At $37.2M, Aaron Rodgers currently holds the belt for the highest cap hit in all of football for 2021. With rumors circulating about the Packers and he discussing a revamped contract to remedy this bloated figure, we’ll take a look at a few options.
Rodgers currently holds a 3 year, $73M contact with the Packers, with just the recently (assumedly) paid $6.8M roster bonus considered guaranteed. Setting aside this roster bonus leaves us with $15.2M of 2021 cash to deal with in terms of a restructure (a $14.7M base salary, & a $500,000 workout bonus).
A Potential Restructure
This restructure comes with a caveat: Does Aaron Rodgers want to be here for the foreseeable future, OR do the Packers want Aaron Rodgers around for more than a couple of years. These answers matter for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, what kind of restructure are we looking at: A restructure simply for current year cap purposes, or a restructure that includes new years, and new money to help satisfy the player down the road.
Based on pure speculation, we’re going to use the first answer for this exercise.
The problem with Green Bay looking to free up 2021 cap space AND make this contract as tradable as possible in 2022 is that cap saved now must become cap gained next year. But with traded dead cap hits of $33.8M, $24.7M, & $19M taken on this year to Wentz, Goff, & Stafford respectively, it appears that the days of too much dead cap in order to gain cash freedom & draft capital are over. In other words, a little more dead cap next year probably doesn’t matter a whole lot to the Packers.
Here’s the projected restructure:
As you’ll see, we’ve lowered the 2021 cap hit from $37.2M, down to $25M, a savings of $12.15M this year. At $22M, the cash compensation remains the same, though $14.125M of it has now been converted into a signing bonus. The $6.8M roster bonus is immovable because we’re assuming it’s already been paid out.
Going forward, the 2022 league year now comes with a $2.8M increase in cap hit, but the same $25.5M of cash allocation. We’ve converted the $25M base salary into a league minimum $1.12M salary, with a $23.88M roster bonus, due early next March. This ensures any kind of trade will happen immediately (like the Wentz, Goff, Stafford moves did).
Post 2022 is where things change a lot. We’ve removed the 2023 league year from this contract (as it was just fluff anyway), and added 3 “void years” to this restructure. This allows that $14.125M signing bonus in 2021 to prorate over the maximum 5 years, but also gives Rodgers more control over his destiny should he decided to stick it out in Green Bay through 2022. If Rodgers plays out 2022 then retires or hits free agency, the Packers will be left with an $11.3M dead cap hit in 2023.
So why not restructure this into a 1 year deal that expires after 2021? The Packers want to keep Rodgers a trade asset after the upcoming season, so it’s important that a real salaried year exists in 2022 to allow this to happen once the league year begins next March.
What If He Wants to Stay?
If the answer to the original “what kind of restructure is this?” Is an extension to keep him in Green Bay indefinitely, we’re looking at a much different breakdown here. Here’s a look at what notable QBs of late did at age 37 in respect to new contracts:
- Ben Roethlisberger, 2 year, $68M new money extension (the final year of which was just restructured with a pay cut).
- Drew Brees, 1 year $25M extension, including 3 void years. Brees ended up earning $45M over two years on this restructure, before re-upping again at age 39 (2 years, $50M).
- Tom Brady, 3 years, $27M of which he saw 1 year, $13M. He’s since re-upped at 2 years, $41M, 2 years, $30M, 1 year, $23M, 2 years, $50M, & 1 year, $25M since age 37. Consistently earning between $23-$25M per year, but continuously keeping his cap hit (and availability) fluid.
- Peyton Manning, 2 years, $34M with Denver at age 38. He saw 1 for $19M before retiring on top.
- Philip Rivers, 1 year, $25M free agent contract at age 38 with Indy. He earned all $25M, and retired after the season.
In other words, if Rodgers does want to make this restructure both about lowering his 2021 cap hit AND adding cash & years to his contract, the recent precedents are all over the place. Which path does Rodgers go down? His financial resume puts him more inline with Roethlisberger than the others, as Rodgers has been prone to “max out” both his contract length, and his upfront cash. Will that change as he hits the twilight of his career? Probably, but his performance in 2020 says it might not have to.
With that said, everyone associated with the NFL knows that this year is weird, next year will be better, and 2023 could be GLORIOUS - including Aaron Rodgers. Regardless of where his head is with the Green Bay Packers, he and every other player amidst contract negotiations right now should be aligning themselves with a chance to renegotiate in or around the 2023 league year, when cash and cap should strong than its ever been in league history. So a 2 year restructure, taking the 2023 year out of the way would also put Aaron in the drivers seat in this regard as well.
All said, this restructure won’t be just about lowering the Packers cap hit in 2021 - but will also tell a story about where his future may live.