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How much is too much for the Broncos to trade for Aaron Rodgers?

Can the Broncos really sell the farm for a 37-year old MVP?

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There’s been numerous reports all offseason that the Broncos are interested in veteran quarterbacks. Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, and now Aaron Rodgers. If a deal is going to come together for the disgruntled MVP, it will happen after June 1st when a trade wouldn’t completely cripple the Green Bay Packers’ salary cap.

At least on the surface, any trade looks like a no-brainer. Rodgers was one of the three or four best starting quarterbacks in football a season ago, while Drew Lock finished among the five worst in just about every single statistic. Digging a little deeper, questions begin to crop up.

Would Rodgers be the reigning MVP or the QB Love was drafted to replace?

While it’s true Aaron Rodgers won the MVP in 2020 and led the Packers to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in back to back seasons under Matt LaFleur, Green Bay clearly saw an end in sight for the 37-year old after the 2019 season. Brian Gutekunst didn’t just draft Jordan Love in the first round, he traded away a fourth pick pick to ensure he had the opportunity to do so. This happened less than a year after Gutekunst handed Rodgers a 4-year, $134 million contract extension with $78.7 million guaranteed at signing. What gives?

After the draft, LeFleur said the Packers were simply following their draft board.

“It was just one of those situations where there were a couple guys targeted that had just previously been picked and Jordan was the next guy on the board, and so we went with the best player at the time,”

Perhaps I’m just a cynic, but I find the rationale hard to buy given the trade up to acquire Love. It’s certainly possible Green Bay’s front office and coaching staff were simply enamored with Love the prospect, but NFL decision makers don’t find their way to top jobs by being naïve. Anyone with a pulse knew what message the trade up and selection sent to a certain Hall of Fame quarterback.

Maybe that was the point?

2019 was the first year Rodgers worked with LeFleur after playing all but one season under Mike McCarthy. By and large, their time together was a smashing success. The Packers won a Super Bowl in February, 2011, and Rodgers won two MVPs on his way to throwing for 42,615 yards, 337 touchdowns, and just 79 interceptions across his first ten seasons as a starting quarterback.

Things began to fray at the edges before rotting to the core, however. Rodgers and McCarthy had a falling out as the future Hall of Famer stopped believing in what most considered a stale offensive system. When push came to shove, the Packers chose their future Hall of Fame quarterback over a coach who has a Green Bay street named after him. Hiring LaFleur was seen as an opportunity to rejuvenate Rodgers, who had seen his efficiency numbers take a notable dip after the second MVP season.

On the surface, the LeFleur hire looked like it did the trick. Rodgers finished 2019 as a top 10 quarterback by DVOA and DYAR as the 13-3 Packers rolled through the regular season with one of the more efficient offenses in the NFL. Look a little deeper, and red flags continued to hang over Rodgers. He didn’t appear to fully buy in to his new offense, which led to some clunky moments. In particular, he still had a propensity for clinging to the ball way too long and playing “hero ball” instead of trusting the playcall. On one hand, who can blame him? It’s how Rodgers made his hay. On the other, he finished 2019 sandwiched between the Colts’ Jacoby Brissett and the Browns’ Baker Mayfield in QBR, ranking 20th among all qualifying passers.

No one seemed to care while Green Bay won. But when they ran into a buzzsaw against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, questions lingered over the franchise. The general consensus was the Packers were close, bolstering the receiving corps and defense could be enough to break through in the NFC. Gutekunst and LeFleur saw the same result and prioritized acquiring what looks like Rodgers’ eventual replacement.

Whether it’s due to the Love selection or something altogether different, Rodgers rediscovered his magic in 2020. He bought into the LeFleur offense and set the league on fire. But the Broncos wouldn’t be trading for the the Packers’ system. They’d be trading for Aaron Rodgers. Is Pat Shurmur capable of maximizing Rodgers’ talents as LeFleur did?

How much does Rodgers have left?

Before the allegations of sexual assault against Deshaun Watson surfaced, I ardently believed George Paton should move heaven and earth to acquire him, cost be damned. Elite quarterbacks hardly grow on trees and Watson is 25 years old, not even a full year older than the Broncos’ own Drew Lock. I believed he could step in as the heir to Peyton Manning and solve the QB conundrum for the next decade or more, which justified any price.

I cannot say the same for Aaron Rodgers, if for no reason beyond the fact he turns 38 in December. We joke about Tom Brady playing ‘til he’s 50, but no one believes he’ll really do it, right? Even if he does, the fact of the matter remains that the 2000 sixth-round pick is an outlier in just about every sense of the word.

Rodgers may say he wants to play until he’s 40 or even 45, but there’s no guarantee his body will hold up. Father Time caught Drew Brees at 41, Peyton Manning at 40, Ben Roethlisberger at 38. Manning looked like a zombie as he rode the Broncos’ historic No Fly Zone to the promised land. Brees and Roethlisberger spent 2020 looking like shells of their former selves; there’s little doubt both held their offenses back.

It’s impossible to ascertain how long Rodgers has left, even if he’s said he wants to play as long as he can. This adds a rather large element of risk to any potential trade. Rodgers could follow Brady and chase Lombardi’s until we’re all worm dust, or the broken collarbone in 2017 and tibial plateau fracture in 2018 could be signs his body has a limited number of hits left in it.

At his introductory press conference George Paton said he would be aggressive, but not reckless. If Aaron Rodgers is available in a trade come June, I have little doubt the Broncos will be interested. Paton almost struck a deal on the night the first NFL Draft, after all. I simply wonder where the line will be drawn.

The fan in me feels like one year of Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t justify parting with Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, and/or Jerry Jeudy. Watching Chubb put it together last season after a lost 2019 helped make a 5-11 campaign worthwhile. The way Sutton dominated at the catch point his sophomore season was special, which makes the young duo so exciting.

Beyond the sentimental value, I still have a hard time justifying a trade involving core players when an older quarterback’s Super Bowl window is so brief. Picks are one thing as history’s shown even first rounders generally hover around a 50% hit rate across the NFL. The issue is that the Broncos’ current roster looks like it’s perhaps a quarterback away from deep playoff runs, but they don’t have so much talent they can afford to give it away without feeling it. To be fair, no one does.

There’s obviously a distinct possibility the Packers refuse to trade Aaron Rodgers. Maybe the two reconcile whatever differences they have, or Green Bay trades Jordan Love instead of the reigning MVP. If that doesn’t occur we could still see Rodgers traded elsewhere, even if the Vegas odds continue to favor the Broncos.

We’ve already seen Paton’s interest fizzle out multiple times this offseason, and if the Packers ask for more than Paton’s willing to spend, he could remain locked into to a competition between the quarterback he inherited and Teddy Bridgewater. With a promising young roster littered with talent, it might even be the right call.

Only time will tell.

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