Will Aaron Rodgers retire now, unretire later?
As Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers continues to feign general ignorance as to the necessity of a decision about his future, there’s a very specific path he potentially could take.
With so much speculation on the possibility of Rodgers following Brett Favre’s footsteps to the Jets, Rodgers could go full Favre one other way.
Rodgers could retire, and then he could unretire later.
While no one knows what Rodgers will do, the current posture of his situation is consistent with the possibility that he’d walk away from the Packers now -- and that he’d do an about-face at a time that would force the team to either release him or to trade him to a team other than the Jets or the Raiders, the two franchises that have been most closely tied to him.
If the Packers don’t want Rodgers to stay (and long-time Packers reporter Bob McGinn has said in no uncertain terms that they’re ready to pivot to Jordan Love) but if they’re also resisting the possibility of trading him to the team of his choosing (whichever it may be), this would be one way for Rodgers to take control of the situation.
Rodgers has a fully-guaranteed $58.3 million option bonus that much be exercised between March 17 and Week One of the regular season. If he’d retire before the window opens and if he’d unretire before that window closes, the Packers would be on the clock, strapped with the obligation to pay him either the option bonus or owe that same amount in base salary for 2023.
When Favre unretired in 2008, the Packers were able to carry his $12 million compensation package under the salary cap. That allowed the team to take its time in trading him out of the conference. If Rodgers would suddenly return in late July, like Favre did, the Packers would have to immediately get in compliance with the cap, if Rodgers’s total pay of $59.465 million for 2023 would put them over the top.
Unless the Packers deliberately find a way to save $60 million in cap space (it won’t be easy, given that they’re currently projected to be over the cap for 2023), Rodgers could force them to basically give him away to anyone who’d take him by the end of the same business day that his contract landed back on the Packers’ cap calculation.
And the new team wouldn’t need nearly $60 million in cap space, since it would immediately exercise the option, spreading the $58.3 million over four seasons -- and dropping his 2023 cap number to $15.74 million.
There’s another significant benefit to retiring now and unretiring later. If Rodgers wants to keep playing but doesn’t want to embrace the offseason program with the Packers or any team, the easiest way to skip out on OTAs would be to walk out on football entirely.
Then, instead of being hounded by the New York media and taking back-page slings and arrows for choosing peyote (or some other hallucinogen) over his playbook, Rodgers will get no criticism. He’d be retired.
But what of the sense that teams need to know what he’s doing now? Well, think of the situation from Rodgers’s perspective.
When Favre suddenly unretired, teams were ready to abandon right away long-settled plans at quarterback in order to acquire him. The Buccaneers were ready to do it. The Vikings would have done it. (They did it a year later.) And the Jets, obviously, happily hit the eject button on Chad Pennington.
Maybe Rodgers believes that, regardless of the teams that would welcome him to town now, there will be teams that would love to add him if he unretires later. He’s Aaron Rodgers, not some middle-of-the-pack afterthought.
Although his play slipped in 2022, he was the MVP in 2020 and 2021. If we fast forward to training camp and Rodgers suddenly becomes available to play, there likely will be multiple teams -- and possibly a true contender or two -- that would give their current QB1 the Pennington treatment.
Of course, the ultimate outcome for the 2008 Jets could be the cautionary tale for the team that would pounce on Rodgers later. After the Jets dumped Pennington, he landed in Miami. The Dolphins, not the Jets, won the division in 2008. And Pennington was named comeback player of the year.
For now, here’s the point. As we wait for Rodgers to tell us what he’s going to do, don’t rule out the possibility that he’ll go away now -- and come back later.