It has been theorized that the 49ers' decision to trade up and draft receiver Brandon Aiyuk could indirectly lead to a divorce between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. And if the franchise quarterback departs from the only franchise he has ever known, it wouldn't be surprising if San Francisco looked into bringing Rodgers back to the Bay Area, much like the 49ers recently considered doing with Tom Brady.
Now, obviously, a few things likely would have to occur in order for that scenario to play out. For one, San Francisco would have to come to the conclusion that it was time to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, whose contract the 49ers can easily rid themselves of after the 2020 season if they so wish. Additionally, Rodgers' relationship with the Packers would have to continue to deteriorate to the point that Green Bay was motivated to end its partnership with the legendary QB.
The latter seems more likely than the former -- certainly so at the present moment -- but it's not unreasonable to envision a scenario in which Rodgers is starting behind center for the 49ers in the not-too-distant future. And, if Rodgers plays for a second team other than Green Bay, Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd views San Francisco as one of three logical destinations for the former Cal product.
"Garoppolo has been hurt a couple times," Cowherd said Thursday on "The Herd". "[Coach] Kyle Shanahan is tired of losing big games. He's tired of being in those Super Bowls as a head coach or coordinator and losing leads. Aaron ... played at Cal ... house in Malibu. 49ers in two years, Garoppolo gets hurt or underachieves, contract's over. Boom."
Along with the 49ers, Cowherd mentioned the Los Angeles Chargers and New Orleans Saints as potential landing spots for Rodgers, whether it be taking over for an underperforming Justin Herbert or replacing another legendary QB in Drew Brees. In any case, Cowherd assumes that Rodgers isn't going anywhere for at least two years, due to his large cap hit. And while that's generally a good bet, Cowherd isn't entirely correct.
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Rodgers will be the Packers' starting quarterback in 2020. Financially, it doesn't make any sense for Green Bay to cut or trade him during the 2020 league year. However, as soon as March 2021, the Packers could cut or trade Rodgers and generate considerable cap space in doing so. As Over The Cap's Jason Fitzgerald excellently summarized, as a general rule, the longer Rodgers remains with the Packers, the more it will make sense for Green Bay to move on from him.
If the Packers trade Rodgers prior to March 19, 2021, they would free up about $4.8 million in cap space. Depending on how significantly league revenue is impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, that might not be chump change. Rodgers will have just turned 37, and surely would still bring back significant value in a trade.
But, if Green Bay holds onto Rodgers for just a few additional months, that's when the major cap savings would kick in. If the Packers were to cut Rodgers as a post-June 1 designation in 2021, the resulting dead money would be split fairly evenly over the ensuing two seasons, and Green Bay would generate $22 million in cap space.
If the Packers were to retain Rodgers for the next two seasons as Cowherd assumes and then cut or trade him, the dead-money hit would be cut nearly in half, and Green Bay would create nearly $22.7 million in cap space. In theory, that would also coincide with the timing in which the Packers were ready to hand the reigns over to Jordan Love.
The 49ers have every reason to have confidence in Garoppolo, and Shanahan anticipates he'll put together the best season if his career in 2020. It's Super Bowl or bust for San Francisco, but even if Garoppolo has an MVP-like season, if the team falls short of its goal, his seat will be hot.
The fact that Rodgers and the Packers appear to be approaching the end of their partnership is unlikely to cool it down.