As NFL scouting combine winds down, all eyes are on Aaron Rodgers and an important deadline

INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to what’s next for Aaron Rodgers, the last day at the NFL scouting combine was illuminating on two points.

First, it appears only Rodgers knows what he’s doing.

Second, Tuesday’s franchise tag deadline at 4 p.m. ET for wideout Davante Adams is going to be a significant moment, tipping precisely how committed the Green Bay Packers are in laying a foundation for Rodgers’ return. Most especially if Rodgers hasn’t informed the team of his decision by the tagging deadline, arguably showcasing to the quarterback that Green Bay is willing to make a major hope-based decision to keep him before he has made his commitment.

Regardless of how that unfolds, what became clear over the past week is that nobody has a firm grasp on what Rodgers has been planning. That includes franchises interested in pursuing him if he seeks a trade, executives tasked with constructing trade offers and contract extensions, players impacted by Rodgers’ decision, and even some associates who have previously been in the quarterback’s circle. The assessment from that wide array of parties is that through Sunday, Rodgers hadn’t showcased a lean to anyone. Whether he’s preparing for a departure from Green Bay, a trade elsewhere or a retirement that nobody seems to expect, the league’s two-time reigning MVP has kept his process remarkably under wraps. So much so that one source deeply invested in the outcome of the decision described his approach heading into next week as “just let it happen.”

That source isn’t alone, either. Indeed, if there was a bottom line for all the franchises speculated to be involved, the simplest way to describe it is this: Neither the Packers nor Denver Broncos have any clue what Rodgers is going to do, and the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers are privately saying they do not have trade packages or contract extensions cooked up for a pursuit of Rodgers.

Even as opaque as the situation is, there is a shared belief between all four of those teams that Rodgers’ decision is going to come down to Green Bay and Denver, and that when it’s all over, he’s likely to sign a two-year contract extension making him the highest-paid player in the NFL.

Now everyone is waiting for Tuesday’s franchise tag “tell” to materialize with the Packers and Adams, which will showcase Green Bay’s intent to keep Rodgers’ top target in the fold for 2022. And while some in the media have suggested it could be a tag-and-trade move allowing the Packers to deal both Rodgers and Adams together, one executive not in play for either player was incredulous about that scenario.

Aaron Rodgers' future will hit a crucial moment of sorts when the Packers make a decision on using the franchise tag on Davante Adams. (Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Aaron Rodgers' future will hit a crucial moment of sorts when the Packers make a decision on using the franchise tag on Davante Adams. (Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Sending players and [draft] picks — whoever is getting [Rodgers and Adams] together would have to be sending both players and picks — that would be one of the biggest trades in NFL history or close to it,” the executive said. “Then there’s the [contract] extensions, which Rodgers is probably the highest-paid player in the NFL next [season] and Davante Adams is going to be the richest total wide receiver deal ever done. Trading and paying the back-to-back MVP is hard enough and [media] are throwing in probably the best or second-best receiver in like it’s fantasy football.”

That doesn’t mean such a move is impossible, of course. Every trade or asset burn is unprecedented until someone engineers it (see the Los Angeles Rams), but the reality is the path to keeping Rodgers and Adams together continues to make the most sense for Green Bay. If that doesn’t come together, the first step would be a decision from Rodgers, who could be traded and work out a new deal with a team after the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET on March 16. If Rodgers requests a trade, the Packers would still have options with Adams, including a contract extension, trading him alone to another team, the aforementioned mega trade, letting him play out a tagged season, or rescinding the tag altogether and letting him depart in free agency.

However it breaks down, this week represents the traction moment for everyone involved. Packers free agents are set to make decisions, Adams' future will have some clarity, and any teams interested in trading for Rodgers will be willing to back-burner their secondary options at quarterback for only so long. One way or another, this is going to come to a head. Rodgers also makes his weekly guest appearance on "The Pat McAfee Show" on Tuesday, which suddenly seems like the perfect opportunity for everything to be revealed at once.

That means Rodgers will own the news cycle for at least the next few days. Whether that stretches on for weeks or even the rest of the offseason has everything to do with his decision. If he stays, the band gets back together as much as the Packers can make that happen. If he leaves, it will have an NFL domino effect that we’ll be talking about all the way into training camps in July.