As the Raiders hint at a long-term QB solution, the Jets remain a possible Aaron Rodgers landing spot
INDIANAPOLIS − As the NFL takes over downtown Indianapolis this week for the scouting combine, there is one name floating on the wind. In meeting rooms, news conferences, sidewalk chats and dinner discussions, the question inevitably arises: What’s going to happen with Aaron Rodgers?
The answer is complex with a variety of factors, not the least of which being Rodgers has a big say in the decision. The Green Bay Packers quarterback is on the precipice of (yet another) decision that will have a domino effect throughout the league. As the four-time MVP weighs the pros and cons of retiring or continuing to play, and whether that will be in Green Bay, a handful of teams are biding their time, waiting to see if they can poach the future Hall of Famer.
The two teams most closely linked with Rodgers are the New York Jets and Las Vegas Raiders. So it’s of no surprise that when representatives from both teams spoke in Indianapolis this week, it took only a few questions before Rodgers' name came up with Josh McDaniels and Joe Douglas, the Raiders coach and Jets general manager, respectively.
At the risk of tampering, neither mentioned Rodgers by name. The Jets recently had former Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in for a visit.
“(Derek’s) the only quarterback I can really shed any light on for you guys since he’s the only quarterback who’s a free agent,” Douglas said. “Obviously, we’re gonna be exploring the veteran quarterback market this offseason and we’re gonna look at every available option. We feel like whenever it’s time to make a decision, whatever their process, we’re gonna make the right decision for the Jets.”
Said McDaniels: “You gotta go through your process and evaluate the players that are available to you in every avenue. Whether that's a guy that's on our roster, still on our roster today as Jared Stidham, evaluating that opportunity, to potential free agency options, to the draft.
"There’s so many avenues to acquire players now. You know, I think it's just do our due diligence, try to do our work, get it in and make the smartest decision for our football team. I think that's what we're gonna try to do in every step of the way.”
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said he’d like a decision from Rodgers before the start of free agency on March 15, which means everything must be evaluated over the next two weeks. With that in mind, here are the five things the Jets and Raiders are weighing when it comes to pursuing a new quarterback.
No team wants to admit to discussions about Aaron Rodgers
Despite the Raiders still being in the mix, it is the Jets who are most often mentioned in a possible Rodgers trade. But none of the organizations are going to admit that publicly.
Asked point blank if he’s had talks with the Packers and Gutekunst, Douglas was vague: “You know, this is a season where we talked to a lot of GMs. We talked about a lot of different scenarios, a lot of different trades and not just quarterbacks. So we've had, I've had a lot of productive discussions with multiple GMs around the league. And, you know, that's probably a good question for for Brian (Gutekunst) to answer. But again, we've had a lot of positive discussions.”
When Gutekunst was asked the same question, his answer didn’t provide much more clarity.
“I have conversations with teams all the time. I’m not getting into specifics with teams,” Gutekunst said Tuesday. “This time of year that happens a lot. People certainly would be interested in Aaron Rodgers if they thought he was available.”
The timeline is ticking fast for everyone
As mentioned, Gutekunst would like to have this resolved by the middle of the month. That’s still two weeks of pre-draft evaluations that possible trade partners must view through the lens of a future with Rodgers.
That means despite the deadline quickly approaching, patience is key.
“It’s hard to put an exact timetable,” Douglas said of signing a new quarterback. “I think everyone would like it done sooner rather than later, but I feel like everyone has their own process. I feel like we have our process of exploring the market, exploring the options. And each player has their own process in terms of what they have going on. So can’t give a direct timetable, a specific table.”
McDaniels, the offensive coordinator turned head coach, shared a willingness to adapt his scheme to any quarterback, whether a pocket passer or someone who can extend plays with his legs. But like the Packers and Jets, he’s still waiting to find out who that player will be this season.
“At this point in time, we don't know who that player is, yet," he said. "Once we identify who's going to be there, there’s certainly an expectation that we're going to get good play out of that position. We have to get good play out of that position. Because if we don't, it's very difficult to win in this league. So that's my job and that's what we're going to try to focus on.”
The draft is an enticing possibility this year
The Raiders hold the No. 7 pick in the 2023 NFL draft, while the Jets are at No. 13. In a quarterback-heavy class, the temptation to draft and develop a young guy is strong.
While Raiders GM Dave Ziegler didn’t meet with the media in Indianapolis, he did share insight with Las Vegas reporters this week and expressed an interest in drafting from this class and by-passing a costly veteran, according to Vic Tafur of The Athletic. It aligns with McDaniels' message at the podium, with the hope that whomever Vegas brings in at the position will be someone there for the long haul.
“I think there's always urgency at that position,” McDaniels said. "(But) the goal for us eventually is to have somebody that's going to be here for a long time. I think that you see the teams that are having success right now, in our league, I would say in our conference and specifically in our division, they’re young players that were drafted by their clubs and they're being developed there under the same continuity.
“So we're gonna do everything we can do to evaluate every player at that position, both in the draft and free agency and try to do what we can do to improve the room. I mean, there's certainly going to be a number of players added at that position. Right now only Chase Garbers is under contract. So we'll look at everything we can look at. But the goal eventually is to try to have a young player here that's going to be a Raider for a long time.”
Rodgers, at 39 years old, has openly contemplated retirement.
Derek Carr is a veteran who has mixed reviews
There’s always a chance the Raiders and Jets just play musical quarterbacks and leave Rodgers out of the mix. After the Raiders parted with Carr, something McDaniels called a “tough decision,” the 31-year old has been courted by the Jets. He took a visit to New York and is in Indianapolis this week with plans to meet with several teams, including the Jets.
In Carr’s nine-year career, he’s made four Pro Bowls, but has played in only one postseason game. Still, the prospect of surrounding him with young receiving talent and a stout defense is something every GM looking for a quarterback is considering. That includes Douglas.
“With Derek, high-level producer, but really a phenomenal person, you know, just spending time with him, very authentic. Again ultra-intelligent, just very comfortable in his own skin and highly competitive,” Douglas said. “And on the tape, you see the talent, you see the release, the velocity, the way he gets the ball out, the decision making, the accuracy. So a lot of things to like.”
The cost of acquiring a future Hall of Fame quarterback
While most GMs can work around difficult salary cap numbers, few are willing to mortgage the future on less than a sure thing.
The Raiders are third in the league with the most cap space available for the upcoming year, $46.3 million, according to Spotrac. The Jets are over the cap by $1.1 million, but with two weeks to reduce that number.
The Jets have six picks in the upcoming draft, one of each in the first six rounds. The Raiders have nine picks: one in each of the first four rounds, two in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh. Future draft picks are also on the table. Both teams still have all of their picks in the first three rounds for the 2024 draft.
In recent years, quarterbacks of Rodgers caliber have gone for a bounty. The Los Angeles Rams traded Jared Goff, two first-round picks and a third-rounder to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford. It paid off in the subsequent Super Bowl win.
The Denver Broncos sent quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant and defensive tackle Shelby Harris, along with two first-round picks (2022 and 2023), two second-rounders (2022 and 2023) and a fifth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for Russell Wilson.
The Cleveland Browns sent the Houston Texans three first-rounders (2022, 2023 and 2024), a 2023 third-round pick and two fourth-round picks (2022 and 2024) for Deshaun Watson, before giving him a five-year, $230 million contract.