GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers and his agent, David Dunn, explored non-traditional contract structures during negotiations with the Green Bay Packers this offseason but discovered it wouldn’t be possible to work in opt-out clauses or tie pay to a percentage of the salary cap as it increased in future years.
“Ultimately, I don’t think the NFL is ready for those type of contracts and willing to go in some of those directions,” Rodgers said on a conference call Thursday, one day after he signed his record-setting extension.
“The number of players on the active roster and counting on the salary cap is definitely a hindrance to some of that stuff. … There’s language in guaranteed contracts that need to change in the next CBA in order for those to become more standard across the league or more opportunities for those. But there’s just not the movement in that area on franchise sides to want to do contracts that allow players to have more of the leverage that NBA players have. Instead, they would rather go traditional routes with the usual large signing bonuses prorated over the duration of the deal up to five years in order to minimize the cap hit in certain years. That’s the desired approach of teams, and there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room in that area.”
After months of negotiations that began shortly after the 2017 season ended, Rodgers and the Packers reached a deal that added four years to current contract that ran through the 2019 season.
The four-year extension was worth $134 million and includes nearly $103 million in total guarantees, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The full year-by-year breakdown of the deal is not yet available, but it includes $67 million by the end of 2018 and additional $13 million by next March, according to Schefter. Rodgers indicated that his salary-cap total in 2018 wouldn’t change much; he was set to count $20,562,500 this season. It’s likely to jump in future years.
Rodgers and Dunn could have set a precedent for future top-end contracts had they been able to secure some of the non-traditional clauses they explored.
“It was definitely something that Dave and I talked about and why we were exploring a non-traditional type of deal that could help change some of the future contracts,” Rodgers said. “As you look at some of the contracts around the league, even with a guy like Odell [Beckham Jr.] who obviously reset the market for the receivers, teams want to go the traditional route and limit non-traditional language in deals. So there just wasn’t a lot of leeway to do some of that stuff. But it was something that Dave and I did talk about, how this contact will affect other players at my position and other positions and eventually, we came to a deal that I think both sides feel good about. As much as we were interested in the idea of a non-traditional, ultimately the most important thing is the Packers feel like this is a partnership and that I feel like it’s a partnership and we can get 19, 20 years and feel good about the relationship and the career that I had in Green Bay.”
From the team’s perspective, general manager Brian Gutekunst said Packers contract negotiator Russ Ball wasn’t trying to protect the league from a fundamental change.
“This was about the Green Bay Packers and our team,” Gutekunst said Thursday. “The rest of the league wasn’t something I was concerned about at all. This was what’s best for us. And like I said, I think Russ looked at all the options, went down every road to kind of see what would be best for us and the player, and I think we came to an agreement. Like I said, I think that was the ultimate case. I think this was a really good deal for both sides.”
While the contract takes Rodgers through the age of 40 — he would hit that age in December of 2023, the final year of the deal — he knows there’s no guarantee he will reach that point with the Packers. Rodgers had a front-row seat to the 2008 divorce between the Packers and Brett Favre, whose trade to the New York Jets ensured Rodgers would take over as the starter.
“I don’t think this guarantees anything other than maybe the first three years of the deal,” Rodgers said. “To get to the end of the contract would be sustained, consistent play. So, that’s the most important thing. And realizing that, you know, Brian is a new GM, he has decisions that he wants to make in the interests of the team and bringing in the type of players he wants to bring in, and thankfully I’m one of those players that he sees building this immediate future around, which is great. But you have to prove yourself every year in this league that you can still play and you’re still an important part of the squad.
“Obviously, my financial commitment is such that I feel good about my place on the team in the next few years, but that’s not the type of player I am, to just rely on something like that. I want to go out and prove that I’m still an elite payer in this league, and if I do that then I’ll feel good I’ve got the opportunity to finish my career in Green Bay. But I’m definitely not arrogant in the mindset that it would never happen to me. It happened to Favre-y, it can happen to any of us.”
Still, Rodgers reiterated that his goal is to play to 40 — and perhaps beyond.
“To get from where I’m at now to 40 will be a grind, but I’ve learned a lot over the last few years,” he said. “I’ve talked a lot about it. My offseason and in-season routines have definitely allowed me to feel better, and it doesn’t equate to anything more than feeling and energy and strength when I’m out there. But I felt good about my training regimen in the offseason, where I work out, how much I work out, and my eating. My diet has been a lot better. I feel like I’ve affected my performance in a positive way, both from mental clarity but also not feeling as much of the strains, lower-body strains that I’ve dealt with in years past.
“It’s going to be important. And then just sustaining those habits. Once you figure out those good habits — and unfortunately for me, it took a long time. But I did still have some success when I was having [Dairy Queen] Blizzards all the time and eating pizza from Figaro’s but I’ve just got along smarter with my daily habits. That’s what it’s going to take. That and sticking close to the chemistry and the pulse of this squad, and doing the little things leadership-wise that allow me to keep that chemistry with my teammates and to keep that respect from them as a leader of the football team.”