If Patriots play the waiting game, will an Aaron Rodgers scenario emerge?

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Tom E. Curran
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Curran: Could patient Patriots wind up with Aaron Rodgers? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Do you wake up in the morning, grab your phone and start desperation scrolling? Is the news you hope to see -- the only thing that will remove that tennis ball of dread in your solar plexus -- that the Patriots have moved into the top 10 of the 2021 NFL Draft?

Is that because history, anecdotal evidence and FOMO have convinced you that if the Patriots ever want to legitimately contend for a Super Bowl, they need to spend a first-rounder on a quarterback this year and moving up is the best way to do it?

I know people like you. Ya gotta relax. Treating this year’s draft like it’s Black Friday at Best Buy is a losing proposition, especially for the Patriots.

Curran: Ex-Pats exec can't see team trading up for these QBs

What’s the first thing you do when you find yourself in a hole? You stop digging. The Patriots are in this hole not so much because they dug themselves here but because they just kinda sank by doing nothing.

Trading away Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017, getting Brian Hoyer in return, agitating Tom Brady, drafting Danny Etling, drafting Jarrett Stidham and signing Cam Newton – all of those moves smack of whistling past the quarterback graveyard. They kinda just sat there and watched the paint dry thinking it would be OK.

But pinning the needle the other way with a panic purchase is neither a great idea nor the kind of move Bill Belichick is prone to make.

The value with this year’s most ballyhooed quarterbacks just isn’t there. In his weekly Football Morning in America column, NBC Sports' Peter King had this observation from a “middle-aged coach whose team is in the market to draft a quarterback this year.”

“I have never seen quarterbacks get pushed up in the draft the way they’re getting pushed up this year,” the coach told King. “Trevor Lawrence deserves to be the number one pick, but after that, in my book, there’s three receivers, a tight end and two offensive tackles ahead of the next quarterback. But this desperation for quarterbacks . . .”

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. The Patriots need to let the game come to them. Do I think there’s a quarterback tree out in the NFL backyard and that good players will just fall from it? Yes. Yes I do.

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Garoppolo could drop. Teddy Bridgewater. Russell Wilson. Sam Darnold just fell into the Panthers' yard. Wilson could be next. Know who else is gonna drop? Aaron Rodgers. And that’s who I really find fascinating as it relates to New England.

Rodgers’ situation in Green Bay is playing out almost identically to the way Tom Brady’s played out here in New England.

Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk tackled the Rodgers situation over the weekend, spotlighting the assertion from sources that the Packers are slow in free agency because of Rodgers’ contract. The Packers could remedy the situation if they wanted to but they haven’t because fixing it means they’ll be tying themselves to Rodgers through 2022.

The Packers could easily create significant cap space by converting a large chunk of Rodgers’ $14.7 million base salary to a signing bonus. PFT has obtained the relevant contractual language; the Packers have the absolute right to make such conversions with or without the player’s blessing.

The problem for the Packers comes from the reality that creating cap space now will push cap dollars into 2022, making it harder to trade him before June 1 of next year. That’s why Rodgers should actually want a full and complete restructuring. It would as a practical matter tie player and team together for two more years. Currently, the Packers are able to proceed on a year-to-year basis.

The decision to be made at the top of the organization is simple. Do the Packers want to preserve the ability to move Rodgers and elevate Jordan Love in 2022, or are they willing to proceed with Rodgers for 2021 and 2022 — regardless of whether he slips at all in 2021?

CEO Mark Murphy seems to realize the value of keeping Rodgers in a sweet spot of pissed off, mad enough to be highly motivated to perform at a high level but not so mad that he wants out. Murphy therefore seems to be willing to proceed with a contract that keeps Rodgers on a year-to-year arrangement.

There’s a clear risk inherent to that approach. If Rodgers has another MVP-quality year, he could make his push for a new team in early 2022. If that allows the Packers to sell the remainder of Rodgers’ contract for a significant haul of draft picks before the inevitable slide arrives and then shift to Love, that could be exactly what Murphy is hoping to achieve.

Situations like this one are why the Patriots should just keep surveying the landscape. Green Bay has a high pick sitting behind Rodgers. They want to go year-to-year with him. Rodgers is irritated by both the kid drafted to apprentice for him and the Packers' foot-dragging. He’s old. He’s expensive. He can be a lot of work. But he’s still very, very good even though he isn’t surrounded by top-flight offensive personnel.

Oldest players to win NFL MVP

Player (Year)

Age

Tom Brady (2017)

40

Peyton Manning (2013)

37

Aaron Rodgers (2020)

37

Brady beat back the Garoppolo challenge with Super Bowl wins but the Patriots didn’t fold their tent and commit to him. That was their mistake. Is that a cautionary tale for Green Bay?

If it is and the Packers decide to move Rodgers, would Belichick be interested? Would it be an admission that the team stubbed its toe with Brady? Or has the team improved sufficiently in key offensive areas so that it makes sense to spend on a player like Rodgers? Brady is the greatest jockey of all time, but he wasn’t winning any races with that nag of an offense the Patriots had in 2019 or 2020 and he knew it.

What happened with Brady will happen with Rodgers just like it happened with Rodgers’ predecessor, Brett Favre and Brady’s predecessor, Drew Bledsoe.

It’s not going to happen this year. But if you’re the Patriots, you want to keep your options open as long as you can until the answer is revealed. And the answer isn’t in trading up in this draft.