An item I caught today on Profootballtalk got me to thinking on a subject that has been in the back of my mind. One of these days, the Packers are going to have to pay Aaron Rodgers. And in light of the $120 million just netted by Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, they better have their plans in place.
Let me first acknowledge (and I HATE to have to do so) that the Packers may be the most well-run franchise in the NFL going back to 1991. Green Bay finished 4-12 in 1991, but that is the year that Ron Wolf assumed the General Manager role, and the following season the pieces started falling into place.
It burns me but you just have to give them credit, the Packers have had only two losing seasons since 1991. Even when they finished 4-12 in 2005 and 6-10 in 2008, sandwiched between was an NFC Championship game at home in 2007. How this team has rebuilt itself from ashes twice, and acquired two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, absolutely astonishes me.
However, might there possibly be a break coming for Chicago Bears fans? While I have no doubt that Aaron Rodgers would make any team competitive just by his presence, the success of a few of their players is going to eat up a hell of a lot more cap room in the coming years than it has so far. That will limit the Packers’ ability to field a well-rounded roster at all positions, unless they are able to draft great in all rounds.
Taking a look back at recent Packer drafts, unquestionably they hit the jackpot in 2009 when they picked B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews Jr. in the first round. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson was their top pick in 2008. (They also spent a second-round pick on quarterback Brian Brohm that year-CLINK.) But since 2010 in the first round Green Bay’s picks have been tackle Bryan Bulaga, tackle Derek Sherrod and LB/DE Nick Perry. Bulaga and Sherrod are really both right tackles, and both have been injured. Sherrod has not started a game in two seasons. 2012 top pick Perry played in six games before being lost to injury. So the jury is certainly out on Green Bay’s top picks of late.
Certainly the Packers have drafted well in the later rounds, and players such as Nelson, James Jones and Rodgers signed very hometown-discounted contracts to stay in Green Bay.
But the looming expiration of rookie deals for Matthews and Raji are going to eat into the Packers’ current $21 million in cap space. But no contractual situation presents a greater threat than the upcoming end of Rodgers’ contract, signed in 2008.
In retrospect the Packers were extremely smart in inking him to a six-year deal averaging $10 million per season. The fact that he was largely unproven at the time makes the organization look like geniuses. But Rodgers’ next deal will likely surpass $20 million per season. And the longer the Packers wait, the larger the ultimate price becomes. This new deal coupled with top-tier deals for Matthews and Raji may finally bode well for the Bears.
Then again, if the Packers continue to draft and sign players as shrewdly as they have for the last 20 years, this nightmare for Bears fans may continue.