It was back on March 15 when Aaron Rodgers appeared on “The Pat McAfee Show” and revealed that he told the Green Bay Packers he wanted to play for the New York Jets.
More than a month later, Rodgers is still a Packer, but the upcoming NFL Draft has created a soft deadline for the two teams to finally complete the long-gestating trade. In other words, if a deal isn’t done by the end of this week, Green Bay obviously won’t be receiving any 2023 draft picks as compensation. And with that option off the table, the whole shape of the deal would likely be affected.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Monday that the two sides believe a deal will get done this week, and he intimated that a second-round pick in the 2023 draft would be part of the package heading back to Green Bay. The Jets have the 42nd and 43rd overall picks, both in the second round. If that’s the case, the deal would naturally need to be completed before Friday, when the second round gets going.
How did we get here? Let’s retrace the steps.
Was there a chance Aaron Rodgers would be the quarterback of the Packers in 2023 after last season ended?
It was impossible to ignore the strong possibility that the organization would move on to Jordan Love, drafted in the first round of the 2020 draft, even for Rodgers, who behaved with some measure of sentimentality after the unceremonious end of the 2022 season. There was even a lingering possibility that Rodgers would retire.
Yes, he’d won the 2020 and 2021 MVP awards. But 2022 could be safely argued as his worst statistical season, and an 8-9 finish seemed particularly harsh with the season-finale loss to the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field — when a win would have gotten the Packers into the playoffs.
But teammates like Aaron Jones wanted him to stay, even as more smoke began building that the Jets would have serious interest in Rodgers, perhaps mutually. ESPN’s Trey Wingo said March 7 that Rodgers was open to the idea of playing in New York. Players like New York’s Sauce Gardner offered their own mode of persuasion by burning a cheesehead.
Given the cost of keeping Rodgers into next year, there was also a financial incentive for the Packers to move on. Another $59 million on the books for 2024 would have been further crippling to a team already struggling with the salary cap.
Packers president Mark Murphy made it clear Green Bay was moving to Jordan Love
The rhetoric from club officials insisting they wanted Rodgers back wasn’t out there this offseason like it had been last year, when Rodgers was similarly mulling his future.
On March 10, at the WIAA state girls basketball tournament of all places, Packers president Mark Murphy provided some illuminating comments that showed the Packers were indeed poised to move on.
When asked if Rodgers could return to the Packers, Murphy admitted it was a possibility, but he didn’t say with conviction that it was something the club sought.
“I mean, unless things don’t work out the way we would want them, yeah,” Murphy said of a return. “He’s obviously a great player and four-time MVP. But I think it’s trying to find what he wants, and what we want and, hopefully, we can find a win-win situation.”
Coach Matt LaFleur, for his part, declined to answer questions about Rodgers and focused on the successes the two have had in Green Bay.
What happened after Aaron Rodgers’ darkness retreat with Brian Gutekunst and Packers management?
Rodgers, a regular guest on McAfee show, shared his intent in February to experience a four-day “darkness retreat” where he could contemplate his future while in a prolonged state of sensory deprivation. The concept became a subject of fascination among sports fans.
He said he went into the experience “90%” sure he would retire, but through some of the meditation, he decided he still wanted to play. But upon his emergence back into the daylight, he said messages from friends indicated the Packers were having trade talks. That caught him off-guard and soured him on staying in Green Bay.
Rodgers said the Packers told him he could have all the time he needed to make a decision. General manager Brian Gutekunst suggested on two occasions that the lack of communication was on Rodgers’ end, and it would be helpful to have clarity by March 15, when free agency essentially began.
At the NFL owners meetings, Gutekunst said the front office tried many times, and failed, to reach Rodgers.
“Obviously, it was a disappointing season,” Gutekunst said. “You come out of the season, you have a lot of conversations not only with Aaron, but with the rest of the team, coaches and everybody. And then as you go through that process, you kind of get an idea of where you’re going to move to as a team, how you’re going to go forward. I think I was really looking forward to the conversations with Aaron to see how he’d fit into that. Those never transpired.”
What other moves have the Jets made this offseason that are enticing to Aaron Rodgers?
A six-game losing streak to close the year defused what had been a strong 2023 season by the Jets. Owner Woody Johnson had said he’ll do whatever it takes to make the Jets a bona fide contender.
On Jan. 26, the squad hired Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator; he held that same role with the Packers from 2019 through 2021 and was believed to have a great relationship with Rodgers.
In fact, one of the perceived perks of the Denver Broncos hiring Hackett as head coach in 2022 was an opportunity to create an attractive situation for Rodgers. But Rodgers and the Packers opted for a four-year extension and Denver traded for Russell Wilson of Seattle instead. Neither team came away with a particularly memorable year, and Hackett was fired with two games left in his first season.
Hackett isn’t the only hire that seems to be made with Rodgers in mind. From signing former Rodgers backup quarterback Tim Boyle to the addition of ex-Packers receiver Allen Lazard to the interest shown in wide receiver Randall Cobb and tight end Marcedes Lewis, it’s clear the Jets are willing to stockpile players with whom Rodgers is comfortable.
If the trade falls through with the Packers, could the Jets still land Lamar Jackson?
The Jets also don’t have an apparent Plan B at quarterback. Former Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr wound up with New Orleans, and ex-San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took Carr’s place in Vegas.
Though there’s still uncertainty around the future of Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, New York doesn’t appear positioned to give up the draft capital that would be required to land Jackson. And having the No. 13 pick in the draft makes it unlikely the Jets can get a difference-making quarterback in the draft.
Once Rodgers pointed to the Jets specifically on the McAfee show, he made it pretty hard for the Jets to go in any other direction. It seemed like they were within reach of adding a star quarterback, as long as the trade could be consummated.
What’s the holdup from the Packers and Jets finishing the trade for Aaron Rodgers?
Leverage. What a word.
It was an often-discussed concept in the ensuing weeks; namely, which team had more of it, and why? It became clear that the Packers simply had an asking price in mind and the Jets didn’t want to give up that much. Neither side has budged enough to make a deal.
Anonymous personnel executives differ on whether the Packers could realistically land the No. 13 pick in the first round of the 2023 draft, two spots before their own No. 15 pick, as part of the trade package.
It’s clear the two sides didn’t have a deal in place, or one team shifted expectations after the McAfee announcement. The draft indeed serves as one possible deadline, though it’s not a true drop-dead moment. But with limited ability to add free agents, it’s in Green Bay’s interest to start adding playmakers through the draft and get started on the rebuild toward playoff caliber.
The Packers owe Rodgers a $58.3 million guaranteed option bonus payable before the first day of the regular season. For salary-cap purposes, option bonuses are treated like signing bonuses, which means they can be spread equally in cap obligation over the remaining years of the contract. Rodgers has four years left on his contract, so that bonus counts $14.575 million against this year’s cap. Since no additional cap charges are added until the option bonus is executed, the Packers don’t have to do anything to get in compliance with the cap. They’re $21 million under and will remain so until Rodgers is traded or they make another move.
In other words, that’s the real deadline — the start of the 2023 season, when a much higher bill comes due. And that’s in September. Anybody want to do this for a few more months?
If the Packers wait until June 1, the cap charges beyond this year that will come due when he’s off the roster won’t hit until next year, so that would represent some short-term savings. But it comes at the high cost of not getting any additional assets through the 2023 draft.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Will Aaron Rodgers be traded from Packers to Jets during NFL Draft?