You can forgive yourself if this feels like déjà vu. More than five years ago, Aaron Rodgers signed a deal with the Green Bay Packers that was the biggest in NFL history at the time: a five-year, $110 million contract extension through the 2019 season. It gave him the title of “highest-paid player in NFL history,” an accolade that has since passed from Rodgers to Andrew Luck to Joe Flacco to Derek Carr to Matt Stafford to Jimmy Garoppolo to Matt Ryan.
That is, until Wednesday, when Rodgers stormed back into the fray like the T. rex at the end of Jurassic Park and reclaimed his throne. Rodgers has signed a four-year contract extension worth as much as $134 million. Unlike almost all NFL deals, Rodgers’s deal actually gets more impressive as you look into the details. His $57.5 million signing bonus is the largest in NFL history, as is his $103 million in practical guarantees. Rodgers is set to make $80 million between now and March — the type of money usually associated with soccer or baseball players.
The contract will keep Rodgers in Green Bay for the remainder of his prime, and now the Packers are under more pressure than ever to win a Super Bowl (or three). Since winning it all in 2010–11, the Packers have returned to the NFC championship game twice and come up short in the divisional round three times. Rodgers always finds a way to create some magic, whether it’s telling fans to R-E-L-A-X, or making Hail Mary throws look like paper tosses at the garbage can, or doing this, but the 34-year-old can’t guide them to a Super Bowl alone. Now that they’ve locked up the finest quarterback of his generation, the Packers need to make sure that it won’t waste him, and the size of this deal may make putting a team around Rodgers difficult.
The Packers already started an organizational reset this offseason by parting ways with longtime GM Ted Thompson, who was famous for eschewing free agency and instead building through the draft. His replacement, Brian Gutekunst, immediately reversed course and signed free agents Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson.
With the Rodgers deal, the Packers will have a few hard choices on their horizon. Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews, HaHa Clinton-Dix, Wilkerson, and Ty Montgomery will all be free agents after this season. Letting Jordy Nelson leave in free agency was a signal that they intend to re-sign Cobb, but Matthews will likely follow Nelson out the door unless he’s willing to take a discount at 33 years old. Montgomery may be redundant alongside the much cheaper young running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. Wilkerson is likely a rental unless he wants to compete at a discount, and Clinton-Dix’s fate is anyone’s guess after the safety market took such a bizarre nosedive this offseason.
The Packers have fewer free agents of note in 2020, but the decisions could be just as difficult. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga and defensive tackle Mike Daniels will both be 31 and could earn top-of-the-market deals. If the Packers want to keep either around, it might be best to start negotiating with them now. If Green Bay wants to replace them, they run the risk of downgrading key positions along both lines.
On the whole, however, the Packers are mostly locked into their core for the next two seasons, and they earned some flexibility by scooping up New Orleans’s 2019 first-round pick in a draft-day deal. The team also nabbed perhaps the two best cornerbacks in the draft in Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson with its first- and second-round picks. While the team no longer has Rodgers on a relative bargain, having two potentially elite cornerbacks on rookie deals could provide a similar value.
The pressure is also on coach Mike McCarthy. After Green Bay shuffled the front office this offseason, the team signed him to a contract extension in January that goes through only 2019. And some in Wisconsin have floated the idea that McCarthy is on the hot seat. Those voices could become a chorus if the Packers fall short of expectations again. Green Bay would be the most attractive coaching job in recent NFL history, and the team could have its pick of the burgeoning offensive minds around the league hoping to coach the best quarterback in the sport.
Earlier this month, Rodgers was famously cranky with his younger receivers’ “piss-poor” effort during a scout team drill.
“I’m getting older and grumpier,” Rodgers said at the time. “I’ve been at this for a long time. I’m tired, too; we’re all a little tired. When you get a little tired, the fuse gets a little shorter.”
It’s been five years since Rodgers signed his last megacontract. The Packers didn’t reach the Super Bowl in that time frame. If this deal yields the same outcome, the team won’t have an in-his-prime Rodgers to hand another megadeal.