With one sentence, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers ignited the great leverage argument of this NFL offseason.
“My intention was to play, and my intention is to play for the New York Jets.”
With that assertion Wednesday, league analysts, talent evaluators and seemingly everyone orbiting the NFL’s news cycle spun into a frenzied debate: Who is now painted into a corner and how will they get out of it?
For the Packers, the advantage is clear. The Jets want and need Rodgers desperately. Virtually every other quarterback option outside of Lamar Jackson is off the table. Starting Zach Wilson in 2023 would be malpractice when it comes to a potential Super Bowl-caliber roster, so the need for Rodgers is essentially at an apex. When a need and appetite is at this kind of level for a quarterback, the team that controls him is in a predatory position.
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Conversely, the Jets have their own line of thought when it comes to leverage. First and foremost, Rodgers has a titanic contract and limited window that virtually no other team in the league is interested in importing. They know that on Thursday, they are the only game in town when it comes to a Packers trade. In that situation, why would they bid up a trade package when there’s no competition?
Rodgers has gone public on who he intends to play for in 2023, resulting in a patient game of poker. The overriding question: Who needs to move on first? With Rodgers publicly declaring his next team, the Jets feel pretty strongly about the answer to that question.
This is how this debate is largely being viewed: The Packers vs. the Jets, with a subplot of who can wait longer.
That’s also the overriding mistake here.
The leverage isn’t in the hands of the Jets or the Packers. It’s in the hands of Rodgers, just like it has been for weeks. When it comes down to it, the only person who can paint Green Bay into a corner is its current quarterback. He wears No. 12 and he’s ready to set sail. He’s also more than willing to sit tight and stare down his current franchise.
That’s the person we should be focusing on right now in this trade negotiation: Aaron Rodgers.
Why? There are three wrinkles in all of this that Rodgers understands. And they all play in to the hands of his next team rather than his current one. Among them:
Rodgers knows the Packers don’t want him back. He knows the front office wants to move forward with backup quarterback Jordan Love, who is on track to have his fifth-year option picked up by the franchise in May. He didn’t need Packers CEO Mark Murphy to talk about him in the past tense in recent days, but that certainly helped when it came to an element of clarity in Green Bay’s future. It’s a future that will be incredibly uncomfortable when it comes to the mere idea of Rodgers returning in 2023 — a scenario that would occur only if Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst prioritized a vendetta against Rodgers over the development of a quarterback he selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. If Gutekunst wants to play that game of chicken, Rodgers will engage in it. Count on it.
Rodgers knows that his declaration of intending to play for the Jets in 2023 and the reality of his salary structure beyond next season make him an unpalatable option for any other trade suitor. Nobody is coming out of the ether to suddenly upset the apple cart and become a dark horse third team trying to get involved in trade talks. The Jets are the lone destination. Rodgers knows it. The Jets know it. The Packers know it. This isn’t like Matthew Stafford in 2021 or even Russell Wilson in 2022. There aren’t a wealth of options. The Packers are staring at one trade partner versus the completely untenable avenues of cutting Rodgers and absorbing more than $94 million in future salary cap charges, or holding him hostage in 2023 as the entire NFL world watches and judges.
Rodgers and all the parties involved — including the Jets, Packers and remainder of the NFL — know that holding out for some wild trade compensation is absurd. Rodgers is 39 years old and staring down a window of one season (or at most, two) remaining in the tail end of his prime. If the Packers really wanted a mega deal for him, they should have put their foot down in 2021 and sought a trade with the Denver Broncos. That was the time to angle for the big deal. Now? After Rodgers lumbered through a subpar season and then questioned his desire to continue playing? His value isn’t anywhere near what it would have been 12 months ago. Everyone knows it, and it dramatically impacts the desire for anyone else to import the risk of rolling the dice on him now. The time for peak compensation sailed last January. Now Green Bay has to deal with it.
All of this matters to the parties involved. It’s nonsensical for the litany of twitter jockeys or pundits to be so certain that Green Bay has a mountain of leverage heading into the next few months. The Packers don’t. They surrendered that higher ground when they made it publicly apparent that they want Rodgers off the roster. Once that happened, it became a game of patience, public perception and the willingness to be spiteful enough to do what the other entity wouldn’t.
Rodgers is going to win on all of those fronts. And he’s going to help the Jets win right alongside him. He wants to move on to New York, but if the Packers want to test him and bluff a potential return to the fold in Green Bay, they should be aware that he will call that bluff. He would go back at this stage just to embarrass Gutekunst, Murphy and anyone else who would publicly suggest he’s no longer wanted. That’s the true leverage in this situation. That’s the real power.
When this is all over, Green Bay is ultimately going to settle for far less than this ridiculous floated theory that Rodgers is worth two first-round draft picks. He’s not. The Packers and their quarterback have quarreled enough to make sure of that. The sooner Green Bay wakes up to that fact, the faster a deal can be consummated and everyone can move on with their lives.
Until then, the clock is ticking and everyone is staring at each other. Which party blinks first is a matter of time and patience. And both will eventually run out for the Packers.