While the Packers are working on a trade for Aaron Rodgers, here’s what they still have to do

With the first wave of free agency in the rearview mirror, the Packers haven’t passed over their offseason priority: resolving the Aaron Rodgers situation.

Negotiations between Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst and Jets General Manager Joe Douglas are ongoing as they prepare to see each other at the NFL’s annual league meeting in Phoenix later this week and into next. Rodgers will be traded to the Jets (right?). It’s just a matter of time, and Green Bay’s sixth-year GM seems to be playing it tough in order to get the most MVP value in franchise history.

Nobody has it everyone leverage. The Packers are incentivized to trade Rodgers before the draft begins on April 27 so they can use any draft capital they recover to help build around quarterback Jordan Love right away. The Jets’ incentive to trade for Rodgers sooner rather than later is that, well, they presumably want to get their favorite quarterback on the block.

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The Packers don’t ask for multiple first-round picks, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, but it would make sense for Gutekunst to ask for at least the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft versus Rodgers. Until a solution is found, Rodgers remains under contract with the Packers despite his public admission on “The Pat McAfee Show” last week that he wants and intends to play for the Jets.

If Rodgers is not traded prior to the draft, a scenario that seems unlikely, the next observation deadline is June 1. If Rodgers is traded before June 1, the Packers have more than $40 million in dead money this year. If traded after June 1, the dead money hit for the year is less than $16 million and the remainder of that $40 million falls in the books of 2024. The other financial deadline to watch is September 1, which is when Rodgers’ contract is currently being created. If Rodgers is still under contract with the Packers by then, both teams will face an entirely new dilemma.

The Packers still made other business during the first week of free agency, albeit not of much significance, even though Rodgers’ trade was not finalized yet.

Here are some thoughts on what Green Bay have done so far in the new league year and what’s left on the checklist.

Priority number 2

Outside of finding a suitable deal for Rodgers, Green Bay’s top priority in free agency has been retaining first-team kickoff returner Kisean Nixon after the 25-year-old helped turn around a long-suffering special teams unit last season.

The Packers did just that by signing Nixon to a one-year, $4 million deal, with the entire $1.85 million guaranteed, according to Over The Cap. This was a step they had to take. Despite returning only one kickoff in the first seven games of the season, Nixon led the league in kick return yards (1,009), finished second in yards per kick return (28.83) and returned a punt for a touchdown to spark a blowout win over the Vikings on the week 17. He also averaged 12.73 yards per punt return on 11 returns, as well as playing 28 percent of Green Bay’s defensive kicks, mainly in the slot.

With the addition of Special Teams Coordinator Rich Pesaccia as Assistant Head Coach, the two most important figures in the 2022 Green Bay special teams resurgence will return in 2023, and with deeper pockets.

Who walked

It’s no surprise that the Packers allowed wide receiver Allen Lazard (Jets), tight end Robert Tonyan (Bears), defensive lineman Jarran Reed (Seahawks) and defensive lineman Dean Lowry (Vikings) to sign elsewhere.

The Jets signed Lazard to a four-year, $44 million deal with the entire $22 million guarantee, according to Over the Cap. That’s too expensive for the Packers, who have their top two receivers set for next season in Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. Lazard is a typical player and has graced an impressive rise from undrafted free agent to reliable option for Rodgers, but $11 million a year is far too rich for Green Bay given the role Lazard would have had had he returned. There doesn’t seem to be a chance of that happening anyway, as Lazard said during his introductory press conference with the Jets that Green Bay has shown no interest in keeping him.

“It didn’t look like they were going to miss me very much,” he said.

According to Over The Cap, Tonian signed a one-year, $2.65 million deal with the Bears. This was not about the cost of the packages. It simply appears that Tonyan’s time in Green Bay is over as he squandered in the team’s red zone plans after returning from the torn ACL he suffered midway through the 2021 season. The Packers need a striking tight end, and their likely source to replace Tonyan is through a deep draft in position.

Notre Dame’s Michael Meyer and Utah’s Dalton Kincaid highlight the separation, and Gutkunst could take either one early in the first round. The only tight end still not signed is Dallas Cowboy Dalton Schultz, who turns 27 in July and has caught 198 passes for 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past three seasons.

Letting Lowry walk was the inevitable, but allowing Reed to move on indicated Green Bay’s commitment to young defensive linemen Devonte White and TJ Slaton. Perhaps 2023 will finally be the year Kenny Clarke and company stop the race and create an inward rush of essence.

Who stayed

Of our top 10 free agents this year, four remain unsigned: safety Adrian Amos, kicker Mason Crosby, Marcedes Lewis, and wide receiver Randall Cobb.

Both Lewis and Cobb are close friends of Rodgers and might be included in the same package as the four-time MVP, so you can imagine they were both done at Green Bay after their massive contributions to the organization. It was reported that the Jets showed interest in both. Lewis needs another season to set the record for most games played at a tight end in NFL history and plenty of left in the tank, at least as a blocker. His value in coach Matt Lafleur’s offense and the Green Bay changing room will be hard to replace.

Cobb still holds some juice, especially in the lower third and after the catch. But his value goes down if he doesn’t have a strong relationship with him like Rodgers does.

Crosby is an interesting case. At an NFL meeting last month, Gutkunst looked like the GM was poised to re-sign the 38-year-old, who, despite not missing a game in the regular season or postseason since being drafted by the Packers in 2007, He didn’t seem to have the same strength as his right leg.

Gutekunst probably disagrees.

“You know, he had a small (knee) injury, a very big one, just before (the season) started,” Gutkunst said. “I don’t know if he was really able to catch up quite right because of what we were asking of him. He had to come out there and kick for us right away, so I guess that’s a credit to him. To be able to kick at Lambeau Field in clutch situations, I mean, any “A new player, that’s going to be tough for those guys. That takes time and Mason has that. He’s got that experience and stuff. I think you’ll see a stronger leg and a different strength in his leg on kickoff next year just because he’s not out of that surgery.”

Parker White, who walked away from South Carolina from 2017 to 2021, is the only player currently under contract with the Packers.

In safety, the Packers re-signed Rudy Ford, who filled in fitfully last season when Amos suffered a concussion against the Patriots in Week 4 and when Darnell Savage Jr. was benched. They also added Tarvarius Moore, a 2018 third-round pick among 49 players who have started just 13 games in four seasons. Ennis Gaines and Tariq Carpenter are still on the roster, but the Packers need to: a) pray Savage as a fifth-year starter to at least check his guaranteed salary of nearly $8 million; and b) the addition of another primary caliber safety. The only two unsigned units who fit that criteria are Amos, who struggled in Green Bay last season, and John Johnson III, who started his career at the Rams and Browns. If the Packers add neither, look to Gutekunst to address the situation early in the draft.

Elsewhere on the former unsigned Packers list are safety Dallin Leavitt and linebacker Eric Wilson, both starting special teams. Given how important they were both to Bisaccia’s operation last season, expect both of them to return to Green Bay.

(Photo by Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb: Dan Powers/USA Today)


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