ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There is only one name who can help the Denver Broncos keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West and it’s not Nathaniel Hackett.
Aaron Charles Rodgers is that name.
Can the Broncos get the sensational Green Bay quarterback now that Rodgers’ offensive coordinator of the past three years is Denver’s head coach?
“It’s going to sound cliché but whatever George Paton decides that’s the best for our future as a team that’s what we’ve got to roll with,'' Risner said. "And Nathaniel Hackett I’m sure he’s going to play a big role in who wants to play quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Me as a left guard I have to focus on getting better myself and how I can help this team improve. That’s my job. Whoever we can bring in at quarterback now that we have Nathaniel Hackett as head coach, I’ve just got to trust the process or what they’re doing.”
There is more than 2+2 speculation that says a Broncos deal for Rodgers is possible. There is also a $93 million swing in cold, hard salary cap numbers that says it may be more probable than not. Even if salary cap numbers are more manipulated than they are cold and hard.
>Video above: Broncos hiring Nathaniel Hackett as new head coach
Rodgers engaged in a simmering feud with Packers management last offseason. It was mostly reported his issue was with General Manager Brian Gutenkunst, although one source said it was more Mark Murphy, Green Bay’s president and chief executive officer, who irked Rodgers. At one point during the offseason spat, Murphy called Rodgers “a complicated fellow,” which may have been meant as compliment since it’s true but the description was relayed virally as criticism.
Broncos General Manager George Paton would have been prepared had Green Bay agreed to place its malcontent quarterback on the trading block last offseason, but it never got that far. The Packers insisted on keeping Rodgers but as a sign of good faith, they reluctantly agreed to rework his contract so that its season year of 2023 became a “void year.” What that did was balloon Rodgers’ salary cap number in 2022 to a near unmanageable $46.4 million.
It’s a much more (relatively) affordable $27.5 million in cash that Rodgers is to receive in 2022. But no matter how the cap is manipulated through prorated bonus formulas, eventually, the big bill comes due.
The Packers not only have no salary cap space for the 2022 season, they are $46.35 million in the red, according to Spotrac. That’s $92.75 million in cap dollars the Packers must reconcile for one player while keeping their total team salary cap payroll to a projected $208.2 million.
It’s possible for the Packers’ creative mathematicians to squeeze Rodgers into their capped payroll but it would likely mean restructuring Rodgers’ contract again, then cutting multiple current starters and not signing back any of their free agent players. In other words, they would have to practically gut the team to keep Rodgers.
And that’s only if Rodgers wants to stay. He has said he wants to think everything over for about a month before making a decision – reportedly, his return to Green Bay last season came with the condition he would have say on where he would play in 2022.
At this point, Rodgers has three options: Return to Green Bay with a restructured contract and a gutted roster; ask for a trade elsewhere; or retire – he did turn 38 eight weeks ago.
If it’s option B, the Broncos unquestionably would be the first team in line to try and work out a trade for Rodgers. The Broncos can pull it off for a few reasons. One, they have the sixth-most cap space in the league with $44.8 million for the 2022 season.
Two, they have not only a first-round selection, No. 9 overall, in the 2022 draft, but two picks in the second round and two in the third round – the extra picks coming from their midseason Von Miller trade with the Los Angeles Rams. With Rodgers stating a desire to partner up with his favorite Green Bay receiver Davonte Adams, the Broncos may also have to include Jerry Jeudy in a trade package. And don’t be surprised if the Packers – think, Broncos Country, from the Green Bay point of view -- also ask for second-year cornerback Pat Surtain II or running back Javonte Williams, both of whom are coming off terrific rookie seasons.
Surtain and Williams are easily the Broncos most tradeable commodities because they are A, talented, and B, inexpensive as the bulk of rookie contracts are in signing bonuses that have already been paid.
The Broncos may also have to give up their first-round draft pick in 2023. Make no mistake, Aaron Rodgers won’t come cheap.
But a third reason why the Broncos are in position to acquire Rodgers is after five consecutive losing seasons and even longer struggle at the quarterback position since Peyton Manning retired six years ago, they may be the most desperate team to acquire a quarterback. Have I mentioned Patrick Mahomes is in this division, followed by Justin Herbert and Derek Carr. Even with Rodgers, the Broncos would figure to have only the second-best QB in the AFC West and in a couple years the Chargers with Herbert may move ahead of Rodgers, who in a couple weeks is expected to receive his fourth NFL Most Valuable Player Award, second in two seasons.
What the Broncos don’t have that the Packers do, is a proven starting quarterback to swap. Teddy Bridgewater is a free agent and Drew Lock, who started 21 games the past three seasons, is on the career brink where he’s teetering between starter and backup.
Even if Rodgers doesn’t wind up with the Broncos – and because so much has to fall their way, place the current odds at far less than 50-50 – Broncos General Manager George Paton would have hired Hackett anyway because of his relatively youthful energy, his over-the-top football knowledge that only a coach’s kid can have, and experience with three teams – Buffalo, Jacksonville and Green Bay – as an offensive coordinator.
With or without Rodgers, Paton has faith Hackett will dramatically improve the Broncos’ offense.
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