Packers envision Aaron Rodgers playing his entire career in Green Bay as part of new deal
PALM BEACH, Fla. – Beyond the competitive ramifications, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst understood what re-signing Aaron Rodgers could mean for the franchise’s legacy with its future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Even if the four-year, $200 million contract Rodgers signed earlier this month is designed on a year-to-year structure, with guaranteed money spread into the future dependent on him playing, the Packers hope their future Hall of Fame quarterback retires playing only for them.
“We’d certainly like to,” Gutekunst said Monday at the NFL owners meetings when asked if he believes Rodgers will retire with the Packers. “I think that’s certainly one of the goals of his. I don’t want to speak for him, but I think that was kind of part of the scenario we thought when we moved through this process.”
Rodgers has not addressed the extension since signing it before the start of free agency.
The Packers were patient in affording Rodgers the space before re-signing. The extension was necessary with Rodgers entering the final year of a contract he signed before the 2018 season. Without it, the Packers risked Rodgers playing for another team in 2023 and not recouping any assets in his departure.
Gutekunst was adamant over the past year he would not trade the quarterback. Ultimately, he was able to maneuver through the obstacles of the past 12 months while arriving at a conclusion that ties Rodgers to the team potentially through the end of his career.
“We had a lot of conversations right after the season,” Gutekunst said, “and he kind of took some time to go through things and make sure that he wanted to commit to the significant time and effort he puts into preparing for the season. Once he got through that, that time, I think we found out probably shortly before the rest of the world found out.”
How Billy Turner became a salary-cap casualty
It was simply a business decision that led to the Packers releasing veteran right tackle Billy Turner, Gutekunst said.
The Packers saved $3.43 million with Turner’s release. On the field, Turner was a stalwart on the offensive line, starting 43 of 49 regular-season games since signing with the Packers before the 2019 season. No offensive lineman started more games during that time.
The team thought enough of Turner’s ability to move him to left tackle for the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers in January. Ultimately, Gutekunst decided to create cap space.
“The salary-cap thing played a big part of that,” Gutekunst said. “Billy was a warrior for us. Can’t say enough good things about Billy and what he’s done since we picked him up, but I think we had some young offensive linemen start to emerge, and just another tough decision but what we thought was right for the organization.”
Turner’s release might open the door for Yosh Nijman to become a bigger part of the Packers' offensive line. Gutekunst admittedly was reluctant to give Nijman a significant role in the offense since he signed as an undrafted rookie in 2019. After Nijman filled in for David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins with eight starts at left tackle last season, Gutekunst acknowledged the young tackle was ready for a bigger role.
The Packers could slide Jenkins to right tackle if he heals from a torn ACL in time for Week 1, but Nijman’s play last season gives them an option to keep the Pro Bowl left guard at his best position.
“You have to give him a lot of credit through the past three years,” Gutekunst said, “just his work ethic and consistency working. I think he just needed an opportunity. It’s probably as much my fault as any, but we kept bringing in some veteran guys at tackle to shore up that third tackle spot, which never really gave him the opportunity. Once he got the opportunity, he certainly performed exceptionally well.
“So very proud of him and his work ethic and what he accomplished when he was given the opportunity.”
P stays, Z on the move
If the Packers had broken up the Smith brothers a year ago, it would have seemed almost unfathomable Preston Smith would be retained over Za’Darius Smith.
Za’Darius Smith’s back injury changed that equation over the past season. The Packers saved $15.7 million when they released Za’Darius Smith before the new league year began. On the same day, they signed Preston Smith to a four-year, $35.3 million extension that saved them $8 million in cap space.
“Another really tough decision,” Gutekunst said, “but we really thank Z for all he’s done certainly for our organization over the couple years. He was a big addition to our defense when we kicked off ’19, but I think that nasty word – the salary cap – kind of drives a lot of decisions. That was certainly one of them.
“I think with the emergence of Rashan and just Preston playing so well last year, I think those things come into play.”
The Packers will still have to deal with Za’Darius Smith, who signed a three-year, $42 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings. Now instead of anchoring their pass rush, his job twice each season will be to sack Rodgers.
Even if Gutekunst would have preferred Za’Darius Smith’s new home be far from the NFC North, he knew that was the risk when deciding to release him.
“It seems like since I’ve been in Green Bay, we’ve seen this a lot,” Gutekunst said of former players signing within the division. “We take it as a compliment a certain way, but you never want to see your good players lining up against you. It’s never a fun thing, certainly not for us, not for our fans. But it’s just part of when you have success, you’re not going to be able to keep everybody, and players are going to go to teams that line up against you.”