Aaron Rodgers intends to play for the New York Jets next season, says he still has 'that fire' and that Packers are holding up trade

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

GREEN BAY – The Aaron Rodgers Era in Green Bay is almost over.

A new era for the four-time MVP will begin in New York soon.

Rodgers confirmed it all Wednesday in an interview on "The Pat McAfee Show," telling the host that after long contemplation and a meeting with Jets officials last week, he decided on Friday "to play and to play for the New York Jets."

However, Rodgers said that no deal has been made and that the Packers are the ones holding up a trade and not him as has been speculated on social media and some news reports. He said he is ready to get back to playing football but remains in limbo until the trade goes through.

"I haven't been holding things up at this point, it's been compensation that the Packers are trying to get for me and are kind of digging their heels in," Rodgers said. "So, I would just think it is interesting at this point. The whole picture."

The Packers have until the start of the regular season to execute a $58.3 million option bonus in Rodgers' contract, so they could conceivably hold onto him for a while and make the Jets meet their demands. The $58.3 million bonus becomes the Jets' responsibility once Rodgers is traded.

The Jets would like to get a deal done so Rodgers is free to work with the team when off-season workouts begin in mid-April, but they have some leverage in that Green Bay needs to get a deal done before the end of next month if it wants a pick in this year's draft as part of the compensation.

Aaron Rodgers has played 18 years for the Packers but now all signs point toward him being traded to the New York Jets. He said Wednesday on "The Pat McAfee Show" that he wants to play for the Jets next season.

Aaron Rodgers says he still has 'that fire' and wants to play in New York for the Jets

Rodgers went on to say he is coming to grips with the fact his 18 years with the Packers franchise is coming to an end and that it is because the Packers want to move on without him. He said he won't be bitter about the way things were handled, but he can't completely move on because the trade has not been made.

When asked by former teammate A.J. Hawk whether he would take part in Jets off-season workouts, he said the two sides haven't even gotten that far because he is still under contract with the Packers.

"You know, my side, love and appreciation and gratitude for everything that Green Bay has done for me. Love, so much love and gratitude and just heart open for the Packer fans and what it meant to be their quarterback, and also the reality of the situation," he said. "Like, it is what it is; Packers would like to move on.

"They've let me know that in so many words. They've let other people know that in direct words. And because I still have that fire and I want to play and play in New York, it's just a matter of getting that done at this point."

Aaron Rodgers was leaning toward retirement before his darkness retreat but he said there was a shift with the Packers management when he returned from isolation last month.

Aaron Rodgers said he went into darkness retreat 90% leaning toward retirement

Rodgers said he came on the McAfee show not to say he was making a decision to return but just to explain where things stood. He said his decision to return, "we're days past it" – contrary to reports that he was still deciding whether to play.

Rodgers said he went into his four-day darkness retreat 90% sure he would retire, but through some of the meditation and thought process about what he wanted to do next, he said he came to believe he still wanted to play. He said upon coming out of the meditation retreat, he had messages from friends – "mostly players" – that the Packers were having talks with other teams about trading him.

He said he was told by the Packers after the season to take his time to make a decision whether he wants to play and that he was never told the Packers intended to move on from him. He said he would have preferred the Packers be straight with him about the future because it would have been easier for him to accept.

"It was clear to me at that point, that although the Packers are going to say the right thing publicly, that they were ready to move on," Rodgers said of the message he was receiving upon completing his retreat. "I don't know what changed that or what moved that or they said, 'Hey, we need to make a decision here because he hasn't made a decision yet.'

"There's no victims here. I'm not sitting here as a victim. You know I love Green Bay. I love the fan base and they're incredible. I love playing for them and for Lambeau (Field). A lot of love for the organization. I just think I wish that in the beginning of the offseason that had been the conversation because I love direct communication.

"That they had just said, 'Listen, we think it's time to move in a different direction and we love you.'"

Jordan Love will be the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers after an Aaron Rodgers trade is finalized.

Aaron Rodgers says his situation reinforces his belief that Packers don't treat older players well

Rodgers said the way things ended spoke to some of the issues he raised during the 2021 off-season when he was estranged from the organization and appeared to want out. He reminded people the veterans he brought up at the time that he thought were not treated well on their way out, such as Jordy Nelson, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, Julius Peppers and Brett Goode.

He said it was clear the Packers drafted Love in the first round in 2020 because they saw Rodgers as a descending player and they were going to want to move on at some point. He said winning back-to-back MVPs in '20 and '21 changed everyone's mind about his future, but after a less successful '22 season, they decided to go with Love.

"You just have to look at the reality, they want to move on," Rodgers said. "They don't want me to come back and that's fine. They're ready to move on with Jordan. That's awesome. He is going to be a great player. He's an (expletive) great kid. He had a really good year this year, getting better on the 'look' team.

"He's got a bright future. They have a good, young team. I have so many great friends on that team and will be friends with. The fact of the matter is you have an aging face of the franchise that it's time to do right by. Listen to your language. (President) Mark Murphy said it the other day (that Rodgers had a great career)."

Aaron Rodgers disputes that he gave the Jets a wish list of players

Rodgers contemplated whether to return for a 19th NFL season for more than two months. Once it became clear the Packers didn’t want him as their starter, Rodgers was given permission to talk to the Jets, the team that had shown the most interest in trading for him.

The decision to join the Jets was made after team owner Woody Johnson, coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett traveled to Malibu, California, to sell Rodgers on joining the Jets.

Rodgers said that after meeting with the Jets contingent for four hours on March 7, he told them he needed to get back into his workout regimen to see if he had the desire to do what it would take to get ready for the season. He said he informed the Jets last Friday that he was on board.

More:Aaron Rodgers intends to play for the Jets. Here's how social media reacted to his interview on 'The Pat McAfee Show'

He disputed reports that he gave the Jets a list of players that they must sign for him to agree to return. He said they talked about certain teammates that were free agents, but he said he did not hand them a list of demands.

The Packers gave Rodgers permission to speak with the Jets after it was clear they were moving forward with Love as their starting quarterback. Rodgers said he heard that there were other teams that might be interested in him but that he was not given permission to talk to anybody else.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, right, is poised to play for Jets head coach Robert Saleh, left, next season. Rodgers said Wednesday on "The Pat McAfee Show" that he plans to play for the Jets.

Packers are now in a tight salary cap situation

The trade, when it happens, will result in Rodgers counting $40,313,568 against the Packers salary cap despite not being on the roster. He would have counted $31.62 million against the cap had he continued playing for the Packers, but the number went up because all of the cap charges the Packers had pushed into future years come due at once when a player is traded or released.

The Packers are roughly $21 million under the cap, counting a restructure they did with inside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell that cleared $2.6 million in cap space, the re-signing of returner Keisean Nixon and a $4.3 million restricted free agent second-round tender for tackle Yosh Nijman. But that figure will drop to about $12 million once the Rodgers deal goes through.

The Packers have have created roughly $50 million in cap space since the end of the year by reworking the deals of running back Aaron Jones, outside linebacker Preston Smith, nose tackle Kenny Clark, offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, cornerback Jaire Alexander and Campbell. They are running out of player contracts that can be adjusted for cap savings and probably won't be players in the free agent market.

The free agency negotiating period began at 11 a.m. Monday and starting Wednesday at 3 p.m., teams may begin signing free agents. It is also at that time that all teams must be in compliance with the salary cap.

Among the Packers' unrestricted free agents who are still unsigned are kicker Mason Crosby, safety Adrian Amos, tight end Robert Tonyan and defensive lineman Dean Lowry.

Packers' trade of another future Hall of Famer harkens back to 2008 saga with Brett Favre

The Packers are following a familiar game plan for transitioning from a Hall of Famer to a young, first-round quarterback.

Three years after Rodgers was drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft, the Packers made their plans to succeed the retired Brett Favre with the guy they had been grooming for the job. When Favre decided he didn’t want to retire, the Packers stood with their decision to move on to Rodgers and traded Favre to the Jets.

Now, it’s Rodgers’ turn to leave the smallest market in the NFL for its biggest.

The Packers, according to multiple sources, were ready to move on from Rodgers as early as the end of last season when they felt they underachieved offensively. Rodgers failed to throw for a 300-yard game all season and couldn’t will the team into the playoffs despite needing only a victory at home against Detroit in Week 18.

The Packers had gone all in on 2022, setting an NFL record by guaranteeing all $150 million of Rodgers’ three-year contract extension, betting on him returning to the form that had earned him MVP honors in ’20 and ’21.

But the Packers finished 8-9 and general manager Brian Gutekunst saw enough improvement from Love in practice and a relief appearance against the Philadelphia Eagles to think he was ready to replace Rodgers.

Transitioning to Jordan Love may not go smoothly

The Packers were 6-10 when Rodgers took over in ’08. However, they made the postseason the following year and won the Super Bowl in ’10.

Love is entering his fourth season and the Packers now have every reason to exercise his fifth-year option before the May deadline. It will guarantee Love $20.2 million in ’24, but this season he will play for the $2,298,652 base salary in his rookie contract.

Though Love has three years under his belt, he has started only one game, played 157 snaps and thrown 83 passes. The Packers aren’t expecting him to win an MVP in his first year as a starter and know there may be growing pains.

“I think the one thing you see in this league, it's very rarely are guys shot out of a cannon winning-wise,” Gutekunst said during the week of the NFL scouting combine. “There’s some great play, there's instances you see flashes, but I think it takes most of these quarterbacks a little time to learn how to win.

“And it's one thing to play well and make throws and, make plays, but then it's another thing to lead your team to wins. And I think that takes time, but you don't get a lot of that in this league. But certainly with any new quarterback that's playing for the first time you're gonna need some of that.”

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