GREEN BAY — If Aaron Rodgers is in fact unhappy with the Green Bay Packers’ commitment to him or his contract as it is currently structured — and to this point, the three-time NFL MVP and future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback has not explicitly said what he wants, if anything — then Brian Gutekunst wasn’t about to divulge what issues exist, if any.
In fact, when asked directly on Monday where things stood between the organization and Rodgers, and if there was a disconnect or unhappiness between the team and the quarterback, Gutekunst deftly sidestepped the question.
“But what I will say,” the fourth-year general manager said during a 30-minute pre-draft Zoom call with reporters, “is we’re really excited about Aaron Rodgers and his future with the Green Bay Packers. We think he’s going to be our quarterback for the foreseeable future.
“Obviously every year there’s different things you go through to kind of get to the season, and I think we’re going through those right now — whether it be contractually or whether it be working with our players on other things. And that’s where we are.
“Again, he’s such a unique, different player than anyone that I’ve ever been around. He affects our organization in so many different ways that you just can’t value him because he’s so important to what we do. We’re excited moving forward and we’ll kind of see where things go.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing the NFL salary cap to drop from $198.5 million last season to just $182.5 million for this coming season, the Packers reworked the contracts of six veteran players to clear sufficient cap space to re-sign running back Aaron Jones, cornerback Kevin King and tight end Marcedes Lewis.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, offensive lineman Billy Turner, safety Adrian Amos, kicker Mason Crosby and outside linebacker Preston Smith (the only one of the six to accept a pay cut) restructured their deals to create cap room.
But the 37-year-old Rodgers’ contract — to this point, anyway — has remained untouched, meaning the reigning NFL MVP is carrying the highest 2021 cap charge in the entire league this season at $37.5 million.
Gutekunst suggested multiple times during the video conference that the Packers could still redo Rodgers’ deal, but when asked what the upside would be of having Rodgers count so much against the cap instead of reworking his deal the way others had had their contracts restructured, Gutekunst replied, “I think you know me well enough to know that I don't really get into too many details about conversations with players (or) contract negotiations with players.
“But again, like I said earlier, it's very important for us to work through the next two years to get this salary cap thing right. We will have to address many contracts over the next four or five months to kind of get under the cap for the season, and that (Rodgers contract) is certainly one we will probably address as well.”
Rodgers has wondered aloud multiple times about his future with the team, ever since Gutekunst traded up in the first round of last year’s NFL draft to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with the No. 26 overall pick. After that selection, Rodgers reiterated that he had hoped to spend his entire career with the Packers but pointed out that the likelihood of that happening had decreased and that he had less control over how his Packers career would end because of the selection of Love.
Then, late in the season, Rodgers mused that his future is a “beautiful mystery,” and in the wake of the team’s NFC Championship Game loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rodgers spoke of several teammates having uncertain futures before adding, “myself included.”
Since then, multiple sources have said that Rodgers is looking for a commitment from the team that goes beyond 2021 so he won’t be a lame-duck quarterback this season, serving as a placeholder for Love to take over in 2022.
While Rodgers is under contract through the 2023 season, none of the remaining money in the deal is guaranteed, and the Packers could realize more than $22 million in salary cap relief if they moved on from Rodgers after this season by trading him or releasing him.
"I don't feel like any of that has changed,” Rodgers said during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio earlier this month. “Even my comments directly after the last game … my future, really, a lot of it is out of my control. That's why I've used the phrase like 'beautiful mystery,' because it is quite uncertain which direction things are going to go.
“All I can do is play my best, and I think last season I did do that — which might have thrown a wrench into some timelines that might have been thought about or desired.”
That $22 million in cap space that moving on from Rodgers would create is tantalizing given how daunting the Packers’ 2022 cap appears at the moment. Because of those other restructured deals, the Packers have more than $160 million in cap room committed to their eight highest-paid players.
Also, 2022 would be Love’s third season, and surely the Packers would like to see him play in games that count so they could decide whether to exercise the fifth-year option that comes standard with every first-round pick’s contract. That decision has to be made following that player’s third season — which is why Gutekunst said he plans on exercising Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander’s fifth-year option in the coming days.
Even with the NFL’s lucrative new broadcast rights deals with its network partners, next year’s salary cap is not expected to skyrocket as much as it will in 2023. That’s why Gutekunst repeatedly pointed to the cap situation being a challenge both in 2021 and 2022.
“(The cap) is really kind of a two-year situation. We've looked at a lot of different things and that's one of them,” he said of Rodgers’ deal. “Aaron's our guy; he's going to be our quarterback for the foreseeable future. We're excited about kind of the things we're going to try to accomplish here over the next couple years.
“So we certainly think (Rodgers’ deal) is something we'll work through. We're going to have to do probably a few things with different contracts as we head toward the season and then through the season to make sure that our salary cap situation — not only this year, but in 2022 — is square. So, we're not done yet.”
Gutekunst said the Packers have not officially exercised Alexander’s fifth-year option “but I certainly would expect us to do so.” … Gutekunst chuckled when asked about Rodgers and Bakhtiari doing some virtual-reality boxing on social media and said the five-time all-pro left tackle is recovering well from the torn ACL he suffered in practice on New Year’s Eve. That said, Gutekunst also emphasized that the team won’t rush Bakhtiari back for the regular-season opener in September. “We’re going to make sure we do the right thing as we go through his rehab and protect him a little bit from himself because he’s a grinder and he’s going to push himself as hard as he can to get back,” Gutekunst said. … Gutekunst admitted he didn’t think the team would be able to re-sign King, who took a one-year, $5 million deal to return after finding a depressed free-agent market. “Heading into this offseason, it wasn’t something that I thought was going to be a great possibility, to bring Kevin back,” Gutekunst said. “But as the pandemic affected the market a little bit, I think we were able to get him back and are super-pleased with it. Obviously, Kevin’s had his ups and downs with his injury history here but he’s played a lot of good ball for us. We’re better with him on the field than we would be without him.”