The Green Bay Packers have hit rock bottom. Losers of five straight, the last of which was to a Lions team that sported perhaps the worst defense in modern NFL history, they are now floating about aimlessly and without hope.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ play suggests that he feels much the same. Rodgers was rather petulant during the game, as can be seen by the myriad of FOX roll on Sunday. The most famous of which involved Rodgers screaming that Toure should ‘catch the ball’ while he bounced it to him a solid two yards in front. His play is akin to what it looked like in 2018 where he oscillated between occasional hero ball, infuriated tantrums, and disillusioned apathy. There are some options for the Packers to get out of this and keep the quarterback around, but we are reaching the point where it’s appropriate to ask if the cost of doing so is even worth it.
Aaron Rodgers retiring elsewhere is good for Green Bay’s books. The mechanisms as to why lie in the unique option bonus structure, which makes him more expensive every additional year he is on the Packers. Rodgers retiring elsewhere would also have to come with the blessing of Aaron Rodgers. No team is trading for him without at least two years of verbal commitment that he’ll be playing. The reason for this is the onerous situation he would leave the new team in if he retired after 2023 (a dead cap hit of $43.7M) while only getting one year of production. As you can find here, the Packers' options are all painful. Rodgers retiring hurts, trading Rodgers hurts, and releasing Rodgers is impossible. Using the excerpt from the article mentioned above regarding the Packers trading Rodgers:
Rodgers does not have a no trade clause in his contract so he could be traded to a team as well. The timing of the option should give the Packers all the way until the end of training camp to move him. The cap charge here would depend on when he was traded. If Rodgers were to be traded prior to June 1st the Packers would take on a $40,313,750 cap hit in 2023. If he was traded after June 1st it would be a $15,833,570 cap hit in 2023 with $24,480,000 due in 2024. This assumes that the Packers did not exercise the option before the trade. If the option is exercised then the trade number spikes to nearly $100 million. There should be no need to exercise the option until the last possible day.
For the team acquiring Rodgers they would be on the hook for the salary for the year. The cap charge would be $59,515,000 if they do not exercise his option and $15.79 million if they were to exercise the option. Rodgers has an injury guarantee of $49.25 million for 2024 but that does not become fully guaranteed until 5 days after the 2023 Super Bowl. If Rodgers was cut after 2023 it would cost the team $43.725 million on the 2024 cap. If he retired they could split that as $14.575 million in 2024 and $29.15 million in 2025 using a similar June 2nd date as mentioned above in the retirement option.
But what is an acquirable Aaron Rodgers even worth? What do Aaron Rodgers’ financials look like for the other team? Is this even reasonable? Can the Packers still get value for Rodgers?
The ongoing assumptions that will be used for this exercise are the following:
- Aaron Rodgers asks to be moved this winter/spring.
- The Packers will not execute the trade until June 2nd for the cap reasons listed above.
- Because of this, the Packers would not be acquiring any 2023 draft picks.
- Rodgers will give the acquiring team a verbal commitment that he will play at least the 2023 and 2024 seasons.
So what does this look like financially for the acquiring team? First of all, a special thanks to Ken Ingalls (@KenIngalls on Twitter), who helped me work through what this looks like. This contract is particularly confusing since the option bonuses mess up all of the traditional cap calculators. His assistance was invaluable in trying to figure out what Rodgers’ value could be.
Since a lot of Rodgers’ bonuses are going to be accelerated onto the Packers' books, the books for the acquiring team look a little bit better for them than for what it would look like for Green Bay. In the 2023 season, Rodgers would only count against Team X’s books to the tune of $15.8M. In 2024, assuming they have not reworked his contract (which may not be a correct assumption), he would also have a low cap hit of just $18M.
After the 2024 season, it’s anyone’s guess as to what would happen. Rodgers is not going to play on his current contract in the 2025 season and beyond. The frank reason is that he wouldn’t be paid enough to stick around, as his cash paid plummets to just $20.9M and $15.1M in 2025 and 2026, respectively. If he plays beyond 2024, it’s on a new contract.
Let’s assume he retires after the 2024 season, what would the new team be taking on? The most likely scenario is they would take on a dead cap hit of $30.2M in 2024 and $30.2M in 2025. The reason for this is because of post-June 1st rules, and Rodgers would almost certainly do what Drew Brees did when he retired: Announce retirement, but not ‘officially’ retire until after June 1st so that the dead cap could be spread out over two years.
Kind of weird, right? The acquiring team pays less to have Aaron Rodgers ON their team in 2023 and 2024 than when he is no longer there. Such is the weird contract of Aaron Rodgers. The overall cap cost would be about $94.2M for two years of work and four years of cap hits. That is about the overall going rate for quarterbacks these days, but the way it hits the cap is unique.
The real question is: Would anybody want this? I think the answer is yes. There are real financial shortcomings involved once you get into the retirement, but having Aaron Rodgers taking up just seven-ish percent of your cap space in 2023 and 2024 is extremely enticing if you have the pieces and capital to surround him with talent. While Rodgers has not played particularly well this year, whoever would be interested in him would have to be someone who ends up with the ‘buyer’s curse.’ That team would value Rodgers higher than anyone else. Perhaps a San Francisco, a Las Vegas, or any number of desperate GM/coaches around the league.
For the Packers, they could still be looking at getting a meaningful return for him. It probably will not match what they could have gotten last spring, but if Rodgers wants to leave, at least one team will likely be more than happy to play ball and supply Green Bay with significant draft capital to go for it for two years. Green Bay missed the most opportune window to move on, but they don’t need to double down on their mistake if their quarterback gives them an escape hatch. There is still a way out of this.