The Way It Is: Love Pick Puts Timeline on Packers, Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers career with the Green Bay Packers could be ending far sooner than anyone thought prior to Thursday night’s National Football League draft.
Rodgers — in an interview with Pat McAfee and A.J. Hawk earlier this month — said he wanted to play into his 40s, but the Packers made it clear that, if that is the case, they don’t want it to be with them. Drafting quarterback Jordan Love from Utah State doesn’t just mean the Packers have their replacement for Rodgers, it means they have a timeline in which the veteran quarterback is going to be replaced.
Because of the rookie wage scale, Love will sign a four-year contract with a fifth-year option. In the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that fifth-year option — likely more than $30 million — will be fully guaranteed the day the Packers pick it up, which must be done after Love’s third season.
The Packers are going to want to see their new first round pick on the field in meaningful games sooner rather than later and definitely before they decide on his fifth-year option.
What makes that timeline particularly interesting is that Rodgers’ guaranteed salary drops to zero after the 2020 season. If the Packers were to trade or release Rodgers with a post-June 1 designation following the 2020 season, they would save $22 million in salary cap space in 2021 and $25.5 million in 2022 and 2023, according to Over The Cap.
Part of the appeal of having a rookie quarterback is the contract is the salary cap savings, a benefit we have seen numerous teams take advantage of in recent years including Super Bowl champion Kansas City in 2019. If the Packers are able to move Rodgers and his contract, they could spend the money they save on help elsewhere.
Third-year general manager Brian Gutekunst has clearly been trying to acquire Rodgers’ eventual successor since he took over as GM. In his first offseason Gutekunst traded for DeShone Kizer and was said to be preparing to draft Drew Lock in the 2019 draft before the Denver Broncos traded ahead of the Packers to secure the quarterback.
Rodgers’ play has clearly declined in recent seasons. He has finished four of the last five seasons with a passer rating lower than 98 and well below his career mark of 102.4. He has gotten injured, sparred with coaches and, at times, has allowed his frustration with teammates to show on the field.
The question, of course, is if Love is going to be worth the pick.
There is a clear difference between Love being drafted by the Packers and when Rodgers was taken in 2005. Rodgers was in contention to be the first overall pick and was generally thought to be a top-five pick in that draft. As he slipped, the Packers sat at 24 and took what they said was the best player on their board.
In this case, Love was never thought to be the top player in the draft or worthy of a top-five selection. In his story for The Athletic that ran last week, Bob McGinn graded Love as a fringe first-round pick. Dane Brugler, also of The Athletic, didn’t have Love going in the first round. The 21-year-old struggled as a junior, throwing 17 interceptions — four more than Rodgers threw in his entire career at Cal.
The Packers are betting on Love’s live arm and their ability to coach the drive-killing mistakes out of him. Whether or not they can do that is something they’re going to want to find out sooner, rather than later because NFL rookie contracts mandate as much.