Aaron Rodgers' return to the Packers is far from a given | Opinion
GREEN BAY − Aaron Rodgers’ guaranteed contract gives him a lot of say in where he plays in 2023.
Rodgers told McAfee, among many other things, that if the Packers plan to rebuild more than reload, he’s open to playing elsewhere.
“(The) right situation, is that Green Bay or is that somewhere else? I'm not sure,” Rodgers said. “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.”
With that, Rodgers essentially acknowledges he doesn’t have the leverage he had last offseason. At that time, the Packers badly wanted him back coming off his fourth NFL MVP. He could dictate the terms – contractually and to some degree regarding the roster, too.
But now he’s a year older (39) and coming off a subpar season. Unless the Packers have decided Love doesn’t have much chance of panning out, they have another option. Even if they have a better chance to win next year with Rodgers than Love, they might be OK whichever way it goes. They might even prefer to give Love his shot now rather than later, regardless of what general manager Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur have said publicly.
Aaron Rodgers can still largely dictate where he plays next season
So, yeah, because of his guaranteed contract, Rodgers can force himself on the Packers if he really wants to. He can nix a trade by not cooperating with a team trying to acquire him. Presumably nobody is interested in bringing Rodgers in for only one season at $59 million. A new team would want to renegotiate his deal to ensure he plays at least a couple of years. If he refuses, there’s no trade.
Rodgers acknowledged as much to McAfee.
“I don’t think we’d get in the situation, in that imaginary world, where there’d be a trade to a team I don’t want to go to,” Rodgers told McAfee.
But the Packers have leverage, too. Unless they badly want him back, they can go about building their roster as they see fit, rather than meeting any conditions Rodgers might set.
For instance, Rodgers named to McAfee some older veterans he’d like to see the team retain: Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, David Bakhtiari and Marcedes Lewis. But if Gutekunst is OK with Rodgers not returning, then Rodgers’ reaction is no concern when the GM decides who among that group stays or goes.
If Rodgers doesn’t like the plan when he reconvenes with Gutekunst and LaFleur in the next six or eight weeks, he can either play for a Packers team he doesn’t think can compete for the Super Bowl, or ask for a trade. Rodgers told McAfee the choice would be easy.
“If they want to go younger and think Jordan's ready to go, then that might be the way they want to go," Rodgers said. “And if that's the case and I still want to play, then there's only one option, right? And that's to play somewhere else. … There's no point in coming back if you don't think you can win it all.”
This is all based on the premise Rodgers won’t retire, which he says he’s considering. But let’s assume that in the end he’s not walking away from $59 million. Who would?
Much will depend on how Brian Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur want to build their roster
How, then, is this likely to turn out? Well, if nothing else, the door to Rodgers’ departure looks a lot bigger now than it did a week ago.
Rodgers, if he’s not bluffing, will base his return to the Packers on whether they go all-in again. The question then is, should they?
The stronger argument says no. The Packers have done that the past two years and come up shorter than the previous season each time. Sure, they could do it again this offseason and easily win nine or 10 games with Rodgers just based on how they played down the stretch this year. But it’s also clear he can’t carry them like he used to, and an awful lot would have to go right – big improvement from select players, a key signing or two, and hitting on a couple of draft picks as well – for the Packers to be bona fide Super Bowl contenders next season.
Gutekunst and LaFleur already have professed publicly they want Rodgers back, though that doesn’t mean they do. If you parse the words, even Gutekunst’s strongest public comment on the subject left a little wiggle room by referring to the team’s intentions when it extended Rodgers’ last year, not its intentions now.
"We made a really big commitment to (Rodgers) last offseason,” Gutekunst said. “As we did that, it wasn't certainly just for this year.”
It’s not even a given Gutekunst and LaFleur agree on what to do. Gutekunst, with a longer time horizon in mind as GM, might be more inclined to move on than LaFleur, who as coach is focused only on 2023. In which case, CEO Mark Murphy, as head of football, would have to broker the decision. This is one reason I still prefer the GM-as-football-czar setup for this organization. The GM takes the coach’s input, but in the end it’s the GM’s call, and the accountability is his.
Maybe, in the end, both want Rodgers back for one more run. Maybe they’re fine either way. And maybe they prefer to move on to Love.
But if nothing else, Rodgers reminded us this week that while he holds a great hand, he doesn’t hold all the cards.