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Russell Wilson for Aaron Rodgers? No thank you!

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Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As we all know (all too well), Aaron Rodgers is “disgruntled” / “unhappy” / “crying” more than usual and, unfortunately, the Seattle Seahawks have been dragged into the story by more than one source.

Exhibit A: This Tweet went out shortly before the NFL Draft officially started.

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Exhibit B: NFL Rumors: Aaron Rodgers for Russell Wilson Trade Floated by NFL Exec (Bleacher Report, May 2nd)

The Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers have been steadfast in saying they have no plans to trade their respective franchise quarterbacks.

But what if they traded Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers for each other?

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Exhibit C: Could an Aaron Rodgers for Russell Wilson swap happen? (ESPN Video, May 2nd)

What better player for player swap could you get than Russell Wilson for Aaron Rodgers?

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Exhibit D: Should the Seahawks and Packers swap their disgruntled quarterbacks? (ProFootballTalk, May 4th)

With Aaron Rodgers wanting out of Green Bay and Russell Wilson by all appearances nearing the end of his run in Seattle, would it make sense for Seahawks G.M./Packers shareholder John Schneider to offer Wilson for Rodgers?

Yes, this one is Mike Florio. And, yes, I know what the general opinion of him is among the Seattle faithful. But this one is actually a sort-of-amusing read and this line, in particular, is a personal favorite:

Also, the Seahawks would have to be willing to inherit the uniquely prickly personality of Aaron Rodgers.

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With a little bit of digging, I could probably post an exhibit for each and every letter of the alphabet.

Perhaps it’s time for the 12s to weigh in.

I’ll go first.


Let me start by saying that I am not a “fan” of Aaron Rodgers and that the Seahawks trading for him would cause a lot of personal conflict for me.

For instance:

  • Is it “acceptable” to cheer for the defense on both teams and hope for 2-0 scores every week?

  • Is it “okay” to hope that your receivers have big games, but the quarterback gets sacked 17 times?

  • Can you say that you love your team while referring to the QB as “an arrogant, self-centered, ‘uniquely prickly’, crybaby diva”?

  • Am I ready to buy a Geno Smith jersey?

So many questions . . .


As many (all?) of you know, I am a strong advocate for trading Russell Wilson.

That said, I am NOT an advocate of trading the NFL’s reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year for Aaron-freaking-Rodgers – or for any QB that makes upwards of $20M a year.

Note: There might be one exception - and even that one would be a maybe - and his current team would never agree. Plus, technically, that QB won’t make upwards of $20M a year until 2022.

To me, the “logic” behind trading Wilson is simple: salary cap space + draft capital - - - i.e. I am of the opinion that you can (theoretically) build a better “overall team” if you have a franchise QB on a rookie contract - and having a bunch of extra picks certainly doesn’t hurt.

I concede that absent the necessary “lightning strike,” trading Russell Wilson would more or less mean a complete rebuild and that even if we got five R1s for our QB1, a rebuild carries significant risk and would almost certainly alienate a large number of the fans.

Frank-ly (pun intended), I am glad that the Seahawks seem to have backed away from that idea ... at least “for now.”

But folks are talking – as folks like to do – about a possible RW3 for A-Rodg’ trade and, well, I think we should DESTROY those thoughts.

Or at least try to.


Talent recognizes talent

Russell Wilson was the frontrunner for the MVP award through the first month of the season last year; probably through the first six weeks, maybe a little longer. Mr. Rodgers ended up taking the award back to his neighborhood; at least in part because Pete Carroll “handcuffed” Russell Wilson after Seattle’s midseason offensive “glitch.”

All things being equal, both players will probably be in the MVP conversation again this year ... and next year ... and probably the year after that.

Elite is elite and both players are considered elite.

From a practical perspective, teams don’t trade an elite player for another elite player at the same position. In other sports (ex. basketball), sure. But not in the NFL.

In a non-exhaustive search, I was unable to find a single example of a player of Russell’s status being traded for a player of Aaron’s status.

Honestly, the closest trade I found was the 2004 Draft Day trade of Eli Manning for Phillip Rivers, but even if we ignore the fact that the Giants and Chargers were swapping unproven players, that trade included an R3 and two future picks (a 2005 R1 + a 2005 R5) going to the Chargers with Phillip Rivers and “only” Eli Manning (and 2 future Super Bowl trophies) going to New York.


Statistically speaking

I mentioned the “glitch” that took Russell Wilson out of the running for league MVP last season. But what if it hadn’t happened?

Through six games, Wilson’s stat line looked like this:

  • 156 of 219 passing (71.23%)
  • 1,890 yards
  • 22 TDs with 6 INTs
  • 29 rushes for 237 yards (0 TDs)

Projected through 16 games, Wilson’s numbers would have looked like this:

  • 416 of 584 passing (71.23%)
  • 5,040 yards
  • 59 TDs with 16 INTs
  • 77 carries for 632 yards

Wilson’s actual numbers through 16 games were:

  • 384 of 558 passing (68.8%)
  • 4,212 yards
  • 40 TDs with 13 INTs
  • 83 carries for 513 yards (2 TDs)

For comparison, Aaron’s MVP numbers were:

  • 372 of 526 passing (70.7%)
  • 4,299 yards
  • 48 TDs with 5 INTs
  • 38 carries for 149 yards (3 TDs)

Statistically speaking, Wilson would have crushed Rodgers if he had been able to put together a full season that matched his hot start. The 16 projected INTs would have been a concern, but the NFL-record 59 TDs would have (probably) smoothed that over.

Worth noting: Had Wilson maintained his early pace and finished with 5,040 passing yards, he would have become the 9th player in NFL history to crack the 5,000-yard mark. Seven players have done that once. Amazingly, the recently-retired Drew Brees did it 5 times (!!!!!).

As was, Wilson only finished 87 yards behind Rodgers and lapped him (a couple times) in rushing yards. But Rodgers won the MVP because he led the league in completion percentage (70.7), TD passes (48), TD percentage (9.1), INT percentage (1.0), yards per attempt (9.7), passer rating (121.5) and QBR (84.4).

Let’s go back a year though . . .

In 2019, Rodgers had the following numbers:

  • 353 of 569 passing (62%)
  • 4,002 yards
  • 26 TDs with 4 INTs

Wilson’s 2019 numbers were:

  • 341 of 516 passing (66.1%)
  • 4,110 yards
  • 31 TDs with 5 INTs

Pretty darn comparable, no?

...

How about 2018?

Aaron Rodgers

  • 372 of 597 passing (62.3%)
  • 4,442 yards
  • 25 TDs with 2 INTs

Russell Wilson

  • 280 of 427 passing (65.6%)
  • 3,448 yards
  • 35 TDs with 7 INTs

Rodgers finished with roughly 1,000 more passing yards in 2018, but Wilson threw 170 fewer passes and had a higher completion percentage. Wilson also had 10 more TDs than Rodgers.

...

Personally, I would say:

  • Wilson and Rodgers fought to a draw in the 2018 QB comparison – but Wilson gets the win by being ahead on 2 of the 3 judge’s scorecards (TDs + completion % vs. yards)
  • Wilson clearly won the battle in 2019 – more yards, more TDs, better percentage

  • Rodgers beat Wilson (and everyone else) in 2020 – but it wasn’t as much of a “runaway victory” as the MVP award would imply.

...

Bottom line: Both guys are pretty damn good at their job.


Personnel matters

I am not going to dive into this too much – mostly because I don’t feel like doing a deep dive on Green Bay’s roster, but Wilson and Rodgers are very different players and their teams were built (at least in theory) to take advantage of their unique skillsets – including, but not limited to, their mobility (or relative lack thereof).

Three months ago, I would not have ruled out a trade (although I would have still thought it unlikely), but with free agency and the draft in the rear view ... I really can’t see it happening.

Of course, my opinion doesn’t matter to the front office personnel for either team so let’s look a little bit deeper.

Starting with the fact that Russell Wilson has a “Full No-Trade Clause.”

Would he waive it for a move to Green Bay?

On one hand, he did play college ball in the state so the fact that it is colder there than in Seattle probably isn’t a deal breaker.

On the other hand, we know that Wilson is “frustrated with getting hit too much.” Would he trust Green Bay’s offensive line to keep him upright? The Packers lost their Pro Bowl center in free agency and while David Bakhtiari is unquestionably one of the best tackles in the league, it is unclear when he’ll be ready to play as he tore his ACL before last year’s regular season finale.

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At wide receiver, Davante Adams is a clear #1 but is the combination of him and either Allen Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling better than the combo of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett? (Answer: NO!) And would Wilson be able to “mind-meld” with any of them like he does with Lockett?

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At running back, Green Bay trots out Aaron Jones at RB1 while the Hawks roll with Chris Carson. Comparing the two backs is actually pretty interesting.

  • Carson was an R7 selection in 2017; Jones was an R5 selection the same year (which earned him about $140k more than Carson over their first 4 years in the league)
  • Carson has started 44 of the 45 games he has appeared in; Jones has appeared in 54 games and started 42
  • Through the 2020 season, Carson has 3,270 career rushing yards; Jones has 3,364

After that though, Aaron Jones surges ahead.

  • Jones has the higher average (5.2 v. 4.6) because he got his 3,364 yards on 64 fewer carries than it took Carson to amass 3,270
  • Jones has a lot more touchdowns (37 v. 21) and more receiving yards (1,057 v. 775)

But . . .

From a “team-building” perspective, the “W” has to go to Seattle because Chris Carson is yard-for-yard and dollar-for-dollar the better investment. After all, Jones just signed a 4-year, $48M contract while Carson’s recent deal is 2 years, $10.625M.

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Tight End Robert Tonyan had a breakout season last year with 52 catches on 59 targets for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he had combined totals of 14 catches on 21 targets for 177 yards and 2 TDs the previous 2 years. What will he do in 2021?

By comparison, newly signed Gerald Everett had 400+ yards the past 2 seasons and his career low (his rookie season) was 244.

My guess is that it is basically “even” at the tight end position at this point, but that Everett will probably have the better season in 2021.


Age is but a number

While it is true that age is relative (at least somewhat) and that NFL QBs can (and do) play – and play well – into their 40s, it is very hard to overlook the age difference between Russell Carrington Wilson (11-29-1988) and Aaron Charles Rodgers (12-2-1983).

5.01 years might not be a lot in a “normal” career but it is an eternity in the NFL.


The financial implications

This is where the idea of trading Russell Wilson for Aaron Rodgers becomes challenging.

The salary cap situation

Per OTC, Green Bay currently has $2,612,321 in cap space, but their “effective” cap space is a mere $172,705.

OTC puts Seattle’s current cap space at $7,487,458 and the effective cap space at $6,863,177.

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The dead money and potential cap “savings”

From Seattle’s perspective, a trade prior to June 1st is probably (still) a non-starter since the team would incur a $39M dead money hit which is actually $7M more than Wilson’s current ($32M) cap hit.

After June 1st, however, Seattle could spread the $39M dead money hit over 2 seasons with $13M hitting this year’s cap and $26M hitting next year’s cap.

The “savings” this year would be $19M and the savings in 2022 and 2023 would be $11M and $40M, respectively.

Obviously, there is a cost associated with replacing Russell Wilson, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

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The numbers are better on Green Bay’s side.

A pre-June 1st trade would actually save them $5,646,000 ($31,556,000 dead money hit vs. AR’s current $37,202,000 cap hit) and a post-June 1st trade would save them $22,850,000 ($14,352,000 in dead money this year; $17,204,000 in dead money next year).

Amusingly, ironically, and/or completely coincidentally, the Packers would end up “saving” a total of $51M in 2022 and 2023. That is the exact same amount that Seattle would “save” by trading Russell Wilson. The Packers’ “distribution” would be different though, with their savings being $22,648,000 in 2022 and $28,352,000 in 2023.

Again though, there is a cost associated with replacing QB1 so neither team actually “saves” anywhere close to $51M.

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Base salaries and bonuses

Assuming the dead money didn’t discourage either team, the next thing to consider is what the incoming QB will get paid this year (and in subsequent years).

Here are the #s on Russell Wilson:

  • 2021: $19M base salary
  • 2022: $19M base salary + $5M roster bonus; $24M total
  • 2023: $22M base salary + $5M roster bonus; $27M total

And here are the #s on Aaron Rodgers:

  • 2021: $14.7M base salary*
  • 2022: $25M base salary + $500,000 workout bonus; $25.5M total
  • 2023: $25M base salary + $500,000 workout bonus; $25.5M total

* Aaron’s contract includes a $6.8M roster bonus, a $500,000 workout bonus, and an $850,000 “other” bonus in 2021, but my understanding is that the $6.8M roster bonus has already been paid, the $850,000 “other” bonus is from incentives he reached in 2020 (and is thus the Packers’ responsibility), and that by June 1st, Rodgers will have forfeited the workout bonus (since he is reportedly not participating in virtual sessions with the team).

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Adding it up

From Seattle’s perspective, assuming a trade occurred after June 1st, the numbers would look like this:

2021

  • Current (effective) cap space = $6,863,177
  • “Savings” from trading RW3 = $19M
  • Updated (effective) cap space = $25,863,177
  • Aaron Rodgers’ 2021 salary = $14.7M
  • (Effective) cap space, post-trade = $11,163,177
  • Net difference = $4.3M

2022

  • “Savings” from trading RW3 = $11M
  • AR’s 2022 salary = $25.5M
  • Net difference = negative $14.5M

2023

  • “Savings” from trading RW3 = $40M
  • AR’s 2023 salary = $25.5M
  • Net difference = $14.5M

Bottom line: Seattle would effectively come out $4.3M “ahead” from a salary cap perspective if they trade Wilson for Rodgers.

Worth noting: A-Rodg’s contract includes incentives / “escalators” and potential bonuses that can increase his pay by up to $1M per season. See Aaron’s profile on Spotrac for details.

From Green Bay’s perspective, given the same assumptions:

2021

  • Current (effective) cap space = $172,705
  • “Savings” from trading Aaron Rodgers = $22.85M
  • Updated (effective) cap space = $23,022,705
  • RW3’s 2021 salary = $19M
  • (Effective) cap space, post trade = $4,022,705
  • Net difference = $3.85M

2022

  • “Savings” from trading AR1 = $22,648,000
  • RW3’s 2022 salary = $24M
  • Net difference = negative $1,352,000

2023

  • “Savings” from trading AR1 = $28,352,000
  • RW3’s 2022 salary = $27M
  • Net difference = $1,352,000

Bottom line: Green Bay would effectively come out $3.85M “ahead” from a salary cap perspective if they trade Rodgers for Russ.

Worth noting: Wilson’s contract includes incentives that can bump his 2023 salary by as much as $6M based on his performance in 2020, 2021, and 2022. See RW3’s profile on Spotrac for details.


Uh-oh

Well crap! The cap numbers actually work out – more or less.

That was ... um ... unexpected.

I mean, sure, the negative $14.5M cap “savings” for Seattle in 2022 is a concern, but if the team converted $24M of AR1’s 2022 salary to a signing bonus then it drops the number to negative $2.5M which is much more palatable.

And we’ve already established (so to speak) that both players are elite.

So ... where does that leave us?

Short answer: Age + character. With a dash of “Russ has a no-trade clause” thrown in for good measure. And a side order of “I hope our front office is smarter than that.”

Personally, I think that a 1-for-1 trade of Russell Wilson for Aaron Rodgers is a super-terrible, please-don’t-do-it, bad-bad-really-bad, horrendously awful idea.

But . . .

Purely from a business perspective . . .

IF Seattle’s front office doesn’t really truly see eye to eye with RW3 right now and/or feels like they should “move on” from him . . .

This storyline might have legs.

Fortunately, there’s nothing to suggest that it does or that it will have legs any time soon. So once again: No thanks on a Russ for Rodgers swap.