In the hours leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, ESPN's Aaron Schefter revealed Aaron Rodgers told the Packers he didn't want to return to the team, prompting speculation a trade could be imminent. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst, head coach Matt LaFleur and president and CEO Mark Murphy have traveled separately to meet with Rodgers this offseason. After news of Rodgers' discontent became public, the Packers have been adamant the reigning NFL MVP won't be traded.
There have been different accounts of what would placate Rodgers. Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson reported Rodgers won't play for the Packers as long as Gutekunst remains general manager. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Athlete First's David Dunn, Rodgers' agent, has had contract discussions in Green Bay with the Packers' brass over the last month. The Packers were interested in restructuring Rodgers' contract, while he wanted a contract extension. Retirement is an option for Rodgers unless the situation can be "repaired to his liking," suggesting there is a path for Green Bay to salvage things.
Green Bay mending fences without trading Rodgers or firing Gutekunst could be a two-step process. Reversing course with a commitment to trade Jordan Love, whose presence is a major cause of Rodgers' rift with the Packers, would probably need to be made.
The Packers traded up to the 26th overall pick last year to take Love as Rodgers' potential successor at quarterback rather than selecting someone in the first round who could make an immediate contribution, perhaps an offensive weapon in a deep wide receiver draft class, after advancing to the NFC Championship Game. Adding insult to injury from Rodgers' perspective, he was blindsided by the Love pick instead of being alerted beforehand.
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Rodgers seemingly responded by having arguably his best season as a pro. He set career highs with 48 touchdown passes and a 70.7 completion percentage, which both led the NFL. Rodgers also had a league best 121.5 passer rating and passed for 4,299 yards. For the second straight year, the Packers lost in the NFC title game.
Murphy has proclaimed the Packers are committed to Rodgers in 2021 and beyond. The second step would be the Packers putting their money where Murphy's mouth is by giving Rodgers an extension, although there are three years remaining on his contract. Rodgers, who turns 38 in December, has previously indicated on several occasions he plans on playing into his 40s.
The four-year, $134 million extension (worth up to $138 million through salary escalators and incentives) Rodgers signed during the preseason in 2018 averages $33.5 million per year. There were two years left on Rodgers' existing contract when he became the NFL's highest paid player.
Rodgers' contract has become outdated since the signing. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes tops the NFL pay scale at $45 million per year with the unique 10-year extension he signed last offseason. Dak Prescott is next with the four-year, $160 million deal averaging $40 million per year he received from the Cowboys in March. An NFL-record $95 million fully guaranteed at signing, which includes the largest signing bonus ever at $66 million, is in Prescott's contract.
Rodgers has $66.2 million in the three years left on his contract, which doesn't include a $6.8 million roster bonus earned in March on the third of the league year. His remaining 2021 compensation consists of a $14.7 million roster bonus and $500,000 workout bonus. Rodgers is scheduled to make $25.5 million each year in 2022 and 2023.
The DeAndre Hopkins blueprint
Players receiving extensions with three years remaining is unusual. A blueprint does exist. It was created last year with Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. He had three years remaining on his contract for $39.915 million when he signed a two-year, $54.5 million extension right before the 2020 regular season started. Hopkins became the NFL's highest paid non-quarterback at $27.25 million per year. $42.75 million of Hopkins' contract was fully guaranteed, which included a $27.5 million signing bonus. Hopkins got a no-trade clause, the final year of the contract can void based on his performance and the Cardinals can't designate him as franchise or transition player when the deal expires.
Every deal I did in my numerous years as an agent was over how much new money and how many new contract years may be added when a player had contract years remaining. Negotiations weren't conducted as if deals were being ripped up like a player wasn't already under contract even with a significant amount of time remaining.
The Hopkins deal has 30.3 percent of the $54.5 million in new money after the first contract year or 2020. The percentage of new money barely increases to $30.7 million after 2021. There's nearly 37 percent of new money through the three remaining contract years or 2022. Hopkins has just over 72.5 percent of the new money through the first new contract year of 2023.
The most player-friendly contract structures are typically reserved for the league's best quarterbacks, given their importance to a team's success. There is a major factor distinguishing Rodgers from the Hopkins situation that could impact his ability to get a superior structure.
The Cardinals were starting fresh with Hopkins since he was acquired in a trade with the Texans a few months prior. This meant the Cardinals weren't contending with any existing bonus proration on the salary cap.
Rodgers extension considerations
A two-year extension that's satisfactory to Rodgers would likely need to make him the NFL's highest paid player ahead of Mahomes' $45 million per year. This would mean more than $90 million new money allocated over the five years of a contract running through the 2025 season.
Becoming the highest paid player would be meaningless for Rodgers without substantial contract guarantees. The ability to void out of the final year wouldn't be necessary since Rodgers turns 42 in 2025.
Rodgers' 2021 and 2022 cap numbers of $37.202 million and $39.852 million would at worse need to remain the same. The Packers really aren't in position for an increase to Rodgers' 2022 cap number. There are currently a league high $223,393,875 of 2022 cap commitments for the Packers with just 33 players under contract, according to NFLPA data.
The easiest way to fit an extension within these constraints is to give Rodgers a big signing bonus where his $14.7 million 2021 base salary is lowered significantly, if not to his $1.075 million league minimum salary. For example, a $50 million signing bonus where Rodgers' 2021 base salary drops to $4.7 million while also getting rid of the $1 million in incentives for each of the existing years would make his new 2021 cap number $36.352 million. This is because there's already $14.352 million bonus proration and the $6.8 million roster bonus accounting for $21.152 million of Rodgers' 2021 cap number while the $850,000 of incentives on Green Bay's cap as likely to be earned are being eliminated. The new $10 million of annual proration from the $50 million signing bonus, the $4.7 million base salary and $500,000 workout bonus would make up the other $15.2 million of Rodgers' 2021 cap number.
Rodgers' 2022 compensation couldn't be more than $15.5 million to keep his 2022 cap number from increasing. There would be $24.352 million of bonus proration from the $14.352 million already existing and the $10 million created by the new signing bonus.
Rodgers would have to make more than $95 million through 2023, excluding the $6.8 million from the March roster bonus, to set a new standard for money fully guaranteed at signing. In essence, the first three years running through 2023 would likely need to be fully guaranteed. Rodgers' third year cap number in turn would exceed $40 million. The salary cap should probably start to see tremendous increases by 2023 because of the new media rights deals.
Rodgers' 2024 and 2025 cap numbers wouldn't be much more than $40 million, depending upon much how more than $90 million of new money was being added. There would have to more than $156.2 million over the five contract years running through 2025 for there to be over $90 million in new money since Rodgers has $66.2 million left in his current deal.
All of this assumes the relationship with Rodgers isn't beyond repair. My experience as an agent was money talked in a rift with a player. If Rodgers truly feels there's too much water under the bridge at this point, no amount money will make a difference to him. The ultimate resolution between Rodgers and the Packers remains to be seen. In any event, I really don't expect the Packers to go the extension route because of my skepticism in any deviation from the apparent original plan of having Love become Rodgers' replacement as early as next season. The $22.648 million of 2022 cap room that would be gained from Rodgers' departure could really come in handy given Green Bay's cap situation for next year.