DENVER -- In the expansive fields of providing material for sizzling NFL hot takes, one person currently stands alone: Aaron Rodgers, the league's reigning NFL MVP and disgruntled quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.
Since last Thursday, he has dominated news cycles from "SportsCenter" to "Get Up" to "The Herd" to Mad Dog Radio and gossip magazines, a nod to his fiancée, actress Shailene Woodley. From the moment the news broke that Rodgers no longer wants to play for the Packers, the internet's bandwidth has been tested across the United States.
Perhaps nowhere as much as Colorado in general and Denver specifically. Rodgers, it is understood, has interest in playing for the Broncos. Pro Football Talk listed his preferred destinations as San Francisco, where he's from, Las Vegas and Denver, not necessarily in that order. The idea of the Packers trading Rodgers to an NFC team makes little sense. In fact, shipping Rodgers out makes no sense right now to Green Bay. The Packers' brass -- president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst -- insist they are not dealing Rodgers.
The rift, however, is real.
Each day new details emerge, illuminating the frosty relationship between the franchise quarterback and the only team he's ever played for. Rodgers, according to one report, wants Gutekunst fired. Another story said Rodgers likens Gutekunst in group texts with teammates to Jerry Krause -- the man who assembled then broke up Michael Jordan's championship Chicago Bulls.
Animosity exists, leaving the sides in a standoff.
I see parallels to the Nolan Arenado situation with the Rockies. General manager Jeff Bridich gave Arenado a $260 million contract with an opt-out clause -- the team wanted it, not the player -- then alienated the star in a meeting after the 2019 season. It led to irreconcilable differences.
Bridich made one of the worst trades in major league history, sending $51 million and the future Hall of Famer to the Cardinals for zero top prospects. It saved the Rockies $25 million this season on Arenado's $35 million salary.
Bridich is now the former GM -- for many deserved reasons, but this trade, even while orchestrated by ownership, will always define his legacy.
The Packers are not this desperate or foolish, but could be stuck. They appear in denial about Rodgers, believing the relationship can be repaired. That seems optimistic given that multiple in-person meetings, per ESPN, have not soothed lingering problems.
Rodgers' issues began when Green Bay traded up in the first round a year ago to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. The Packers were coming off an NFC Championship Game appearance and needed a receiver. Instead, they selected Rodgers' future replacement without communicating the plan to him or warning him in advance.
From that moment, Rodgers has dropped hints of his uncertain future. He proved the Packers' wrong for putting an expiration date on his career by winning MVP honors last season -- throwing for 48 touchdowns with five interceptions. Think on this a minute. He had more touchdown passes than the Packers had punts (47). The Broncos had 65 punts and 23 TD passes last season. That's not an upgrade. That's like going from a dial-up connection to fiber optics.
Empowered by his breathtaking season, Rodgers said after losing to Tampa Bay in the NFC title game that his future was a "beautiful mystery." It was considered at the time a possible play to get a new contract, more money or additional say in roster decisions. Instead, it seems personal. Per ESPN, Rodgers has turned down a contract extension. If not money -- though I am sure he would have preferred new guaranteed dollars on his deal that expires in 2023 -- then what would make him stay beyond canning Gutekunst?
Rodgers has some leverage. He can refuse to report to training camp. Or he can retire and saunter off to Hollywood to host "Jeopardy!" or run a media company. He's made $242 million in football earnings and countless millions in State Farm commercials. He could comfortably walk away as a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Let's say, for this exercise, the Packers reach a point where a divorce is the only option following June 1 when the Rodgers' dead cap money of $38 million can be spread out over two years ($21 million and $17 million). The Broncos must be nimble and prepared to pursue him. I expect they will be given their roster. They have a playoff-caliber defense, one bolstered by the offseason additions of Ronald Darby, Kyle Fuller and Pat Surtain II.
The team's biggest issue remains at quarterback, where they have featured 10 starters since Peyton Manning retired. Few teams are considered worse off than the Broncos with Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock competing for the job.
What would it take to get Rodgers?
From talking to industry sources, it would look something like this: First round picks in 2022, 2023, a second-rounder one of those years and a promising young player or players. ESPN proposed Surtain and Tim Patrick.
I think the Broncos would fight to keep Surtain, so I don't see him in the deal. I would suggest that a trade could involve Jerry Jeudy. And maybe the Packers ask for Bradley Chubb, though he is due to make increasingly more money on his fifth-year option in 2022. Chubb is also considered a franchise cornerstone player, a leader, a culture setter. The Broncos, based on highly they regard Chubb, would not want him included. That said...
If I am the Broncos, and the Packers take the call, I don't let them off the phone until I get a deal. Facing a sixth consecutive year without the postseason for the first time since 1960-1976 warrants this type of urgency.
Could two first rounders, a second, Bridgewater and a WR get it done? Broncos would get Rodgers and a mid-round pick.
There are not many deal breakers, honestly. This is Aaron Rodgers we are talking about. If he arrives in Denver, the Broncos immediately become a contender for the AFC West crown, if not the Super Bowl. It's not a stretch to imagine Rodgers having the same impact with the Broncos as Tom Brady did with Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay had talent, but a turnover problem with Jameis Winston.
The Broncos led the NFL with 23 interceptions last season. The Packers had the fewest with five. The Broncos led the NFL in turnovers with 32. There's no way the Broncos can have a great defense without a dramatically improved offense that actually leads in games, making takeaways and sacks more realistic and frequent.
For now, rumors of Rodgers' leaving are just that -- fantasy. But this story is not going away. Even Brett Favre weighed in this week, saying his gut tells him that Rodgers is done in Green Bay.
As each day passes without thawing, this seems more like reality than a hot take.