The Green Bay Packers sent the NFL world into a spiral on the first day of the 2020 NFL Draft when they selected Jordan Love 26th overall. Not only did the Packers use a first-round pick on the quarterback, but they traded up from 30th to ensure they would get their guy. However, with Aaron Rodgers less than two years into a $134 million contract extension, what does the future look like for both Love and the Packers?
What are the details of Aaron Rodgers’ contract?
Rodgers signed his four-year contract extension on August 29th, 2018, which at the time made him the highest-paid quarterback in the league with an annual average value of $33.5 million. Rodgers’ contract extension contained $98.2 million in guarantees, of which, $78.7 million was fully guaranteed at signing. The contract contained a $57.5 million signing bonus at the time it was originally signed. However, on December 26th of 2019, Rodgers restructured his deal to convert $14.62 million of his 2020 roster bonus into another signing bonus.
What that restructure does is clear $11.4 million off Rodgers cap value in the 2020 season. However, it does push more money onto the prorated bonus, both in 2019 and in future years. Prior to the deal, the prorated bonus on Rodgers’ contract was $11.5 million per season in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022, with there being no prorated bonus in 2023. Following the restructure, that value increased by $2.852 million in each of those five seasons.
As well as his signing bonus, Rodgers still has a fully guaranteed roster bonus of $5.24 million due in 2020 and a non-guaranteed roster bonus of $6.8 million due in 2021. There is also a remaining $2 million in workout bonuses left on the contract, none of which is guaranteed.
In terms of salary, Rodgers is due $1.55 million in 2020 with $14.7 million due in 2021, and $25 million due in 2022 and 2023. None of the remaining $66.25 million in salary on Rodgers deal is guaranteed. If Rodgers were to see out the final four years of his deal, then he would earn a further $75.05 million on top of the $96.16 million he has already been paid as part of the 2018 contract extension.
Is there a way out of the contract for the Packers?
With any deal that is not fully-guaranteed, there is always a way out of the deal for the team. The question then simply becomes a matter of timing, which is where the situation becomes interesting for the Packers quarterback room, at least in the short-term.
To put it simply, it is not feasible to think that Rodgers will not at least be with the Packers for the 2020 season. Cutting Rodgers would accelerate the remaining $45.9 million of prorated signing bonus onto the 2020 cap, which when combined with the guaranteed $5.24 million in roster bonus would see the Packers counting over $51 million (~25% of the 2020 cap) on the cap in 2020 to watch Rodgers play football elsewhere. When you compare that to the $21.642 million Rodgers will count against the cap in 2020 by playing for the Packers, taking an extra hit of $29.5 million to see him play elsewhere does not make any sense.
It would be a similar story if the Packers looked to trade Rodgers in 2020. A trade would still see the prorated signing bonus accelerate onto the cap and would only relieve them of the $5.24 million roster bonus. They would still be counting over $24 million extra against the cap to move Rodgers, which is not really a viable option.
When is it viable for the Packers and Rodgers to part ways?
Many people have pointed to the offseason prior to the 2022 season as being the natural breaking point when it comes to Rodgers and the Packers. At that point, Rodgers’ salary jumps to $25 million per year for those final two seasons, giving him a cap hit close to $40 million in 2022 and over $28 million in 2023. The Packers would save themselves over $50 million in cash by not paying Rodgers for his age 39 and 40 seasons while saving themselves $25.5 million in cap space in 2022 alone.
However, 2021 is where things get really interesting. Rodgers’ cap hit is due to jump $14.71 million up to $36.352 million in the 2021 season, but none of that $14.7 million or the $6.8 million of roster bonus in 2021 is guaranteed. Now cutting Rodgers prior to his roster bonus activating on the third day of the new league year would only save the Packers a small amount of cap space ($4.796 million) in 2021. The Packers would still have to count against their cap the $31.556 million in prorated signing bonus remaining on Rodgers contract. A trade before the start of the 2021 league year would not present any additional savings for the Packers either.
What 2021 does provide for the Packers is an option that is not viable in the 2020 season. The Packers could spread the remaining $31.5 million of Rodgers’ cap hit over two seasons if they designated him as a post-June 1 cut. That option would see the Packers counting just $14.352 million against the cap for Rodgers in 2021, with the remaining $17.148 million counting against the cap in 2022.
What does this mean for both Green Bay and Jordan Love?
Cutting Rodgers prior to the activation of his roster bonus in 2021, but designating him as a post-June 1 roster move, would save the Packers over $20 million in physical cash in the 2021 season itself. In an ideal world, the Packers would not sign up for $31.5 million in cap charges spread over two seasons. But if the relationship between Rodgers and the team sours in 2020, it makes sense, especially if Love shows promise in practice in 2020.
If the Packers are eyeing up 2022 as a potential departure point for Rodgers anyway, why would they pay him a further $20 million? The only reason to do that would be if the Packers thought Rodgers could win them a Super Bowl in 2021. If not, then they have a real opportunity to get their new young quarterback into game action as early as 2021.
In that ideal world mentioned above, the Packers would likely be happy for Love to spend two years behind Rodgers, and then stepping in just before Rodgers is due $25 million in salary in 2022. However, with the financial future of the salary cap uncertain in 2021 and beyond, a post-June 1 cut designation for Rodgers as early as next season is a very viable option.
Against the current salary cap, Rodgers’ cap hit of $36.352 million in 2021 would be a massive 17.5% of the Packers cap space on just one player. If the salary cap in 2021 decreased, as has been rumored, the Packers could be left looking at 20% of their salary cap being occupied by just one of the 53 players on their active roster. If that situation does occur, then the Packers may well be forced into cutting Rodgers with a post-June 1 designation, even if Love is not ready.
Following the draft weekend, a lot of the talk was that we would not see Love on the field in regular-season action, barring injury, until 2022 at the earliest. However, it is more than possible that with the structure of Aaron Rodgers’ contract, and the uncertain financial future of the NFL, that Jordan Love could be the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers when teams take to the field in 2021.
Ben Rolfe is an editor and writer at Pro Football Network. You can find him on twitter @benrolfe15.