' victory over the Bears this past December, the quarterback remarked, "It's a rapid, wild development, and it's hard to think of another player who goes from being kind of a here-and-there, minimal production to go-to-type player, home-run player. He had two 60-plus-yard touchdowns it seems like, last week a catch and run on a short one and then the end around. Pretty special. So it all factors into it."
Whereas the Packers entered 2022 with a receiving corps that heavily relied on rookies, next season's version will feature Watson and Doubs with a full year of NFL experience under their belts. Given what the duo has already shown and how frequently players make their biggest leaps between their first and second seasons, that part of the offense should look a lot stronger come Week 1. That doesn't even take into account how the front office could add to the group during the offseason.
The health of the offensive line also weighs in the Packers' favor next season. At this time a year ago, Bakhtiari had just come off his one-and-done appearance in the regular-season finale while Elgton Jenkins had recently undergone knee-reconstruction surgery. The unit opened the 2022 season without either in the lineup and had to manage the health of each over the course of the year. That led to multiple O-line reshufflings and inconsistent performance until about the midway point of the season.
But the status of the offensive line looks a lot different this time around. With Bakhtiari apparently returning and no surgeries scheduled for him this offseason, he should enter 2023 without any major restrictions. Meanwhile, Jenkins settled in once the coaching staff kicked him back inside, center Josh Myers and guard Jon Runyan Jr. remain under contract, and Yosh Nijman and Zach Tom can compete for the job at right tackle. Contrast that version of the unit with the one that started Week 1 last year -- Jake Hanson and Royce Newman opened as starters -- and the situation looks far improved.
Speaking of health, Rodgers spent most of 2022 dealing with multiple significant injuries. He broke the thumb on his throwing hand during a Week 5 loss to the New York Giants, added sore ribs during a November clash with the Philadelphia Eagles, and endured some knee issues during the final stretch of the season. A quarterback of Rodgers' age does have a heightened risk for injury, but most of those problems seem isolated, the thumb in particular.
With a healthy Rodgers playing with a more experienced complement of weapons and behind all five preferred starters along the offensive line, the notion of a resurgence doesn't seem farfetched.