If the Packers don’t move Aaron Rodgers before the 2023 NFL Draft, what will happen?

The Packers likely will trade quarterback Aaron Rodgers before or during the 2023 NFL Draft because: 1) That makes the most sense for the team; and 2) General manager Brian Gutekunst has implied that this year’s draft is the deadline for Rodgers to be traded.

“I think the sooner the better,” Gutekunst said at the NFL owners’ meetings last week when asked if the draft capital Green Bay recoups must be for this year or if it can be for 2024 and beyond.

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The Jets hold the leverage now because the Packers are incentivized to finalize a trade before the draft and New York is not. The Packers would benefit from using whatever picks they get in return to surround quarterback Jordan Love with more talent right away to succeed in Year 1 as the starter, rather than waiting a year to reap the rewards of the trade return.

However, just because it makes the most sense for Gutekunst to accept the Jets’ best offer by April 27 (Round 1 of the draft) or April 28 (Rounds 2 and 3) doesn’t mean that he will.

Asked about the possibility of this saga carrying into the summer, Gutekunst said: “I think hopefully we’ll get this done before that, but as long as it takes.”

After all, Gutekunst has a job to do, a line he used when explaining why he moved on from Rodgers after the quarterback proved difficult to connect with this offseason, and is far more inclined to play hardball than softball.

As of last Monday at the league meeting, Gutekunst and Jets GM Joe Douglas had been speaking on the phone for weeks. They spoke again in person in Phoenix last week. As of Tuesday night, there was still no deal. The draft is a little more than three weeks away, so there’s no rush to get a deal done at this exact moment no matter how much everyone outside both organizations seems to want one completed. Gutekunst even said the Packers can afford to wait until May or June if the Jets don’t offer a package for Rodgers they deem appropriate before then.

“There’s not much going on right now,” Gutekunst said. “So again, I think it has to work for both parties and I think we’re both committed to figuring that out. It’s really kind of in their court right now. We’ll see where it goes.”

But what if the trade isn’t done by draft’s end like we all think it will be? Then what happens?

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“Certainly, if we get beyond the draft, then everything changes, compensation changes,” Gutekunst said. “That would be a whole different scenario.”

If Rodgers is still employed by the Packers on April 29, Day 3 of the draft, then this situation takes a turn. The Packers would seize the leverage with the two days they’d use draft capital exchanged for Rodgers having passed. And the Jets would be pressured to get a deal done to get their preferred starting quarterback in the building sooner than later. The Packers already have their QB1 reporting for duty. New York has Zach Wilson, and Douglas said at the league meetings that pivoting to Lamar Jackson would be in bad faith given how far they’ve gone with Rodgers. So trading for Jackson is off the table as an alternative, and getting Rodgers is the only feasible option unless Jets brass and coaches want to sign their termination papers before the season even starts.

The Packers actually might be incentivized to wait until after June 1 to make a deal because the 2023 dead money hit of more than $40.3 million if Rodgers is traded before June 1 would be split over two years, according to Over The Cap — about $15.8 million in 2023 and the rest in 2024. The Packers might want to eat that dead money hit this year to make sure it doesn’t linger any further, but they have more financial options if this carries past the draft nonetheless.

The only deadline by which the Packers have to trade Rodgers if this stalemate lasts past the draft is the start of the regular season. That’s when the Packers would need to pay his option bonus of $58.3 million by, per OTC. They’re not doing that for a quarterback they’re not starting and the Jets need Rodgers in the building well before that, hence why Green Bay would hold the leverage after April 29.

As for compensation if a trade is not consummated by the end of the draft, the Packers might shift their attention to players who can improve their roster right away if they don’t get 2023 draft capital. That might be the approach, though not as a total replacement for all draft capital in the deal because they’d still likely look to acquire 2024 capital and potentially even a 2025 conditional pick contingent on Rodgers’ playing time and accomplishments with the Jets. The trade package just may look slightly different pre-draft and post-draft since the Packers must do whatever it takes in negotiations to upgrade their roster for 2023 rather than be content with waiting until 2024 for the benefits, especially because a team with Rodgers will likely have worse picks than a team without him.

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Head coach Matt LaFleur wants a veteran wide receiver to complement Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, who are entering their second season after promising rookie campaigns. Meanwhile, Jets receiver Corey Davis, entering his seventh season at age 28, is on the block. He played for the Titans when LaFleur was Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in 2018, catching 65 passes for 891 yards and four touchdowns that season. He might be part of the deal anyway, but perhaps his inclusion in a package would be more likely if the Packers don’t accept an offer by April 28. Maybe Green Bay eyes other players, too, to make up for what they’d lose by foregoing 2023 draft capital.

In the rare hypothetical Rodgers hasn’t been traded by the start of mandatory minicamp on June 13, there’s no way he’d show up to Lambeau Field, right? That would be incredible theater, but it’s a question the Packers don’t even want to think about the answer to. Rodgers might want to make things as uncomfortable as possible for an organization he clearly feels slighted him on his way out, according to his comments on “The Pat McAfee Show,” but it’s hard to believe he’d want to complicate things for Love and hover over him at the facility while the 24-year-old has to answer questions about No. 12 and his locker nameplate still being present at 1265 Lombardi Ave.

That would be the main drawback from this saga carrying on. Love needs as smooth a takeoff from the runway as possible entering his first year starting. The longer Rodgers remains on the roster, the more turbulence there will be for Love to navigate when he shouldn’t have to.

“I think right now, all options are on the table,” Gutekunst said when asked about an unlikely reunion between Rodgers and the Packers this summer. “It’s not trending that way, and I’m hopeful we can facilitate this and get this accomplished. But he’s come back under certain circumstances before where maybe he wasn’t the happiest with everything that was going on and played very well. So we’ll just see how all of this transpires. I think it’s trending hopefully in the right direction for what everybody wants and we can conclude this.”

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