There used to be one constant you could rely on at this time of year: Superstar quarterbacks wouldn't make much news. Every so often you'd get a freak circumstance like Peyton Manning landing in free agency because of an injury or Brett Favre leaving Green Bay after changing his mind on retirement, but that was rare stuff. These days are so incredibly different. The last three offseasons have been filled with all sorts of crazy quarterback stories, so much so that it's starting to feel like the new normal.
Today started with a resolution on the future of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Not only is he staying with that franchise -- after months of speculation about whether he was frustrated enough to retire or demand a trade -- but he is doing so on a four-year extension worth $200 million with a whopping $153 million in guarantees. Rodgers is now the highest-paid player in football. And that didn't even make him the biggest story of the day.
That honor goes to Russell Wilson, who is the Denver Broncos' new quarterback after that franchise agreed to acquire him in a trade with Seattle. There had been a lot of talk about how Denver was a likely landing spot for Rodgers if the QB had requested a trade. It turns out that the Broncos had been negotiating with the Seahawks for weeks to make this deal happen. Just like that, the AFC West becomes the strongest division in football and Rodgers becomes old news.
It's been such a wild day -- one that was supposed to be interesting mainly because the deadline for teams to hand out franchise tags for impending free agents was at 4 p.m. ET -- that it's time to take a breath and make sense of it all. After all, this day wasn't just about Rodgers and Wilson. It also was about all the lives that were impacted by what happened to two future Hall of Famers. Here are some of the winners and losers from today's events.
1) Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst: No general manager in the NFL has been under more scrutiny this past year than the man who controls the Packers' roster. Gutekunst was cast as the chief adversary to Rodgers when this feud went public last winter. Gutekunst was the man who drafted Jordan Love, the supposed successor to Rodgers, two years ago. Gutekunst was the man who carried on a tradition of bidding farewell to some veterans that Rodgers wanted to keep on the roster in years past. Never mind that Gutekunst had erected a roster that produced three consecutive 13-win seasons. The way Rodgers spoke, Gutekunst -- and to some extent Packers president Mark Murphy -- were largely responsible for all the quarterback's frustration. So give Gutekunst ample credit for helping to mend a fractured relationship and making enough moves (SEE: the return of wide receiver Randall Cobb) to make Rodgers believe the team will do right by him going forward. This couldn't have been an easy job. Like a lot of things Gutekunst has done lately, he found a way to get it right.
2) Broncos general manager George Paton: The Broncos GM was in a great space heading into this offseason, with a strong roster and a ton of cap space. What he didn't have was a quarterback, and he just nabbed one of the best in the business. Wilson's arrival instantly makes this team a Super Bowl contender. Say what you will about all the star quarterbacks in the AFC -- and especially those within the AFC West, where each team has a Pro Bowl player at the position -- but Wilson's credentials include a Super Bowl ring and nine Pro Bowls. He's still plenty talented enough to capitalize on the young talent around him and make an incredibly feeble offense much better. This quite simply was a move Paton had to pull off. This team wasn't going anywhere until it could find a signal-caller who can compete with the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert or Josh Allen. And after what the Rams just did by winning a Super Bowl on the heels of that blockbuster trade for Matthew Stafford, the pressure was squarely on Paton to make something impressive happen at that position. He did just that.
3) Packers wide receiver Davante Adams: The decision Rodgers just made gives Adams, arguably the best wide receiver in the league, more clarity about how he needs to handle his future with Green Bay. He couldn't agree on a long-term deal last offseason, and the Packers just hit him with the franchise tag. But this much we do know: Adams no longer has to wonder if it's worth staying in Green Bay. He's built an incredible rapport with Rodgers, one that might ease the sting of not being allowed to test the open market if it comes to that. It's also impossible to believe that these two weren't discussing a shared future moving forward after enjoying so much success together. Remember "The Last Dance" photo that emerged on social media last summer, the one suggesting this could be the end of the road for this tandem? It looks like there's still more for these guys to do together in Green Bay.
4) Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson: There are still plenty of issues for the Texans quarterback to sort out with regards to the multiple sexual misconduct lawsuits he still faces. After nearly a year of so little movement on these investigations, Watson's civil deposition is scheduled for Friday, the same day the district attorney investigating Watson plans to present her case to a grand jury, which will decide if criminal charges will be brought against him. Rodgers staying in Green Bay and Wilson moving to Denver makes it even more likely that Watson will have some willing suitors. That's what happens when teams watch Stafford and Tom Brady win Super Bowls in their first years with new teams. Watson's name already came up in association with the Miami Dolphins around last year's trade deadline (and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports that Carolina and Tampa Bay are seriously interested now). With so many teams desperate for a talented quarterback, it's hard to think this offseason will go by without somebody making a deal for him. Rodgers was always going to be a tough player to trade for, while the Broncos gave up a haul to acquire Wilson. It might not take as much to acquire Watson from the Texans and he's an elite quarterback to boot.
5) 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo: Garoppolo isn't as talented as Rodgers, Wilson or Watson, but his market now has grown exponentially. While Watson's legal troubles create a hurdle in that situation, the main knock on Garoppolo these days is a shoulder operation he underwent this week. Garoppolo just led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game and also took that franchise to a Super Bowl in the 2019 season. San Francisco already has its quarterback of the future in house -- Trey Lance -- as well, with the hope that he'd serve an apprentice year under Garoppolo before taking over. There are also several teams thinking they can win now with the right quarterback under center, with Indianapolis and Washington highlighting that list. As much as people wonder how San Francisco could deal Garoppolo after the way he led this team -- while battling through injuries -- the reality is the 49ers are going to have no trouble finding a favorable deal for their quarterback.
1) Packers quarterback Jordan Love: So much for his Packers career. In fairness to Love -- who Green Bay traded up to select in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft -- he's only had one start since entering the league. He gets criticized for how overmatched he looked in that 13-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but there's still plenty of time for him to become a productive player in this league. All that game proved is that the Packers would be insane to give up Rodgers and place their franchise's hopes in Love at this point. Love might likely be traded somewhere. He could end up like Garoppolo, who was drafted to replace Tom Brady in New England before being traded to San Francisco. He also could end up like Josh Rosen, whom the Arizona Cardinals traded away less than a year after making him a first-round pick in the 2018 draft. Here's hoping that it's the former.
2) Kansas City Chiefs: Mahomes turned heads when he signed a 10-year, $450 million extension in July of 2020. That deal dropped jaws both because of the money he was receiving and the money he was leaving on the table. Mahomes was happy to take a team-friendly deal over such a long timetable because it gave the Chiefs the flexibility to make roster moves that could keep them contending for a championship. He also signed that deal a few months after winning his first Super Bowl. Times change quickly in this league. Mahomes is no longer the highest-paid player in the league, as Rodgers' $50 million annual salary trumps his $45 million per year deal. Mahomes also just watched another superstar signal-caller land in the AFC West, which makes his route to another Super Bowl that much harder. Is Mahomes going to be cool with the idea of other quarterbacks potentially surging past him on the highest-paid line – stars like Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow will surely benefit from the market Rodgers just reset -- as he finds more hurdles to a Super Bowl appearing in front of him? It wouldn't be surprising to see this current deal torn up and a new one set in place in a few years.
3. Seahawks receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett: Imagine waking up one day and knowing your quarterback is a perennial Pro Bowler and then learning that he's playing in Denver by the afternoon. And that the only signal-callers on your roster at this stage are Jacob Eason and Drew Lock. And that you're clearly going through a rebuilding process without the only quarterback you've ever played with. It's going to be a tough transition for this duo. No matter what side you came down on in the debate about the Seahawks throwing more under Wilson, there's no disputing he had great chemistry with this pair of wide receivers. They obviously will continue to be productive, but will a less established quarterback maximize their talents? It's hard to see that happening, which should be especially critical for Metcalf. He's coming into the final year of his rookie contract, and he'd surely like to produce monster numbers to make an extension all the more substantial in value.
4) The rest of the NFC North: There was a lot of hope in this division for a few weeks. The Packers without Aaron Rodgers would've made life much easier on everyone else. The Bears and Vikings are breaking in new coaches and general managers. The Lions have the second pick in the draft, along with a coach and general manager who have just two years on the job with that franchise. The second-best quarterback in the division, Minnesota's Kirk Cousins, isn't guaranteed to remain with that club, as his salary cap hit this coming season is $45 million -- a figure that could be decreased to $10 million if the Vikings trade him. This is one of the main reasons why it always made sense for Rodgers to stay in Green Bay. The Packers would've been vulnerable to all these teams without him. Now Green Bay once again can focus on winning another division title and a taking another run at a Super Bowl appearance.
5) The Pat McAfee Show: Rodgers made that podcast must-see viewing throughout the course of the year, with his regular appearances helping the program earn a reported $120 million deal from FanDuel. McAfee probably will have no problem entertaining his guests moving forward. But that segment with Rodgers will be a lot less interesting if it continues.