Why Aaron Rodgers and the Packers could be headed for a rocky contract dispute
Aaron Rodgers has earned the title of NFL MVP twice during his time with the Green Bay Packers. So trying to lock down the quarterback with a new contract is an easy decision for the team. Rodgers’ deal is set to expire after the 2019 season and is relatively cheap for one of the best players in the NFL.
“We’d certainly like to get it done sooner rather than later,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said at the NFL Combine of Rodgers’ contract. “When you have the best player in the National Football League, it’s not going to be inexpensive. Obviously Aaron is a high priority, he’s a great player, and that should take care of itself at some point.”
Getting that contract done could be difficult, though.
According to a report from Yahoo’s Charles Robinson, Rodgers hasn’t been happy with the team recently. The quarterback wants more input when the Packers are making decisions that impact him.
That sticking point, and other obstacles, could create a contentious situation between Rodgers and the Packers that takes years to reach its conclusion.
Rodgers wants more inclusion when decisions are made
Since Gutekunst took over as general manager in January, the Packers moved on from quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt and made a change to the wide receiving corps by releasing Jordy Nelson, one of Rodgers’ favorite targets. Rodgers was reportedly not consulted for either decision.
On Tuesday, he downplayed the report of his frustrations and said there’s still interest in a deal.
“You have to trust the process … and the process works,” Rodgers said, via ESPN. “They’re paying me to play quarterback … and there’s interest on both side in getting (a contract extension) done.”
But Rodgers sounded a little peeved earlier in the offseason when he was asked about those decisions in interviews.
In February, he appeared on ESPN’s Golic & Wingo and was asked about the loss of Van Pelt.
“Well, my quarterback coach didn’t get retained,” Rodgers said when asked for specifics. “I thought that was an interesting change, really without consulting me. There’s a close connection between quarterback and quarterback coach, and that was an interesting decision.”
Then in April, he was asked about the loss of Nelson. Via ESPN:
“I think it’s pretty clear that players play and coaches coach and personnel people make their decisions,” Rodgers said in an interview with a Milwaukee radio station late last week. “That’s the way they want it.”
According to Robinson, other established veteran quarterbacks get consulted for decisions along those lines.
The solution would seem pretty simple: keep the star quarterback in the loop. The question is how much damage and rapport was lost by not doing so sooner.
The giant contract figures already made things delicate
Some of the possible conflict between Rodgers and the Packers is Kirk Cousins’ fault.
It’s not that the new Minnesota Vikings quarterback did anything wrong by leveraging the free agency market into an unprecedented, fully guaranteed contract worth $84 million over the next three seasons. It’s that by signing it, Cousins set a standard for what a premium passer will cost.
Rodgers, 34, will presumably look for a contract that tops Cousins’ $28 million per year average and will likely want it to be heavily — if not fully — guaranteed, as well.
The Packers will have to take that kind of leap to secure the quarterback, despite the fact that he missed nine games during the 2017 season with a clavicle fracture and seven games in 2014 due to the same injury.
There’s not much reason for Rodgers to take anything less than the most lucrative deal in NFL history. And there’s reason for the Packers to be reluctant about taking such a risk.
It wouldn’t be unprecedented for the franchise to move on from Rodgers, despite his contributions to the team. A decade ago, the Packers did the same to Brett Favre — a future Hall of Famer who was a three-time MVP and led Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory.
If a deal doesn’t get done this offseason, it will only get messier
Rodgers is due to count just over $20.5 million against the salary cap in 2018 and $21.1 million in 2019. Those aren’t small numbers, but his 2018 hit is set to be the 17th biggest in the NFL — a steal for a player who is arguably the league’s most impactful.
In 2017, the Packers started 4-1 before Rodgers got hurt. They finished the year 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. It’s easy to make the argument that Rodgers single-handedly makes the Packers a playoff contender, and he does so on a salary that is relatively cheap at the position.
So there really isn’t too much urgency for the Packers to force a deal when they can keep the quarterback for two more seasons at that reasonable price. Then, he could be franchised in 2020, and possibly 2021 as well, before Green Bay would likely have no choice but to lose him in 2022, months after his 39th birthday.
That leaves plenty of time for a contract to get done, but now is when an extension needs to happen. If it doesn’t, the leverage will tilt decidedly in Rodgers’ favor and his age will only make the Packers more hesitant to commit significantly.
Like Cousins in Washington, the prospect of a franchise tag or free agency leaves a franchise quarterback little reason to accept anything less than a record-breaking contract. If Green Bay hopes to lock down Rodgers with a new deal, it needs to do so now before he reaches a contract year.
Otherwise, the Packers would be wise to begin grooming his replacement. It would be a prudent move, but likely wouldn’t ease the tensions between the team and Rodgers.
And, according to the Yahoo report, the team also isn’t do itself any favors by icing Rodgers out of personnel decisions.