Here's What Aaron Rodgers Likely Wants in His Next Contract
Aaron Rodgers and his demeanor are a perfect fit for northeast Wisconsin.
There, the Packers are as ubiquitous in conversation as the weather, your kids, or last night’s episode of Roseanne.
In a community where their superstar can do no wrong, Rodgers has built his reputation through silence. Sure, you’ll see his face on State Farm commercials, but it’s his teammate Clay Matthews or that goofy “Rahdgers, discount double check!” guy who carries the ad.
If you can’t remember a time before this offseason when Rodgers went out of his way to say something controversial in the media, there’s a reason for that.
It’s how Rodgers likes it.
Perhaps the cause for Rodgers’ tame media persona comes from comments he made in the summer before his first season as the Packers’ starter. Here’s what happened then:
Following Brett Favre’s retirement in 2008, Rodgers was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying that Packers fans "need to get on board (with him) now, or keep their mouths shut."
So why is Aaron Rodgers taking every opportunity to speak out?
Why is Aaron Rodgers saying what he’s saying?
Since Super Bowl week, Rodgers has spread a steady, consistent message when interviewed by the media. It started with the team parting ways with his quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt and intensified after wide receiver Jordy Nelson was released. Rodgers began making headline-grabbing remarks.
It’s not like he’s doing this innocently. Rodgers understands the power of his words and the threats of being misquoted so much that he has admitted to personally recording each interview to ensure his words aren’t misrepresented.
The quarterback and his team are in the midst of negotiating what could be his final NFL contract. Because of his status as the league’s best player at the league’s most important position, there’s more than just his financial future in play.
Rodgers doesn’t have nearly as much leverage as superstar athletes in other professional sports. He’s still under contract for two more seasons, and the league’s tradition and history says that he is to stay with his team until the team decides to move on from him.
How Aaron Rodgers and his agent negotiate and structure his next contract will have an impact on how other teams treat their superstar quarterbacks in the future. Rodgers’ comments and his commitment to repeatedly speaking his mind, despite a perceived disdain for doing so, demonstrates that he may not fold to the Packers’ demands so quickly.
Rodgers likely wants a fully guaranteed contract from the Packers
One reason why Rodgers is so determined is the result of Kirk Cousins’ new contract. It was the first time in the NFL’s history of free agency that a difference-making quarterback in his athletic prime available to the team with the most available cash. His suitors lined up massive contracts, and Cousins inevitably signed a fully guaranteed $84 million deal.
Rodgers’ last contract – a five-year, $110 million pact – contained just 49 percent of the total value guaranteed. There’s no question that Rodgers, his agent, and the NFL Players Association want to continue the standard of fully guaranteed contracts that Cousins started.
Both the MLB and NBA deal predominantly in fully guaranteed contracts thanks to players unions who used their strength to stop play to strong-arm owners. The NFL, the largest professional sports league in the country, has enjoyed decades of benefits from not having to offer fully guaranteed contracts thanks to the weakest union in sports.
If Rodgers can secure a fully guaranteed contract, it would continue the precedent set by Cousins and start a new one. Sure, owners could point out, Cousins got a fully guaranteed deal because he was a free agent. But if Rodgers receives a fully guaranteed contract without going to the lengths Cousins did by playing for two seasons under the franchise tag? That’s a game-changer.
The negotiations are between Rodgers and the Packers, but undoubtedly most of the league is involved in this contractual tug-of-war.
The Packers are losing the PR battle with Rodgers
Three major factors inside the Packers organization have contributed to Rodgers gaining a sliver of leverage:
- The departure of Ted Thompson as general manager.
- The promotion of Brian Gutekunst, a general manager for the first time in his career.
- The change in reporting structure in the Packers organization where the team’s contract negotiator Russ Ball reports directly to president Mark Murphy instead of Gutekunst.
These changes mean it’s no longer business as usual inside Lambeau Field. Rodgers and his agent David Dunn have been working together since 2008. Together, they’ve negotiated two massive extensions with the Packers organization.
The other side of the table may have some of the same players as before – Russ Ball and Mark Murphy – but their dynamics have changed. The biggest change has to be the organization’s new reporting structure, where the team’s general manager and contract negotiator independently report to Murphy.
When Ball was negotiating contracts before his promotion, he was reporting to and under the direction of general manager Ted Thompson. The Packers passed over Ball for their general manager post and seemingly as a consolation prize gave him an upgraded title and a new boss.
It’s unlikely that Ball has the same relationship and level of trust with Gutekunst that he did with Thompson. Rodgers and his agent have skillfully taken advantage of the turmoil and change inside the front office by controlling the narrative in the media.
Gutekunst has undoubtedly been more available to the press than his predecessor Thompson, though his role in the team’s negotiations with Rodgers is unclear. Ball, a disciple of Thompson, has so far followed in his mentor’s footsteps and has not spoken publicly to the media since his promotion.
Rodgers’ comments on Van Pelt’s departure, Nelson’s release and his role in the organization have been met with silence from the Packers organization. Who should respond?
- Is it Murphy, the team’s top-ranking executive?
- Is it Mike McCarthy, the coach who helped mold him into the superstar he is today?
- Is it Gutekunst, the general manager?
- Or is it Ball, who understands the negotiations the most?
The Packers have ultimately decided to meet Rodgers’ public comments with silence, and that strategy has resulted in the media largely siding with the quarterback. With only one side of the story being discussed, of course reporters, columnists and broadcasters will discuss and largely agree with Rodgers. And as the media goes, so does most of the fan base.
Whether the team can block out the noise and pressure from outside the organization in their negotiations with Rodgers remains to be seen.