Making sense of Aaron Rodgers madness, NFL power rankings and more

Making sense of Aaron Rodgers madness, NFL power rankings and more

If the Green Bay Packers are going to trade Aaron Rodgers, it’ll be to the AFC and for a considerable haul. We break down the real options.

Aaron Rodgers wants out. The Green Bay Packers are refusing, but for how long?

On NFL Draft day, the world found out what has been brewing in league circles; Rodgers is furious. For a multitude of reasons, he reportedly won’t be suiting up in green and gold next year. It’s either trade him, or watch him on Jeopardy! Well, maybe.

Rodgers, 37, is coming off an MVP season. If the Packers trade him, team president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst will forever be known as the men who made such a heinous football decision. They’ll also be charged with replacing him earlier than their plan called for.

On Thursday morning, ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter gave an illuminating interview on The Dan Patrick Show. At one point, he said a source of his who watched Love practice last season said “he has a long way to go.”

If that’s reality, Love can’t start in 2021.

Which brings us to the stark reality facing Green Bay: either become another team with a retread quarterback hoping to be the sixth seed in the playoffs, or keep Rodgers and make it work.

Rodgers can stew all he wants, but he can’t force a trade. Green Bay can simply explain to Rodgers he’s under contract for the next three seasons. If he retires, he owes the club a signing bonus of approximately $30 million, along with forfeiting the upcoming years of his deal. The Packers could decide to let him keep the bonus, but with the no-love-lost vibe out of Titletown, who knows.

Furthermore, if the Packers believe Love won’t be NFL-ready until 2022, they’re wasting a chance to win a Super Bowl this year. Green Bay currently has the third-best odds to win it all behind only the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rodgers might be furious with Gutekunst and other factions of the front office, but he understands the roster around him is one of the league’s best.

Now let’s play out three scenarios:

Trading Rodgers

The Packers decide to move on and send Rodgers somewhere else. In this world, they better get back multiple first-round picks and, if Love isn’t ready, a quarterback to keep the team afloat.

It’s important to note that, unlike Deshaun Watson, Rodgers doesn’t have a no-trade clause. He can’t force his way to another specific destination. Now, the three-time MVP can make it tough for another team to acquire him by publicly stating he’ll only play for a certain franchise or two, but that hasn’t happened yet.

So who fits? The Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders make sense. So do the Tennessee Titans. The Cleveland Browns are also fascinating. All four are in the AFC and with Rodgers, would be a varying level of contender.

But would the Packers want Tua Tagovailoa back? Would the Browns give up a decade-plus with Baker Mayfield for a few years with Rodgers? Fair questions. Also, can you imagine Jon Gruden and Rodgers? Incredible theatre.

It’s not a simple solution.

Rodgers decides to hold out

The 37-year-old says he’s not coming to training camp and won’t be back for Week 1.

If Gutekunst and Murphy are faced with this and decide against trading him, the Packers can fine him on a daily basis to recoup his salary. Green Bay would be banking that eventually — preferably before the season tanks completely — he returns.

While Rodgers is gone, the Packers let Love play. Is he better than expected? Worse? In this world, Green Bay isn’t winning the Super Bowl, but the same is true if it has Derek Carr or Ryan Tannehill. And, for those thinking about the picks, the Packers could still trade for them after the season.

Rodgers decides to retire

The situation goes completely sideways and Rodgers files retirement papers.

At this juncture, Green Bay would have to play Love and hope Rodgers is amenable to coming back next season (or later this season) in a trade. This is the easiest way for Rodgers to get out of town. Would he actually go this far? Remains to be seen. It could lead to the team going after his bonus and fining him the maximum amount. Might be worth the gamble, though, if he’s angry enough.

Power rankings

Top 10 teams entering the 2021 NFL season

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Buffalo Bills
4. Green Bay Packers (for now)
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. Cleveland Browns
7. Baltimore Ravens
8. San Francisco 49ers
9. Los Angeles Rams
10. Tennessee Titans

Quotable

“Close. I could go play in a game right now and be very successful. There’s no doubt that when I need to be successful and that it takes to be on the field, I’ll do exactly that and the time will be right.”

– Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on his recovery from last year’s leg injury

This is fantastic news for Dallas and its fans, as Prescott is seemingly on track to return for training camp. The Cowboys were one of the league’s most disappointing teams in 2020, and while Prescott doesn’t fix the defense, he does provide Dallas with the reasonable expectation of a top-five offense.

Podcast

Random stat

The New Orleans Saints haven’t drafted a first-round quarterback since taking Archie Manning at No. 2 overall in 1971.

Since then, two of Manning’s sons, Peyton and Eli, have gone No. 1 overall to the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers. Mind-blowing.

Info learned this week

1. Bills’ GM brings up intriguing point at COVID-19 vaccinations

Brandon Beane might have been chastised for his comments, but he’s not wrong.

While the NFL is hoping players will choose to be vaccinated from COVID, the league isn’t forcing the issue. It remains a choice, but one with potential consequences.

Last week, the Bills general manager went on One Bills Live and in response to a question, essentially said he’d be tempted to cut a non-vaccinated player if it meant the team could have more normalcy within NFL guidelines. According to reports, Beane was contacted by the league after the interview.

While Beane might have said the quiet part out loud, this remains true. If a star player refuses to be vaccinated, he won’t face consequences. However, if there are players on the bubble competing for spots, it could factor into the equation. Additionally, a team might cut a player in a scenario similar to the one Beane spoke on.

While getting vaccinated is a choice for all Americans, everyone faces their own set of potential issues if they choose not to get inoculated. The NFL is no different.

2. Ja’Wuan James injury changes player dynamics, Broncos plans

Last week, Ja’Wuan James tore his Achilles tendon while working out away from the team facility. James, 28, has played only three games since signing a four-year, $51 million deal with the team during the 2019 offseason. Now, with James on the shelf for most if not all of 2021, Broncos general manager George Paton must pivot.

While there are a handful of tackles on the market — Charles Leno Jr., Eric Fisher and Russell Okung among them — there are concerns in each case. All three played the left side most of their careers, and Fisher is coming off his own Achilles injury, which could limit his availability until midseason or so.

Paton could always swing a trade for a replacement, but that’ll be easier once training camp is unfolding and cuts become clearer.

Also, James’ injury coming away from the facility could have a league-wide impact. The Broncos, because he wasn’t at team headquarters, can take back $10 million from James due to standard NFL contract language which says players hurt outside team facilities aren’t obligated to be paid.

With so many teams effectively boycotting voluntary OTAs, will some players have a change of heart, knowing an injury in the building presents a much different financial picture for them?

3. Bears potentially putting ton of pressure on pair of rookies in 2021

No fanbase should be more fired up than the Chicago Bears. Much of the excitement rests on rookies Justin Fields and Teven Jenkins.

Should things go well, the Bears have their quarterback and left tackle combination for years. Apparently, general manager Ryan Pace is expediting the process, releasing Charles Leno Jr. with Jenkins as the replacement. So, in theory, we could have a first-year quarterback in Fields with a very green blindside protector in a division loaded with pass-rushers.

If Chicago can pull it off, it’s set up to be a much-improved offensive team both in the short and long term. However, it’s obviously a huge gamble. If Fields doesn’t read a blitz correctly or Jenkins doesn’t handle a twist right, it could be disaster.

And, ultimately, the Bears could put Nick Foles or Andy Dalton under center while Fields learns for a month. Fans would be furious, but it’s well within reason.

One of the many storylines to watch in Chicago come summer.

4. NFL schedule release coming on Wednesday

If you’re a football nerd — like yours truly — you’re excited about Wednesday.

We’ve long known all 272 regular-season matchups and where the games will be played. What we find is Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET is the order in which they’ll go down, along with the primetime slates for Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights.

While some say the schedule is overhyped, I genuinely disagree. Every year, there are a few teams that catch a three-game road trip or four home games in five weeks. If you’re a cold-weather franchise, do you get a few warm-weather foes visiting in December? It matters.

Also, an opinion on NFL schedules: You always want good teams early on. Once we get into mid-November and December, the playoff races heat up and it becomes harder to catch someone napping or even get a veteran head coach holding a few things back. Furthermore, if a contender draws bad teams late, said opponent might be giving younger guys a longer look, and veterans are playing out the string.

It’ll be fascinating to see how it shakes. Also, check FanSided on Wednesday night as I’ll have my full game-by-game predictions — all the way through Super Bowl LVI — published and ready to be skewered.

Over the last three years? We’ve correctly predicted four of the six Super Bowl participants.

5. Gone Fishing!

For the first time in the almost three years I’ve been writing Stacking The Box, I won’t be writing a column next Monday. Maybe you’ll have a guest writer, or maybe we simply have to take a rain check. It remains in the works.

With my parents coming into town and everything that has gone on personally over the past month — which I detailed in this space — it’s going to be a time of rest and relaxation. It’s badly needed.

No worries, I’ll return the following week with a new, reinvigorated edition on Memorial Day! Every one of you mean the world to me being such a loyal group, and while I hope I’m not letting you down with my week-long hiatus, I also know you understand.

Two cents

The Pittsburgh Steelers missed a golden opportunity in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Once Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields fell to 11th-overall, general manager Kevin Colbert should have gotten the New York Giants on the phone and stayed on the line until a deal was done.

Pittsburgh has one more year of Ben Roethlisberger before either he retires or the team, in all likelihood, moves on. After that, a sea of uncertainty.

Colbert could have offered a swap of firsts and a 2022 first-rounder along with a mid-round choice to nab Fields. In fairness, perhaps the Steelers weren’t sold on Fields (or Mac Jones), but when the eventuality is taking a running back, the smarter play would have been betting on a quarterback with substantial upside.

Instead, Pittsburgh added to an offense already doomed by a poor offensive line and the diminishing quarterback playing behind it. And now, there’s no clear plan moving forward.

Inside the league

Draft grades are an inane concept, and yet we all do them. Last week, in this space’s power rankings, I gave you my 10 favorite classes. The idea is we’re basing it off process, because the result is impossible to know.

This week, I reached out to one trusted, long-time personnel man in the league to ask his favorite class. His answer? The Miami Dolphins, while he noted the New Orleans Saints did the worst in his eyes. Of course, the source’s next sentence was “won’t know for 2-3 years.” So true.

Another tidbit is the Detroit Lions feeling very good about landing former Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell at No. 7 overall. Talking to a league source, the Lions see Sewell as the kind of building block they need to get the Brad Holmes-Dan Campbell regime up and running. It’ll be a long road in Detroit, but Sewell should help pave it.

History lesson

Foxboro Stadium didn’t see many great moments, but it saw perhaps the most impactful in recent sports history.

In the first 30 seasons as home to the New England Patriots, the team only won three postseason games there. Two came in 1996 on the way to New England’s second Super Bowl appearance, with the third coming the following year against Dan Marino and the Dolphins.

Then, in Foxboro’s swan song of 2001, the AFC Divisional Round against the Oakland Raiders. Of course, we all know about the Tuck Rule, Tom Brady’s first major moment in the limelight. Adam Vinatieri went on to hit two clutch field goals, the Patriots won in overtime, and the stadium turned out its lights for the last time.

Not a bad way to go out.

Parting shot

Deep down, Mark Davis has to be sweating the Jon Gruden contract.

The Raiders owner signed Gruden to a stunning 10-year, $100 million contact after the 2017 season, and the rewards have been slow in coming. The Raiders haven’t reached the playoffs or enjoyed a winning season in three tries, and are seemingly regressing this offseason.

While the draft is a joint effort between general manager Mike Mayock and Gruden, the latter has ultimate authority. And, of course, we won’t know whether Las Vegas’ rookie crop will be good for a few years, but many around the league believe the Raiders reached on a litany of picks. It’s also odd they took three safeties, and only two years after selected safety Johnathan Abram in the first round.

For Davis, perhaps the life raft is visible. If Rodgers wants out and the Raiders land him, all is not lost. However, if Denver nabs Rodgers, Las Vegas is sinking to the AFC West basement for years.

Ultimately, Davis will publicly smile and support Gruden because he still has $70 million worth of checks to cut for his coach. However, privately, he must be stewing, and wondering if things are ever going to turn around.

Source: FanSided

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