When the Green Bay Packers lost in the NFL playoffs, part two of the Aaron Rodgers saga began. The 38-year-old veteran quarterback is still under contract for the 2022 season but, after last year’s offseason turmoil, the speculation as to how he and the Packers move forward this offseason is fast and furious.
"I don't want to be part of a rebuild if I'm going to keep playing," Aaron Rodgers said. "So, a lot of decisions in the next couple of months."
By now, everyone has seen this quote from Rodgers and given the current state of the organization, key decisions are going to have to be made. Does the team try to retain him for one more Super Bowl push? Do they try to extract what remaining value he has on the open trade market? And if there is life without Rodgers in Green Bay, what will it look like?
I’m here to speculate on the other side of the coin. The more fascinating side. The rebuild of the Green Bay Packers. The post-Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay. I’ve studied the topic and written about it on a number of occasions with teams like the Rams, Dolphins, and, most recently, the Lions. Call it what you want - rebuild, tank, bridge year, re-tooling - it’s all the same. And the secret is to be absolutely ruthless about your execution. Feelings need to go out the window. So, Packers’ homers can call me an “idiot” on Twitter all they want, but here is what I would do.
Trade Aaron Rodgers for Picks
This one is obvious. The Lions got multiple first-round picks for Matthew Stafford. You’re setting the wheels in motion to not compete in 2022 and even 2023. So, to me, it honestly does not matter one bit where you trade him as long as you get the most assets back. You heard that right. I’d trade him within the NFC or even the division if the assets coming back were THAT much better than other offers. Who cares? Would you rather trade him away to the AFC if possible? Of course. But the best thing you can do is lose in 2022 and build for down the road.
This might be controversial among fans, but you can’t let your heart get in the way of business decisions. If the Lions offered the best deal, I would trade him there. You have two games vs. the Lions, so either their draft picks get worse (which you own) or yours get better. Teams are unwilling to fully commit to the future too many times and I think that’s a huge mistake.
Trade One or Both of Za’Darius Smith & Preston Smith
These are 29-year-old outside linebackers with massive cap hits. They won’t be part of this team when it’s competing again. LIQUIDATE THEM. If you can’t get anything for them then, honestly, cut them. The Packers have an absolute cap nightmare at $46 million in the hole per Spotrac. But the goal here isn’t just to clean up ~$40 million. It’s to operate at a DEFICIT - and dead cap doesn’t matter. The 2019 Dolphins led the league in dead cap, but they also had the least-active spending, so they still rolled money into 2020. The 2021 Lions had a massive dead cap but also had some of the lowest active spending and are carrying money into 2022. Just ditching Rodgers and the two Smiths clears roughly $55 million - which is a good start. Thirty-year-old pass rushers don’t matter because we no longer care about winning in the immediate future.
Let Davante Adams & De’Vondre Campbell Walk in Free Agency
And everyone else too, for that matter. The maximum compensatory picks you can get back from outgoing players in the NFL is four (you can get an additional one if someone hires away a minority coach or executive). Adams and Campbell should both return the highest level of compensatory picks, which are third-rounders. SOMEONE will sign some of these corners (Rasul Douglas, Chandon Sullivan, Kevin King) or maybe some of the pass-catchers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Robert Tonyan. That should get you to the max comp picks. At that point if you want to try to bring guys back for cheap, then great - returning free agents doesn’t affect the comp-pick formula.
Let’s be real - they are not part of the future of the team. That is just free money sitting there. Who cares about field goals on a ghost ship trying to burn money, lose games, and collect picks? The Lions let their long-time kicker Matt Prater go for the same reason. Cobb and Lewis can hit the road too. Money is money and just those three with Rodgers and the Smiths gets you to nearly $70 million in cap relief.
Fill Out the Roster with Whoever
Literally whoever - with one important caveat. You need to avoid bringing in outside free agents with multi-year, guaranteed-money contracts because that could upset the compensatory pick formula. The Lions let five guys leave who would garner picks, so they were allowed to sign one low-level incoming free agent that wouldn’t mess up the formula. They picked Jamaal Williams. At wide receiver, they just filled out the skeleton crew with one-year deals for journeymen like Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. Whoever will sign cheap for one year is perfect. You need to think of it this way: if you sign a big name, it doesn’t just cost you that money, but it costs a third-round pick too. The Lions actually released both those wide receivers once they figured out, they weren’t going to be part of the future either. It doesn’t matter because they accomplished their goal: lose games, roll cap, collect picks.
Draft from the Inside Out
This happens with every rebuild. A guy like Davante Adams leaves and the fan base immediately says, “we need a stud wide receiver in this draft to replace him!” No, you don’t. Receiver is a luxury position, and you get the most value out of them during their rookie contract. You want that contract to overlap as much as possible with the period you are competing in. Focus on positions of longevity that you can re-sign for a LONG time at reasonable contracts if possible. Interior offensive/defensive linemen, linebacker, tight end, safety. Build a strong team in the trenches and figure out who is going to be in for the long haul. Then, once you have your quarterback and everything is set, you go after those luxury pieces.
Look at Josh Allen’s rookie year - he was throwing to Robert Foster for goodness’ sake. Then, once they knew he was the guy, they went and signed John Brown, Cole Beasley, Stefon Diggs and Emmanuel Sanders. Jared Goff was throwing to Kenny Britt and since then, they’ve brought in Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and even a new QB. Same with the Browns and everyone else. Do not rush the luxury picks. You have Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon under contract at running back already, so you can continue to split the work there and hopefully limit the wear-and tear-on both for the time being. There’s no value in moving them this off-season.
The league might not love the idea of rebuilding, but if your fans understand what is going on – they might actually embrace it. They will hopefully comprehend WHY the team sucks and why it’s necessary for the future. The season ticket list in Lambeau will last longer than the ice caps anyway, so it’s not like you have much to worry about there. Go all in on what is best for this organization for the long haul – and that’s losing now to win later. Brad Holmes is the General Manager of the Lions but, before that, he was the head scout of the Rams during their tank/rebuild. They went from 4-12 in 2016 to 11-5 and a division title the following year. It doesn’t have to be a long, dark winter before you are back competing. But the colder the short winter is, the warmer it feels on the other side.