The Packers will travel to Lincoln Financial Field for a Sunday night showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles, with Green Bay desperately needing a victory to not only save their season but possibly also save Aaron Rodgers’ future with the team.
The Packers’ playoff hopes are on life support following another lacklustre performance by the reigning league MVP in Thursday’s 27-17 loss at home to the Tennessee Titans.
Green Bay — in particular their offence sans star WR Davante Adams — has been the NFL’s biggest disappointment so far this season thanks to a dismal 4-7 record, despite coming into the year with Super Bowl aspirations with Rodgers under centre.
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The Packers’ latest loss has only increased calls from around the league for Green Bay to bench their four-time league MVP for the remainder of the 2022 season in favour of backup quarterback Jordan Love.
For the first time in three decades the Packers look set to enter the off-season with uncertainty at the game’s most important position, with serious question marks being raised as to whether the future Hall-of-Famer will be their starting quarterback in 2023.
Foxsports.com.au takes a look at the state of play in Green Bay below.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Following three straight 13-win seasons which ended in disappointing early playoff exits — including two consecutive seasons finishing as the NFC’s number one seed behind back-to-back MVPs for Aaron Rodgers — the Packers showed faith in their long-time franchise quarterback by signing him to a three-year $150 million ($225.8m AUD) contract extension in the off-season.
However, despite re-signing Rodgers for the foreseeable future, Green Bay was unable to convince his number one target for the last several seasons to do the same, with the Packers eventually trading star wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders in March.
Despite trading Adams to the Raiders, many around the league still believed that the Packers would remain in contention to hoist the Lombardi trophy (7-0 record in games without Adams since 2019), with Green Bay coming into the season as one of the betting favourites at $4.40 to claim the NFC championship and $11 to win the Super Bowl.
However, since losing his trusted veteran wideout, Rodgers and the Green Bay offence have looked a shell of their former selves with the nine-time pro bowler missing throws he would usually make in his sleep and the latter putting up just 18.4 points per game (ranked 26th of 32 NFL teams).
The blame for this lack of production on offence has largely been placed at the feet of the inexperienced wide receiving corps, with Rodgers calling the group out on multiple occasions throughout the season for dropping passes and running incorrect routes.
Most notably during an October appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers didn’t mince words about the mistake-prone performances of his teammates, suggesting they be benched.
“Guys who are making too many mistakes, shouldn’t be playing,” he said.
“Gotta start cutting some reps. Maybe guys who aren’t playing, maybe give them a chance.”
This led to some tension inside the locker room, with ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reporting a couple of weeks ago that there appeared to be growing discord within Green Bay stemming from the notion “that some of the young wide receivers have been painted as scapegoats” for the team’s struggles.
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With their season on the brink of being over before December and Rodgers on pace to throw his most interceptions in a season in more than a decade (currently tied for 7th in the league for thrown interceptions), the Packers are faced with a conundrum at quarterback.
Despite having signed their 38-year-old quarterback to the richest annual contract in NFL history this past off-season, which included $101m ($152.6m AUD) guaranteed and looked set to ensure he remained in Green Bay through till the end of the 2026 season, the Packers are being urged to consider their options at the position moving forward.
Where things get really interesting is that Green Bay only have until May to decide whether to exercise the fifth-year option for 2024 on their backup quarterback, Jordan Love (worth nearly $20 million — $30.2m AUD — fully guaranteed).
Since drafting Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft as Rodgers’ potential replacement, the Packers haven’t seen enough of the 24-year-old in game action (42-of-71 for 484 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs in 8 games) to know whether he’s a viable replacement for Rodgers, whether it’s in 2023 or later.
The possible silver lining to Rodgers’ recent thumb injury and starting so poorly in what shapes as an otherwise wasted season is that Green Bay may finally have the opportunity to test drive Love as their starting quarterback for the last five games of the season.
By benching Rodgers in favour of Love if — as expected — they lose to the Eagles this week, the Packers will give themselves the best chance to find a definitive answer as to whether they see the third-year quarterback as the future of their franchise.
Even if the front office decides that Love isn’t the answer at quarterback in Green Bay, the trial should still give the Packers more options at the position moving forward by improving their ability to trade him in exchange for valuable draft picks from a quarterback-needy team.
No matter whether Green Bay decide to bench Rodgers or not, they face an even more complex decision at quarterback moving forward and getting it right will go a long way towards the Packers finally securing an elusive fifth Super Bowl victory.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
Foxsports.com.au is ruling out the possibility of Green Bay deciding to cut Rodgers (based on the significant dead-money hit to their 2023 salary cap and the fact they would receive no compensation) and Rodgers deciding to retire (due to him having to forfeit his $58.3 million option bonus and any further compensation from his mega deal).
This leaves the Packers with three options at quarterback this off-season: 1. Trade Jordan Love and retool the roster around Rodgers; 2. Trade Aaron Rodgers and build the roster around Love; 3. Trade one of Rodgers or Love and draft a young QB to rebuild the roster around.
Retool around Rodgers
Despite turning 39 next month and not playing to the level of his back-to-back MVP seasons, Rodgers has still thrown for 2,542 yards (6th in the league) and 19 touchdowns (4th in the league) through 11 games.
Throw in the fact that Rodgers is still adjusting to life without his top two receivers during those MVP seasons in Davante Adams (traded to the Raiders) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (signed with the Chiefs in free agency) and it’s clear there’s still a pretty strong argument to be made that with some more pieces around him, the Super Bowl XLV MVP could rebound next season and put Green Bay back in championship contention.
The issue with this option is that OverTheCap.com currently has the Packers projected to be $5m over the salary cap next season and, if his contract isn’t adjusted, Rodgers would count $31.6m on that 2023 salary cap which significantly hinders Green Bay’s ability to improve their current roster.
One way to mitigate this issue would be to trade Jordan Love (preferably following an impressive stint as starter to end the season) to a team who is in desperate need of a quarterback, but not bad enough to draft CJ Stroud or Bryce Young, in exchange for draft picks they could use on cost-effective rookies to help the team next season.
The best way to boost Love’s trade value and in turn boost the draft compensation received in said trade is by letting him start for the rest of the season to get prospective trade partners excited about the former 26th overall pick.
Trade Rodgers and hand the keys to Love
While trading Aaron Rodgers once seemed a ludicrous notion, it has been suggested that Green Bay may need to make the tough call to do so this off-season in order to give themselves the best chance of winning another super bowl in the near future.
Rodgers’ contract doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so technically he can be dealt at any time, however, according to OverTheCap.com the Packers would take on a dead cap hit of over $40m if the quarterback was traded before June 1 in 2023.
That figure would be spread out over two years if he was traded after that date, with a cap hit of just $15.8m in 2023 and a further $24.4m in 2024.
The major problem with trading Rodgers post June 1 is that the 2023 NFL draft is held at the end of April, meaning any draft compensation that Green Bay receives would be for the 2024 NFL draft.
The other consideration in this scenario is that while Jordan Love only has a $4m cap hit in 2023, his fifth-year option is projected to account for $20m against the Packers’ 2024 salary cap.
Roughly $20 million is a lot to spend on an unproven quarterback, which makes Green Bay benching Rodgers for the rest of the season in favour of Love in this scenario almost a must.
The major benefit to trading Rodgers is that it would free up $31.6 million in cap space to build a better roster around the former Utah State quarterback.
Draft a young QB and enter full rebuild mode
The third option for the Packers this off-season is to blow up the roster entirely by trading either Rodgers or Love and drafting a rookie quarterback to become the face of the franchise moving forward.
While it is possible that Green Bay could trade both Rodgers and Love in order to maximise their draft compensation and pick up a cheap veteran quarterback in free agency to mentor any potential rookie quarterback, this would be extremely unlikely as it’s much easier to retain one of the two quarterbacks already on the roster who are familiar with the playbook to support whichever quarterback they draft.
Trading Love makes the most sense in this scenario from a financial standpoint, but in terms of trade value for a franchise looking to rebuild around a rookie quarterback, trading Rodgers would represent the best option.
The obvious benefit of trading one of the most talented arm talents to ever play the game would be the massive draft haul the Packers would surely receive in return (think back to the Russel Wilson trade from last off-season).
Aside from the financial implications previously mentioned which makes trading Rodgers extremely difficult in this scenario, you would need to find a team that has the necessary draft capital and young pieces on the roster that would make taking on Rodgers huge salary a viable option.
According to American sportscaster Colin Cowherd, the Seattle Seahawks are a team which could fit the bill.
During a segment on his popular TV show The Herd, Cowherd proposed the Seahawks as a potential trade partner for Green Bay should they look to move on from Rodgers.
“If Seattle has a good draft, they can afford Aaron Rodgers’ cap hit,” he said.
“… The only place it [a Rodgers trade] works is a team that has young stars you don’t have to pay. Seattle has two star tackles and a running back, don’t have to pay them… They have a rusher and two corners, don’t have to pay them. Seattle now has, because of the Russell Wilson deal, two firsts [round draft picks], two seconds, a third and two fourths… [If I was Green Bay] I’d go to Seattle and say you give us a first, give us a second and give us one of your fourths.”