Like the groundhog, Aaron Rodgers emerged from his darkness retreat March 15 and made his announcement on “The Pat McAfee Show”: “I made it clear that my intention was to play, and my intention was to play for the New York Jets.”
So there it is: Rodgers has confirmed he wants to be a Jet. The Packers are ready to move on to Jordan Love. The Jets’ brass have signed off on it. All systems are go with trading Rodgers to the Jets.
Yet it’s now a week and a half later, and Rodgers is still a Green Bay Packer. There hasn’t even been any movement on a trade. Neither team is showing any urgency. Rodgers and the fans are all caught in limbo.
“I haven’t been holding anything up at this point,” Rodgers told McAfee. “It’s been compensation that the Packers are trying to get for me, and kind of digging their heels in.”
The trade will happen eventually. But right now, the Jets and Packers are engaged in a game of chicken that may not get resolved until training camp because of Rodgers’s complicated contract. Let’s take a look at why this is taking so long, and the various deadlines and issues at play:
▪ Rodgers will make $59.465 million fully guaranteed in 2023 (and why I don’t really believe him when he says he was 90 percent retired before his darkness retreat). But the compensation can come in one of two forms.
The first is an option bonus worth $58.3 million that extends his contract through the 2025 season (but with no guarantees past 2023). Rodgers would then play for an additional $1.165 million salary in 2023. The other form is if the team declines the option, then his base salary for 2023 increases to a fully guaranteed $59.465 million.
The first form is preferable because the team can spread the $58.3 million bonus over five years for salary-cap purposes. The second form forces the team to take a massive cap hit in 2023 ($75.4 million if it’s with the Packers). So whether Rodgers is a Packer or a Jet, his option bonus will be triggered.
▪ The Packers need to trade Rodgers before the option is exercised. The contract states that the $58.3 million gets paid out in two installments — $28.3 million within 10 days, and $30 million Sept. 30. The Packers obviously want the Jets to be responsible for that money.
▪ However, the deadline for a trade is still nearly six months away. Rodgers’s contract states that the option can be triggered all the way until “the day preceding the club’s first game of the 2023 regular season,” which is this September. A trade has to happen before the start of the regular season, but not much before then.
▪ Accordingly, there isn’t much urgency from the Packers to get a deal done right now. The NFL’s salary-cap accounting rules enable them to carry Rodgers for a reasonable $31.6 million this offseason, and the Packers still have all the cap space they need to make moves (about $23.5 million). They can afford to be patient and wait for the right deal — for now, at least.
▪ One deadline for the Packers may be this year’s NFL Draft, on April 27-29. Ostensibly, they would prefer to get draft pick compensation for this year. The Jets have the 13th pick in the first round, and Nos. 42 and 43 in the second round.
▪ But the Packers actually may prefer to wait until after the draft to execute a trade. Salary-cap-wise, it’s much better for the Packers to trade Rodgers after June 1. If they do it before June 1, Rodgers’s 2023 cap number increases from $31.6 million to an unwieldy $40.3 million of dead cap space. But if they trade him after June 1, Rodgers’s cap number decreases to $15.8 million, pushing the other $24.5 million into 2024.
The Packers also may be able to get a better draft pick in return if they ask for a 2024 pick instead of 2023. The Jets may be more willing to part with a ‘24 first-round pick if they figure it will be at the bottom of the round.
The only reason for the Packers to trade Rodgers before this year’s draft would be if they are blown away by a Jets offer.
▪ Of course, the Jets would be crazy to make such an offer before the draft. They know (or at least should know) that the ultimate end game works in their favor. The Packers have to trade Rodgers before the start of the regular season so they won’t be on the hook for $59 million.
And the Jets have no reason to show urgency. The offseason program doesn’t start until mid-April. Even then, Rodgers doesn’t need to attend. He already knows Nathaniel Hackett’s offense, and Rodgers can easily get his receivers together this summer to practice on their own time. Even the start of training camp in late July isn’t a hard deadline for the Jets. They would probably prefer Rodgers be with the team at that point, but not at the sake of getting a sub-standard deal.
▪ So the chances of a deal getting done before late July/early August don’t seem good — except for one factor: Jets owner Woody Johnson and Packers CEO Mark Murphy will be staying in the same hotel for three days this coming week at the NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix. Perhaps being face to face can help spur some action.
Otherwise, strap in. Rodgers is eventually going to be a Jet, but it could take quite a while to stick the landing.
Gauging McCourty’s potential for Hall
When Devin McCourty announced his retirement recently, the conversation turned to his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Longtime voter Clark Judge tackled the issue in a column, conferring with three football historians before rendering his verdict that McCourty belongs in the Hall of Very Good, and not pro football’s Hall. The rationale is that McCourty was never a first-team All-Pro in 13 seasons, and was only a Pro Bowler twice. Judge ranked McCourty behind Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle, and Eric Berry, each of whom likely won’t make the Hall of Fame.
Judge’s opinion is surely shared by many of the other 50 or so Hall of Fame voters. But they should take a deeper look at McCourty’s career before he is eligible for the Hall five years from now.
Compared with his peers, McCourty has the numbers. Over the last 20 years, McCourty ranks sixth among safeties in interceptions (35), ahead of Troy Polamalu, Thomas, Weddle, and Berry. His 110 passes defended rank sixth, and his 938 tackles rank fourth.
Then add in the peripheral stuff:
▪ McCourty started 205 of a possible 210 games, not missing one over the final seven seasons of his career. He also played in 24 postseason games, adding an extra 1½ seasons of wear and tear to his body.
▪ McCourty played in five Super Bowls, winning three, and reached the AFC Championship Game in three other seasons.
▪ McCourty was a captain for 12 of his 13 seasons, and nine times the Patriots’ defense finished in the top 10 in points allowed, including three years as the league’s No. 1 or 2 scoring defense. McCourty was the defensive play-caller and was used at free safety, strong safety, and cornerback.
Belichick sharing the story of his first encounter with McCourty, when McCourty broke down the Rutgers defense in a 2010 pre-draft meeting and knew every player’s responsibility on every play.— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) March 21, 2023
“I never really had an interview like this. I was completely stunned.” pic.twitter.com/GiwPs76fee
As Bill Belichick also explained this past week, there was more to McCourty than numbers. McCourty didn’t stand out in the Patriots’ 37-31 overtime win over the Chiefs in the 2019 AFC Championship game, finishing with three tackles. But the Patriots limited Tyreek Hill to one catch for 42 yards that day, and McCourty was the mastermind.
“One of the real keys to that whole game was the way that Tyreek Hill moved around,” Belichick said at McCourty’s retirement news conference. “And the way Devin was able to manipulate the defensive calls that we used to try to double and cover Hill, and how that changed in the course of the game as they moved [Hill] to different spots, from outside to inside, put him in motion and things like that. That was really a tremendous job by Devin of organizing the secondary and making the proper calls and the proper adjustments in obviously the biggest game of the year.”
Why McCourty didn’t make more Pro Bowl/All-Pro teams or the 2010 All-Decade team is a mystery. Berry played just five full seasons between 2010-19 and had only 14 interceptions, but got the All-Decade nod over McCourty, who had 10 healthy seasons and 26 interceptions, third most among safeties. McCourty may not have been the best at his position in a given year, but consistency and longevity surely count for something.
You don’t even need to include all of the great stuff McCourty does in the community, which only bolsters his candidacy. McCourty has the stats, the rings, and the résumé to make it to Canton. If McCourty isn’t a Hall of Famer, they may as well shut down the entire museum.
Flex schedules, special teams also on agenda
The NFL owners will meet in Phoenix this coming week for their annual meetings, and the most important item isn’t on the official docket — the future of Commanders owner Daniel Snyder.
The owners may not need to poll themselves to see if they have the 24 votes to oust Snyder, because reports have emerged in recent days of Snyder being on the verge of selling the team. There’s also an investigation by Mary Jo White into sexual harassment allegations and financial improprieties that has been going on for 14 months and should have been concluded long ago.
With that said, here is a look at some of the official proceedings that are on the agenda:
▪ When the NFL schedule is released in May, it should be written in pencil. Flex scheduling is coming to “Monday Night Football” for the first time this December, along with flexing for “Sunday Night Football.” NFL spokesman Jeff Miller said Friday that the owners will also deliberate a proposal for flex scheduling for “Thursday Night Football,” though it is unclear if it would be for 2023 or 2024. It is also unclear if the NFL Players Association would have any input. Amazon Prime had a fairly lackluster schedule of games in 2022 after reportedly spending $13.2 billion for 11 years of “TNF” broadcasts.
▪ Fixing the punt and kickoff plays will be a big focus of the meetings, as they continue to be the play with the highest rate of injuries and penalties. One rule proposal, formulated by the league’s competition committee, would place a touchback on a punt on the 25 instead of the 20.
“You actually might incentivize people to go for it on fourth down more, which we like,” said Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, using the example of a team at the 45-yard line. “We think it could help scoring by starting drives at the 25. And if it does reduce punts by a few then it reduces injuries and we reduce penalties.”
▪ Two controversial tactics from the 2022 season will not be voted upon — the Eagles’ rugby-style pile-push on short yardage, and the hip-drop tackle, in which a defender drags down a ball carrier from behind. McKay said the NFL didn’t have any injury data on the pile-push play or enough pushback against the play to suggest making it illegal. And while the injury rate is 20 times higher with the hip-drop tackle than on a normal play, according to the NFL’s Troy Vincent, the NFLPA actually doesn’t want to ban the tactic, believing it puts an undue burden on defensive players.
▪ The NFL is going to recommend to teams that they hold joint practices before the second and third preseason games, and not before the first. While the full-speed reps at joint practices are a great way to prepare players for the season, the NFL has been implementing a ramp-up to activity during training camp and believes the first week is too early for the intense practices.
Congrats to the Saints’ medical staff, who during a routine free agency physical with tight end Foster Moreau helped him discover that he has Hodgkin lymphoma. Moreau, who caught 12 touchdown passes in four seasons with the Raiders, was hoping to reunite with Derek Carr in New Orleans, but will likely be sidelined for the 2023 season. It’s yet another example of the routine but terrific work done by NFL medical professionals, and particularly the Saints’ staff. In 2017, they helped punter Jon Dorenbos discover an aortic aneurysm that required open-heart surgery, and also discovered a heart condition in Nick Fairley that ultimately ended his career . . . Congrats to former Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, one of 17 people given an Award of Excellence this past week by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The award went to assistant coaches, athletic trainers, equipment managers, film/video directors, and public relations personnel. They will be recognized at a ceremony at the Hall of Fame on June 28-29 . . . The most honest thing I read about NFL free agency came from longtime agent David Canter, speaking to NBC’s Peter King this past week about his client, cornerback Cameron Sutton. Sutton, like almost every player, had no preference other than one thing — the highest offer. When the Lions offered $33 million for three years with $22.5 million guaranteed, Canter first had to call Sutton, tell him the details of the contract and which team was offering, and get his OK. “You’re going to be a Detroit Lion in about three minutes,” Canter told Sutton, via King. “Let’s go to Detroit baby!” Sutton responded emotionally . . . When Aaron Rodgers was asked on Pat McAfee’s show what his plans are for 2023, he spoke for 8½ minutes before finally stating his intention was to play for the Jets. And Rodgers also made sure to note that he didn’t just win consecutive MVPs in 2020-21, he won “back-to-back COVID MVPs,” snarkily reminding us how smart he was for getting “immunized” and not vaccinated. Can’t wait to see his weekly news conferences with the New York media . . . RIP Jerry Green, the longtime Detroit News columnist who died Friday at 94. Green was the only reporter to cover the first 56 Super Bowls, even making it to the 2021 COVID game in Tampa, before finally watching from home this year. You can find him in the iconic 1969 photos of Joe Namath sitting poolside and predicting a victory over the mighty Colts in Super Bowl III . . . Still wondering why Bill Belichick benched Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII? So are the Patriots’ players. “When I saw [Butler] was coming out with a book and a documentary, I was like, ‘I can’t wait to read that,’ ” Devin McCourty said on Chris Long’s “Green Light” podcast. Stephon Gilmore “actually texted me and was like, ‘I’m going to buy this book ASAP.’ ”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.