Perhaps the most important task for new Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett is finding a quarterback for a team that has struggled at the position since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season's Super Bowl.
Does Hackett know any good ones? Like maybe a veteran coming off a likely MVP season who has left open the possibility of starting anew and avoiding a potential rebuild with his salary cap-addled current team?
Hackett, of course, is coming from the Green Bay Packers, where he was the offensive coordinator the past three seasons.
It’s why this hire isn’t just a hire, but throws the Broncos into the mix for Aaron Rodgers, or at least speculation about Rodgers.
He’s also really, really good, the kind of good that allows a guy to skip minicamps, take shots at the coaches and front office, and do lots of interviews where he sighs heavily like his work situation is hardly bearable.
After six years of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, Brandon Allen, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien and Teddy Bridgewater (actually, not that bad), here's guessing the Broncos would welcome the full Rodgers experience, good, bad and exhausting.
This is the AFC West, home of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr. You need a strong if not elite quarterback to win everywhere, but especially here.
The Packers lost a shocker Saturday to San Francisco, so Rodgers has said nothing concrete about the 2022 season other than that he won’t drag it out past the start of free agency in mid-March.
He’s not a free agent, but his huge salary cap hit makes him close to it. Green Bay would likely need to restructure the deal, giving him a lot of power to force a trade. The Packers will get some nice compensation in any deal for Rodgers, aiding an inevitable overhaul.
Where for much of the season it felt like Rodgers was almost certainly leaving the Packers after 17 years, of late his mood seemed to shift to being open to staying put.
That said, at age 38, and having just thrown for 37 touchdowns against four interceptions, he was clear that he “doesn’t want to be part of a rebuild.” Understandable.
Green Bay has all kinds of cap issues, starting with how to deal with Rodgers’ $46.4 million cap hit, per Spotrac.com, which tracks such things. Then there is the re-signing of Davante Adams, Rodgers' favorite receiver. It goes on from there on a roster that Rodgers likely doesn’t believe is good enough to win another Super Bowl.
Rodgers isn’t playing for the regular season any more. He has plenty of money, fame and accolades. This is about legacy and silencing the criticism that he has reached, let alone won, just a single Super Bowl despite playing for an excellent franchise.
Put it this way: Matthew Stafford is one win away from equaling Rodgers in Super Bowl appearances.
Rodgers would also be following the likes of Tom Brady, Manning and Stafford in being a veteran quarterback who finds his contender rather than continuing to try to lift the team they are with.
The Broncos have some appeal. They enter the offseason with $44.8 million in cap space, per Spotrac. They have the ninth pick in the draft. Some nice young offensive weapons are in place, including receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, plus tight end Noah Fant.
The arrival of Rodgers (or him remaining in Green Bay) will no doubt attract additional free agents.
There are still those aforementioned AFC West quarterbacks, of course, specifically Mahomes and Herbert. Staying in Green Bay gives Rodgers six games against two teams who just fired their front office and coaching staffs (Chicago, Minnesota) and another (Detroit) that just went 3-13-1.
The path to the playoffs is far easier in Green Bay. And staying in the NFC allows Rodgers to avoid not just the AFC West, but Buffalo and Josh Allen, Cincinnati and Joe Burrow, Baltimore and Lamar Jackson and so much more. The AFC is a snake pit right now. No one is guaranteed anything.
Rodgers isn’t one to lack confidence. Nor is just making the playoffs the goal. He wants another Super Bowl. He wants to continue to play for a contender. He may even want to watch Green Bay try to replace him with Jordan Love, the 2020 first-round pick the Packers drafted to be their quarterback of the future ... a move that grated on Rodgers' nerves.
He has watched two of his peers — first Brady, now Stafford — make moves and immediately experience success.
Now he has a familiar face in Denver who can ease any natural apprehension that comes with a late career move.
The Broncos didn’t hire Nathaniel Hackett to get Aaron Rodgers to Denver. It sure wouldn’t hurt if he did, though.