Silverstein: Delaying Rodgers deal would've given Packers trade options

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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GREEN BAY - Unless you are one of those people who insist on reading the fine print, you probably didn’t know that by the middle of June the Green Bay Packers will have invested $100 million in quarterback Aaron Rodgers since he signed his four-year extension Aug. 29.

It hasn’t even been a year and he has already guaranteed himself 57% of the deal’s $176 million due over six years.

The average fan might not have known how much the Packers have committed to their 35-year-old quarterback, but you can bet the Seattle Seahawks did. They have been contemplating whether to give quarterback Russell Wilson a similar deal that will lock him up for the next five or six years.

Wilson had set Monday as the deadline for signing an extension to the one year ($17 million) he has left on his contract. He set the deadline because he did not want negotiations to distract him during the season. In effect, he is saying to the Seahawks, pay me now or get ready to pay the estimated $30 million franchise-tag salary next season.

And if you don’t meet my price the year after, prepare to pay the estimated $37 million franchise-tag salary in 2021.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after failing to convert on third down during the third quarter of their game Nov. 25, 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

If the Seahawks want to keep some of the high-priced players they’ve signed to long-term extensions and stay competitive in the free-agent market the next two years, they need to avoid having the 30-year-old Wilson count $30 million against the cap in ’20 and $37 million in ’21, which would be the case if he is franchised both seasons.

If they did the unthinkable and franchised him a third time, his salary would jump to more than $53 million in ’22.

When former Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said on NFL Network last week that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Seahawks traded Wilson, he wasn’t saying anything Seattle probably hasn’t thought about this offseason.

And it might be something the Packers might be thinking about had they not signed Rodgers to a four-year, $134 million contract extension with two years left on his deal. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility someone would part with two first-round picks for Wilson or Rodgers.

There aren’t any can’t-miss quarterback prospects this year, but who’s to say Seattle or Green Bay couldn’t win with Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins or Missouri’s Drew Lock? Or maybe they gather draft capital and wait until next season when they’d have a shot at the highly touted 2020 QB class that includes Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Georgia’s Jake Fromm?

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Given the potential young quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, DeShawn Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen have shown, it’s possible to be a playoff contender with a quarterback in his first contract. You basically have four years of salary-cap freedom when you draft a starting quarterback because the rookie wage scale prevents his salary from reaching gargantuan proportions.

Even second contracts aren’t that debilitating. The Packers had very few salary-cap limitations after Rodgers signed a five-year, $111 million extension in April 2013.

But third deals, which Wilson is approaching, are a lot trickier because of the quarterback’s age. The most recent deal with Rodgers could turn out to be a test case for signing 30-plus-year-old quarterbacks to mega deals.

At the time, it seemed like the smart thing to do. Rodgers had committed to playing until he was 40, he still threw the ball with authority, still could scramble all over the place and the season prior had the team out to a 4-1 record before suffering a broken right collarbone in Week 6 at Minnesota.

But the Packers also had him under contract for two more years at $20.9 million and $21.1 million and had every reason to wonder whether a broken collarbone on each side, two concussions and various lower leg injuries had taken their toll on him. At the end of the 2017 season, he was the ninth oldest active quarterback in the NFL.

Now that president Mark Murphy has replaced long-time coach Mike McCarthy with first-time head coach Matt LaFleur, the foresight of signing Rodgers to that contract has come into question. Had the Packers waited another year before jumping into a deal that costs them $26.5 million, $32.6 million, $33.5 million and $37 million in cap space the next four years, they would be in a much better position than they are now.

Sure, Rodgers could have raised a stink last year, but how much worse could it have been than what happened on the field with him and McCarthy? Rodgers injured his knee in Week 1 and said he wasn’t the same after that, but his play was a big reason for the team’s second losing season in a row.

In games in which Rodgers has started, the Packers are 22-19-1 since the start of the ’16 season. If he hadn’t won a Super Bowl and two MVP awards and made so many sterling plays over the first dozen years of his career, that record might have motivated the Packers to consider a new quarterback.

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Let’s say the Packers had not made him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL at the time of his extension and decided to let things play out. Perhaps Rodgers would have set a deadline for a contract extension this year and the Packers would have been in the same position as the Seahawks.

Under terms of the exclusive franchise tag rules, Rodgers would have received in ’20 the average of the top five highest-paid quarterbacks as of mid-April of last year, an estimated $28 million. If the Packers had franchised him again, he would have been guaranteed a 20% increase in ’21, which would have put him at $33.6 million.

Had the Packers used the tag a third time, he would have gotten a 44% increase, which would have put his salary at $48.3 million in ’22.

If the Packers had hung onto the final two years of his deal and paid the franchise price each of the next two years, his total four-year take would have been $103.6 million. In extending his deal, the Packers guaranteed him almost all of that in less than a year ($19.5 million was triggered this year but isn’t paid until next March).

What if the Packers had waited a year before negotiating with Rodgers? The price to sign him to an extension would have been higher, but they would have been able to set course with a new coach and new offensive system in mind.

Many people assume that Rodgers is going to flourish in LaFleur’s system, that the two will combine wits to create an offense that tailors to Rodgers’ skills. Maybe that will happen, but Rodgers has been in the same system for 13 seasons and to think he’ll magically adapt to a new one — even with all the talent and experience he brings with him — might be wishful thinking.

It might take a full year for Rodgers to feel comfortable running LaFleur’s offense. By that time, he’ll be 36 and there’s no telling what other injuries he will have incurred.

It would have taken great foresight to think the Packers might have a new coach in ‘19, but that’s what the two men running the show at 1265 Lombardi Ave. — Murphy and executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball — are paid to do.

Nobody should have had a better understanding of the Rodgers-McCarthy dynamic than those two. The possibility of it blowing up should have at least been considered given all that they had witnessed on and off the field.

Had they waited a year to extend Rodgers, they would have at least had the option of considering a trade. It would not have been inconceivable that they would have gotten more than two first-round picks for him.

What downtrodden team with attendance problems and tons of cap space wouldn’t have paid a fortune for one of the best quarterbacks of the era? Do you think the Raiders might have come to an agreement with the city of Oakland to spiff up the stadium and open the upper deck if the kid from Cal came home?

Or that Jacksonville or Arizona would have rushed to the phone if they found out someone as talented and marketable as Rodgers was on the trading block?

It would seem outrageous to trade one of the organization’s all-time greats, but Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner and Joe Montana all finished somewhere other than the place they started. Now, it’s possible Wilson will do the same.

The Packers, meanwhile, are all in with Rodgers.

They are reportedly bringing Lock in for an official draft visit, which could either be to create a trade market for one of their two first-round picks (making people think they’re interested in Lock might drive up the price if they want to trade back from No. 12 or No. 30) or because they really, really like him.

The problem is, Lock can’t be their starter for at least another two or three years because the salary-cap ramifications of Rodgers being traded or cut are crippling. Plus, sitting Lock on the bench for three years would waste all but one of the seasons when his salary cap is low.

At this point, the Packers are committed to Rodgers. The next couple of years will determine whether they made the right decision. Many people around the league will be taking note of the results.


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