There’s a high-risk/high-reward scenario here
On August 7, 2008, the New York Jets’ next savior arrived in East Rutherford.
On that day, “To-Be-Or-Not-To-Be” QB Brett Favre was traded from Green Bay to New York to finally bring the Lombardi Trophy back to New Jersey.
One year later, Favre got what he really wanted: a one-way ticket to Minnesota to try to haunt the Packers. In the process, he went from 8-3 to 9-7, got Eric Mangini fired, and wasted one of the Jets’ better rosters of the 21st century.
Fifteen years later, the quarterback who replaced Favre at the helm is himself reported to be on the move this offseason. Should the Jets and Joe Douglas try to catch lightning in a bottle and trade for Aaron Rodgers?
How much is left in the tank?
All of the quarterbacks the Jets have been linked to are coming off subpar years by their standards. Rodgers is no exception, especially coming off back-to-back MVP campaigns. The loss of Davante Adams gave him no one to throw to against man coverage, making his attack one-dimensional and predictable. He experienced some resurgence toward the end of the season with the health and breakout of rookie Christian Watson.
However, Rodgers also continued to make many of the jaw-droppingly accurate throws that have been his hallmark for over a decade. He did it despite a broken thumb sustained in Week 5 and a rib injury from Week 12.
Here are Rodgers’s 2022 stats and ranks out of 36 qualified QBs (min. 200 dropbacks):
- 64.6% completion rate (21)
- 3,695 yards (11)
- 6.8 YPA (T-24)
- 26 TD (10)
- 12 INT (T-26, career-worst)
- 2.9% turnover-worthy play rate (T-15)
- 8.5 ADOT (T-12)
- 75.8% on-target rate (T-15)
- 7.9% drop rate (T-31)
- 32 sacks (23)
- 2.67 time to throw (T-13)
- 183 first downs (12)
- 91.1 QB rating (17)
- 437 DYAR (16)
- 0.3% DVOA (21)
- 39.4 QBR (27)
The question is if this is Rodgers’s age catching up to him or if his statistical decline was due to his lack of weapons. Some of his rate stats are worrisome, including the rise in turnover-worthy plays and low YPA despite a decently-high ADOT. Contextually, it appears that Rodgers was taking more risks than usual in 2022 but getting less to show for it.
Tom Brady answered the same question at 43 years old by going to a team with better weapons and winning another Super Bowl. Still, Brady has managed to hold off Father Time for longer than anyone else at the position in NFL history, and even he finally showed the effects of aging in 2022.
2022 Rodgers is not worth trading for, but 2020-21 Rodgers may be.
Peter King speculated on Pro Football Talk’s Football Morning in America that the Packers will want at least two first-round picks for Rodgers. That seems a bit rich for a 39-year-old who could very well decide to call it quits after the season, saddling the acquiring team with a $43.7 million cap hit the following year (more on that later).
Using the Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson trades as comparisons is not quite accurate considering the disparity in age, previous season performance, and cost.
Do the Jets really want to mortgage their future for a possible one-year fling?
Rodgers’s messy contract
This is really the first domino in the mix: Rodgers has one of the most complicated contracts in recent memory. I’ll try to lay out the basics without making your head spin.
Note: I am not going to include graphics from Spotrac or Over the Cap, since the way the contract is broken down on their charts does not match the reality of the situation. A lot of it is written up in scattered notes over the pages.
It’s important to know that Rodgers has a $58.3 million option for 2023. Why it’s called an “option” is really just for cap purposes; financially, he is guaranteed to be paid that money this year. Basically, what this means is that if the Packers would pick up the option before they traded him, they would be left with over $99 million in dead cap.
Meanwhile, if the Packers trade Rodgers post-June 1 (which is the only time that such a trade makes sense for them cap-wise), then it’s up to the acquiring team to pick up the option, which would make Rodgers’s cap hit $15.8 million in 2023 and $32.5 million in 2024. (I’m trying not to get into the weeds on exactly what this option is and why the cap works this way.) This is what will almost certainly happen if Rodgers is traded. Those cap hits look manageable, right?
Not so fast. Let’s back up a step.
Packers’ cap situation
Assuming the Packers do not pick up the option and trade Rodgers post-June 1, here are their dead cap numbers:
- 2023: $15.8 million
- 2024: $24.5 million
These are obviously not the easiest to swallow, but with Jordan Love still on a rookie deal and some draft picks in return, the Packers could make it work. It’s certainly not the worst cap situation to be in after signing Rodgers to this ridiculous contract.
Assuming the same scenario as above and the acquiring team picking up the 2023 option, here are the initial cap hits for the acquiring team:
- 2023: $15.8 million
- 2024: $32.5 million
For Aaron Rodgers, those numbers really don’t seem too bad, as stated earlier. Why wouldn’t any team snap him up?
If Rodgers retires or is cut after 2023
There is a very real possibility that Rodgers hangs up his spikes after 2023 or anytime, really. Additionally, if Rodgers’s 2022 statistical decline continues in 2023, the acquiring team may want to call it a failed experiment and move on. However, if either of these two scenarios were to happen, the 2024 dead cap hit would be $43.7 million, which is quite steep, obviously.
To soften that hit, if Rodgers officially retired or was cut after June 1, 2024, then his 2024 dead cap number would be $14.575 million, while his 2025 dead cap would be $29.15 million. Still steep, but not franchise-crippling.
The real rub is what would happen if the acquiring team wanted to retain Rodgers after 2023.
If Rodgers is still on the roster in 2024
As stated earlier, Rodgers’s 2024 cap hit is $32.5 million, which is quite a reasonable number for a starting quarterback. However, Rodgers has a $47 million option bonus that becomes guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. The team would need to pick up the option to retain Rodgers’s services. (If they declined it, the cap hit would revert to the $43.7 million mentioned above.)
Once again, without explaining all the details of Rodgers’s option bonus, it makes his cap hits in 2025 and 2026 quite unmanageable. Although those two seasons are similar to void years on the contract in that he is not actually bound to play for the team (he would be a free agent at that point), the cap hits, as listed, are absolutely crippling.
If Rodgers’s 2024 option is picked up, these would be the cap hits:
- 2024: $32.5 million
- 2025: $51.1 million
- 2026: $45.3 million
If Rodgers then retires after 2024
If Rodgers were to retire after 2024, by the letter of his contract, there would be $60.5 million of dead cap in 2025. According to most outlets, neither Rodgers nor the team are actually expected to treat that part of the contract that way; the expectation is that they would rework the deal to reduce the dead cap hits to $30.2 million in dead money in 2025 and 2026.
However, this is ultimately up to fair business dealings between Rodgers and the team. Relying on bargaining is always a dicey prospect.
How Rodgers is actually paid
It is difficult to figure out exactly what Rodgers will be paid in cash and when, but it seems clear that he will be given $58.3 million in 2023. The question is if Woody Johnson would want to fork over that much cash at once. This is an underrated aspect of the NFL: besides the cap gymnastics, there is a question of whether a team can (or wants to) actually hold the guaranteed money in escrow upfront.
When would a trade happen?
Given the Packers’ cap situation surrounding Rodgers’s contract, there is no realistic way for them to trade him prior to June 1. Can the Jets afford to wait that long to have their QB situation settled? All the dominos of their offseason are largely contingent upon who their signal-caller is. Can they come after the draft and a month before training camp with… Zach Wilson or Mike White as their starter of the moment?
There might be a mutiny in East Rutherford.
Building a team
Acquiring Rodgers might significantly hamper the Jets’ ability to build out the rest of their roster around him. They currently need at least two new offensive linemen and will need to either re-sign Connor McGovern or find a new center, as well. Additionally, the Jets have needs at receiver, defensive tackle, linebacker, and safety, with several impending free agents at those positions. Then they have the Quinnen Williams contract negotiations to approach, all with less than $8 million cap space, per Over the Cap.
Trading for Rodgers would mean going the Rams route—sacrificing the future cap to try to win now. It worked out in that one magical year for L.A., but they’re dealing with the detriments sooner than they likely expected. Rodgers is five years older than Matthew Stafford, so the expected window for winning a championship would be far narrower, perhaps as thin as one year.
Without building out the OL and fixing up some of the team’s other issues, do the Jets really want to go all-in on 2023? Yes, it’s a year that they are expected to find a way to be a contender, but do they want that contention window to be just one year?
Additionally, this entire proposition goes entirely against the grain for Joe Douglas. Everything he has done screams trying to be fiscally responsible and plan for the future. He rarely signs contracts that can’t be shed after two years, maximum. Then again, he is likely working for his job this offseason, and he likely won’t be the one saddled with the burden if it blows up in his face.
Will Douglas push all his chips to the middle of the table?
This is a lesser concern, but Rodgers is known to be a crusty, unlikable fellow. That likely won’t play well with the media in New York. From his “R-E-L-A-X” exhortation to his Covid toes debacle to his frequent monologues on The Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers does not project the image of a player whose jersey a fan would love to wear. Things can go south in a hurry if he’s not MVP Rodgers.
So why acquire him?
This article seemingly lined up all the reasons not to trade for Rodgers. So why would the Jets do it?
Well, he’s Aaron Rodgers, one of the best pure throwers of the football in NFL history. Watching him in 2022, it did appear that the lack of supporting weapons contributed to a lot of his issues. Imagine him throwing to Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore with Breece Hall in the backfield.
The Jets haven’t had a QB with that kind of ceiling since… ever. Joe Namath said he’d give up his retired jersey No. 12 if Aa-Rod would come to Gang Green.
There is a widespread perception that the Jets were a quarterback away in 2022. So why not get that QB?
There are significant risks and costs associated with trading for Rodgers. However, sometimes you need to take a big swing for the possibility of hitting a home run. As Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
What do you say, Jets fans? Do you want to swing for the fences, or would you rather take a contact approach?