Last week, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers stated on The Pat McAfee Show that he wouldn’t entertain returning to the team if they went through a rebuild. That seems like a fairly reasonable request for a 39-year-old quarterback, but there’s no reason to expect that general manager Brian Gutekunst is going to pull the plug on the 2023 season should Rodgers come back.
During the Packers’ bye week in 2022, Gutekunst said that the contract the team handed Rodgers last offseason “wasn’t certainly for one year” when asked if he wants the four-time MVP to return to the team next season. At the end-of-the-year presser, Gutekunst nearly repeated his response word-for-word, signifying that the Packers do want Rodgers under center in 2023.
So what’s the debate? Green Bay wants Rodgers back and they aren’t looking to rebuild with $60 million in cash due to Rodgers in 2023, right? Well, that depends on your definition of “rebuild.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Saturday that, “The Packers are expected to move on from certain players, which Aaron Rodgers probably will not like.” There it is. On The Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers mentioned receiver Randall Cobb, receiver Allen Lazard, tight end Marcedes Lewis, tight end Robert Tonyan and left tackle David Bakhtiari — all offensive players that he’s notably close with — as players whose status in 2023 could potentially impact his decision to retire or not this offseason.
During the end-of-year presser, Gutekunst noted that the team does want Bakhtiari as their blindside tackle going into 2023, but the four offensive skill players weren’t mentioned. Bakhtiari is under contract next year, but the pass-catchers are all set to be free agents this offseason.
If the Packers trade Aaron Rodgers before the draft, extend Gary, max void restructure every non-rookie contract veteran, and only bring back Nijman...— Ken Ingalls - Packers Cap (@KenIngalls) January 23, 2023
...They would have about $9.2 million left to spend to sign anyone else who is not a draft pick or not on the practice squad. pic.twitter.com/KSCkPWKNht
If you want to know how tight the margins are going to be for the 2023 Packers this offseason, take no further look than the analysis that Ken Ingalls has done on their cap situation. According to Ingalls, a pre-draft trade of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, along with an extension of outside linebacker Rashan Gary, a second-round tender of right tackle Yosh Nijman and the max void restructures of every significant veteran contract on the team would leave Green Bay with just $9.2 million of cap space for non-rookie signings. That doesn’t include the cap cost of extra cap picks the Packers would receive in a Rodgers trade, which is expected to be “at least two first-round picks,” according to NBC Sports’ Peter King.
The only way Cobb, Lazard, Tonyan and Lewis come back with Rodgers in 2023 is if the team pushes all their 2023 cap hits into the future, essentially setting themselves up for a situation where they’re using future cap dollars to pay for next season’s team, and they use their remaining functional cap space to bring Rodgers’ friends back. It’s simply not justified to roll with that plan, as the Packers finished 8-9 in 2022 in part due to a struggling passing game. It makes no sense to pay for a non-playoff team with a credit card. Again.
If playing with receivers like Cobb and Lazard is the difference between Rodgers returning or demanding a trade, it’s time to move on. Rodgers threw 12 interceptions, the most in his career since his 2008 debut season as a starter, and had a passer rating of 91.1 in 2022, a career low. That all doesn’t fall on his plate but assuming that there would be a different result while paying more in 2023 to bring back the same pass-catchers would be a mistake.
If it’s more important to Rodgers to play with Cobb than end his career in Green Bay, let him play with Cobb as a New York Jet at the cost of two first-round draft picks and usher in the Jordan Love era a little earlier than expected.