Just when you think the NFL is out of metaphorical bombshells – a reasonable assumption on the afternoon of the 2021 draft – another one lands with a scream.
And Thursday's could have mass ramifications.
ESPN reported that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the reigning league MVP, has expressed to members of the organization that he doesn't want to return. Rodgers did not hide his displeasure when the team drafted quarterback Jordan Love in Round 1 last year rather than an offensive weapon who might've put a team that's lost consecutive NFC title games over the hump.
Rodgers is 37, but the value of the three-time league MVP may never get higher than it is right now. That doesn't mean the Pack will move him and, per ESPN, the Los Angeles Rams inquired before acquiring Matthew Stafford, and the San Francisco 49ers have also phoned GM Brian Gutekunst, who expressed just this week that "Aaron's our guy. … He's gonna be our quarterback for the foreseeable future. We're excited about the things we're gonna try to accomplish here over the next couple years."
Thursday, Gutekunst doubled down, saying in a statement: "As we've stated since the season ended, we are committed to Aaron in 2021 and beyond. … Aaron has been a vital part of our success and we look forward to competing for another championship with him leading our team."
And it's worth nothing, even if the relationship between Rodgers and the organization is fractured, it would be very difficult to unwind it financially. He just completed the first season of a four-year, $134 million contract extension. Trading Rodgers would mean roughly a $38 million salary cap charge for a team that barely has cap space as it is. Making a deal that would take effect financially after June 1 would cut that cap penalty for 2021 almost in half – but would also mean Gutekunst couldn't accept picks in this year's draft as part of a trade. And then there's the matter of finding a partner that could fit the roughly $23 million in salary Rodgers is due in 2021.
But if you take all of that into account – and make the leap that Green Bay and Rodgers agree a break-up of Favre-ian proportions is the only option – there are compelling teams that could make a play for No. 12:
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They're clearly in search of a quarterback who can elevate what's otherwise a pretty potent offensive arsenal. No reason the acquisition of Sam Darnold should preclude exploration of the Rodgers option, though the loss of next year's second-rounder makes any deal a little harder to consummate.
Can you imagine this team, which has about $21 million in cap space remaining for this season (per Over The Cap), with Rodgers joining the mix? No offense, Baker Mayfield, but it would be a no-brainer if GM Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski, who observed Rodgers from Minnesota's sideline for years, could pull this off.
New GM George Paton, like Stefanski, spent years with the Vikings organization, repeatedly thwarted by Rodgers. Paton's new team could be a turnkey operation for Rodgers – much as Tampa Bay was for Tom Brady – though having to constantly overcome the Chiefs in the AFC West would be quite an obstacle to more Lombardi glory.
Los Angeles Chargers
They obviously don't need Rodgers given what they saw from offensive rookie of the year Justin Herbert in 2020. But given the talent elsewhere on this roster, wouldn't GM Tom Telesco have to ponder a swap built around Herbert-for-Rodgers given it would allow the veteran to be in L.A., where he could continue taping "Jeopardy!" episodes and fiancée Shailene Woodley could more easily continue her acting career? (And if you're wondering about the Rams, their acquisition of Stafford, mortgaged future draft capital and lack of cap space would seem to take them out of the running.)
They've got a well-respected young coach, the resources to continue building their team as well as an extra first-rounder in 2023. And despite the recent commitment they've shown to their top pick of 2020, QB Tua Tagovailoa, when there might be a chance to get Rodgers, you make the call. Right?
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick is 69 and got owner Robert Kraft to open his checkbook during free agency this year. If there's an opportunity to replace Brady with Rodgers and get back to the business of winning Super Bowls – assuming Kraft is willing to surrender significant 2022 and 2023 (plus more?) draft assets – once again, wouldn't they also consider it?
New York Jets
Coming here wouldn't get Rodgers back to his beloved West Coast. But given his interest in the entertainment industry, the Big Apple might be the next big thing. Football-wise, he'd be playing for new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur (brother of Packers coach Matt LaFleur) – meaning New York's offense would theoretically be easy to tailor to Rodgers' comfort level. And, assuming cap ramifications make trading Rodgers before June 1 an impediment this year, the Packers could still find the NYJ enticing given they could ask for the Jets' multiple first- and second-rounders in 2022.
If former QB Carson Wentz plays 75% of the snaps for the Indianapolis Colts in 2021, the Eagles will have three first-rounders in 2022 (worst case, two in Round 1 and two in Round 2). Philly could also send second-year QB Jalen Hurts to Green Bay, giving the Pack two viable options (along with Love) to succeed Rodgers. The big snafu is the Eagles' cap – they have less than $5 million available right now and would have to further strip down a bad roster to take on Rodgers' money.
Washington Football Team
The NFC East champs have about $16 million in cap space, a scary defense and a steadily improving offensive supporting cast. They also reside in an eminently winnable division, which would theoretically give Rodgers an easier playoff path than his peers in the NFC South and West have. But if the Pack and WFT engage, the discussion would obviously center on what Washington would surrender in compensation – and you couldn't blame Gutekunst if he insisted on DE Chase Young as part of the package.
Why not the 49ers or Saints?
Again, if you presume the Packers wouldn't trade Rodgers until after June 1 in order to avoid a roster-crippling cap charge, then it's hard to see how a deal with San Francisco is viable. The Niners have already offloaded first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 (and an additional third-rounder next year) to the Dolphins for Thursday night's No. 3 selection – one they couldn't give Green Bay if a deal is designated post-June 1.
A Sean Payton-Rodgers union in New Orleans might mean year-round Mardi Gras. However the Saints have won four consecutive division titles, meaning they never pick early and also don't have future draft freight to expedite such a move. Worse, this team's cap situation is always precarious, and the Saints are in no position to take on Rodgers' contract.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
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