The Packers will likely trade quarterback Aaron Rodgers before or during the 2023 NFL Draft for the following reasons: 1) It makes the most sense for the team; And 2) General Manager Brian Gutekunst has indicated that this year’s draft is Rodgers’ trade deadline.
“I think the more the better,” Gutekunst said at NFL owners’ meetings last week when asked if it should be this year’s Green Bay compensation draft or if it could be for 2024 and beyond.
The Jets have the leverage now because the Packers are incentivized to complete the trade before the draft and New York is not. The Packers would benefit from using whatever picks they get in return to immediately surround quarterback Jordan Love with more talent for first-year success as a starter, rather than waiting a year to reap the rewards of a commercial return.
However, just because it is logical that Gutekunst would accept the Jets’ best offer by April 27 (first round of the draft) or April 28 (rounds 2 and 3) does not mean that he will.
Asked about the possibility of continuing this saga into the summer, Gutekunst said: “I think we hope to get this done before then, but as long as it takes.”
After all, Gutekunst does have a job to do, a line he used when explaining why he moved from Rodgers after the quarterback has proven difficult to connect with this season, and is more inclined to play hardball than softball.
As of last Monday at a league meeting, Gutekunst and Jets GM Joe Douglas had been talking on the phone for weeks. They spoke again in person in Phoenix last week. Until Tuesday night, there was no agreement. The draft is just over three weeks apart, so there’s no rush to get a deal done this very minute no matter how much everyone outside of both organizations wants to get it done. Gutekunst even said the Packers could wait until May or June if the Jets don’t offer Rodgers a package they see fit before then.
“There’s not much going on right now,” Gutkunst said. “So again, I think it should work for both parties and I think we’re both committed to figuring that out. It’s kind of in their court now. We’ll see where it goes.”
But what if by the end of the draft the trade doesn’t go as well as we all think it will? And then what happened?
“Absolutely, if we get past the draft, everything changes, compensation changes,” Gutkunst said. “That would be a completely different scenario.”
If Rodgers is still working for the Packers on April 29, the third day of the draft, this situation takes a turn. The Packers will leverage the two days they will use the draft capital exchange for Rodgers’ passage. And the Jets will be pressured to strike a deal to get their favorite starting quarterback in the building sooner rather than later. Packers already have their QB1 reports for duty. New York has Zach Wilson, and Douglas said in league meetings that switching to Lamar Jackson would be bona fide given how far they’ve come with Rodgers. So trading Jackson is off the table as a replacement, and getting Rodgers is the only possible option unless the Jets and the coaches want to sign severance papers before the season begins.
The Packers may actually be incentivized to wait until June 1 to strike a deal because the 2023 dead money of more than $40.3 million if Rodgers is traded before June 1 would be split over two years, according to Over The Cap — about $15.8 million in total. 2023 and the rest in 2024. The Packers might want to eat that dead money hit this year to make sure it doesn’t last any longer, but they have more financial options if that goes beyond the draft nonetheless.
The only deadline the Packers must trade Rodgers if this stalemate continues after the draft is the start of the regular season. This is when the Packers will need to pay his option bonus of $58.3 million, per OTC. They don’t do it for non-starting quarterbacks, and the Jets need Rodgers in the building long before that, which is why Green Bay will keep the leverage after April 29th.
As for compensation if the deal isn’t completed by the end of the draft, the Packers may turn their attention to players who can immediately improve their roster if they don’t get the 2023 capital draft. This may be the approach, though it’s not a complete replacement for every capital draft in the game. The deal is because they are still eyeing a 2024 capital pick and possibly even a conditional 2025 pick tied to Rodgers’ playing time and accomplishments with the Jets. The trade package may look a little different than the pre-draft and post-draft as the Packers should do whatever it takes in negotiations to upgrade their roster for 2023 rather than just wait until 2024 to reap the benefits, especially because a team with Rodgers will do so. You’d probably have worse picks than a team without him.
Head coach Matt Lafleur wants a veteran wide player to complement Christian Watson and Romeo Dobbs, who are entering their second season after promising rookie campaigns. Meanwhile, Jets receiver Corey Davis, who is entering his seventh season at the age of 28, is on hiatus. He played for the Titans when LaFleur was the offensive coordinator for Tennessee in 2018, catching 65 passes for 891 yards and four touchdowns that season. He may be part of the deal anyway, but his inclusion in the package may be more likely if the Packers don’t accept an offer by April 28th. Green Bay may be looking to other players as well to make up for what they lose by forgoing draft capital in 2023.
In the rare assumption that Rodgers wasn’t traded with the mandatory mini-camp start on June 13, there’s no way he’d come to Lambeau Field, right? That would be great theater, but it’s a question the Packers don’t even want to think about answering. Rodgers may want to make things as uncomfortable as possible for an establishment he feels clearly mocked him on his way out, according to his comments on “The Pat McAfee Show,” but it’s hard to believe he’d want to complicate things for Love and hover over him at the facility while The 24-year-old has to answer questions about No. 12 and his locker plate still located at 1265 Lombardi Ave.
This will be the main drawback of the continuation of this saga. Love needs to have as smooth a runway take off as possible as they enter their first year of life. The longer Rodgers stays on the list, the more turmoil Love will face when he doesn’t have to.
“I think right now, all options are on the table,” Gutkunst said when asked about an unexpected meeting between Rodgers and the Packers this summer. “He’s not heading that way, and I hope we can smooth that out and make it happen. But he’s come back under certain circumstances before where he probably wasn’t the happiest with everything that was going on and he played very well. So we’ll just see how it all pans out. I think he’s going.” In the right direction and we hope it achieves what everyone wants and we can conclude that.”
(Photo by Aaron Rodgers: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
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