What could an Aaron Rodgers trade look like? It’s complicated

Another year, another offseason in limbo for the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. After the Packers failed to make the postseason for the first time under head coach Matt LaFleur — and a season in which Rodgers threw the second-most interceptions of his career — this might be the most legitimate Rodgers transaction discourse in a while.

First, we need to address the Packers’ commitments. They are projected to be $14.46 million over the 2023 salary cap, according to Spotrac. They will have to make some adjustments regardless of what happens with their current quarterback. While it’s probably the last thing he or Green Bay fans want to face, running back Aaron Jones could be first on the list of departures.

A release or trade before June 1 would give the Packers $10.4 million in savings. If they waited until after June 1, those savings would increase to $16 million. That’s a pretty big incentive considering they already have AJ Dillon on the roster.

But the undoubted elephant in the room is Rodgers’ salary for 2023, when he will make $59,515,000. And while $58.3 million of that is structured as an option bonus, which reduces the cap to $31.6 million when exercised, according to the NFL Network, that’s still a big chunk to spend on one player — especially when a potential successor waiting in the wings and remaining on his rookie contract.

“I don’t think it would be a scenario where I would come back and that would be the number,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “Definitely things need to change.”

But wait. Let’s back up. Rodgers hasn’t even committed to playing football next year at all.

He told the Pat McAfee Show on Tuesday that he still hasn’t decided whether he wants to retire.

“It’s been a lot of fun dreaming about retiring as a Packer because there’s something really special about it,” the 18-year NFL veteran said. “But if the competitive gap still needs to be filled and it’s time to move on, I hope everyone will look at it with a lot of appreciation.”

While Rodgers seems relaxed, the Packers must scramble to find the best path forward. As it stands, Green Bay has limited options immediately, even if Rodgers tells them tomorrow that he intends to play football next year. They cannot release him. The dead cap hit would be disastrous.

But they could trade him.

In fact, ESPN has reported that the Packers are actively exploring that option in the AFC.

Green Bay has two paths there. A trade before June 1 would result in a dead-cap hit of over $40 million. That actually adds $8.69 million to the previous total. The incentive there, however, is that it would get the Packers out of the massive contract now rather than later as that cap hit continues to escalate, and would allow them to get an immediate return on any acquisition of draft capital. They would trade for picks they could use this year.

Now, if they traded Rodgers after June 1, the Packers would save a significant amount on the cap and be able to reduce the dead cap hit, as well as spread it out over the next two years. Rodgers’ contract would only result in $15.83 million in dead cap for 2023 and would save the organization $15.79 million this year with the caveat that $24.48 million in dead cap would hit in 2024. That seems like the better option until you include 2023 the draft would be over and any draft capital acquired would have a delayed return. You would push any acquisition of assets to 2024, which could be the final year of Jordan Love’s contract should they pick up his fifth-year option.

There lies another decision. Say the Packers trade Rodgers after June 1, riding Love without picking up his fifth-year option, which could come in at over $20 million for 2024, as they get a feel for whether he can be the QB of the future. If he is, they might still be able to get into that $20 million per year price tag with a long-term deal before he hits free agency. If not traded, they could have several first round picks to dedicate to their franchise QB in 2024.

“The Packers have had this interesting view of personnel from assumptions from outside the building that it’s better to move on a year before a guy is done than a year after,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “Is that the mindset for them deep down? Now as an organization they’re not going to say any of that, and why would you? There’s not much to gain. Often, unfortunately at times, as noted by Mark Murphy last year, in a situation where there need not be sides, there may be sides drawn.”

Aaron Rodgers-Packers trade reportedly a ‘real possibility’

The Aaron Rodgers-Packers trade is reportedly one

Could Aaron Rodgers be on the market? According to Ian Rapoport, there is a “real possibility” that the Green Bay Packers QB will be traded this offseason. Colin Cowherd looks at some potential destinations.

Rodgers is right. There are no pages here. Even if they move on from Rodgers, Green Bay is still acting in what they believe is the franchise’s best interest. Letting Rodgers go is a matter of business and these decisions are realities, not personal.

All of this assumes they find a willing partner in a Rodgers trade as well. This situation has turned into something more reminiscent of contracts across the pond in professional football. In the English Premier League, for example, a player’s rights are acquired separately from their actual wages. That means teams often pay huge sums to each other just for the right to negotiate with superstar players. They must then meet said player’s salary requirements.

Bring it home to the Rodgers situation and the buyout isn’t necessarily cash, but now draft or player capital. Teams have to give up a move to acquire Rodgers in the first place. They will then have to honor his fully guaranteed salary, although it appears Rodgers is amenable to the aforementioned “shifts” to make it more palatable.

Would teams really be willing to do that for the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer at this stage in his career?

The way one NFL coach put it to me was, “Absolutely.”

Elite – and perhaps more importantly, proven – quarterback talent is hard to come by. It always has been. Rodgers believes he can still play at an MVP level. He still wants to compete for championships. He is just waiting for “the right situation”, as he put it a couple of weeks ago.

The New York Jets could be the right situation, as Rodgers would follow in the footsteps of Brett Favre, his predecessor in Green Bay. General Manager Joe Douglas has been known to be aggressive. He could afford to pay a hefty trade price and would also likely be willing, given what a disaster the position has been for the Jets of late. Right now, Spotrac projects New York to come in at $2.67 million over the cap for 2023. They can’t quite save money on disgruntled quarterback Zach Wilson unless they find a willing trade partner after June 1st. But $2 million can be easily shaved off. Coming up with the other $29 million for Rodgers’ cap hit would be another story.

There is another vacancy in New York that may also be of interest to Rodgers. They fired their offensive coordinator this offseason (the brother of Rodgers’ current head coach, by the way) and are rumored to be strongly considering Nathaniel Hackett. No, it didn’t work out for Hackett in Denver as a head coach, but he would reunite with Rodgers after just one season away. Hackett was Rodgers’ OC for both of his last MVP wins, after all. Could it be Douglas’ way of further enticing Rodgers?

More than that, would Green Bay find a deal worthwhile?

“I am open to all honest and direct conversations and if [the Packers] felt it was in the best interest of the team to move on, so be it,” Rodgers said. “It wouldn’t offend me. It wouldn’t make me feel like a victim. I didn’t want any animosity towards the team. I love the team. I love the organization. I love the city. I love the region … I have a lot of love for what has happened in Green Bay. And I would like to end there. I would. And I might have finished there. Who knows? But when I talk about my future I don’t talk in cryptic terms. I am quite direct in how I feel and I take my time in my decision. And I’m not egomaniac, in a way, to think that I should be able to play where I want for as long as I want. There are two sides to this.”

If that sounds a little contradictory, that’s because it is. It is difficult to argue against sides and then declare that they exist. You can’t say “who knows?” while you say you are not cryptic. Rodgers holds back a giant piece of the puzzle for the Packers. They can’t do anything until they know if he plays football next year.

So the question isn’t whether Green Bay can realistically move on from Aaron Rodgers. That’s when Aaron Rodgers will let them.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen previously had stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, adding the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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