The most anticipated potential trade in recent memory heads into a critical phase with the start of the NFL draft on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC, ESPN App), which means increased urgency for all parties. The Jets remain confident a trade will happen. Appearing at a radio station-sponsored event in New Jersey on April 7, Jets general manager Joe Douglas told a raucous crowd, “He’s gonna be here!”
But when? And for what?
A closer look at what to expect this week:
When is this trade expected to happen and why then?
Rob Demovsky, ESPN Packers reporter: From the Packers’ perspective, it doesn’t have to happen before the draft starts. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has gone on record saying he’s not asking for the Jets’ first-round pick (No. 13 overall) from this draft. Clearly, however, he wouldn’t do a deal without second-day (Rounds 2 and 3) draft picks, so a possible scenario is the trade goes down before the second round begins on Friday. The Jets have a pair of second-round picks (Nos. 42 and 43) but don’t have a third-round pick. The Packers’ second-round pick is right after those picks at No. 45 overall, so don’t be surprised if there’s a flurry of activity around that time.
Rich Cimini, ESPN Jets reporter: It would be high drama if the Jets-Packers stare down continues until the Jets are on the clock at No. 42, but that seems unlikely with a trade of this magnitude. This isn’t the sort of deal that comes together in a few minutes, especially one that could involve the restructuring of Rodgers’ massive contract. (Rodgers is guaranteed $59.4 million in 2023.) If the two teams consummate a deal on the clock, it likely means the framework was established beforehand. One of the benefits of having the 42nd pick (acquired from the Cleveland Browns in the Elijah Moore trade) is it gives the Jets back-to-back picks — two opportunities to “steal” a player the Packers might covet. A little leverage, perhaps?
What are they haggling over?
Demovsky: The issue seems to be what to do if Rodgers doesn’t play beyond the 2023 season for the Jets. The Jets could be reluctant to include a future first-round pick without knowing that Rodgers is committed for more than one season. There also could be the issue of how much, if any, of Rodgers’ contract the Packers are willing to pay.
Cimini: The Jets would like protection on the back end, just in case Rodgers opts for the one-and-done route. In other words, they’d like a 2025 draft pick from the Packers if he retires after the 2023 season. From the Jets’ perspective, it wouldn’t be good business to surrender a nonconditional first-round pick for a quarterback who will be 40 by the end of the season and admittedly was “90% retired” before his darkness retreat in mid-February. In 2008, the Jets were prepared to give up a first-rounder for Brett Favre, but only if he led them to the Super Bowl, one of the conditions in their trade with the Packers. They could be willing to do the same for the Rodgers trade, especially since it would be the 31st or 32nd pick in 2024.
Assuming the trade happens during the draft, when could we expect to see Rodgers in a Jets uniform?
Demovsky: Rich could tell you what the Jets expect from Rodgers, but unless he’s more willing to participate in the offseason program than he has been in recent years, good luck getting him to New Jersey for anything other than the mandatory minicamp in June. Heck, he even skipped that in Green Bay during the 2021 offseason. Rodgers has a $50,000 workout bonus, so it’s not like money would motivate him to report. This is a guy who enjoys his own offseason routine.
Cimini: It’s almost impossible to predict when the mercurial Rodgers would show up, but the Jets aren’t sweating it. He has a strong relationship with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and he already has a good grasp of the offense, so it’s not like he absolutely needs to attend OTA practices, which begin May 22. At the same time, players are eager to work with him on the field. It would send a positive message if he departs from recent history, shows up for non-mandatory events and tries to build chemistry with his teammates.
What does it mean for both teams if the trade doesn’t happen before or during the draft, and what’s next?
Demovsky: Gear up for a stalemate that could last weeks into the summer if a trade doesn’t happen before or during the draft. Without any immediate compensation in the form of 2023 draft picks, perhaps the Packers would want to wait until after June 1 to do the trade. That would allow them to spread Rodgers’ remaining salary-cap charge over the 2023 and 2024 seasons. However, they might prefer taking the $40.3 million hit all at once this year and be done with it.
Cimini: You’d hear a lot of spin-doctoring from the Jets, with them saying it’s a great opportunity for Zach Wilson to get extra practice reps throughout the spring as he learns the new offense. You also could hear about players flying to Southern California to have informal workouts with Rodgers as they wait for the trade to get hammered out. Wilson hosted teammates last summer at a swanky Idaho resort; Rodgers could do the same near his home in Malibu if he chooses. Conceivably, the Jets could take the trade talks all the way to training camp. It wouldn’t be ideal, but, hey, the Favre trade didn’t happen until Aug. 6.
Could this trade possibly break down and not happen? If so, what then for both teams?
Demovsky: That is the $58.3 million question for the Packers. They wouldn’t have to pay that bonus, which is guaranteed, until Week 1 of the regular season, so they would have time to try to find another taker for Rodgers. But if not, they would be forced to pay Rodgers that money — plus his $1.165 million base salary — whether they would play him or not. And paying someone $60 million to not play would be football operation malpractice. The only way out would be if Rodgers retired, and at that point, why would he walk away? Can you imagine the outcry among Packers fans if Jordan Love struggles early and they’re paying Rodgers not to play?
Cimini: If it falls apart, the Jets would have to buy a paper towel factory to have enough wipes to remove all the egg from their faces. It’s Rodgers or bust. They’re too far down the road to turn back, especially since they’ve made it clear they don’t trust Wilson as QB1. They could try to pry Ryan Tannehill from the Tennessee Titans, but that would be a tough sell to the fan base, which has fixated on Rodgers for months. Lamar Jackson? That could be a pipe dream. What if Rodgers gets impatient and decides to retire? He hasn’t given that indication. He appears committed to the Jets, based on how he’s been trying to recruit free agents.
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