The drama surrounding the Aaron Rodgers saga, which hit a new level on Wednesday with his appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, might have earned an Oscar last weekend.
On Day 1 of the NFL business season, Rodgers remains a Green Bay Packer. Not by his preference, and certainly not by the choice of the New York Jets.
So, as this narrative gets spicier and more complicated, it becomes obvious who the winners and losers are – much of which figures to change as this soap opera plays to its conclusion. And who knows when that might be?
Rodgers Saga Winners
After sitting, and presumably learning behind Rodgers for three years, the 2020 first-round draft pick steps in as the Packers’ new starting quarterback. It’s a very similar path to what Rodgers followed as a backup to Brett Favre. Love probably has waited long enough and deserves an opportunity.
“They’re ready to move on with Jordan,” Rodgers said. “That’s awesome. Jordan’s going to be a great player. He’s a (expletive) great kid. He had a really good year this year, getting better. … He’s got a bright future in front of him.”
Lions, Vikings and Bears
Get this: Jared Goff might be the best quarterback left in the division. Regardless, the Lions, Vikings and Bears might be willing to up the ante for the Jets to get Rodgers into the AFC East.
Or anywhere else.
“I think there would be a lot of other teams that would come into the mix, like Tampa Bay,” said Mike Tannenbaum, former NFL team executive and analyst for The 33rd Team. “Just because they have Baker Mayfield, I don’t think they would not be interested in Aaron Rodgers.”
Hardly a dynamic wide receiver in a mediocre free-agent crop at the position, Lazard still landed a lucrative four-year, $44 million contract with the Jets. Clearly, his camaraderie with Rodgers helped – and could aid the Jets in finishing off the deal.
A flop in his first two pro seasons, Zach Wilson gets to study a master in an offense suited for him. He has said he idolizes Rodgers, who in turn has been complimentary toward Wilson. Meanwhile, Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson can dream about All-Pro honors catching balls from Rodgers.
Somehow, his utter failure in Denver as a head coach didn’t damage Hackett much, and now he’s the Jets’ offensive coordinator, with the prospect of the guy who basically landed the Broncos job for Hackett – yes, Rodgers – rejoining him in the Meadowlands.
“There’s a lot of reasons why the Jets are attractive,” Rodgers said. “But there’s one coach who has meant as much to me as any coach that I’ve ever had, and he happens to be the coordinator there.”
Even if Rodgers doesn’t go to New Jersey, Hackett prospered.
Although he’s still in limbo, Rodgers likely will make tons of money to match the hundreds of headlines he garnered during his self-search for wisdom on continuing his career or retiring.
His complex contract basically could cost the Packers $100 million over two years if they don’t trade him, but would be only a $40 million hit for them if they do.
“I don’t understand why the Packers aren’t saying, ‘Give us anything,’ and be thrilled to death that they saved $60 million on the contract,” said Joe Banner, former NFL team executive and analyst for The 33rd Team.
Rodgers Saga Losers
Johnson told his staff he would open the checkbook for a veteran quarterback, and when the objective became Rodgers, the Jets owner not only missed the bullseye, he shot wide of the entire target. Rather than ensuring a compensation agreement with the Packers before actually wooing Rodgers in person, Johnson boxed his team into a corner and lost all leverage. As of now, it’s Green Bay that is in control; indeed, the Packers have no reason to hurry making this trade from a business standpoint.
Meanwhile, Gang Green followers in the Big Apple are turning all shades of green.
“I am hard-pressed to understand how Green Bay doesn’t have leverage in this situation,” Tannenbaum said. “To me, they have given Green Bay a blank check.”
The Jets’ general manager has done a solid job adding talent to the roster, particularly on defense. The missing piece has been, of course, at quarterback. Left to his own devices, Douglas likely could have worked out an agreement suitable to both sides. Instead, the team owner helped turn the pursuit of Rodgers into a circus — on TV, throughout the real media and in social media.
“I had the thought that this is not a good thing,” said Bill Polian, Hall of Fame executive and analyst for The 33rd Team. “Maybe you send the coach, but send the whole entourage? No.”
Should the whole thing collapse like the Jets did in December and January, don’t look for Johnson to point the finger at himself.
Even though Rodgers reached only one Super Bowl in a certain Hall of Fame career, and the team underachieved in recent playoffs, Packers Nation is going to be sad and definitely uncomfortable when he departs. Considering you have to go back more than 30 years to find uncertainty behind center in Green Bay, those feelings are warranted. And reciprocated by Rodgers.
“I have nothing but love in my heart for every Packer fan and everybody that works in the organization,” Rodgers said. “My life is better because of my time in Green Bay. But we just got to look at the reality. [The Packers] want to move on, they don’t want me to come back. And that’s fine. … I’ve got so many great friends on that team that I’m still going to be great friends with.”
His reputation as a team leader has taken a hit, and there are some pundits questioning Rodgers’ loyalty. We don’t believe that; he noted Wednesday the Packers were ready to move on from him. But the way this tale has progressed can’t boost his image. Unless, of course, he leads the Jets somewhere they haven’t been since 1969.
Barry Wilner was a sportswriter for the Associated Press for 46 years. He has covered virtually every major sporting event, including 14 Olympics, nine World Cups, 34 Super Bowls, the World Series, and the Stanley Cup Finals, and has written 75 books. Follow him on Twitter @Wilner88