Packers were right to take care of Rodgers early

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Ted Thompson and the entire Green Bay Packers’ front office deserve a lot of credit for taking care of Aaron Rodgers two years before the team had to.

This was not a Joe Flacco situation for the Packers and their star quarterback. Green Bay wasn’t in danger of potentially losing Rodgers to another team had this new deal not been agreed upon now.

Under no circumstances, however, could the Packers have afforded to let Rodgers’ situation play out the way Flacco’s did with the Baltimore Ravens. Green Bay has an elite, in-his-prime quarterback and was wise to make sure Rodgers didn’t come even remotely close to ever hitting free agency.

With a reported five-year, $110 million extension in place, the Packers have locked up Rodgers through age 36.

It’s a ton of money and the richest deal for any NFL player ever. Giving up that record-breaking amount is a significant undertaking, especially when it could have been delayed. But it’s difficult to find much fault when discussing contractual terms for a 29-year-old quarterback who has already been the league’s Most Valuable Player, a Super Bowl champion and a Super Bowl MVP.

Under the terms of his previous contract, Rodgers would have made less than $10 million in the 2013 season. That’s obviously a lot of money in the real world, but it’s less than half of what Flacco is scheduled to make. Should Rodgers be paid a fraction of Flacco’s salary? Of course not. Rodgers is a markedly better player than Flacco.

Rodgers would never complain about it publicly, and perhaps not even privately. But, as Flacco made very clear during his post-signing press conference, money equals respect to NFL players. Therefore, Rodgers’ salary being half of Flacco’s would have had a unique underlying message: The Ravens respect Flacco twice as much as the Packers respect Rodgers. That certainly isn’t the case, but it’s not something that Green Bay’s front office can have on the mind of its quarterback for even a moment.

Rodgers should be quite thankful to the Packers, though. He took a calculated risk in 2008 when he signed six-year, $65 million contract extension with Green Bay after starting only a total of seven games in his NFL career. That deal guaranteed Rodgers $20 million but protected the Packers from having to pay him again while still in his 20s. Basically, it meant that Green Bay wouldn’t have to do what it just did. But there’s no way Thompson and his staff could have predicted the wild success they’d see from Rodgers in the early years of that contract. So, the Packers did the right thing, ignored their leverage of power and didn’t make their franchise player wait two more years to add a few more zeros to his bank account.

Thompson had to manage the salary cap properly to make this work now, and he did. Much to the dismay of many Packers fans, the general manager avoided spending money in free agency and saved a vast majority of it for Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews, who got his big extension last week. To be clear, Thompson may not have gotten involved in the free-agent market anyway, regardless of the contractual status of his quarterback. But this is exactly the way Thompson wants to use his team’s cap space. Thompson wants to spend money re-signing his own players, and none of them is as important as Rodgers.

With the Packers being nearly $20 million under the cap for next season prior to the completion of Rodgers’ new contract, Thompson was better able to maneuver the cap numbers in the coming years. That’s important, too, as the Ravens are soon to find out with Flacco’s enormous – and impossible to actually honor – $28.5 million cap number in 2016. While Baltimore goes into its new contract with Flacco knowing that both sides will have to restructure again in three years, Green Bay can be much more comfortable with its future financial stability at the quarterback position.

It was a win-win for the Packers and Rodgers to get this deal done now. Thompson can build the rest of the team through 2019 knowing that its most valuable piece is locked up while giving Rodgers his rightful respect as the NFL’s top earner.

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