The Packers Options with Aaron Rodgers

While the draft did not bring about many surprises last night it closed with a shocker when the Green Bay Packers traded up a few slots to select QB Jordan Love as the heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers. This of course has driven a ton of speculation about Rodgers future with the team so let’s break down the scenarios from a salary cap perspective of what can and can not happen with Rodger.

Scenario 1: Trading Rodgers in 2020

This is the most unlikely of all scenarios. First of all the Packers signed a good number of free agents in 2019 and teams don’t sign those kind of free agents, go 13-3, make the NFC Championship game and then blow it up. It would make no sense whatsoever. The Packers have also already committed to Rodgers almost his entire salary for the year due to a late 2019 restructure that was proactively negotiated in the event a new CBA was not signed by the start of the new League Year. Rodgers salary for the year is just under $21.1M and he has already been paid all but $2.05 million of that salary so there would be zero financial benefit. The salary cap cost would be astronomical, $51.1 million, a loss of over $24M in cap room. Green Bay does not even have the cap space to do that move. In theory they could wait until after June 1 to make a trade which would split that as $19.592 million this year and $31.556 million next season. Still it makes no sense for the organization.

Scenario 2: Trading/Cutting Rodgers in early 2021

Things get a little more interesting next season. Rodgers counts for $36.35 million on the salary cap while playing on a $22 million salary. Rodgers also has a $6.8 million roster bonus that is due by the third day of free agency so any move would need to be made before that. It basically gives them an official two day window to execute a trade. This is still not a cheap option. Both moves would cost the team $31.556 million in cap dollars though that would free up around $4.8 million in cap space. If they wait until after the roster bonus is paid however the dead money jumps by $6.8M meaning he will remain on the team.  If the NFL is seriously impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak there may be some logic in freeing up cap room and bailing on a high salary for the year, though you would think QB would be the last position teams look at for that.  Provided teams do not get into a cost protection mode next year Rodgers would definitely have big trade value because his salary average is currently at $24.3M for the three years. This is likely the optimum trade year for the Packers but the cost is high so they would need to be blown away by an offer.

Scenario 3: Cutting Rodgers as a Post June 1 Designation in 2021

This would be the most financially beneficial of the early options. To make this worthwhile Rodgers would have to be cut on one of the first two days of free agency to avoid triggering the roster bonus mentioned above. The Packers, who rank around 22nd in projected 2021 cap room, would have to carry Rodgers at his full $36.35 million cap number until June 2, even if he is on another team at the time, but would then get a salary cap windfall on June 2, picking up $22 million in cap room, which would be huge especially if the salary cap shrinks. In this scenario Rodgers would count for $14.352 million dead in 2021 and $17.204 million dead in 2022. I did not include a trade option here because no team is waiting until June 2 to execute a trade nor are the Packers paying a roster bonus to just trade him.

Scenario 4: Cutting/Trading Rodgers in 2022

If Scenario 3 does not play out then this is pretty likely. If this does not happen it means either Rodgers recaptured his MVP form or Love is a total flop. You don’t draft a QB to sit him for three seasons unless there are extenuating circumstances. Ideally this is also the best time from a cap standpoint to make the transition because it would likely block Love from earning a high end option escalator which is going to be based on Pro Bowl selections and block him from the third highest 5th year tender which is going to require either 75% playtime from 2020 to 2023 or 50% playtime in each of his first three years which he cant reach by riding the bench for two seasons. Rodgers has a $39.852 million cap charge in 2022 and the cost to cut Rodgers would be equal to just $17.204 million, a savings of $22.7 million. There is almost no difference between this and June 1 designation so the June 1 would make zero sense in 2022. A team acquiring Rodgers via trade would pick up a contract worth $25.5M in base value over the two seasons. That is the current going rate for the old QB so its probably a perfect match if he can still play.

So here are the  scenarios and costs/cap savings in each

TransactionDead Money (Year N)Dead Mone (Year N+1)Cap Savings (Year N)Cap Savings (Year N+1)
Cut/Trade in 2020$51,148,000$0($29,506,000)$36,352,000
Post June 1  in 2020$19,592,000$31,556,000$2,050,000$4,796,000
Cut/Trade in 2021$31,556,000$0$4,796,000$39,852,000
Post June 1 in 2021$14,352,000$17,204,000$22,000,000$22,648,000
Cut/Trade in 2022$17,204,000$0$22,648,000$28,352,000

It’s those last two scenarios that make sense for the Packers.  Either you make the turn in 2021 if the team takes a step back this year or you definitely make it in 2022 to gain the most possible out of Love’s rookie years. If you are not doing that and Rodgers is going strong then you have to turn around and see what you can get for Love in a trade to recover some of the draft capital spent this year.