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If a Rodgers trade is inevitable, Green Bay should look for a return akin to NBA superstars

The NFL rarely sees trades for superstars, so Green Bay should look to a different league for a model.

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It’s been a helluva 24+ hours. On Thursday morning Packers fans were anxiously waiting to see how the team would add to a group that is setting up for a third deep playoff run. Instead, the first shit sandwich of the day for Wisconsin sports hit in the early afternoon: Aaron Rodgers wants out, and he wants out now.

As soon as Green Bay traded up to take Jordan Love last year, a rather messy divorce seemed inevitable. Most thought that would occur next offseason, when Green Bay could financially handle moving on from Rodgers and Love would have had two years behind the future Hall of Famer. That blew up quite aggressively when reports from NFL beat writers slammed into our timelines that QB1 wanted to be traded.

I’m not here to discuss whether Green Bay should move on from Rodgers. The topic just saddens me too much to write about. What I’m doing instead is assuming that Green Bay will trade Rodgers, whether that be after June 1st, when his cap hit will be able to spread across 2021 and 2022, or next off-season after an uncomfortable 2021. When Green Bay eventually either capitulates or decides to go forward with Jordan Love (however you wish to frame it), there is no other NFL trade to look at to determine the value of Aaron Rodgers. This situation is really a one of one.

If we look at the modern NFL, good quarterbacks are rarely traded. The ones that have been traded all fall under the “decent or worse” category.

Traded QBs post-2000

Player Return
Player Return
Matthew Stafford Jared Goff + 2022 & 2023 firsts + 2021 third
Jimmy Garoppolo 2018 2nd
Sam Bradford 2017 1st + conditional 2018 draft pick
Carson Palmer 2012 1st + 2013 2nd
Jay Cutler 2009 & 2010 firsts + 2009 3rd
Matt Cassel 2009 2nd
Daunte Culpepper 2006 2nd
Drew Bledsoe 2003 1st
Brett Favre Conditional 2009 draft pick

The only one who does not fit that description is yet another Packers quarterback: Brett Favre. The Favre situation is meaningfully different than the Rodgers one, however. Favre had just retired while Rodgers has talked about playing into his forties. Favre had a very good 2007, but nothing near Rodgers’ 2020. There is no real precedent for an Aaron Rodgers trade in the NFL, so the Packers should look to other sports to find one.

If you’re a fan of the NBA, acrimonious breakups are a part of life. A league dominated by personalities, petty rivalries, AAU friendships, ring culture, and a new era of player empowerment has put teams in some precarious positions — positions similar to the Green Bay currently finds itself in. This is a league where superstars ARE traded, and we have a much better understanding in the modern NBA of what those trades should look like and what fair compensation really is.

There are a couple of examples of recent superstar trades that Green Bay would be wise to look at:

NBA Superstar Trades

Player Return
Player Return
Anthony Davis Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, first round picks in 2019, 2022, 2024 or 2025, and pick swap rights in 2023
Paul George Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, first round picks in 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024, and 2026, plus swap rights in 2023 and 2025.

In both of these scenarios, the teams trading for the superstars were doing so to maximize their short-term championship window, which is exactly what any team trading for Aaron Rodgers is doing.

For those of you who are less familiar with the NBA, I can explain the basis of these trades a little bit for some context. Brandon Ingram was a rising star, Lonzo Ball was considered a quality role player with a ceiling for more, and Josh Hart was a solid if unspectacular role player. The 2019 draft pick was number 4 overall, which is very valuable, while the rest are either going to be late first rounders (which probably equate to day two picks in the NFL) or in the distant future, designed to cash in after LeBron James’ window closes.

The Paul George trade included Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, an impressive young player, Danilo Gallinari, who was a solid veteran who would retain trade value, and a plethora of picks from both the Clippers and the Miami Heat. Again, many of these picks were out into the future so they would convey after the initial competitive window for the Clippers.

Both of these trades led to an incredible amount of compensation to a team losing their superstar, but it is justified for the team trading for the superstar as well. The Lakers won a title in 2020 behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis and will remain title contenders so long as that tandem is healthy and LeBron continues to defy the process of aging. The Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Semifinals last year, but return as a title contender this year and will remain so in any year in which they have both Kawhi Leonhard and Paul George. The price is steep, but flags fly forever.

Aaron Rodgers, at least the version we saw in 2020, is essentially a one-man playoff berth with any semblance of a competent supporting cast. On a team with at least a solid group of players, you become legitimate title contenders. The Packers should leverage this idea with anyone they trade with, when or if that time comes.

The rumors of a trade with Denver are the most prevalent and, if that does come to fruition, Green Bay should be looking to get the type of return seen in an Anthony Davis or Paul George trade. That is, it should be a trade wherein Denver would willingly be destroying their roster in their post-Rodgers era for the chance to maximize their Super Bowl window over the next 2-3 years.

What this looks like in practice is a plethora of draft picks from a team in addition to a couple of promising young players. It’s difficult to construct an exact trade because it partially depends on how much job security Brian Gutekunst thinks he has, but the team should not be afraid to push out some picks well into the future to maximize the potential payoff from them in a world where Rodgers is no longer playing where you traded him, in this case Denver.

What Green Bay should not do is merely trade him for a couple of firsts and Drew Lock. Such a package would be more akin to the Matthew Stafford trade than a level of compensation worthy of a walking, talking, scotch-drinking immediate Super Bowl window. If Green Bay cannot get several first round picks, a handful of mid-round picks, and a few intriguing young players, they should buckle up for an uncomfortable 2021. Other teams would then have to come to grips with the fact that they are wasting an Aaron Rodgers year that could be making them Super Bowl contenders, and the Packers can let the job security considerations of general managers and head coaches across the league begin to drive up the price.

This type of trade would significantly shake-up the paradigm of trades in the NFL, but that would be for the better. A truly elite quarterback has almost no price in trades because of their immense value, so because of this, you have to effectively cripple a franchise in the years after they’re gone and create a situation in which you provide yourself with either the capital necessary to reload the team around Jordan Love or the ammunition you’ll need to acquire an elite quarterback prospect in the next couple years.