GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers is the highest-paid player in NFL history, ending Joe Flacco’s 46-day run holding that prestigious title.
Unlike Flacco, though, who commented that being paid such a large amount showed him the respect he was looking for, Rodgers views his new deal much differently.
“For me, it’s more of a responsibility,” Rodgers said inside the Packers locker room Friday. “It’s about the responsibility that comes with the opportunity I’ve been given and trying to make the most of it.”
Terms of the long-anticipated contract extension Rodgers signed with Green Bay are five years and $110 million, according to multiple reports, making it the highest average annual salary ever paid to a player. This extension will be added on to the end of Rodgers’ current deal and tie him to the Packers through the 2019 season, when he’ll be 36 years old.
“I’ve been dreaming about playing since I was a kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young on TV, now being able to live out that dream and be paid very well,” Rodgers said. “It’s also a responsibility I take very seriously.”
Rodgers had two years remaining on a contract he signed in 2008. The terms of that deal had the 29-year-old set to make $9.75 million for the 2013 season and $10.5 million in 2014.
In comparison to what other elite NFL quarterbacks are earning, that salary left Rodgers significantly underpaid. When Rodgers signed that previous contract, he had started only seven games after taking over the job from Brett Favre. Since then, Rodgers has led Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory at the end of the 2010 season and won the NFL MVP award in 2011.
“It means a lot that they re-did this with two years left on my deal,” Rodgers said. “It’s exciting knowing I’m going to continue to have the opportunity to be not only the face of this franchise here but continue to have an impact in this community and the state.”
The Packers could have waited at least one more year to re-sign Rodgers, but the team decided to take care of its star player early — as it did when it extended the contract of linebacker Clay Matthews for five years and more than $66 million last week.
That strategy is contrary to what has happened with other quarterbacks in recent years. Flacco (in 2013), Drew Brees (in 2012) and Peyton Manning (in 2011 while with the Indianapolis Colts) all got paid huge sums of money, but all three either had expiring contracts or were about to hit free agency when the new deal was reached.
“I think it was natural in this situation (to get the new deal done now) because there’s a very good relationship there and it was really the Packers wanting to make this happen,” Rodgers said. “This was different in the fact that there was two years left on my deal, so they had to want to make this happen. It didn’t matter where we were at or what ideas we had, it had to be the Packers being on board with this, and for that I thank them. It’s exciting knowing I’ll have the opportunity to finish my career here and be a Packer for life.”
When Flacco re-signed with Baltimore in early March for six years and $120.6 million, he had all the leverage. The Ravens had just won the Super Bowl, and Flacco was about to become an unrestricted free agent.
For a short while, Flacco was the NFL’s highest-paid player by average annual salary. Not anymore. Even Favre, whose relationship with Rodgers had been icy until recently, was happy for Rodgers in a tweet Friday:
“Help me out @packers fans… retweet to give a BIG shout out to my man @AaronRodgers12!!”
Prior to re-signing Rodgers and Matthews, Green Bay was nearly $20 million under the salary cap for the 2013 season. Though general manager Ted Thompson is typically hesitant to sign high-priced free agents regardless of the circumstances, the Packers needed as much money as possible available to make this record-breaking deal team-friendly.
“Aaron is a true professional and a special player,” Thompson said. “He works hard, is humble, and is focused on his actions, on and off the field. He is an excellent teammate and pushes himself and others to be the very best. We are happy to reach an agreement to extend his career with the Packers.”
Rodgers, the 24th overall pick in the 2005 draft, was Thompson’s first selection after being hired by Green Bay three months earlier.
Rodgers began his NFL career by sitting on the bench for three consecutive seasons while Favre started every game. On Friday, Rodgers described it as having “the good fortune of playing behind a legend and sitting for three years.”
In 2008, Rodgers finally got his chance to take over. With some Packers fans still clamoring for Favre, Rodgers’ first year as the Packers’ starter didn’t go very well. Green Bay finished 6-10 and was nowhere close to making the playoffs.
A year later, Rodgers improved in every statistical category as the Packers went 11-5 before losing in the wild-card round of the postseason.
Green Bay was on the verge of missing the playoffs in 2010 but snuck in as the NFC’s sixth seed. Three road wins later and the Packers — led by their emerging star at quarterback — were in the Super Bowl where they went on to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rodgers was named the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player for his three-touchdown, zero-interception performance in that game.
In 2011, Green Bay was on the verge of an undefeated season, starting the year 13-0. The Packers ended the regular season at 15-1, but were upset at home in the divisional round of the playoffs by the eventual-champion New York Giants. Rodgers was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player that year with 45 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. His passer rating of 122.5 was the highest mark in league history.
Last season, opposing defenses adjusted to Green Bay’s passing game, often keeping two safeties deep in coverage to try to prevent Rodgers from beating them. It worked to some extent, but the Packers still won the NFC North with an 11-5 record. Rodgers’ statistics weren’t as remarkable, but he had 39 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions. He was also sacked 51 times, the most of any quarterback in the NFL.
Rodgers is in the prime of his career. If he continues to play at his current level for the duration of his new contract, Green Bay could have gotten a bargain despite giving Rodgers the richest deal ever. Rodgers is still unsure, though, whether he will continue his career beyond this contract and remain in Green Bay beyond 2020.
“I think I have eight (years) left in my legs and body, at least, at a high level,” Rodgers said. “So this is like many deals, a lot of times you don’t see a deal all the way through if you’re playing well. It’s just the nature of some of these contracts. In order to even get to that conversation, it’s going to take many years in a row at a consistently high level of play for me, which I expect to do and I’m going to get myself in the best shape mentally and physically to do that, and hopefully we can have that conversation in seven years where I can still play and maybe we can keep this thing going.”
Though this contract doesn’t guarantee that Rodgers will spend his entire career with the Packers, Green Bay can now continue to build around one of the league’s best quarterbacks for many years to come.