Aaron Rodgers is still looking for appeasement from Packers management. Julio Jones is ready and willing to leave the Falcons. But is there really an affordable way for Green Bay to pair its NFL MVP quarterback with Atlanta’s elite wide receiver?
Putting Rodgers and Jones together sounds like a win-win solution on paper, but when that paper becomes money, the Packers aren’t in a good spot. They will be just about even with 2021 salary cap once all of their rookie draft class is signed. Jones is guaranteed $15.3 million in salary for this season and carries more than a $23 million cap hit for the Falcons. Only Atlanta (thus the interest in moving Jones), Chicago and New Orleans have worse cap situations than Green Bay.
The Falcons have been looking to get a first-round draft pick in exchange for Jones, but given he’s 32 and coming off a hamstrung season, a second-rounder or a package of picks seems more realistic. Green Bay can also take advantage of the fact that Atlanta may get more limited interest in Jones than expected, with his age, injury and compensation adding up to a complicated mix for some contending teams.
The Packers are unlikely to go “all in” for a deal to acquire Jones for Rodgers’ sake, but the possibility is more reasonable than one might think. Here’s a breakdown how a Jones trade could go down for them:
1. Restructure Aaron Rodgers’ contract
This would be the fastest way to gain big cap relief. The Packers already have done this three times for high-priced players in 2021 with adjusted deals for outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith and left tackle David Bakhtiari. They have been hesitant to do the same for Rodgers because of the additional cap bind it would create for future seasons.
But if Rodgers was called upon to do this to accommodate getting Jones, he can create about half the space needed, greatly reducing his current $37.2 million cap hit. The Packers’ front office also would be wise to consult with Rodgers when considering Jones vs. informing their QB after the fact.
2. Give Davante Adams an extension
The Packers already employ an elite wide receiver who’s still in his prime. Beyond giving Rodgers a dangerous co-No. 1, the field-stretching Jones would be a great complement to Adams’ high-end possession and red zone skill set.
Adams, a pending free agent in 2022, shouldn’t mind having his new lucrative deal accelerated by the acquisition of Jones, given Jones’ presence will only help maintain his high level of production. Between new deals for Rodgers and Adams, the Packers should be right on the number to make it work with Jones in the short term.
3. Be willing to part with a first-rounder
The Falcons may have an inflated take on Jones’ open-market value. The Packers, however, shouldn’t mind paying a premium to make sure he doesn’t go to another NFC contender. They should feel confident they will have another late first-rounder in 2022.
That might be high for what could be a “rental” player who might give Green Bay three solid years at most. But that’s also for how much longer Rodgers is signed and Jones can keep the team’s Super Bowl window wide open for that span. The Super Bowl-champion Buccaneers, who beat the Packers in the NFC championship game, have been taking a same short-term win-bigger now approach. Given how much Tampa Bay has gone into attack mode to keep its roster loaded, Green Bay shouldn’t shy away from matching the aggressiveness.
4. Consider throwing in some young veterans
The Packers won’t be sending veterans with big contracts to Atlanta given the Falcons can’t and shouldn’t take those on as a team in rebuilding mode with a new coach and GM. But they could use a few pieces as they adapt to a new offense with Arthur Smith and a new defense with Dean Pees.
Should Jones come to Green Bay, then the Packers can move a young wide receiver, Allen Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Power running back A.J. Dillon might have some appeal as Atlanta has Mike Davis as the top rushing option. Defensively, end Dean Lowry is the most expendable up front. With their secondary depth issues, the Falcons might like having Josh Jackson at cornerback or safety.
This might not be necessary to land Jones, but there are enough youngsters to sweeten the pot and limit the draft pick compensation. There’s one first-round talent, however, the Falcons should want most.
5. Sell Falcons on stashing Jordan Love
How crazy would it be to give Rodgers a second go-to guy and also take his successor out of the equation? The Falcons, by trading Jones, would signal they are less interested in propping up Matt Ryan later in his career and more interested in a QB transition plan soon.
That was on the table before the draft with all the Trey Lance rumors before the Falcons locked into tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 4 overall. The original thought was that Pitts would be a strong complement to Jones and Calvin Ridley, but now it’s clear Atlanta is looking to Pitts and Ridley to be Ryan’s new 1-2 punch.
Ryan, the 2016 MVP, has faded from that level while Rodgers is coming off arguably the best of his three MVP campaigns. Love has similar size, arm, passing and athletic traits to Ryan Tannehill, whom Arthur Smith helped to thrive in Tennessee. It would be hard to see the Falcons saying no to a Jones deal when getting the Packers’ 2022 first-rounder and 2020 first-rounder in return.
6. Be comfortable with more cap issues in the future
The Packers maneuvered plenty to become cap-compliant in their current state, and Rodgers and Adams give them two additional paths in case of a Jones trade. Worrying about 2022 too much is futile, when the only goal, after two 13-3 seasons with Rodgers under Matt LaFleur, is breaking through to a Super Bowl. There will be different opportunities to get cap relief then, knowing it’s not just this year with Jones.
Rodgers is still here now, and the commitment to making him content isn’t about next year. For the Packers, the future on which to focus kicks off in September and getting Jones without giving up too much makes it a lot brighter.