Silverstein: Aaron Rodgers' deal could take free-agency toll on Packers

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) watches during their game Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.

INDIANAPOLIS – At some point this offseason, the Green Bay Packers will commit an enormous amount of guaranteed money to Aaron Rodgers, making it no longer possible for anyone to be outraged that Jimmy Garoppolo or Kirk Cousins or Alex Smith or some other lesser quarterback makes more than he does.

Then the Packers will go back to replenishing their coffers with the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue they generate each year, feeling only the financial pinch that comes with the price of doing business.

As someone whose team dished out $60.5 million in fully guaranteed money to quarterback Matthew Stafford in a similar move in August, that for a short time made him the highest-paid player in the NFL, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn knows a different price of doing such business.

Quinn undoubtedly was thrilled ownership was willing to commit the money (five years, $135 million) to lock down his quarterback through the 2022 season, but he also understands the reality of working in a sport with a salary-cap restriction: the Stafford signing will lead to some tough decisions down the road.

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In order to keep a franchise quarterback a team is going to have to accept that anywhere from $25-30 million of its salary cap is going to be used up on one player.

Already Quinn as seen Garoppolo’s deal with the San Francisco 49ers eclipse Stafford’s and he probably wouldn't be surprised to see Cousins top that when he signs with a new team in free agency. That deal would stand as the highest until Rodgers signs his. 

“It’s a lot of money, right?” Quinn said. “But he’s a starting quarterback. I’d say when you have a good one, you try to lock him up and keep him. And I think any team that has one, they’re probably trying to do the same thing right now.

“I’m guessing who you’re asking about.”

Like his counterpart, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst is the guy who will be left to make the tough decisions when it comes to dispensing the 75-80 percent of the cap that doesn’t go to Rodgers. Like Quinn, he'd rather have a tight cap than the challenge of finding a franchise quarterback.

At the scouting combine here at the Indiana Convention Center on Wednesday morning, Gutekunst made official what many already knew, which is that the Packers intend on extending Rodgers’ contract beyond the two years he has remaining on the five-year, $110 million contract he signed before the 2013 season.

“I don’t know if there’s pressure,” Gutekunst said. “I think we certainly would like to get it done sooner rather than later — not necessarily for those reasons. But when you have the best player in the National Football League, it’s not going to be inexpensive, you know what I mean?

“Obviously, Aaron is a high priority. He’s a great player and I think that should take care of itself at some point.”

Asked if he expects the deal to be done this offseason, Gutekunst said that was the team’s hope.

Because he doesn’t know exactly where the 2018 salary cap will be set (some predictions are $178 million) and how much the Packers will be under (probably around $20 million), Gutekunst said he and executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball have gone through scores of scenarios in preparation for free agency.

Rodgers counts $20.9 million against the salary cap this season and with the way guaranteed money can be spread over the term of the contract, the Packers could limit the increase this year. But the more you limit it this year, the more it costs you in later years, and kicking the can down the road is not something the Packers typically do.

Despite having less salary-cap money available at this point in the offseason than former general manager Ted Thompson usually did, Gutekunst remained confident the Packers could retain the players they want and play in free agency.

But as with everything, a price must be paid if Gutekunst decides to take a significant bite of the free-agent apple.

Based on his comments, Gutekunst doesn’t seem likely to do any payroll slashing just yet.

“We have some really good players and we don’t want to let them walk out of the door, you know what I mean?” he said. “It’s hard enough in this league to find them, so we certainly wouldn’t want to let them walk out the door.”

Gutekunst said he wants to be involved in every free agent the Packers covet, regardless of whether they get priced out and wind up with nothing. Unlike his predecessor, he wants to use every avenue to help build the roster and if the money is in line with the talent, he’s willing to dive in.

But this is where the Rodgers deal comes into play.

Gutekunst is going to have to play free agency on the run and make the tough decisions as they come.

If he decides there’s a free agent — either one of his own or someone else’s — that he wants and it pushes the Packers closer to the cap limit, he’ll do something about it.

“To me, the big thing I’ve stressed with our guys is we’re going to be as prepared as we can to know those scenarios and to know what each player’s value is in free agency, the draft and so forth,’ Gutekunst said. “So when those opportunities present themselves, if it makes our team better, we’ll pull those triggers on whatever side that falls on.

“My thing is if we’ve done the work and we’re prepared and the opportunity presents itself, if we have to do something to create room, I think we’re prepared to do that.”

In other words, the players you see on the roster now aren’t necessarily the ones you’ll see in a month. He has the ability to rework some contracts so that it creates more salary-cap space, but there’s only so much manipulation you can do without it biting you later on.

About a half hour after Gutekunst was done speaking to reporters, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman took the same podium. And like Quinn and Gutekunst, he was asked about the price of paying a big-name quarterback, something the Vikings are rumored to be considering with Cousins.

“I think we have a pretty good idea of what we feel, but I also know that a lot of things will go into play in this decision — contracts are definitely a factor in it,” said Spielman, who built one of the best defenses in the NFL through the draft. “We have some significant contracts coming up with some key players, especially on the defensive side.

“That all goes into play as we go through this decision.”

A decision that the Packers and Lions made without hesitation.

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