Given the current state of the New England Patriots’ quarterback room, expect them to be linked to every available (or potentially available) signal-caller over the next two months.
As of Sunday evening, that list now includes Aaron Rodgers.
After his Green Bay Packers were bounced in the NFC Championship Game for the second consecutive year — this time to Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Rodgers made waves with a few surprising and unprompted remarks in his postgame video conference.
“All the guys’ futures are uncertain, myself included,” Rodgers said in response to a question about receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. “There are a lot of unknowns going into this offseason, and I’m going to have to take some time away, for sure, and clear my head and just kind of see what’s going on with everything.”
Rodgers, who almost certainly will take home NFL MVP honors for the third time after enjoying one of his best seasons yet at age 37, is under contract with the Packers through 2023. But his comments suggest the idea of a trade request has at least entered his mind.
Some, like NFL Media’s Mike Silver, viewed those as Rodgers “flexing his power and sending a message” to an organization that controversially traded up to draft a quarterback (Jordan Love) in the first round last spring rather than adding a player who could help its current one. Rodgers led the league in a host of passing categories this season but had fewer top-end weapons at his disposal than, say, Brady or AFC champion Patrick Mahomes.
Rodgers also said he wasn’t aware head coach Matt LaFleur would make the baffling decision to kick a field goal late in Sunday’s loss, illustrating a disconnect between QB and play-caller in a key moment.
“When he spoke,” Silver wrote Monday, “I believe he delivered a message to his bosses, one I’d roughly translate thusly: Your way of doing business has to change, or maybe I should be on my way.“
A Packers-Rodgers breakup is by no means a forgone conclusion. And since neither of Rodgers’ backups — Love and second-stringer Tim Boyle, who will be a restricted free agent — has ever thrown an NFL pass, Green Bay will do everything it can to keep its superstar QB.
But if Rodgers does become available, would a move to the Patriots be a realistic possibility? Let’s break it down:
In 2018, Rodgers signed a four-year, $134 million extension that included a record $57.5 million signing bonus. He has three years remaining on that deal, and jettisoning him now would have major salary cap implications for Green Bay.
Trading Rodgers before June 1 would clear about $6 million in salary cap space but leave behind $31.5 million in dead money, according to Spotrac. That’s an absurd amount in a typical year, never mind one in which the cap will be substantially lower than expected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Waiting until after June 1 to execute a trade would leave dead cap charges of $14.4 million in 2021 and $17.2 million in 2022 while freeing up $23.2 million in 2021 cap space. Doing so would mean paying Rodgers his $6.8 million roster bonus, however, which is due March 19.
Rodgers is set to carry a cap hit of $37.6 million in 2021 — third-highest in the NFL behind Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger — but a trade would drop that number to around $22 million for the team that acquires him, per Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan.
With the Patriots boasting upward of $60 million in available cap space — and potentially more if Stephon Gilmore is traded or any of their 2020 opt-outs choose to retire — they would have more than enough room to acquire Rodgers and still address their various other roster needs.
Rodgers’ Packers predecessor, Brett Favre, lost in the NFC title game in 2007, then was traded to the New York Jets for a conditional draft pick that ultimately became a third-rounder. Favre was 39 at the time and was very good in ’07, but his and Rodgers’ situations aren’t particularly comparable.
Favre’s trade came in August after months of retirement controversy, and Green Bay was ready to move on with Rodgers, who’d backed up Favre for the previous three seasons. Love might be the Packers’ QB of the future, but after he didn’t play at all as a rookie, they can’t confidently enter next season with the untested Utah State product as their top option.
So, what is Rodgers’ trade value? That’s difficult to project. Given his age, he wouldn’t be as pricey as 25-year-old Deshaun Watson — who could fetch the Houston Texans three or more first-round picks — but he’s more valuable than Matthew Stafford, who’s four years younger but never has reached Rodgers’ level of play. (Watson reportedly wants out of Houston, and Stafford recently requested a trade from the Detroit Lions.)
Would it take two first-round picks to trade for Rodgers? A first and another pick? A first and a player? Whatever it is, don’t expect a bargain.
The Patriots currently own the 15th overall selection and their own pick in the second round (No. 47). They lost their third-rounder as punishment for videotaping the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline in 2019 but are expected to receive a third-round compensatory pick for losing Brady in free agency (plus two fourths for Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins).
Unlike Watson’s, Rodgers’ contract does not include a no-trade clause, so the Packers theoretically could send him to any team they wish.
Would Bill Belichick love to have Aaron Rodgers on his team? Absolutely.
Rodgers is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and would be the most physically talented signal-caller Belichick has ever coached, even at his advanced age. According to ESPN’s Ian O’Connor, Brady once told an NFL coach that Rodgers “would throw for 7,000 yards every year” in New England’s offense.
“He has great accuracy,” Belichick said before the most recent Patriots-Packers meeting in 2018. “Very mobile in the pocket. He extends plays. Really good vision down the field. Uses the cadence well. He’s a very good situational player. He’s just one of the great quarterbacks in the National Football League. No question about it.”
The Patriots need to add talent at wide receiver and tight end regardless of who their next QB is — remember how Brady looked in 2019 when New England had no viable pass-catchers outside of Julian Edelman and James White — but if they make the requisite roster moves, Rodgers could instantly launch them back into Super Bowl contention.
It is worth wondering, though, how the opinionated Rodgers would take to Belichick’s demanding coaching style. And giving up something in the neighborhood of two first-round picks for a 37-year-old quarterback would be a definite gamble, especially for a team with holes at several other spots.
Should the Patriots inquire about Rodgers if he hits the trade block? Yes. 100 percent. He’s a surefire Hall of Famer who’s coming off one of the best years of his career. But at this point, a split still seems unlikely.
If we were handicapping the Patriots’ QB hunt, we’d give both Stafford and Jimmy Garoppolo significantly higher odds of landing in New England.