ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Turns out, Mike Shanahan was right.
The former Denver Broncos coach once stood on a patio behind the team’s suburban practice complex and grumpily lamented another question about another player the Broncos were said to have been interested in and whom Shanahan actually had no interest in.
“Everybody says we’re in on everybody,” Shanahan said almost two decades ago. “Same thing every year. Sometimes we are, but most of the time we aren’t, but if you’re an agent and your guy is in the market … or you want to be on the market, just say the Broncos are interested.”
Tomorrow is June 1, Rodgers is still unhappy — see his interview with Kenny Mayne on SportsCenter last Monday — and the Packers soon get significant salary-cap relief if they trade (or release) Rodgers. If the Packers were to trade Rodgers after June 1, they would save $16.050 million in salary-cap space in 2021, but would have a lot of explaining to do about trading a future Hall of Famer.
That doesn’t mean it all comes crashing down on June 1, it just means the immediate financial pain is greatly reduced and the rumor carousel spins faster.
But who’s kidding whom? The Broncos faithful have filled their days with virtually every possible scenario for how Rodgers could be the team’s quarterback since Adam Schefter’s report last month, just before the first round of the NFL draft.
There’s precedent to back up those dreams. Two Hall of Fame quarterbacks have worn Broncos uniforms and both were acquired, not drafted: First is the greatest trade in franchise history (John Elway) and second is the greatest free-agent signing in franchise history (Peyton Manning).
The Broncos have two quarterbacks — Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater — who are on-site competing for the job on the field and in the building. They each gave their thoughts on the possibility of Rodgers joining the team last week and both were rather pragmatic about the whole thing — even using the phrase “whatever happens, happens.”
Bridgewater added: “Honestly, man, I just keep my head down, and control what I can control. I tell everyone that in this business that you have to have your big-boy drawers on. I’ve learned a lot can happen in this business.”
How real is this?
Dan Orlovsky examines Aaron Rodgers’ options as the QB continues his stance of not wanting to return to Green Bay.
It’s worth noting that Packers coach Matt LaFleur, general manager Brian Gutekunst and team president Mark Murphy have all publicly professed to have no intention of trading Rodgers.
But June marks the first time the Packers could formally respond to Rodgers’ unhappiness. If they wish, they can fine Rodgers for missing mandatory practices — their three-day minicamp. Those fines, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement, could total $93,085 if Rodgers missed all three days. If the Packers chose to fine Rodgers it would undoubtedly irk the quarterback even more.
Rodgers also could be fined $50,000 a day for time missed during training camp, and if Rodgers were to retire, the Packers could attempt to recoup just under $30 million from him.
As for the Broncos, general manager George Paton didn’t even utter Rodgers’ name shortly after the draft’s first round was completed. When asked about the Rodgers’ frenzy earlier that evening, Paton deflected to the team’s selection of cornerback Pat Surtain II at No. 9.
Why? Tampering, since Rodgers is under contract with the Packers, teams cannot openly pursue or comment on him without the threat of fines or lost draft picks.
But the Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers (Niners general manager John Lynch acknowledged it after the draft) are known to have inquired — briefly — about Rodgers’ availability after Schefter’s report on draft weekend. Both were rebuffed quickly and the 49ers selected quarterback Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick shortly after they had made the call.
The Broncos selected Surtain, instead of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields or Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. So even though Surtain was the top defensive player on the Broncos’ draft board and someone Paton said was “close” to a top-five player overall, it could be a sign that the Broncos left the quarterback door ajar.
Nuts and bolts of a trade
Louis Riddick argues that Aaron Rodgers eventually will take his talents elsewhere and finish his career away from Green Bay.
Beyond whether the Packers would even entertain a trade this year is the issue of cap room and draft capital needed to make a trade.
Many in the league, when quizzed in recent weeks, said it would take two first-round picks, a second-round pick and either additional players or additional picks, to acquire Rodgers.
The issue for Green Bay is that if Rodgers plays as expected, those are lower-value first-round picks. Most teams enter the draft each year with between 20 and 24 actual first-round grades on players. Any pick after 25 — or so — in the first round often is not actually a prospect graded in the first round.
Paton, in the first year of a six-year deal, has consistently professed a desire to acquire more picks each year — not give them away. He wants “more darts,” as he put it. Surrendering so many top picks is a reason for pause for a team that has missed the playoffs in five consecutive seasons.
Having a team talented enough to make a Rodgers’ acquisition worth it is at the root of everything. It is what Elway was able to do as general manager after he signed Manning in 2012. Linebacker Von Miller had arrived the year before as a first-round pick and the Broncos opened the checkbook exceedingly wide in 2014 during a free-agent spree that included cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive end DeMarcus Ware, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety T.J. Ward.
Rodgers has cap charges of $37.202 million this season, $39.852 million in 2022 and $28.352 million in 2023. The Broncos don’t have the salary-cap room to add Rodgers’ total this year — they’d be about $13 million or so short without taking into account money spent to replace injured players.
There also is the matter of timing. Manning signed in March 2012 and essentially lived in the Broncos’ facility for weeks to help shape a playbook. Even then, the Broncos started 1-2 and were a rather clunky-looking 2-3 with questions about whether it was all going to work before an 11-game win streak.
A quarterback who arrives in June or July would have a tougher challenge. Even a player of Rodgers’ caliber would likely have a rough transition in 2021.
Ryan Clark makes the case that adding Aaron Rodgers would make the Broncos the biggest threat to the Chiefs in the AFC.
Is a Broncos trade for Aaron Rodgers possible? Sure. Have the Packers given any indication it will happen? No. Have the Broncos done something like this before? Yes, and there are two gold jackets to prove it. And are the Broncos truly, actually, deep-down interested? Enough to have called in April to see, so logic says if the Packers actually take calls, they would make one.
In the end, if the Packers really aren’t going to trade Rodgers this year, then it doesn’t matter how many scenarios to acquire him are created for the Broncos or anyone else.
But yes, Shanahan had it right all along. Welcome to June.