NFL combine: Jets, Raiders, Packers stuck in holding pattern as league awaits Aaron Rodgers' decision
INDIANAPOLIS — Aaron Rodgers is out of the dark. Seemingly everyone else interested in him remains stuck inside it.
That was the resounding message from teams in the first days of the NFL scouting combine, as a swath of league sources continued to share a collective shrug about the next step of the Green Bay Packers quarterback. The interest in Rodgers is nothing if not strong this week as teams begin lining up their free agency plans and agents with quarterbacks begin gathering information about the options for their clients. But there is clearly a bottleneck that has developed in the veteran quarterback market, as two needy teams — the New York Jets and Las Vegas Raiders — appear to be in low gear as they await word on Rodgers. Not to mention the Packers, who have yet to speak with Rodgers about definitive plans regarding aging parts of their roster.
Asked if the situation with Rodgers was still in limbo, one team source keeping tabs on Rodgers’ availability joked: “I think it’s purgatory [in Green Bay].”
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst was slightly more diplomatic about the situation when he met with the media Tuesday, framing the situation as the same holding pattern that has existed since the end of the season.
“I know there will be a lot of questions about Aaron,” Gutekunst said in his opening remarks. “We haven’t really had conversations yet, so [there’s] not a lot to report.”
Pressed on a timeline, Gutekunst pointed to the beginning of free agency for a hopeful decision — which was also a loose deadline that Rodgers previously mentioned. The early negotiating period for free agency is slated to kick off on March 13.
“It’d be nice to have some answers before then,” Gutekunst said.
Green Bay isn’t alone when it comes to that deadline. A Jets source said the team is working on “multiple” quarterback options — one of which is free agent Derek Carr — but said that getting a handle on Rodgers’ availability will likely be the first and most influential domino in the process. A source with the Raiders was far less committal about the impact of Rodgers’ decision but said the franchise would be monitoring it. Unlike the Jets, the Raiders are far more deeply invested in this draft’s rookie quarterbacks, making their medicals and interviews this week significantly important for the franchise.
As it stands, all of the projected first-round quarterbacks aside from Alabama’s Bryce Young are expected to throw this week. That includes Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson. Levis and Richardson are drawing considerable interest this week, with Levis largely considered having the best arm talent in the group and Richardson featuring an arm/size/athleticism skill set that fits into where the league is headed at the quarterback position.
Even with those players being eagerly anticipated, Rodgers’ potential availability continues to dominate the early days of the combine, much like he did last year. However, the atmosphere around the Packers and their star quarterback feels even less certain than it did in 2022, when Green Bay appeared to be taking a much more aggressive approach to his retention. This time around, the franchise appears to be in more of a “wait and see” mode, likely because the Packers didn’t expect to have to replay this scenario for a second straight offseason after structuring Rodgers' deal in a manner that guaranteed him nearly $60 million if he were to return in 2023. Now the franchise is facing the frustration of how to navigate salary cap issues in the event he asks for a trade — or in a worst-case scenario, retires altogether.
The Jets’ approach to a Rodgers acquisition will likely have plenty to do with that. A team source who spoke with Yahoo Sports earlier this month said ownership and the front office are approaching 2023 as the opening of a Super Bowl window with the right veteran at quarterback. How Rodgers fits into that equation will have everything to do with the assets that would need to be surrendered to trade for him, as well as how he’d fit into the team’s salary cap structure.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas also met with the media Tuesday and said the team would be “exploring the veteran quarterback market” and would “look at every available option.” He added that the team’s initial visit with Carr went well and that Carr had made a good impression on the franchise. The Jets are expected to meet with Carr again this week.
With that, three things have found some clarity with Rodgers. First and foremost, what happens next is still completely in the quarterback’s hands, and he has continued to keep his circle very tight with his thought process. Second, the Packers are going to exercise Jordan Love’s fifth-year option in May — Gutekunst was once again complimentary of the Packers’ backup QB on Tuesday — which almost certainly renders 2023 as Rodgers’ last in a Packers uniform even if he returns to the team for the 2023 season. And finally, the offseason quarterback market is going to be triggered by the Jets one way or another, either by a trade for Rodgers or a signing of Carr or another veteran. That would then sort out the remainder of the options on the table for impending free agent Jimmy Garoppolo, or in a “crash” scenario for the Baltimore Ravens, a potential trade partner for Lamar Jackson, who is expected to have the franchise tag applied to him by Baltimore in the coming days.
For now, all of that is on the back burner inside a dark room — once again waiting on Aaron Rodgers, who continues to dominate all the light.