ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On to the next option. Come to think of it, why wouldn't have Russell Wilson have always been the first option?
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is returning to the Green Bay Packers, a source confirmed to 9NEWS Tuesday morning.
Rodgers has spent all 17 years of his well accomplished professional football career in Green Bay.
Rodgers’ decision to stay put was a blow to the Broncos, at least temporarily. Had Rodgers, 38, merely chosen to leave Green Bay and play elsewhere in 2022 and beyond, the Broncos were expected to be among his primary suitors. A Rodgers-to-Broncos trade was reportedly a possibility last offseason but never materialized because the Packers refused to surrender their star quarterback who most certainly will be a first-ballot elected member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after he serves the mandatory five years of retirement.
The Broncos appeared well-positioned to acquire Rodgers this offseason after they hired away Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett last month to be their new head coach. During the season, Rodgers spoke glowingly of Hackett, who is bringing the Packers’ specific style of West Coast offense to Denver. Hackett then hired Packers tight ends coach Justin Outten to be the Broncos’ new offensive coordinator. With Hackett and Outten in charge of the Broncos’ offense, Rodgers would not have to learn a new playbook had he asked to be traded to Denver.
But now that’s a moot point.
With Rodgers deciding instead to stay in Green Bay -- the NFL Network reported he is getting a cap-friendly, but record-shattering four-year, $200 million deal with $153 million guaranteed -- the Broncos will turn elsewhere to find a franchise-type quarterback that has eluded them since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season.
The most notable possibilities are Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who has been one of the NFL’s best QBs since he was selected by the Seahawks in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and Deshaun Watson, providing his legal troubles can be resolved to the league’s satisfaction.
At 33, Wilson is 5 years younger than Rodgers and could require a less expensive compensation package to acquire him in trade because he’s not quite as accomplished. Seattle no doubt would require a minimum of two, first-round draft picks and possibly three for Wilson who has earned 9 Pro Bowl nods in his 10 seasons. He has posted an extraordinary 101.8 career passer rating and even after suffering his first losing season (6-8 as a starter) in 2021 and has a 104-53-1 record overall.
But Wilson has never been the league’s MVP while Rodgers is a four-time winner including each of the past two seasons. Rodgers’ 104.5 career passer rating is also No. 1 all-time among quarterbacks who have played in at least 70 regular-season games. Rodgers has a 139-66-1 record as a starter with one Super Bowl title and five NFC Championship Game appearances. Wilson also has a Super Bowl title – at the Broncos’ expense to finsih the 2013 season – and narrowly missed a second Super Bowl championship the next year when his game-winning pass attempt from the 1-yard line in the closing seconds was intercepted by New England’s Malcolm Butler.
Like Rodgers, Wilson reportedly was disenchanted with his team’s management last offseason and seemingly leaked requests for a trade. While bad feelings were at least temporarily repaired, the fact Seattle stumbled to a 7-10 record in 2021 – in part because Wilson suffered a significant finger injury on his right throwing hand that required surgery to repair – has only fueled speculation the quarterback will again seek a change in scenery this year.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll did say during his NFL Combine press conference last week in Indianapolis that his team has “no intention” of trading Wilson. If Seattle again refuses to part with Wilson – he has two more years and $51 million ($77 million in cap salary) left on his contract – the Broncos could then either monitor the Watson situation or peek in to see if Tom Brady is truly retired before doing deep-dive evaluations on veteran “bridge” quarterbacks, a group that could eventually include Jimmy Garoppolo, Mitch Trubisky and Jameis Winston.
Watson has also posted a tremendous 104.5 passer rating through his first four seasons with the Houston Texans but he sat out last season after 22 women filed a joint lawsuit against him with complaints of sexual misconduct. Before the allegations were launched, Watson requested a trade and he told former teammate Kareem Jackson that Denver is on his list of desirable teams. However, the Broncos are not expected to express interest in Watson until his legal situation is cleared up, if it does.
The Broncos also have the No. 9 overall pick in the 2022 draft, plus two picks in the second round (No. 40 and 64) and two in the third round (No. 75 and 96). While the No. 9 pick may be too rich for a middling group of QB prospects this year, using those extra picks in the second and third rounds to trade back into the later part of the first round could be a possibility. The top six QB draft prospects this year are Pitt’s Kyle Pickett, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Mississippi’s Matt Corral, Liberty’s Malik Willis, Nevada’s Carson Strong and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder.
Of those six, the upside of Willis could justify the No. 9 overall selection with the understanding he would have to mostly sit and develop during his rookie season. Pickett is considered the quarterback most ready to play immediately because of the pro-style system he operated at Pitt. Howell is considered the third-best prospect.
But none of these options are a better quarterback than Rodgers, not even Wilson. A source told 9News that Rodgers was restructuring his contract so the Packers could fit in the $18.4 million franchise tag on his favorite receiver Davante Adams under their cap.
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