There is now a lot of buzz in league circles about the possibility of the Jets trading for Aaron Rodgers this offseason. The hiring of Nathaniel Hackett, who is close with Rodgers, has increased the speculation.
While bringing the future Hall of Famer to New York would certainly be a splashy move, it is important to consider price. As a consumer there is always a price where even the greatest product in the world does not make sense.
The general consensus seems to be that Rodgers is unlikely to play more than two more seasons in the NFL. Is that the case? Nobody can say for sure, but despite what we have seen from Tom Brady it probably is best to not bet on a quarterback playing past age 42.
Let’s talk about the financial implications of what two years of Rodgers would mean.
Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap laid it out in detail a few weeks back so I will turn it over to him.
Because these salaries are so large there is a great deal of confusion as to how a team could fit Rodgers under the cap, but that is where more of the complexity of the deal comes in. A team that acquires Rodgers (or the Packers if they keep him) has the option to pay Rodgers 2023 salary as a $1.165 million base salary and a $58.3 million option bonus. For salary cap purposes that option bonus is prorated across four years for a charge of $14.575 million per year. In 2024 the team has another option that allows them to split the salary up as $2.25 million in base salary and a $47 million option bonus, which for cap purposes would be prorated over three years at a charge of $15.666 million per year.
The cleanest option here (after two seasons) would be retirement where they would do the same thing mentioned before about taking out all bonuses from that year and process him as a June 1 retirement and take on a $30.242 million cap hit as dead money in both 2025 and 2026. If the two sides part ways then the team would take on a massive $60.483 million cap charge in 2025.
The article goes into great detail. You can read it for a thorough explanation, but I will give you the basic summary. Rodgers’ salary for 2023 would be around $59.4 million. His salary for 2024 would be around $49.2 million.
However, the contract is structured in a way that a great deal of the cap hits would be pushed to future years.
Rodgers’ cap number for 2023 would be around $15.8 million, and for 2024 it would be around $32.5 million.
Now you might see some people saying something like, “For the next two years Rodgers would cost $48 million combined. That’s $24 million per year, a bargain for a franchise quarterback.” This statement is technically true, but it is really telling only half the story.
As mentioned above, Rodgers’ total cost for the two years would be in the neighborhood of $108 million. If the Jets are only charged $48 million against the cap in those two years, what do you think happens?
Does it disappear? Of course not.
The remaining $60 million would count against the cap in future years for the Jets. If Rodgers retires, depending on how it is done it could be a full $60 million in dead money in 2025. It could also be $30 million apiece in both 2025 and 2026.
So even accounting for an expected rise in the cap with the league’s new lucrative TV deals kicking in, the best case scenario has the Jets charged roughly 10 percent of the cap in back to back years for a player not on the team.
I will tell you this situation has nuance. If the Jets bring in a veteran quarterback with any sort of desirability, they will likely have to push a fairly large cap hit to future seasons. The team planned out its finances for 2023 anticipating that Zach Wilson would be able to handle the position on an inexpensive rookie deal. The Jets loaded up on other contracts under this assumption, minimizing their short term cap space.
One of the problems is the short runway we could expect from Rodgers. It would be much easier to manage pushing cap hits into the future for a quarterback would could be expected to stay with the Jets four to five years. The Jets could stretch the extra cap hits out and plan accordingly. If Rodgers was to be in New York for only two years, they would just get hit with a big bill without much of a say in the timing.
Of course there are some situations where making the short term play for the quarterback has paid off. The Buccaneers signing Brady is one. The Rams trading for Matthew Stafford was another. These teams won the Super Bowl. The pain that will be coming over the next few years is well worth it.
I’m not sure that’s the case with the Jets, though. The Jets are a team with a young core. Are they a Super Bowl favorite even with Rodgers? Are they likely to win it all in a two years stretch with the future Hall of Famer? I would say probably not.
The most likely impact of trading for Rodgers would be taking a huge bite out of the cap in 2025 and 2026, right around the time Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, and Breece Hall should be entering their respective primes. At this point, it would become even more important than usual to have additional cost controlled young talent added through the Draft. The Jets would have at least to some extent depleted their ability to do so with the picks that would have to be traded for Rodgers. Even if the rumors about two first round picks aren’t true, a couple of early picks could put a meaningful dent in the team’s Draft classes going forward.
I think it’s important to put this stuff in context. You can get carried away and use phrases like “mortgaging the future.” A trade for Rodgers wouldn’t necessarily do that. The Jets still could have successful Draft classes even if they are short on picks. They could also conceivably work around a 10 percent deficit in cap space. It is unlikely back to back $30 million hits in dead money would leave them unable to re-sign their young stars.
Still, I don’t think a situation necessarily needs to be apocalyptic for it to meaningfully harm the team’s future prospects. These would be legitimate challenges that would make it more difficult to compete at a high level. And it would all be for a two year window where Rodgers would be unlikely to produce a Super Bowl.
Why do I say that? Having great quarterback play alone isn’t enough to win a championship. Rodgers’ career alone is proof of that. The man simply could not have played the position at a higher level since he took over as Packers starting quarterback in 2008. He has a single Super Bowl ring.
Quarterback play is clearly critical to win it all, but there are other factors beyond a team’s control. Sometimes an injury upends your season. Sometimes you run into a bad matchup in the Playoffs. Sometimes a bad call changes everything. Sometimes you just have a bad day at the worst possible moment.
You could make a strong argument that the Kansas City Chiefs have been the league’s model franchise in Andy Reid’s ten year tenure. By the end of next Sunday, they still might have a single championship themselves to show for it. If you give yourself a long enough window, eventually you are likely to have a year where everything breaks your way. A two year window makes it really, really tough.
If you were offering me Aaron Rodgers for fifteen years, the odds of winning a title would be very good. I would say the same for ten years. Even five years it probably would be worth the risk. Two years? You need a ton to break right.
This is if Rodgers is still at the top of his game. He just had the worst year of his career in almost every major statistical category. Yes, he was playing through a thumb injury. Yes, his supporting cast was poor. It’s entirely plausible these were the sources of all of his troubles, and he is ready to resume playing on an immortal level.
Nobody knows for sure, though. I think we have to admit there’s at least some possibility that when a 39 year old has his worst season, it is possible he is declining. At the very least this is a risk.
Let’s say Rodgers isn't totally washed up. Let’s say he only declines 10 to 20 percent. It still makes the path to the Super Bowl that much harder.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m completely out on Aaron Rodgers. I’m also not saying a trade is guaranteed to be a failure. But from a risk-reward proposition I do think the current price probably not be worth paying.