The beautiful mystery of Aaron Rodgers & the Green Bay Packers
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
Aaron Rodgers’ relationship with Green Bay has been through all kinds of iterations: a triumphant tale, a fractured rollercoaster, a (Jordan) Love affair and, according to the MVP quarterback himself, a "beautiful mystery."
So here we are, with Rodgers at age 37, coming off one of the finest seasons of his career, yet with the Packers a decade removed and counting from their last trip to a Super Bowl. And, suddenly, with another puzzle surrounding how much of a future this QB-team pairing has left in it.
It is a football marriage that doesn’t play out in the usual ways. It is a dance. Mostly, Rodgers is its choreographer, leading the organization and the fervent Green Bay fan base through a series of hot-stepping twizzles that often leave everyone wondering what the heck is really happening.
Many of his most revealing comments come from his regular appearances on the Pat McAfee podcast, which adds a layer of intrigue to the entire process, given that McAfee’s show is designed to be light-hearted, and Rodgers’ remarks can be vague, making sure no one is ever quite certain if he’s saying what it seems like he’s saying.
It’s the offseason, so there’s not even any of that to parse through at the moment. There’s just, for the inquisitive fan, attempts to decipher the maze of action – or inaction – this time related to the unique delicacies of the salary cap.
A fresh spate of speculation and wondering sparked up this week, and it all began when it was widely reported that the team paid Rodgers a bonus that he was due. Yep, that’s it. In theory.
"Sometimes it’s frustrating to be a sports fan in 2021," FS1’s Nick Wright said on First Things First. "(You) have to worry about dead money and cap charges, but if you want to understand the Aaron Rodgers story – that’s what this is about."
Here is where it gets a little convoluted, so just hold tight and we’ll get through it together.
In 2021, Rodgers is due to make $21.5 million from Green Bay – a lower figure than you might expect because he took a large chunk of his four-year, $134 million extension in 2018 at the front end. Of that number for this season, $14.7 million comes in salary, with $6.8 million allocated as a roster bonus, which is the part the Packers just paid.
Had the team, instead of paying it out, been able to negotiate a restructuring that would give Rodgers the same amount of income – like happens so often around the league - they could have saved significant room under the salary cap, up to $16.34 million if two voidable years were added.
So why would they not? They’re not saying, but it’s certainly got people talking.
"If your attitude is, we’re all-in on Aaron Rodgers and trying to make it happen while he’s here, that restructure should have already been done," NFL Network’s Mike Silver, who is very tight with Rodgers, said.
However, a full restructure of Rodgers would create a drastic bump in dead money cost, more than $28 million, in the event the team wanted to trade him after upcoming season.
This is where the Love factor comes into play. Love, selected 26th in the 2020 NFL Draft (much to Rodgers’ chagrin), was brought in for a reason – the Packers thought he was their QB of the future. In 2022, he’d be heading into his third season, following two years of learning behind Rodgers. Perhaps that was the plan all along.
"Why pass up easy cap savings that are gone now?" wrote the Green Bay Press Gazette’s Pete Dougherty. "Is it because they’re still working through the details that will give Rodgers certainty he’ll be their quarterback in 2022? Or are they hedging their bets and keeping as much of his money as possible off future caps because they might want to turn to Love as early as 2022?
"For that matter, does Rodgers even want to come back to the Packers this year without some assurance about ’22 or beyond?"
Lots of questions, and the people who know the answers, well, they’re not saying.
"Rodgers is showing no signs of slowing down," former All-Pro Brandon Marshall said. "This dude is coming off an MVP year. Why are we having this conversation right now? I don’t know if it is from Aaron’s side or the organization’s side. There always seems to be some kind of discontent. Why can’t you guys get this right?"
That’s the most mysterious part of it. There’s a lot going on, you can be sure of it. What should be one of the most stable quarterback situations in the league is anything but. It is, as it always seems to be, a struggle for leverage and position.
It is hard to imagine Rodgers playing anywhere else and it is hard to imagine the Packers with someone else under center. Not long ago, we said the same about Tom Brady. Football moves rapidly, and, in certain situations, in the weirdest ways.
Rodgers has been with the Packers for 16 years and it’s still, after all this time, a dance. And the dance partners, at least right now, are out of step.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.