Former NFL GM: Why Tom Brady’s Return Puts Major Pressure on Aaron Rodgers

Tom Brady

Getty NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

Randy Mueller, the 2000 NFL Executive of the Year, brings over 30 years of experience in the football business, including stints as the general manager of Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. With Heavy, Mueller breaks down the NFL from a front office and talent evaluation perspective. You can follow Randy on Twitter @RandyMueller_

With the return of seven-time Super Bowl-winning QB Tom Brady — if he’s truly going to accept the approximately $25 million contract figure already on the books for 2022 — the focus, for my money, is now on the Green Bay Packers. Again.

It has been widely reported, first by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on March 8, that Aaron Rodgers’ new deal with Green Bay will be for $50 million annually. There is a big difference here in the path that these two quarterbacks have chosen to travel. 

Optics are important, especially when you have clearly enjoyed telling the football world that you are looking out for the best interest of your team every week while shining the spotlight on yourself all season long.

Now you’re going to sign a new contract that will pay you twice as much as Brady?

This makes it unquestionably harder on Rodgers’ team to put together a winner around him, and the fate of several teammates in the Green Bay locker room are still in peril because of the amount the Packers will be paying. 

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Rodgers’ Contract Structure Has Trickle-Down Effect

It’s not the size of the splash made by these two iconic quarterbacks, but the ripple effects caused by such as they both try to run it back in their cities for 2022. My point is, the contracts will help determine the direction or relevance and how their prospective teams participate in free agency. 

The dynamics are already ricocheting off the walls. Defensive end Preston Smith agreed to terms on a new four-year, $52.5 million deal on March 14 to remain in Green Bay, but fellow pass rusher Za’Darius Smith has been cut.

The latest position of All-Pro teammate WR Davante Adams was to inform the team that he will not play under the franchise tag (for whatever that statement is worth). This is a not-so-veiled attempt to get the Packers to pay more guaranteed money on a long-term deal.

Rodgers’ structure affects this. The truth is, if Adams wants to play in the NFL, he will eventually play for the average of the NFL’s top-five wide receivers on a one-year deal or a contract agreed to by both sides. Now, Rodgers taking $50 million per year makes salary cap space a premium.

This perception is no doubt the reason that we have not heard the Rodgers contract terms announced and why he has denied “inaccurate” reports on March 8 citing a potential four-year, $200 million structure. This amount of money soothes his ego but might create hard feelings in his own building. Especially now, as is expected, Brady plays for half of that.

Will Optics Impact Free Agency for Bucs & Packers?

Maybe it’s just me, but the feeling of authenticity seems to ring louder if sold with actions as opposed to words when comparing the Rodgers and Brady situations. My guess is public perception is similar. 

Brady has let his actions do his talking in the past while playing for less in New England and in Tampa, as opposed to the tact of Rodgers and his immunized approach of deception, that we all saw unfold this season.

It’s a fact, players have come to both places to play with Brady (actions), but all we have is words from Rodgers suggesting that players sign with Green Bay to play with him. Rodgers just made it much harder to do.

As we have seen, roster decisions now can start to take shape with the biggest team-building pieces in place. Tampa saw the first dividend fall their way with the news that starting center Ryan Jensen has agreed to re-sign with the Bucs and spurn a free agent market that surely would have made him the highest-paid center in football.

Let’s see what happens with several other soon-to-be free agents — including Leonard Fournette and Jason Pierre-Paul — as we enter the window of “legal tampering” that proceeds teams having to be 100% salary cap compliant (top 51 salaries) by Wednesday, March 16 at 4:00 p.m. ET.

Can Rodgers recruit help or does Brady’s presence trump all? 

I realize it’s not the player’s job to play for less and allow the team an easier task of building around them, but the optics and, most importantly, what the locker room thinks is very important. Just saying. 

The biggest question for me, a self-proclaimed conspiracy theorist, is this: Were these consequences unintended or is Brady, once again, way out in front of us all?

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