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Green Bay Needed to Bring Back Aaron Rodgers, No Matter the Cost

The Packers mortgaged their future to keep Rodgers—and like the Rams, Saints, and Eagles before them, they’re proving cap hell is infinitely better than quarterback purgatory

AP Images/Ringer illustration

Aaron Rodgers will be a Green Bay Packer when the NFL season kicks off in September. That much has been confirmed—by Pat McAfee, Ian Rapoport, even the man himself. How much the team will pay him to do so remains unclear (Rodgers personally denied a report suggesting he had a new four-year deal worth $200 million in place). But that does not matter because, again, Aaron Rodgers will be a Green Bay Packer when the NFL season kicks off in September.

If we pretend that that $50ish-million-per-year figure ends up being in the ballpark of whatever deal Rodgers signs—which seems likely, considering he is coming off back-to-back MVP seasons and has re-established himself as an elite passer—the Packers will have an … interesting time squeezing that into the budget. Green Bay entered Tuesday $45.8 million over the 2022 salary cap, and that’s without re-signing any of the team’s long list of contributors who are headed to free agency or improving a roster that failed to get past an injured 49ers team in the divisional round.

To make any of this work, the Packers’ front office will have to borrow money from two or three years into the future—which, in a league with a hard salary cap, is not the most prudent approach to team-building. But given the recent history of the NFL, it’s hard to blame Green Bay for choosing salary cap hell over quarterback purgatory.

I’m not even talking about the Rams, a team that just won the Super Bowl after recklessly throwing around money and draft picks to build a roster of stars. Instead, look at the recent track record for teams that chose a more patient rebuild, which seemed to be option no. 2 for the Packers this offseason. Those include the Browns, Dolphins, and Colts—all teams that didn’t take shortcuts, all teams that did everything right when it came to collecting draft capital and managing the cap. Years later, those teams have nothing to show for it. You don’t get to hang banners for having a healthy cap situation. If you could, Indianapolis would have done it by now.

Two offseasons ago, the Packers were seemingly headed down that path. The team had just fallen one game short of the Super Bowl, and the 36-year-old Rodgers’s career seemed to be winding down. Yet rather than using all their resources to add weapons around Rodgers and go all in for another run or two, the front office traded up to draft Rodgers’s likely replacement in the first round; they followed that up by picking A.J. Dillon to back up Aaron Jones; and then they took a fullback/tight end who has touched the ball 26 times during the first two years of his career. When the dust settled on the 2020 offseason, Devin Funchess was the only significant addition to the receiver room, and he never even played a game for the team. If Green Bay’s plans for the future included Rodgers, it didn’t show.

Two years (and two Rodgers MVPs) later, the Packers have already pulled the plug on the Jordan Love–centric rebuild. Whatever visions the team had for the roster three years from now have been tossed away. For the first time in what seems like decades, this team doesn’t have a clear plan for the future. That’s not typically something we say about smart franchises—but we have been able to say it about some successful ones in recent years.

The Rams are obviously at the top of that list, having gone all in to acquire Matthew Stafford, Von Miller, and Odell Beckham Jr. this past season/offseason alone. But they’re not the only ones on it. New Orleans started kicking the proverbial can down the road more than a decade ago—constantly restructuring deals and splurging on free agents they couldn’t afford in order to improve the roster—and we still have yet to see them pay for viewing the salary cap as a suggestion, not a rule. If not for some of the baddest beats we’ve ever seen in NFL playoff history, the Saints would probably have a second Lombardi in their trophy case.

And how about the Eagles? They traded away a haul of picks in 2016 for the right to draft Carson Wentz, who ended up being bad, and then mortgaged their future in order to build around him. Those drastic measures brought the franchise its first Super Bowl, and then when the bill finally came due last offseason, it … honestly wasn’t all that bad. Philly shipped Wentz and his horrendous contract to Indianapolis and somehow made the playoffs with Jalen Hurts under center. Now, with three first-round picks in this draft, this team arguably has one of the brighter outlooks in the NFL. If it can find a franchise quarterback, that is.

We often hear about the horrors of salary cap hell, but you’d have a hard time finding clear examples of it actually affecting a team’s ability to add to its roster. It’s far easier to find examples of teams that didn’t make a win-now move due to the long-term ramifications and ended up regretting it. Green Bay just needed to look at its 2020 offseason to find an example for itself.

Now that the Packers are clearly “all in,” it should be that much easier to continue to mortgage the future. Locking up Davante Adams is an easy decision—the team franchise-tagged him on Tuesday and will continue to work to get a long-term deal in place—as is letting Marquez Valdes-Scantling hit free agency. MVS’s ability to stretch the field in the passing game and block in the run game makes him valuable in Matt LaFleur’s offense, but he’ll make far too much on the open market for Green Bay to want to match. The bigger questions are whether to keep cheaper role players like De’Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas, and Robert Tonyan, but if the team does want to retain them, it shouldn’t take too much cap-finagling to make it happen. That’s the thing about the NFL salary cap: There’s always a way to work around it.

No matter how things shake out, the Packers will not likely be major players in free agency. They just don’t have the funds. But the trade market is another matter, and now that it’s clear that Love is not a part of Green Bay’s future plans, the front office will have one more valuable asset to offer teams this offseason. That’s a big deal in a year when plenty of franchises need QBs, the draft class is suspect at best, and Rodgers and Russell Wilson are already off the market. Remember, we’re only three years removed from the Dolphins trading a second-round pick for Josh Rosen, who was coming off one of the worst rookie seasons we’ve ever seen. Love hasn’t played a lot of football, but it shouldn’t be too hard to convince some team to take a chance on a former first-round pick who, at the very least, hasn’t proved to be bad—not when the other top options are Mitch Trubisky and Jimmy Garoppolo.

NFL teams do funny things when there’s a gaping hole at quarterback, and the Packers are mortgaging their future in order to avoid having to talk themselves into a Love or a Trubisky. And while the bill will eventually come due when Rodgers retires, the down years that will follow will sure as hell beat whatever bleak future the 2022 Packers were facing without no. 12 under center.