Where will Aaron Rodgers play in 2021? Here are six potential landing spots
So, where is Aaron Rodgers going to play this season?
Does he really want out of Green Bay? Does he want to host a TV show? Is he just sulking?
Is he willing to sink into the mud in order to force through a move if that’s what it requires?
Every single non-Chiefs team in the league should pick up the phone to try to figure out the answers. Rarely, if ever, is a franchise quarterback available in their prime available via a trade – a reigning league MVP has never been traded. Rodgers may be 37 year 0ld, but he still has at least four to five more years of high-level play in his legs. It’s worth remembering: Tom Brady has started as many Super Bowls since turning 37 (five) as any other quarterback has all-time. Given his excellence from the pocket, Rodgers’ game should age just as gracefully.
Still: We can whittle down the list quite quickly. Realistically, those teams who already feel like they have a young, future franchise-caliber quarterback will not pick up the phone. Neither will the teams who have recently been rebuffed and so moved on to new targets in the draft (the 49ers, the Patriots). The Colts are out of it after making a move for Carson Wentz at the start of the offseason; the same goes for the Lions and the Rams. And you can rule out any team that already has an aging quarterback whose absorbing a big chunk of that team’s salary cap (Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, et al).
That leaves us with six potential landing spots – with apologies to the Giants, who should make the call but won’t.
The rumors of a Rodgers-to-Denver deal have bubbled along since the opening night of the draft. It makes sense. The Broncos are going nowhere with Drew Lock and his league-leading interception total; Teddy Bridgewater will serve as a competent bridge piece to whoever the Broncos look at next, but he isn’t the long-term answer.
Who the Broncos turn to in the medium to long-term is even more pressing given the state of their division. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs aren’t going anywhere for the next decade-plus. Ditto for Justin Herbert and the Chargers. In order to keep up, the Broncos need to take a big swing. They were unable or unwilling to move up in the draft to land one of this year’s top quarterback prospects, which leaves them with three possibilities: A, ride this season out and hope they can land a top quarterback prospect in next year’s draft; B, muddle along with Bridgewater in a state of quarterback purgatory; C, try to trade for an upgrade.
There is no price that the Broncos should be unwilling to pay. Want a couple of first-rounders? Sure. Want us to tack a second-round pick on? Of course. Oh, you want Bradley Chubb, too? He’ll meet you at the airport.
Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, the Raiders brain-trust, find themselves in a similar position to Denver: the backbone of a playoff team is there, but they’re lacking the spark at quarterback that can help close the gap to Kansas City (and help cover up some of their questionable personnel choices).
Gruden is famously impatient, and he has long been the kind of vocal, strident advocate for all things Rodgers-ness that the quarterback appears to covet; the coach would certainly acquiesce to the quarterback’s wishes with his offensive scheme– Gruden, for all his bluster, is as malleable as any coach in the league in adjusting his offense to the skills of his quarterback.
The Raiders have the picks and young talent needed to make a big offer. And if moving back to the West Coast is any part of Rodgers’ calculation, the Raiders represent his best opportunity.
The Panthers are hovering. Owner David Tepper has been looking to make a big splash at quarterback ever since he purchased the team. Carolina sniffed around Deshaun Watson before his legal troubles surfaced and they were first in line to enquire about Russell Wilson when the quarterback’s sour relationship with the Seattle hierarchy came to light.
Bringing in Sam Darnold while simultaneously paying Teddy Bridgewater to go away was a smart gamble. Maybe there’s something there in the former first-round pick. Maybe he was a victim or circumstances and poor coaching in New York. Maybe not. Maybe he stinks. But the Panthers are happy to bet on the potential of something, anything, rather than treading water with a known commodity like Bridgewater.
But just because Carolina only recently added Darnold does mean that they’re wedded to him for any length of time. If Rodgers is available and interested, the Panthers will be at the front of the queue making their case – they could even include Darnold in such a deal if the Packers wanted to buy Jordan Love more time or wanted to flip him themselves for extra assets.
In two short years, Chris Grier and Brian Flores, the head honchos in Miami, have orchestrated the model rebuild. They loaded up on draft picks, built to specific scheme requirements in free agency rather than chasing names, took longshots on some high-upside players, drafted their quarterback of the future once the right pieces were in place, brought that quarterback along slowly.
The roster has shown complete buy-in. The team has developed a bunch of players from so-so prospects or bit-part pieces into the foundation of a side that has real division-title aspirations this coming season.
Miami could continue on that normal evolutionary line. They could continue to take things linear: they can explain away Tua Tagovailoa’s early struggles as the natural issues of any rookie quarterback; they could give him time to grow; they can continue to build around Tagovailoa, slowly and methodically.
Or they could try to microwave success right now; they could use some of their remaining assets from the rebuilding days and take a run at a deal for Rodgers. No matter how smart or calculated a team’s long-term plan is, it means little for a coach or GM if their hand-picked quarterback turns the ball over on third down. It’s short-sighted, but it’s the way the league works. Would the Dolphins hierarchy rather bet on the next six years (perhaps more) of Tagovailoa or the next three years (perhaps more) of Rodgers, particularly in a division that is in a state of some flux?
New Orleans Saints
For the first time in a long time, the Saints are in the market for a quarterback. Sean Payton has the kind of quarterback-friendly, it’s-more-of-a-partnership-than-coaching reputation that could lure Rodgers to the NFC South. The Saints have bad big trades before and are happy to be ruthless in pursuit of upgrading their roster: they will move on fan favourites, will dangle out superstars in trades, will finagle the salary cap in order to squeeze out an extra couple of dollars in order to add another player now to win today not caring about the future. In short, all of the things that Rodgers has issues with in Green Bay.
At some point soon, the Saints will have to pay for all of the salary cap sins of the back-end of the Drew Brees era, but there’s enough flexibility in the new collective Bargaining Agreement for the team to kick that can down the road for another two years, opening up enough of a window that could tempt Rodgers to make the move.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers do not want to trade Rodgers. If anything, it would be preferable from the Packers’ perspective for Rodgers to retire than to move to another team, no matter the amount of compensation that would come back in exchange, which means that the quarterback is going to need to make a stink – publicly or privately – in order to get out of Green Bay.
That offers three interesting questions that Rodgers must answer before he hits the ultimate I-want-out button (so far, all Rodgers-wants-out chatter has come via leaks, not his own mouth): Does he want to leave to improve his chances to win a Super Bowl somewhere else? Does he want to leave because he feels promises have been broken by those above him and he cannot continue to work with the team? Does he really just want to move because he’s tired of Wisconsin and wants to move back to the West Coast where he could potentially host Jeopardy!?
It’s hard to argue that wherever he could land would be a demonstrable upgrade over the roster in Green Bay.
The Packers went to the NFC championship game last year, their cap sheet is healthy, and they have the assets to add some immediate help if Rodgers commits to staying and lays out his own timeline. Rodgers could turn any franchise into a legitimate contender, such is his excellence and individual style, but it’s hard to make the argument that his Super Bowl odds would be improved by moving elsewhere.
Lurking over everything is the idea that Rodgers could retire to be the full-time host of Jeopardy!. The show’s show-runner has stated publicly that they’re looking for a host that can commit their full-time to the show rather than viewing it as a side hustle alongside their main role.
Being an NFL quarterback would seem to disqualify Rodgers from contention. Rodgers doesn’t think so.
“They film 46 days a year. I worked 187 this year in Green Bay. That gives me 178 days to do Jeopardy!. So I feel like I could fit 46 into that 178 and make it work,” Rodgers told The Ringer. “It would be a dream job for sure, and I’m not shy at all about saying I want the job.”
Rodgers wants Jeopardy! but does Jeopardy! want Rodgers? Rodgers did a good job as a game show host… for a professional quarterback. But some of the buzz surrounding his performance feels overblown. It’s similar to Blake Griffin’s rendezvous with stand-up comedy. Athletes are generally graded in such things on a curve, the commentariat writ large grateful to any athlete for showing a modicum of personality beyond a barrage of cliches. And so the praise pours in. He’s hilarious! He was amazing! Griffin wasn’t giving Dave Chappelle any sleepless nights. And while Jeopardy! is probably enjoying the bump of being in the Aaron Rodgers business, are they willing to turn a media juggernaut over to a rookie ahead of a TV professional?
And if Jeopardy! demanded the host work full-time, would Rodgers be willing to retire in his prime, a year after winning the league’s MVP award, in order to host a game show? He might. Everybody’s priorities are different. But that would potentially put him on the hook for $31 million if the Packers looked to recuperate his signing bonus.