The Future for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers

After another disappointing exit from the playoffs Green Bay will be faced with the prospects of going into a rebuild while dealing with the salary cap fallout of going all in for 2021 and pushing in the ballpark of $45 million in salary cap charges to the future to keep the team together. Once Green Bay makes their futures signings official this week they will project to be about $48.5 million over the 2022 salary cap and about $52 million over once you factor in rookie contracts. It’s the second worst salary cap position in the NFL.

The big decision for the team will be what to do with Aaron Rodgers and how agreeable he might be or a team trading for him would be to help the team out with their salary cap troubles. The issues Rodgers had with the team last season have been well documented and while seemed to smooth things over during the season it is clear that Rodgers is not going to want to be part of a rebuilding process in Green Bay nor should the Packers want him to be part of a rebuild.

Rodgers has a $46.8 million cap charge in 2022, the second highest cap number in the NFL. The cost to move Rodgers off the team is substantial- $26.847 million- and that number is the same whether he is cut or traded. In both scenarios the Packers will only open up $19.95 million in cap room. So moving Rodgers is not the miracle path to salary cap heaven the way many think.

Cutting Rodgers would not make sense as he has trade value and that would be incredibly valuable towards a rebuild. I would imagine that he would bring back a 1st round pick in a trade, but there is a catch to any trade. Trades can be agreed upon prior to the start of free agency but can not be completed until the 1st day of free agency which means the Packers would need to carry Rodgers full $46.8 million cap charge. They would need to find an extra $20 million in cap relief elsewhere on the roster to comply with the cap.

The path that would have opened up the most space for Green Bay would be a restructure or extension of Rodgers contract but that certainly would not work for a rebuild and would simply be running back again with the same team that failed in the playoffs the last three years. Still the Packers could use that as a way to better comply with the cap by getting Rodgers to agree to a contract with a guaranteed roster bonus that would be due after the trade. The team could lower his cap number to $25.4 million prior to the trade by doing that. The downside to that strategy is the dead money would increase from $26.847 million to $32 million once the trade is executed with the Packers receiving a $5.2 million cap credit in 2023. That doesn’t help them for 2022.

The Packers could look to see if a team would be willing to wait until June 2nd to process a trade. Combining that with the above scenario the team would carry $25.4 million until June 2 and then have the number drop to $24.3 million. They would take on a few million in dead money in 2023 as well. The negative of that scenario is the Packers would receive no draft picks this season for the trade since the trade would not be official until after the NFL draft.

Scenario 3 is to allow Rodgers to negotiate a contract extension with another team with the knowledge that on paper they need the extension to drop his salary for 2022 to the minimum. I believe, but am not certain, that you can include a bonus in a contract that only kicks in if a player is traded. The trade bonus should not count on the salary cap until the player is actually traded. If that is not the case then the two sides could agree to a deal where all of the guarantees and salary in the future would be guaranteed after a trade. The team and Rodgers could then execute another contract after the trade to move more salary back to 2022. The Packers would get a 2022 draft pick in that trade and would be able to keep Rodgers cap number no higher than $26.9 million for the year. There would be no dead money in 2023. This may be the most complicated scenario but also the best one for them.

Beyond Rodgers the team has plenty of decisions to make. Receiver Davante Adams is a free agent. At a minimum it will cost $20.12 million to tag him which just adds to the salary cap bill. Adams will be 30 next season. Trading franchise tagged players is never easy but they would be foolish to not tag him and let him just walk away when they could get a high draft pick for him.

Given that the Packers did spend a 1st round pick on Jordan Love it is possible that they may view Adams as part of a rebuild. If that is the case then the team will need to work out an extension prior to free agency so they could bring that cap figure down from $20 million to somewhere closer to $8 million. The difficulty in doing an extension with Adams is that the Packers (and most of the NFL) do not want to acknowledge the contract of DeAndre Hopkins and to a lesser extent Julio Jones as being legitimate. Jones’ new money average is $22 million and Hopkins is $27 million. They would need to find a middle ground.

They will be faced with other decisions on extensions or cuts. Za’Darius Smith has a $27.66 million cap charge and is on the final year of his contract. Cutting him opens up $15.3 million in cap room. Smith played just one game this year. Preston Smith has a $19.7 million cap charge and is also in the final year of his contract. He agreed to a pay cut last year but played very well this season. Releasing him saves around $12.5 million. In both cases extensions would probably save the same amount of cap room but would tie Green Bay to those players for at least the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Releasing Randall Cobb will free up $6.8 million and that seems to be a no brainer.

If they can get creative with Rodgers , cut Cobb, and do whatever they need to with the two pass rushers they would only be very close to being cap compliant if they extend Adams and need about $15 million more in space if they simply tag him. The team would then move into the territory of contract restructures. They could open up around $9 million in cap space with David Bakhtiari, $9.8 million with Jaire Alexander, and $10.9 million with Kenny Clark. That would give them the space needed to function in the offseason while sorting everything out. If they cant come up with a creative solution for Rodgers $46 million cap number then they would have no choice but to do all these things plus probably tinker with a few other smaller contracts until they sorted out a trade.

Its an interesting set of decisions for Green Bay. If they are still very bullish on Love it is more about dealing with the short term cap impacts of Rodgers contract and then seeing if they can move further in the playoffs. If they are no longer bullish on Love it should be an offseason designed to find the draft capital needed to select a QB in the 2023 draft and making certain they do not do anything that sucks the life out of their salary cap in 2023 and especially 2024.